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Unlike many of my peers, I didn’t grow up in a “wine family”. In fact, my parents hardly drank at all. Dad had the occasional glass of flagon port, while Mum sipped away on her cream sherry. When I was about 13 years old, I read an article about Champagne in one of Mum’s magazines. I remember it well because, although I had heard of wines called champagne, I found it intriguing to learn that there was actually a place called Champagne! Could there also be places named after Port, Chablis, Burgundy and Moselle? I had to learn more…
Several years later, I went to Roseworthy Agricultural College to study winemaking (Oenology). Barely of legal drinking age, I was a state finalist in the prestigious Vin du Champagne Awards in 1988. Much to my surprise, the organiser of the competition, Holly Kerr, was the author of the magazine article that had left such an impression on me, years earlier. After graduating from Roseworthy in 1990, Holly assisted me in finding a vintage job at a small family-owned winery in the Cote des Blancs, Champagne. At last, I was on my way.
One night, the owner of the Champagne house opened a magnum of his ’64 Blanc de Blancs. We sat there chatting and drinking, he didn’t speak a word of English, nor did I speak any French, yet somehow we were deeply engaged in conversation until around three in the morning. Being in Champagne just felt right to me. I had a similar experience one night in Portugal, when a local grape grower invited me to try his home-made wine. Once again, we didn’t speak the same language, but I was invited to stay for dinner and a great night was had. I love the way a bottle of wine and some good food can bring people together, transcending language and cultural differences.
Following a few more vintages abroad, it was time to “get a real job”. After a short stint at DeBortoli and Miranda, in Griffith, I started work with Orlando Wyndham in 1995. Working for a large company was a great opportunity to make wine using fruit from all over the country. We also “played” with a lot of small batches and experimented with oak barrels from all over the place. It was even where I met my wife, Ann-Marie (we were match-mated by the HR team!) Working in a “proper job” gave me the means and opportunity to travel and work in the USA (Geyserville, Sonoma County), Spain (Rioja), China (Ningxia), New Zealand (Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough), India (Nashik) and Argentina (Mendoza, San Juan and Cafayate). The passion for food and wine was the same as it was when I first went to Champagne, however, the corporate politics became even stronger and it was time to move on.
I founded Artis Wines in 2016, making a Clare Valley Riesling and an Adelaide Hills Shiraz. “Artis” is Latin for craft and art, which seemed an appropriate name as I wanted to get back to the basics and craft interesting wines that, whilst distinctly Australian, are a bit quirky and unique. My label is a collage of images representing the countries where I have worked, the snakes and ladders being a play on the various ups and downs experienced along the way.
So once again, I am on my way…
Adelaide Hills Syrah
I’m often asked, “what’s the difference between syrah and shiraz?” It has long been thought that shiraz originated from the city of Shiraz in Iran around 5,000 years ago and was then taken to France where it became known as syrah. Whilst there is evidence that wine existed in the Middle East thousands of years ago, I’m not aware of any evidence that it was shiraz (or syrah). Recent DNA profiling conducted at UC Davis indicates that the variety most likely originated in the Northern Rhone Valley (France).
Traditionally, the variety has been known as shiraz in Australia. However, “traditional” Australian shiraz comes from warm to hot climates and is a big, full bodied, fruit-forward wine, often with alcohol levels above 15%. Cool climate versions are relatively recent, have different flavours and generally less than 14% alcohol. Therefore, many cool climate producers have adopted the name “syrah” to avoid confusion with their hotter climate counterparts. My decision to use “syrah” was for this reason. Regardless of the reasons, from a technical and legal perspective, there is absolutely no difference.
Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner
The first time I tasted Grüner Veltliner was just after a 24-hour flight to Vienna. I hired a car and drove straight to Wachau for a wine tasting with Roman Horvath MW, Director of Winemaking at Domäne Wachau. I fell in love with the variety and from that moment, I knew that I wanted to make my own. It was just a matter of finding the best location in Australia, which turned out to be the Adelaide Hills.
This is a full bodied, crisp dry white with delicate aromatics of white peaches, pear and white pepper. Fermentation and maturation in neutral oak provides texture on the mid palate and contributes to the very long finish.
Adelaide Hills Chardonnay
The fruit for this wine comes from the exact location of my Great, great, great grandfather’s first property in Australia. Johann Frederick Muller migrated to South Australia in 1841 along with his two brothers; Auguste and Ferdinand. Like many early South Australian settlers, they were fleeing religious persecution in Prussia. In 1843, Johann and Auguste, along with 16 others, became the founding settlers of Lobethal, in the Adelaide Hills. They initially worked as blacksmiths and in 1853, Johann purchased his first farm. Whilst the property is no longer in the family hands, the oak tree he planted remains and is in the centre of a vineyard today. The label depicts the site and pays homage to Johann’s migration in 1841 and early days as a blacksmith. The grapes used for this wine came from the hill behind the house shown on the label.
Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir
I love Pinot! It’s possibly one of the most challenging varieties to work with, but the most rewarding when you get it right. A very high-profile winemaking friend of mine once told me “when you think your Pinot is ready to pick, it’s too late”. You really need to have a sixth sense for Pinot.
2021 was a stunning vintage in the Adelaide Hills. A mild summer with light rainfall at all the right times and cool overnight temperatures gave way to slow ripening fruit with excellent sugar / acid balance and ripe tannins. Hand picked from 25 year old vines planted on a gentle Eastern aspect, the fruit arrived at the winery in perfect condition.
Clare Valley Riesling
Despite everything else going on in the world at the time, 2021 was a dream vintage. A relatively mild summer with rainfall at all the right times throughout Spring, Summer and Autumn. The fruit ripened later in the season compared with previous few vintages, pushing the final ripening into March when the nights were quite cool, retaining vibrant acidity in the grapes.