The single-minded pursuit of purity in Riesling expression is Jeffrey Grosset’s obsession, although it’s not manic energy that fuels his relentless engine. The quietly spoken, self-effacing Clare winemaker’s intrinsic nature is to be contemplative and analytical rather than demonstrative. It means that even on the 40th anniversary of the founding of his wine company, devoted primarily to making elite Riesling, his relentless focus on quality keeps him questioning every aspect of winemaking and production – and how he could possibly make it better.
The 40-year journey has scaled dizzy heights for a man who came into wine with scant resources and no vinous pedigree, save for the life-altering experience of trying a classic Leo Buring Riesling at the age of 15 and realising immediately that emulating such an exquisite wine would constitute his life’s work. Grosset has never questioned whether his wine epiphany as a 15-year-old was a delusion. His commitment to the goal has always been, and remains, absolute – and it was this dedication that made him International Riesling Winemaker of the Year in 1998.
The early years
A 1981 photograph of Grosset, taken in the winery he had just created from a former dairy and butter factory in Auburn, a southern gateway town to the Clare Valley in South Australia, illustrates how far a winemaker can travel with an uncompromising perfectionist streak. The earnest, beardy 26-year-old with stringy hair and a rock-hard stare had only four big steel storage tanks wrapped in improvised insulation blankets in the big, barren shed. But even then, he already had a clear purpose and ambition.
‘In my view, you don’t make any compromises at any point – or else why bother at all?’ offers Grosset, before admitting with a solemn nod that this absolute commitment has been to his personal detriment. ‘Yes, my wife and family will attest to that. Devotion to achieve my absolute best in wine has always come first.’
What prompted all this? It was the love of something pure that struck Grosset from the time his electrician father brought a bottle of wine home from a friend who worked at the Leo Buring winery and shared it over dinner with the family. Soon, Grosset started working during school holidays at a winery bottling room, spending his earnings on wine for cellaring – which he stored in a disused fireplace. At 16, he began studying oenology and agricultural science at Roseworthy College, South Australia’s prestigious winemaking academy. By 21, he was working as a qualified winemaker; at 26, he was a head winemaker at Lindeman’s massive Karadoc winery in Mildura – and then he decided it was time to go his own way, driven by the goal of making exemplary Riesling.
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