Peter Barry's

Assyrtiko journey

Australia's first

You know there's something special about a wine when you clearly remember exactly when, where and with who you tasted it. 28 August 2006 was a warm Monday afternoon in Santorini and I was on Holiday with my wife Sue. During lunch I had tried my first glass of Assyrtiko and it made a huge impression on me. It immediately struck me as a variety that would work well back home. Its fresh, crisp, acidic qualities and low pH are perfect accompaniments to some of our contemporary Australian food.

In May the following year, I went to the London Wine Fair and made a point of tasting as many Assyrtiko wines as I could find. They just strengthened my belief that the variety had real potential in Australia. I then discovered there wasn't a single vine in the country so I started to investigate importing cuttings.

Thanks to Konstantinos Lazarakis MW, I was introduced to Yiannis Paraskevopoulos from Gaia Wines, a well-known producer of Assyrtiko on Santorini, and discussions on how best to transport the variety to Australia began. Yiannis and I travelled to Santorini together in early February 2008 to meet Yiannis Argyros of Argyros Winery. We collected twelve dormant Assyrtiko cuttings from a single vine, establishing our very own Santorini clone. After arriving back in Australia the cuttings were placed in quarantine for a mandatory two years and in 2010, the two best cuttings were released. In 2011, I was able to collect 32 buds from these two mother vines, which were then grafted onto 30 Riesling vines at two vineyards in the Clare Valley.

This initial grafting was successful and in 2014 provided us with enough fruit to produce our first 15 litres of Assyrtiko. Since their release from quarantine, the mother vines have produced a further 658 cuttings. On 28 August 2012, six years to the day since that fateful lunch in Santorini, 658 Assyrtiko vines were planted on a south facing slope alongside our Lodge Hill Riesling. Located on the eastern ranges of Clare, the Lodge Hill Vineyard is one of the highest points in the Valley. With its ability to adapt well to different soil types, I was hopeful the Assyrtiko would prosper in our environment. A total of three hectares have now been planted at Lodge hill.

In keeping with Santorini tradition, a handful of our Assyrtiko vines have been grown and pruned using the kouloura method, while the rest are grown on trellises. We have continued our propagation and planting of Assyrtiko in Clare and today have 6.87 hectares planted at four vineyard locations in the Clare Valley. Although Assyrtiko is predominantly grown in arid, windy and hot conditions, and by comparison Clare is a cooler region with higher rainfall, I saw this as an opportunity to acknowledge climate change. We must accept warmer conditions, and adapt accordingly.

Assyrtiko is a profound transmitter of terroir, exhibiting an early and mineral aftertaste reminiscent of the volcanic soil of Santorini. Our soil and climate have given us an expression of Assyrtiko that shares many of the characteristics of those produced on the island, particularly that crisp, dry texture I fell in love with, but also a range of nuanced differences that I find exciting.

  • August 2006

    Peter and Sue Barry first taste Assyrtiko while holidaying on the Greek island of Santorini. Peter is impressed with the fresh, crisp, acidic qualities of the wine.

  • May 2007

    Peter and Sue taste Assyrtiko for a second time at the London Wine Fair.

  • June 2007

    Peter contacts Max Allen to see if he is aware of any Assyrtiko vines in Australia. Max informs Peter there are none and recommends he speak to Nigel Blieschke at Yalumba Nursery regarding the importation and propagation of vines.

  • July & August 2007

    Peter contacts konstantinos Lazarakis MW to ask if he knows of a winemaker or grower in Santorini that he could source cuttings from. Konstantinos suggest Yiannis Paraskevopoulos at Gaia Wines.

  • September 2007

    Peter asks Yiannis for help in sourcing Assyrtiko cuttings. Yiannis is thrilled to be involved and happy to assist Peter by collecting cuttings.

  • February 2008

    Peter travels to Santorini with Yiannis to collect the cuttings of Assyrtiko from Yiannis Argyros at Argyros Winery.

  • March 2010

    Two Assyrtiko mother vines are released after mandatory two years quarantine.

  • February 2011

    Propagation begins! 658 cuttings of Assyrtiko are propagated from the two mothers vines with the help of Yalumba Nursery.

  • 28 August 2012

    Australia's first Assyrtiko planting. Half a hectare of Assyrtiko is planted by Graeme (Macca) McDonough and the Barry family at Lodge Hill Vineyard.

  • August 2013

    Additional cuttings of Assyrtiko are planted at Lodge Hill Vineyard.

  • March 2014

    The first parcels of Assyrtiko are picked with 15 litres (42 half buckets) of wine being made from this first vintage.

  • March 2015

    The second vintage of Assyrtiko is picked with 1,000 litres (1,342bottles) of wine being produced.