Whistler Wines' next gen winemaker Josh Pfeiffer gives tradition a shake-up

Since second generation Barossa vigneron Josh Pfeiffer took the helm at Whistler Wines, the enterprise has been given an 'unconventional' facelift.
Since second generation Barossa vigneron Josh Pfeiffer took the helm at Whistler Wines, the enterprise has been given an 'unconventional' facelift.

Producing a “pleasure product” is “pretty unique in an ag sense”, according to Whistler Wines owner Josh Pfeiffer.

The second generation Barossa grapegrower and winemaker believes he has one of the country’s most rewarding jobs.

“We’ve got a strong wine community in the Barossa; it’s very collaborative, not competitive,” he said.

Producers like Josh and his family are being thrown in the spotlight today for the country’s first National Agriculture Day.

While the Pfeiffers are a relatively new addition to the Barossa’s wine fraternity – they were established in 1999, and celebrate 18 years this year – their grapegrowing roots span four generations, with the fifth on its way.

Josh’s great grandfather, Albert Heinrich Pfeiffer, owned a vineyard in the Riverland and would spend many hours in the vines with his son Hubert, working the vineyard in bare feet with his faithful Clydesdale, Bloss, before harvesting the grapes and selling them to local producers.

More than 80 years on, Josh’s father Martin continued the tradition at Whistler Wines in Marananga and today, Martin is showing his son Josh the art of grape growing, handing down the knowledge of previous generations.

After several stints at other Barossa wineries, Josh returned to Whistler in 2013 and progressively took on more responsibility.

His natural approach to wine quickly influenced the vineyard, with Whistler converting to organic practices in August 2013 and biodynamic practices in July 2017.

But it’s not just the vineyard which has adapted.

Whistler Wines has been given a significant facelift with the recent launch of its “Next Gen” range.

These natural, organic wines have been given unconventional names such as W.T.F. (What the Fronti), Dry As A Bone, Stacks On and Shiver Down My Spine, and sit alongside the traditional Whistler range.

Josh Pfeiffer at Whistler Wines' Barossa Gourmet Weekend event this year, which has become a favourite venue among young wine lovers.

Josh Pfeiffer at Whistler Wines' Barossa Gourmet Weekend event this year, which has become a favourite venue among young wine lovers.

So, with the critical grape picking and crushing period in autumn, what does an average day in the life of an organic, biodynamic Barossa grapegrower look like at this time of year?

Josh said Whistler grew all of its fruit itself, producing about 95 tonnes of grapes a year across six different varieties.

“Most of our varieties are flowering at the moment; it’s a crucial time of year for us weatherwise,” Josh said.

“We’re controlling weeds under the vines using a dodger, which is an implement on the side of the tractor which helps us to green compost (them).”

‘Dodging’ is a traditional Barossa method of controlling weeds under the vines by ‘dodging’ out, hilling back on, and knifing through the roots of young weeds to ensure soil microbiology stays as healthy as possible.

“We slash the weeds at the same time and try to control the mid growth so it’s not drawing too much moisture,” Josh said.

The 23 millimetres of rain which fell at Marananga last week, as wet weather soaked the region, has given not only Whistler but many local vignerons a bit of welcome breathing space when it comes to irrigation.

“That (rain) will probably last us the next couple of weeks, we probably won’t need to irrigate until early December,” Josh said.

“It’s been a good season so far, the vines are still growing with active growth tips.”

While vine health is top of mind, there’s also been grafting taking place.

“We’re grafting grenache on to semillon,” Josh said.

“Semillon is getting harder to sell, and we’ve been buying grenache in the past couple of years for our rosé.”

Like other Barossa producers, Josh said he’s found grenache to be one of Whistler’s biggest growth areas.

“Our straight grenache and dry rosé are our two biggest growth products,” he said.

It’s a variety that has been doing particularly well of late.

Just last month, Tanunda’s Turkey Flat Vineyards took out the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show (the first time the variety has achieved the accolade in its 56-year history).

And in September, Bethany Wines – at the opposite end of the road to Turkey Flat – took out the top gong at the Barossa Wine Show with its 2016 grenache, also believed to be a first for the variety at that show.

Grenache featured in Josh’s nomination for the Young Gun of Wine awards earlier this year, in which he submitted his 2016 Drizabone Rosé and the 2016 Stacks On Grenache Shiraz Mataro.

“They’re two products I’m really proud of – my favourite drinks,” he said.

“We’ve always had grenache in the Barossa; I think as winemakers, we are now treating it with the respect it deserves.”