Whistler – pushing boundaries in Barossa

There’s much more to Australia’s Barossa Valley than big name wineries, hefty reds and heftier price tags. Don’t believe us? You can go Whistler.

Winemaker Josh Pfeiffer is Barossa born-and-raised; he grew up surrounded by vines, as son and grandson of grape-growers for the aforementioned big-name estates. On graduating university (oenology), he honed his craft in wineries across the region and in neighbouring Eden Valley, before setting his sights on the family patch and establishing Whistler.

Given his pedigree, it is unsurprising that Pfeiffer seems so at ease making wines in this landscape; what is more surprising is the style of the wines he is choosing to make. Characterised by a lightness of touch and playfulness, his wines are elegant, experimental and eminently drinkable.

The Whistler wines are also natural, that is – made following a philosophy of minimal intervention, with restrained use of sulphites and no additives or enhancers to affect texture or flavour.

Working organically since 2013 and biodynamically since 2017, you could say that the Whistler wines are as true an expression of Barossa as the man behind them.

We were introduced to Whistler by our Essex Road shop manager (and fellow Adelaide native) Jeremy and after an overwhelming response in the subsequent team tasting, made it our mission to bring the bottles to the UK.

To celebrate them finally landing on the shelves (and just in time for Australia Day too!), Jeremy got back in touch with Josh to find out a little more about Whistler, his wine making style and the joys of joining the family business.

Josh Pfieffer

Where is your winery based and how does the landscape and conditions there affect grape growth and wine production?

Whistler is situated at 241 Seppeltsfield Road, Stone Well, which is on the western edge of the Barossa Valley floor. As you drive towards Whistler, you step up out of the Valley floor and into the Western Ridge of the Barossa. Our soils are a lot more complex and shallow than the valley floor, and as a result, we get more complex flavours within a block of vines, and lighter canopies, which means lower disease pressure. This makes our site ideal for Organic and Biodynamic practices.

What makes Barossa Valley wines special?

The Barossa is a ideal environment for growing grapes- our climate and soils are well suited to grape growing, and the resulting wines are generally high quality.

Whistler vines in Barossa
Whistler vines in Barossa

Do you find that people have preconceptions about Barossa Valley wines?

Some people who have tried a lot of wine from Australia or the Barossa Valley generally have a picture in their head of what our wines might look like, and they are generally surprised how light and easy-drinking our wines are compared to other wines that they have tried.

Do you consider yourself part of the ‘New Wave’ of Australian wines?

I guess so; particularly the New Wave of Barossa wines. The Barossa is made up of some pretty big players in the Australian wine industry, it has only really been in the last 5 years or so that smaller producers have started pushing the boundaries with Barossa wines.

What drove you to become a winemaker?

I grew up living on a 700 acre Penfolds vineyard, as my father, Martin Pfeiffer, managed Penfolds company vineyards around Australia for 28 years before starting up Whistler in 1999. I am the fourth generation in my family to grow grapes, but the first in my family to make wine. Dad usually had us out in the vineyards working during our school holidays, so I never really enjoyed the wine side of things until I hit my late 20’s and started understanding the importance of getting it right in the vineyard. I decided to study wine making at University as a way of being involved in the wine industry, but not working in a vineyard initially.

Where do you stand on the debate of sulphites in wine?

I use sulphur as a preservative in all of my wines apart from one, our new 2017 ‘Back To Basics’ Orange Wine. I generally only add a small amount of sulphur – just after fermentation has finished, to preserve the wine through the bottling process. I think it’s best to make a sound wine and if that means adding a bit of sulphur, I’m all for it. Having said that, it is exciting to see how clean and fruit-driven our new ‘Back To Basics’ is, even though I didn’t add a single thing to the wine. No yeast, no acid, no sulphur, no anything.

What has been the most challenging thing about moving to Organic/Biodynamic Viticulture?

To be completely honest, it has been a very easy transition for us due to our site. It definitely forces you to spend more time in the vineyard, which can only be a good thing. It does cost more to produce the same amount of wine, as you are spending a lot more time on the tractor, or pulling out weeds by hand.

Natural wines, are they just a fad or are they here to stay?

I think they are going to be increasing in popularity over the next decade or so, and they will only continue to get better, as winemakers learn how to manage wines without adding a whole heap of different chemicals. Who knows if they are here to stay… Most things go in cycles.

Whistler wines are now  available in the UK exclusively through Borough Wines and Borough Wines Imports. Find the What the Fronti white blend (£22), Shock Value red blend (£22) and Shiver Down My Spine Shiraz  (£30) from the Whistler Next Generation Range in the shops and online