What began as a thought bubble over lunch at Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris in 1988, has resulted in one of Australia’s most successful wine partnerships now celebrating it’s 30th vintage.
|As children, first cousins Michael Hill-Smith and Martin Shaw spent a great deal of time together at Yalumba where Michael grew up, resulting in the forging of a deep brotherly bond despite a six year age gap. As young adults, Michael studied Wine Production and Marketing at Roseworthy, whilst Martin undertook an Oenology degree before working for Brian Croser at Petaluma for eight years, a position Martin considered a fortuitous game changer in his career. Martin then went on to work overseas as a flying winemaker with Tony Jordan based in Bordeaux, whilst Michael completed his Master of Wine in the UK, becoming the first Australian to achieve this prestigious rank.|
By the end of 1989, having hatched the idea several months earlier over lunch at Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris, the two joined forces and Shaw + Smith was borne. The pair chose the Adelaide Hills as their focus because to them, this region was producing wines that were completely different to those being made anywhere in South Australia and presented as one of the most exciting places for wine in Australia.
Their first two vintages were made at Wirra Wirra thanks to the support of friend Greg Trott and using grapes purchased from Geoff Hardy’s recently-planted Kuitpo vineyard. In 1993 Martin and Michael moved closer to home at Petaluma and one year later planted their first 40 hectare vineyard at Woodside.
Overall, their plan was that they didn’t have a plan. What they did have however, was a number of shared principles which were somewhat at odds with the direction of many Australian wineries at the time.First, they decided to focus on one region only, the Adelaide Hills. Second, they would make wines from varieties best suited to a cooler climate.
Chardonnay was the easy choice due to the firm conviction that the Adelaide Hills could make great wines from their favourite grape, but both Michael and Martin saw real potential for Sauvignon Blanc in the region. According to Michael, “it was so well suited to the Adelaide Hills, and we liked its fresh vibrancy. Moreover it doesn’t require oak, so you get some cash in the first year!” Pinot Noir and Shiraz then followed suit.
In 1999 came the purchase of the 50 hectare Balhannah property which had previously been used for spelling horses for top trainer Bart Cummings. Martin and Michael planted the home vineyard blocks with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, then later bought what they affectionately called the “strawberry block” next door.
This 20 hectare block was purchased for both viticultural and aesthetic reasons, as they would look out over their vista of beautiful vineyards and dam to a sea of black plastic under the strawberries interfering with their view. Needless to say, the purchase was inevitable.
By 2000 Michael and Martin had established their Shaw + Smith brand to a size that warranted its own winery, and so began construction at Balhannah, funded thanks to the success of their Sauvignon Blanc. The pair claim this is “one of those wines that comes along once in a lifetime if you’re lucky.”
|TOP LEFT: Michael Hill-Smith and Martin Shaw early days; TOP RIGHT: Balhannah Vineyard MIDDLE LEFT: Shaw + Smith winery construction; MIDDLE RIGHT: Shaw + Smith winery today; ABOVE: Martin Shaw and Michael Hill-Smith.|
|2012 saw the purchase of the 20 hectare Lenswood Vineyard originally planted in 1999, which Martin had always loved. This area of the Adelaide Hills is wetter, colder and higher at about 500masl. It is perfect for Sauvignon Blanc as well as outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.|
In 2015 Martin and Michael sold the original Woodside Vineyard so as to move to higher, cooler sites which would provide more natural acidity, slower ripening and greater intensity of flavour. The pair felt their “future lay at higher altitude.”
The duo continued honing their craft as an undoubtedly formidable team up to 2008 when they realised they were at a stage in their careers where they wanted to surround themselves with outstanding people who would challenge them, and so they “followed the rock and roll management handbook: if you’re an ageing rock and roll band, what do you do? You go out and hire the best musicians you can”. And so, in 2009, their “band” became the quiet and highly competent achiever, Grant Lovelock, previous accountant with Orlando. Now CFO, Grant ensures the best business and financial practices are in place.
Then came multi-talented wine man David LeMire MW who handles global sales and marketing as well as forming an integral part of the blending and wine evaluation team. Dux of the Len Evans Tutorial Adam Wadewitz then came aboard as Chief Winemaker in 2013 on the recommendation of Steve Pannell.
Initially Adam wasn’t remotely interested in moving as he’d just relocated from Best’s where he was a Jimmy Watson winner in 2011 to run Seppelt Great Western which was a hefty job for a relatively young guy. But he was keen to move back to Adelaide and the lure of Shaw + Smith was too great. Martin considers Adam to be a “once in a generation winemaker. He’s got a great affinity for, and passion about the vineyard and the relationship between growing great grapes and making great wine.”
They also managed to secure legendary viticulturalist Ray Guerin who won the inaugural Gourmet Traveller Wine Viticulturalist of the Year. He was semi-retired when he joined the team for three years, making an impressive impact on their sites before handing the mantle on to Murray Leake, one of the Adelaide Hill’s most respected viticulturists.
Michael believes the past “30 years of Shaw + Smith have been about making wines that I’m genuinely excited about, genuinely proud of, and represent the best that we can possibly do.” To Michael, “the wines we are making now are better than at any time in our 30 years. They are quintessential modern, cool climate Australian wines.”
One thing’s for sure. Shaw + Smith have made an indelible mark on the Australian wine industry and theirs is a legacy that will be enjoyed for generations to come.
We’re proud to have brought these exquisite wines to your tables and shelves for well over 20 years and have played a small part in their history, and we congratulate Martin and Michael on a brilliant 30 years. Here’s to the next 30!
|TOP LEFT: Lenswood Vineyard; TOP RIGHT: Chief Winemaker Adam Wadewitz; MIDDLE: Martin Shaw, Adam Wadewitz, Michael Hill-Smith, David LeMire; ABOVE LEFT: Adam Wadewitz and Martin Shaw ABOVE RIGHT: Shaw + Smith wine range.|