WORDS BY HEIDI HELBIG
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN KRÜGER
When it comes to wine and life, one local couple is taking the path less travelled and reconnecting with the simple things in life.
In the shadow of Penfolds Wines – known the world over for its big, bold wines – is a boutique winery with a very different selling proposition.
At Yelland and Papps you’ll not only find lighter New World wine styles, you can also take home a bag of handpicked walnuts or figs fresh off the tree.
The Nuriootpa cellar door is framed by stunning views of the Barossa Ranges, as well as a dozen fat sheep, wicking beds, organic vegie patch and ‘Be Consumed’ bathtub that’s perfect for watching the sun set over the vineyard.
The tasting room, a restored 1880’s worker’s cottage, is equally unconventional, a place where upcycled timber, vintage vinyl and well-worn chesterfields create a warmly eclectic atmosphere.
Then there’s Harold, the resident tortoiseshell cat who comes with the property and treats every lap like a friend – even when it’s a business suit.
The five-acre property is the embodiment of Michael and Susan Papps, whose minimalist philosophies, sustainable living and alternative wine styles are turning the tables on long-entrenched perceptions of the Barossa.
“People are looking for connections, looking for authenticity. What we believe – what we teach our kids – is that less is more.” – Susan Papps
“People are looking for connections, looking for authenticity,” says Susan.
“What we believe – what we teach our kids – is that less is more.”
Heavily influenced by the changing seasons, their lifestyle is reminiscent of the first settlers, the Hahn family.
Six generations continuously farmed the surrounding land before Michael and Susan purchased the property in 2009, becoming custodians of the 1848 homestead.
Since then it’s been a steep learning curve for the couple, who, despite having no formal training, were passionate about the wines they wanted to create and staked everything on that dream.
“All we wanted was a shed,” recalls Susan. “We thought about living in a shed, living on top of a shed! But when we came here, we got our dream property.
“It just kept ticking, ticking every box – it’s everything we ever wanted.”
It marked the start of an experimental journey with Michael and Susan developing a wonderfully symbiotic relationship with their growers, who supply up to 90 per cent of their fruit – quite often delivered with a sunflower on top!
Michael says varieties like Vermentino, Roussanne and Grenache are well-suited to the local climate and the fruit is picked earlier – “more European-like” – to use the natural acid in the grapes for balance.
Michael also uses whole bunches in the ferment, a technique that continues to divide opinion, but has been the making of their wine.
“The 2011 vintage opened up our eyes to how we could make wines by picking earlier and getting savoury and spice flavours into the wine,” he says.
“In 2012 we started using the whole bunches to make the wines prettier and brighter, showcasing a lighter side of Barossa wine.”
Susan believes their timing is perfect, as wine drinkers become more discerning and seek alternative wine styles that are under-engineered.
“Wine is a product you put in your body, so we need to be transparent about what we do,” says Susan.
“We are very mindful of what goes into the wine, and that’s what this place has given us – control over our wines.”
Their wine business is also very much a family affair that is giving their children, Peyton and Campbell, valuable life skills and a connection with the vineyard; at 11, Peyton is planning to release a verjus range, made with minimal additives so it’s suitable for children.
Their prolific orchard is as old as the homestead, which also means a surplus of seasonal produce.
“I hate wasting fruit, and what we have in abundance – walnuts, mulberries, figs and vegies – we have for sale in the tasting room,” says Susan.
“Wine is a big part of it, but it’s not the whole part, and that’s our point of difference.
We think we’ve got something special.”
Clearly so do the critics, with Gourmet Traveller voting Yelland and Papps best Barossa small cellar door in 2013 and 2017, coupled with industry-reviewed Cellar Circle Awards three years in a row.
Their “less is more” approach has also been the catalyst for a new business model, with a cellar door opening for tastings by appointment-only from January, 2019.
While it sounds commercially counter-intuitive, Michael and Susan believe the change will enable them to provide a bespoke experience to each and every customer, as well as achieve precious balance in their family life.
“At the end of the day we have trod our own path and made wines we like,” says Susan.
“When you love what you do, people are drawn to it.”