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Going the long mile

GENERATIONS IN WINE

Going the long mile

WORDS & PHOTOgRAPHY Alicia Lüdi-Schutz
>> Paul & James Lindner of Langmeil Wines

Lindner brothers, Paul and James, were teenagers in an era when Barossa grapegrowers were being paid to bulldoze vineyards due to oversupply.

Sons of successful caterers and business owners, Richard and Shirley, it was understandable that the sixth generation Barossans couldn’t see themselves in the wine industry, let alone owning and running Tanunda’s internationally renowned Langmeil Winery.

Paul matriculated, leaving Nuriootpa High School in 1984, to begin an apprenticeship in Adelaide as a mechanic because he “loved cars and motorbikes.”

“I moved out of the Barossa because everyone was saying there was no future here,” Paul explains.

“I was working for Telecom and I was working on trucks, dozers, diggers…everything from chainsaws to D11 caterpillars, the whole gamut really. Then, in 1992, they were offering a good redundancy package so I took the money and moved back to the Barossa.”

The wine industry was looking up when Paul started as a Grade 1 cellar hand at Orlando, finding himself working alongside the likes of Peter Gambetta and Lyn Tasker who were generous in sharing their knowledge. It wasn’t long before Paul found a passion and talent for winemaking.

“Mum and Dad were shareholders in Rockford by then…Dad was the General Manager,” says Paul, describing his father’s long held interest in the wine business and how he teamed up with Chris Bitter and Carl Lindner with the view to “build a new winery somewhere”.

“It was a Cabernet and Peter (Lehmann) goes bl**dy hell Paul, if you are going to make wine like this every year you should stick with this winemaker plan. That was just one of those things that made me stick with it.”

- Paul Lindner

But Paul had a different idea. Having been lured to Tarac Technologies to work in their new wine facility, on his way to work each morning he would pass a dilapidated winery on Langmeil Road. He thought, ‘why build a new one when Bernkastel Winery had been left abandoned and could be fixed?’

“So, the folks bought it in 1996,” Paul adds. “It hadn’t been used as a winery since 1986 and was completely run down. It basically just had a big shed with tanks in it.”

The ironstone house had been flooded in ’83 and was condemned, yet the property also included an historic barn and some valuable old vine Shiraz, believed to be planted in 1843 by Christian Auricht. Now known as the iconic Freedom block, Auricht also planted the vines which, in the future, would be saved from a housing development and transplanted to form the Orphan Bank.

The mechanic in Paul set to work fixing machinery that hadn’t operated for years and “cleaning up the whole joint and getting things working again”.

“1997 was our first proper vintage,” Paul says, telling of the Shiraz, Cabernet, Rose, “a blend and a couple of whites” that were made under the Langmeil Winery label. The premium fruit was sourced from their own iconic vineyard holdings and local growers, with help from consultant winemaker Lindsay Stanley.

Meanwhile, Paul was making a few “shed reds” of his own at home. He was winning awards at amateur wine shows and received encouragement from the likes of Jane Ferrari, whom he worked with at Rockford Cellar Door on weekends, and Peter Lehmann who was impressed with a bottle of red he brought to dinner one night.

“It was a Cabernet and Peter goes bl**dy hell Paul, if you are going to make wine like this every year you should stick with this winemaker plan. That was just one of those things that made me stick with it,” Paul recalls.

“For the 1998 vintage, I asked if I could make The Freedom and that won a trophy at the Barossa Wine Show…. then everyone understood that I did actually know what I was doing!

“Dad, Carl and Chris said all right Paul, you can make all the wines from now on. So, from 1999, I took over the Langmeil decisions and it’s all gone on from there.”

Two and a half years Paul’s junior, James found a different path to Langmeil.

“I was academically challenged,” laughs James. “Paul went on to matriculate but I managed to do Year 10 twice and still went on to leave!”

Not knowing what he wanted to do, James worked at Linke’s Bakery for six months before taking a job at Orlando on the cask line.

“I think in an eight-hour shift, the most we pumped out was 48,000 four-litre Coolabah Riesling casks – that was my introduction to the wine industry!”

A couple of vintages as a cellar hand at Yalumba saw him hinting that he’d like to try his hand at something different, eager to discover what else was possible.

“If there is one advantage when you’re from a family that’s been here for generations, it’s the relationships those before you have made. We’re lucky Dad and Mum were highly regarded and I think because of that, people thought they could give this young whipper snapper a go.”

James was soon working in cellar door and travelling to Sydney and Adelaide selling wines for Yalumba, honing his new found passion for sales and marketing.

“That was my education in wine,” says James.

“In the middle of that, there was a few chaotic moments in my life that were tipping points,” he laughs, the cheeky glint in his eyes revealing many an interesting tale to tell, including the one where he sold everything he had to work in the UK.

“It just so happens to be around the same time as the London Wine Trade Fair and I ended up flying over with Bob McLean, Charlie Melton…Helen Hill-Smith, Doug Lehmann. I was in the back of the plane though.

“I get to London and didn’t know how customs worked, they were asking all these questions and I didn’t have a Visa. I was totally oblivious. Bob McLean comes over and says ‘hurry up Lindner, you’re holding us up’ and they just stamped me in!”

The stories continue to flow as he describes his nine-month stint in the UK, from working for leading wine importers and merchants, to pulling beers in pubs to make ends meet.

“It was such an amazing thing, because all of a sudden, for me, a whole world of wine opened up, I didn’t know how big it was.”

James returned to Yalumba and when he heard his family was going to buy a winery he quit, but his father reminded him of the fact there were no wines to sell yet.

So it was off to work behind the bar at the Tanunda pub and a vintage at Orlando. He also bought “a patch of dirt” where he “started playing with a bit of vineyard”.  When Langmeil Winery acquired the Jackaman Vineyard at Lyndoch, James worked there until the time was right to start in sales and marketing for the family business.

“It was awesome for us having James,” says brother Paul. “He had all these relationships, all the people he met, the bottle shop owners and restaurateurs. It all went hand in hand.”

“I think one of the most heartening things is seeing your wine being drunk by locals or they’re telling their friends to add Langmeil to the list of wineries to visit in the Barossa. If the locals are doing that, Paul and I are doing our job right.” ”

- JAMES LINDNER

In 2011 the family bought the winery on the banks of the North Para River outright, with Paul and James taking over the reins, consolidating themselves as premium wine producers internationally.

Grateful for the “incredible opportunity” the previous generations had provided, the brothers are honoured to carry on the Langmeil legacy, while continuing to elevate the name Barossa in the process.

“The 80s were really hard, but what came out of it was a Barossa reborn on the basis of its authentic culture,” says James.

He and Paul continue to share the history and celebrate the character and culture of the region they strive to preserve, while contributing to the Barossa community and the sustainability of its wine industry, through their work.

As they say, they’re in in for the “long mile”.

“I think one of the most heartening things is seeing your wine being drunk by locals or they’re telling their friends to add Langmeil to the list of wineries to visit in the Barossa,” says James.

“If the locals are doing that, Paul and I are doing our job right.”

See more of the 'Generations in Wine' series

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