Brothers, John and James Lienert, sit side by side in the shed where their late father, John Snr. once kept his farming equipment protected from the elements.
The siblings laugh as they share fond memories of growing up in the house next door, their cricketing triumphs and footy failures, and the different spellings of Sheaoak Log, or should it be Sheaok Log?
“It definitely doesn’t have a hyphen!” says John of the small town that holds such strong family ties.
The converted shed is now filled with the gleaming stainless steel of a modern-day winery which overlooks 96 hectares of vineyard providing quality fruit for the full range of Lienert Vineyards wines.
It wasn’t too long ago when Lienert land was more famous for producing Grand Champion swine than award winning wine, when all four brothers of the previous generation, Colin, Edlin, Ron and John Snr. were pig farmers.
But whilst the current custodians haven’t continued in the industry, they have found a quirky way to embrace their porcine past by labelling the vineyard (and a wide range) “Tiero del Puerco”.
“It’s a bit of a Spanish take on ‘Land of the Pigs’, says James, whose love of chemistry led him to studying winemaking and working vintages both locally and abroad, before coming home to work alongside his viticulturist brother.
“All our uncles were pig farmers and all the farms around us were pig farms. So, we’re up here on top of this hill, looking over a ‘land full of pigs.’ It shows where we came from, and we also have a lot of fun with these wines.”
Continuing the theme, the wines in this range are named after old breeding pigs.
“The pigs were put in the Royal Adelaide and Sydney Shows, and we found this old book with all the winners and picked out all the good names.”
Other labels, all designed by James with help from his old school mate, Ben Fromm, feature patterns based on childhood memories.
“Most of them take the mick out of my Dad,” laughs James, as he points out the red and white pin stripes on one bottle of Shiraz that represents the lining of his father’s sports coat and a memorable episode of Seinfeld.
“When Dad wasn’t in his suit, he’d be in the house in his jocks. I watched lots of Looney Tunes cartoons and The Three Stooges, and whenever someone lost their pants, they’d always be left wearing boxer shorts with love hearts on them. So, that’s where that comes from,” he adds, pointing to a bottle of Mataro.
“The one with lightning bolts is all about Dad’s love of telling potentially apocryphal stories,” James continues with a cheeky grin.
“He used to talk about a natural phenomenon called ball lightning. It’s real, but it doesn’t usually happen in Australia or in your study at three o’clock in the morning. It looks like a ball of sparklers, and he reckons he saw it floating around by his desk.”
The creative labels reflect a winemaker who loves to experiment and John, who studied agribusiness and learnt the art of viticulture “from the ground up,” thrives on providing the ingredients.
But transforming the Lienert landscape from farmland to vineyard was only made possible after irrigation water was made available via the BIL scheme (which provides irrigation water supply at the lowest sustainable price and commenced in 2001).
“It gave us an opportunity to do something different on this property,” says John.
“Dad and I planted 12 hectares of vines, all Shiraz, in 2001. Then, over the last 10-12 years we planted nearly every year and grew the vineyard to the size it is now.”
From Malbec and Piquepoul to Mataro and Grenache, 13 grape varieties, including 15 clones of Shiraz, grow in varying depths of terra rossa soil over limestone.
“We came up with what I thought was going to grow well in this environment and climate. I think we’ve found a good array of varieties, and James gets to play with them.”
And play James does, with Shiraz being his favourite “toy” in the fruit arsenal.
“It’s so versatile and having so many different types, it can be made into a light style and be quite rich and powerful as well. I find that interesting,” says James who loves the fast pace of vintage.
“This really is my dream job. Stupidly, it’s all in the pursuit of making the perfect wine – an unobtainable goal – but you’ve got to try. To me, there’s no real point if you’re not going to do your best or make it taste as best as you can.
“I travel around the world, talking about these wines, right? If you are proud of them, it makes it so much easier.”
Fresh, bright, and light are words the boys use to describe the wines they produce. From the Jack West label (Jack being John’s nickname) through to their flagship Shiraz, Laudamus, the Latin word for praise.
“We probably prefer that fresher fruit spectrum and want our wines not only to taste like the variety they are made from, but also the place they come from,” says John.
As the current custodians of the land which has served generations of Lienerts, that sense of place is treasured beyond measure.
“There are not many families left in Australia that can say they can trace their heritage right back to Crown land,” John says.
The brothers know their history well and are proud to share the story of their great-great-great grandfather Conrad, who moved to Australia from Germany’s Harz Mountains.
A miner by trade, he left his home country in search of a better life and joined the goldrush. In 1854 he purchased land at Sheaoak Log and managed to secure a future for his family in western Barossa.
“The first piece of Lienert land was 67 acres on the flat next to the Greenock Creek,” John says.
“I guess we probably reflect on the past a lot to try and work out where we want to get to in the future.
“The best thing is, we all have the same goal. We want to leave it for another generation so that they can have a good opportunity like we’ve been given.
“We don’t want to stuff it up!”