They say few things bring protagonists a deeper sense of fulfillment than guiding friends and loved ones to grow into their best selves.
So it is with Damien Tscharke, founder of Tscharke Wines – a certified organic and biodynamic boutique winery on Seppeltsfield Road – who enjoys nothing more than guiding his team to growing the best grapes to produce wines worthy of baring the family name.
One can’t help think he is “The Protagonist” after whom the new wine bar, opened at the property last October, is named.
And if Damien is the central character of the Tscharke Wines’ story, then his sister, Kylie Tscharke must be the ultimate side kick.
The name might be “a bit tongue in cheek”, but it’s clear The Protagonist wine bar’s moody and exclusive club-like feel is leading the way and turning heads with its smooth music and atmospheric lighting.
“I think perhaps it is bit of a revolution for a Cellar Door experience, to walk in and think this is not what I was expecting,” Damien says.
“We have shifted the focus of what we do to being a little more seductive with wine and, in a sense, a little bit more romantic. I want people to feel alive when they are drinking the wine. It’s not just dependent on telling a good story, it’s about the whole multisensory experience.”
Authenticity is key to this protagonist, and sustainability is at the very core of everything Damien and Kylie do as they evolve the property which has been in the family for generations.
Their grandfather, Gerhard “Gary” Tscharke and grandmother, Irene established a mixed farm at Seppeltsfield and planted the first 30 acres of vineyard. The following generation, son Glen and his wife, Margaret continued the farming tradition. They still live in the Tscharke family homestead down the road where they raised their five children, including second eldest, Damien and youngest, Kylie.
Damien describes growing up in an era when grapes were seen as a commodity and farming “was a struggle”.
“I wanted to do a little bit more with my life and specialise in something,” he says.
“Winemaking seemed to be a better career choice back then than being a poor farmer, so I studied winemaking. With my interest in wine, I thought it was a good chance to produce some wines from our family vineyards which had never been done before under the family name.”
Once Damien graduated in 2000, he worked for a year in the wine industry but soon found he wasn’t motivated by a pay cheque.
“I wanted to get out and explore, so I established Tscharke Wines,” he says.
“My first crush was in 2001. I made some wine after hours, it was more of a garage thing. By the end of 2001 I decided to resign from working for someone else and by the end of 2002, I produced five wines under our own producer’s licence.
“Then I looked to expand our vineyard holdings with varieties a little more suited to our landscape to improve our productivity…. Primarily Grenache, that’s our number one variety, Shiraz and Montepulciano which has been an incredible variety in terms of its resilience to climate change and heat overall.”
Now 110 acres of the Tscharke family farm is under vines and it’s still expanding and progressing with the help of Kylie who was working in the food industry when Damien needed an extra hand.
“He asked me to come and help do a vintage 11 years ago,” Kylie says. “I took about 8 weeks off work and I was kind of waiting for him to say ‘thanks for that, you can head back’ but I’m still here!”
Together, they are part of a tightly knit team of eight working “across all facets” of Tscharke Wines.
From developing the winery which includes an elevated tasting area overlooking the underground cellar with its sustainably sourced barrels and amphorae – traditional wine storage vessels dating back nearly 8,000 years – to developing new vineyards each season in such a slick operation.
“Being estate grown, we do all our own vineyard development, management and wine production, all our wine sales as well. It is an intense operation,” says Damien.
“It’s great, I love it,” continues Kylie, describing the energy of vintage and the progressive path they have chosen to take.
“Seeing the development, going out, planting vines and in a couple of years being able to pick that fruit and make it into incredible wines. Just being able to follow that whole cycle through from the vineyard through to the winemaking.”
Music is the “tool” they use to energise and help inspire the process.
ACDC might be pumping when they’re handpicking out in the vineyard, but there’s a more classic, instrumental vibe back in the winery.
“When we are blending wines, to put us all on the same wavelength, we use music to shift our emotional state of energy,” says Damien.
“It doesn’t influence the taste, but it’s more encouraging to try and be at your best when you are in a good emotional state of energy as opposed to working in a sterile environment.”
Whilst “organised chaos” is how the duo describe their operations, every detail is considered as they constantly strive to improve using the knowledge accumulated with each and every vintage.
“We scrutinise and we question,” Damien says.
“We are genuinely sustainable and I know that’s a buzz word, but we are consciously applying a sustainable approach – environmentally, economically and socially – in all things that we do.
“There’s certainly a lot of hurdles I’ve had to overcome over the many years and in some ways, it’s been a blessing not knowing what I was getting myself into!
“Today, I feel our brand is a very authentic attempt to produce wine that represents the harmonious, happy place from which it’s derived.”