It seems the berry hasn’t fallen too far from the vine when it comes to the father/son team behind John Duval Wines.
The boutique winery’s founder, John Duval is famous for his role as a Penfold’s Grange winemaker, having learned from the very masterminds behind the iconic red which is coveted by collectors.
John, or “JD”, joined the Penfold’s team in 1974 as a 23-year-old university graduate after attending his first and only job interview which launched his award-winning winemaking career.
“They were pretty heady days!” smiles John, describing nearly three decades at the Nuriootpa based winery.
“It was an incredible experience to work with people like Max Schubert and Don Ditter, Kevin Schroeder, who was the senior winemaker, and then people like Mike Press and Robin Moody, etc.
“John Bird used to come up from Magill. I was fortunate enough, after a 12 year apprenticeship, to get the tap on the shoulder and take over as chief winemaker.”
John became the custodian of many of the traditional Penfold’s wines and also added his own to the list of classics.
“Wines like RWT in particular. It was my idea to focus on the Barossa as another expression of Shiraz, aged in French Oak rather than American Oak. It’s nice that I’ve left that legacy and that it continues today.”
After 29 years at Penfold’s, including 16 as the company’s Chief Winemaker, it was time for a new chapter and John Duval Wines was launched with the first vintage in 2003.
“I thought if ever there was an opportunity to do something for myself and my family, this was it,” he says of the decision to begin his own wine label.
Proud to source fruit from some of the earliest Barossa grape growing families, John’s extensive knowledge and creativity has allowed him to develop a prestigious, award winning label in his own right, capturing the attention of acclaimed wine critics around the globe.
“It’s interesting, the ‘Plexus’, which is the Shiraz Grenache Mourvèdre – the first wine I made, actually surprised a lot of people,” John admits.
“They expected me to come up with small volumes of super expensive shiraz, but I wanted to build a base for the business and make wines accessible to people as well….Then I could have a bit of fun with small selections for the top end of the market.”
Attention to detail is what John says is key to his winemaking style.
“In some ways, we haven’t changed our philosophy. You could use the term modern Barossa – It’s an elegant expression of old vineyards,” he explains.
“During vintage we spend just as much time walking up a down rows of vineyards as we do at the winery.
“We sample everything ourselves and make those decisions of when to pick, which is just so important.”
That same passion and strong work ethic continues with eldest son, Tim who joined the family business four years ago, following a successful career in law.
“I always had an affinity for the wine industry, always had an interest in what dad was doing particularly when he started his own family brand,” says the 37 year old.
“So, whilst I was working as a lawyer for about eight years in Adelaide, I was interested in what was going on, visited during vintage, tasted with dad.
“My law practice was built around a lot of wine law and agriculture too. Then you realise some of the things you picked up, growing up immersed in the industry.
“I think it was important to build up some of my own skills outside of the Barossa and outside working with dad, so when I came into the business, I had another perspective and some other life skills.”
And it seems joining the family business alongside a winemaking legend wasn’t as daunting as it could have been with the duo working side by side in everything they do.
“We kind of auditioned and knew we were pretty compatible!” Tim laughs.
“I’m unlocking a lot of the knowledge that Dad has and asking the right questions. And, because we are making wine out at Teusners, I can pick the brains of the guys out there too.
“We are also part of the Artisans of Barossa collective so I’ve got another support network there, other winemakers I can talk to, taste with and see some different styles, attitudes and philosophies.
“Obviously, I’ve got a lot of respect for what dad has done over his career, so it’s one of those relationships where you can speak your mind but you have respect for each other’s opinions. I think that’s great.”
John, who turns 70 this year, couldn’t agree more.
“We enjoy what we do, that’s the most important thing.”