One of the things I love about the wine world is the way in which it rewards people with vision, initiative, talent, and above all, passion. I find it magical that someone can fall in love with wine, and decide that the most important thing for them to do for the rest of their lives is to make wine, and then actually make a living following that passion.
Maybe the same thing happens in a lot of industries, but you just don’t hear such stories about accounting. Or maybe we only ever hear about the success stories in the wine industry, and just never hear about all the failures.
Regardless, some of my favorite wines in the New World are made by people who just decided one day to go off and make wine, simply because they loved it so much.
Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz are two such people — a couple of Adelaide businessmen that decided they would like nothing more than to make their own versions of the Australian Shiraz they enjoyed so much. Twelftree, who originally started in the construction business, dipped his toe into the wine industry in 1998 by starting a small export business to bring some of his favorite Australian wines to the United States. Twelftree was emboldened by his success, and no doubt encouraged by his friend Richard Mintz who worked at Australia’s Heinrich cooperage, so the two decided to launch their own label the highest quality wine they could make from some of South Australia’s best wine regions.
The degree of business acumen that the two founders brought to their venture makes it clear that neither passion nor winemaking talent alone are not individually responsible for their success (though it’s clear they possess both in spades). Twelftree and Mintz set about not only to make wine, but to build a brand and a company besides, even going so far as to establish a set of core values for the organization: quality without compromise; differentiation through innovation and fun; best barrels go to the best wines; get the best grapes around; deal with every bit of fruit separately through the whole process; make wines that feature fruit, not oak.
I don’t recall ever seeing a winery with a published set of core values like this. Not that they’re somehow remarkable values, but the fact that the winery has them, and publishes them says something about the way that Twelftree and Mintz think about their operations.
Two Hands Wines debuted with the 2000 vintage and quickly rocketed to fame, thanks to accolades from Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator among others. Within five years of their first vintage, which was only about 800 cases of a single Shiraz, Robert Parker was calling the winery “The finest négociant operation south of the equator.”
Today the winery produces five tiers of wines, their three flagship wines, their single vineyard bottlings, the Garden Series, the Picture Series of wines, and a set of wines only available at the winery. Of the groups, the Garden series has been around the longest and they are the wines that largely made the winery’s reputation.
The winemaking at Two Hands is handled by Matthew Wenk, with oversight and participation from Twelftree. As dictated by the winery’s core values, the fruit is babied every step of the way through the winemaking process. As a matter of philosophy, the grapes are picked only when they taste ripe. Twelftree claims to never use brix measurements to make harvesting decisions, and subsequently the alcohol levels of the wines end up being whatever they end up being (usually between 14% and 15%), with no apologies. Twelftree says he’d rather a wine come in north of 16% alcohol than to water it back or use any de-alching technology.
For this reason, and no doubt also because of the adulation heaped on the wines by Parker and the Spectator, Two Hands gets their share of flak for producing what some people consider to be “fruit bombs.” However, of the many top Australian Shiraz I’ve tasted, theirs are among the least deserving of this moniker. Certainly the wines are fruit forward, but they never approach the cough syrup quality that marks the over-extracted, extended hangtime that many find objectionable.
Rather, the Garden Series of wines (I’ve only had the Garden Series and a few of the Picture series wines) are among some of the consistently best Australian Shiraz on the market in my opinion, and for fans of the varietal and the style, well worth seeking out.
Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.
2006 Two Hands “Lily’s Garden” Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of black cherry, blackberry, and cola aromas. In the mouth it is spicy and deeply resonant with blackberry, black cherry, and roasted fig flavors. A hint of savory meatiness creeps into the finish, which lingers nicely. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. Where to buy?
2006 Two Hands “Harry & Edward’s Garden” Shiraz, Langhorne Creek, Australia
Dark garnet in color, this wine possesses a rich nose of chocolate, blackberry, and blueberry aromas. In the mouth it explodes with bright juicy flavors of tart blackberries, blueberries and hints of milk chocolate. Luscious is an adjective that comes to mind, but a hint of woodiness underneath everything keeps it from being too frivolous. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. Where to buy?
2007 Two Hands “Bella’s Garden” Shiraz, Barossa, Australia
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine has a deep earthy nose of wet dirt and rich blackberry pie. In the mouth it is smooth and silky, with great acid balance and rich juicy flavors of dark boysenberry, blackberry, and cassis flavors that linger into a long finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. Where to buy?
2006 Two Hands “Max’s Garden” Shiraz, Heathcote, Australia
Very dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of chocolate and blackberry bramble. In the mouth it is a little leaner than the other wines, with a hint of tartness to the blackberry flavors that meld nicely with the smooth tannins. The wine’s finish is not as impressive as it could be. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60. Where to buy?
2006 Two Hands “Samantha’s Garden” Shiraz, Clare Valley, Australia
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of rich blueberry pie with hints of mint and herbs. In the mouth it is silky and smooth with lightly gripping tannins and primary flavors of blackberry, black plum and hints of spearmint that linger into a long finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. Where to buy?
2006 Two Hands “Sophie’s Garden” Shiraz. Padthaway, Australia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry bramble. In the mouth it is an explosion of juicy bright blackberry and cassis flavors that beg to be drunk. Boisterous is a word that comes to mind with this wine that simply bounces around the palate into a lingering finish. Super tasty. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. Where to buy?