Bernice Ong and Julian Forwood are Ministry of Clouds, one of the most original and exciting producers in the Knotted Vine portfolio.
Their wines are refined, pure and expressive and speak of the terroir where the grapes are sourced as well as the distinct personalities of Bernice and Julian.
During a recent visit to the UK we caught up with Julian and quizzed him about MoC; how it started, where it’s going and what sustains his love of wine.
How’s the 2017 vintage looking?
Vintage 2017 was slightly nerve wracking for parts but ultimately turned out to be a cracker! Following many years of the ‘new normal’ where we had become used to heat and ever earlier picking times, it was a relief in 2017 to be able to walk vineyards and just wait.
Following a wet and cool winter, summer was dry, and vineyards ripened slowly with fantastic acids and flavour, and all of this happening at historically low Baumes. With vintage much later than previous years, the reds have lovely lifted aromatics, bright crunchy flavours, and if overt power is not your sole aim, then these wines have delicious balance.
How do you go about sourcing fruit?
As Bernice and I don’t come from families with a wine history, we have the advantage of a clean slate when looking for vineyards. In McLaren Vale we stated to notice that many of the local wines that we loved were sourced from vineyards that tended to be old, elevated, and largely situated in the Blewitt Springs, Seaview and Clarendon sub regions of McLaren Vale.
They were cooler, later ripening, largely dry grown, and stylistically elegant which seemed to make sense to us, and it was the same names, growing fruit in the same places, for many years that keep popping up in the wines that we enjoyed. So we drew up a list, and politely asked each in turn if they had fruit that might be surplus to their current arrangements…
That list of growers has gown over time, to include more than 20 old vine growers, including some distinguished sites in both the Clare Valley and Tasmania, all of which is supplemented by our purchase last year of an elevated 11-hectare vineyard in the Seaview sub region in McLaren Vale.
Do you have any plans to build your own winery?
It will take us some years to chew on the big bite of purchasing our first vineyard, but it does have a very useful shed on it that one day could play host to some our own ferments…. wait and see I reckon. In the meantime we are lucky to be able to share a friend’s winery in Blewitt Springs, the inimitable Tim Geddes, with lots of open fermenters, and a fantastic basket press.
What sustains your love of wine?
Unquenchable thirst! A thirst for new wines, and experiences, sometimes being able to visit the places that they represent, and the people who make them. Wine (with good books!) is the cheapest passport to the wider world.
What was the last wine you consumed?
Two fantastic bottles from ‘15 – Eric Pfifferling’s beautiful Tavel creation L’Anglore Les Traverses and a 100-year-old Beaujolais from Laurent Perrachaon. Both remarkably smashable; fine, fragrant, unforced and undeniably modern wines from the old world.
Can you sum up Ministry of Clouds in three words?
Risk. Partnership. Drinkability.
What’s the best part of the winemaking process?
Walking vineyards, tasting fruit.
What’s the worst part of the winemaking process?
Cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning.
Tell us something about Ministry of Clouds that nobody knows?
That we are putting the final touches on a collectable wine that is a theoretical meeting of McLaren Vale and Chateauneuf du Pape! Think a blended wine built for aging made up of our very best parcels of old vine Grenache, Mourvedre, and Shiraz, and Cinsault.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Waiting too long to do our own thing. Though both Bernice and I miss many of the people that we used to work with, setting up our own little enterprise has never felt like the wrong thing to do. As we have always said of Ministry of Clouds; “The highs are stratospheric, and the lows are subterranean….” Little did we know that you can experience both in the same day!
What music do you listen when making wine?
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Springsteen, Jason Isbell, Massive Attack…..
Who is your wine hero?
We have always the loved idiosyncratic approach of Tony and Lita Brady of Wendouree. Fixated on their vineyard rather than fashion, with winemaking that is secondary to the quality of their fruit, and with a desire to provide value-for-money with wines of the highest quality.
What is the single biggest challenge facing the wine industry?
Combating the misapprehension that fine wine – which is produced, sold, and consumed responsibly – is somehow part of the very real social and environmental challenges that our industry faces.