Gatch Wine Ansel Ashby
Photo: Iain Dalrymple

FEATURE | Gatch Wine w/ Ansel Ashby

Young Gun of Wine – Top 50” extraordinaire, Ansel Ashby, is the name behind the beautifully minimalistic wine label that is Gatch Wine. Not being from a wine family background and studying creative writing at uni the pathway into winemaking was perhaps a little different to some others in the industry. 

“I had a very romantic view of sitting on my vineyard with a glass of wine writing the next great American novel, but had no idea how one actually got into the wine industry / business. After Uni, I accidentally started writing for a food and wine blog and the rest is history!”

A Masters of Viticulture and Winemaking from Adelaide University followed before setting off to get as many vintages under his belt from around the world. Locally, taking on some retail wine education at The Ed Cellars in Mitcham as well as vintages in the Adelaide Hills. 

“I also had a brief gig as a beekeeper (long story)”

Currently, Ansel is housed in the same giant shed that Little Bang Brewing occupies in the back streets of Stepney. Those familiar with the brewery will no doubt be aware of the wine barrels lining a couple of the walls towards the back. While not slated for release any time soon, there is work under way on a collaborative project between the boundary pushing brewery and some Gatch grapes. 

Inspiration? Can be from Australia or abroad. 

Both? I think tasting a lot of foreign wines can be useful, just in that you get exposure to different varieties and ways of making wine that we either can’t or don’t do in SA / Aus. Mt Etna is a good example – we literally don’t have that varietal in Australia right now (someday I hope to change that). Saying that, so many great producers are doing incredible things here, and Australia has completely unique wines as well – looking at you Hunter Valley Sem (Sémillon).

While currently sourcing grapes from a variety of areas across South Australia, Ansel has longer term hopes of planting his own grapes on the Fleurieu. Using fruit from a multitude of different locations for the purpose of blending has generally been the domain of cheaper wines looking to fill bottles or casks for the lowest price possible. However, with the right care and attention to the blending process this style of winemaking is something that can be celebrated.

Unfortunately, given the world we are currently living in, taking things day by day is a necessity rather than a choice. 

“Right now, we’re just focused on getting in front of as many people as possible to say hello, in what can be a very crowded arena.”

He employs the quite beautiful mentality of “start with good grapes and try not to mess it up” to his winemaking. A simple lineup of wines consisting of a red, a white and rose is testament to his simple approach. In exciting news however, there is a touch of complexity coming with a release of some very small batch, barrel selection wines which Ansel describes as being “too good to blend into the general bottling.” Stay tuned!

What songs would we hear playing in the winery while you’re working?

Great question – depends on what the day’s activities are.
Tasting and blending – jazz, acoustic, or pure instrumental music
Crushing and cap management – probably blasting some electronic or old school rock

Personally I have a strong opinion on free wine tastings and having this come up in our conversation brought to the fore some fantastic points which we may expand on in another article down the track. Wineries have done themselves a disservice with the expectation of free tastings and the drawbacks this creates. Thankfully the tide is turning with quite a few wineries offering a rebate of the tasting cost upon purchase. 

As Ansel puts it:

“Without fail, every time I’ve been to a paid cellar door, I am able to learn a lot more about the wines and have a serious conversation with whomever is pouring! It ceases to be a volume game, of pumping as many people through and hoping they buy something! When you have to pay it eliminates the awkward salesperson dance after the tasting and lets you focus on the wine – that’s why we’re here right!?!”

All time favourite wine? Desert island wine perhaps?

Impossible question – probably the all-time high score is going to be Barolo or Barbaresco from Italy.
For the desert island – I’m going to want something a little fresher and lighter that you can drink all the time – Aussie Riz or Nouveau style red wines (Beaujolais be still my heart)

What would you eat with that?

For the Barolo – hearty pasta (think carbonara or a mushroom ragu) or a stewed meaty dish like ox-tail
For the Riz/Nouveau – fresh seafood: tuna tartar or lightly grilled scallops – something like that!

SA is currently going through a transition stage. If you’ve been in a quality bottle shop over the last year or so and haven’t seen a wine variety that was new to you, then you’re doing very well. Even when just browsing for South Australian wineries. 

“I think we’re in a bit of transition. And we’re re-establishing ourselves after becoming a little pigeonholed for massive, oaky, alcoholic red wines (in a global context). How that shakes out and what that means is really up to the individual producers doing cool things and experimenting.”

The topic of specialising is something that seems to pop up quite a bit in conversations with winemakers. The traditional mentality of a winery almost feeling obligated to produce a wine to cover each segment of the market rather than taking a small selection and absolutely nailing them. 

“I think Grenaché as a variety is going to be a really strong play, ditto some of the cool/new ‘alternative’ varieties that people are playing around with. I also think that we need to focus on doing what we do best – often that will mean slimming down the offerings – not every producer in McLaren Vale or Barossa needs to make a sparkling wine, 3 white wines, 2 roses, and 12 red wines and two sweet wines. I think a little bit of focus would bring a lot of clarity to the industry as a whole.”

What is an underrated style or specific grape you think people should be drinking more of?

I know it’s not SA, but Hunter Semillon! Moscato (strangely enough)! Grenaché, although I think people are starting to get behind Grenache in a big way. And, very very seriously, fortifieds / stickies, be they Ports, Sherries, or Rutherglen Muscats/Topaque. There are some really amazing wines that people have forgotten about or think of as ‘grandpa’ wines.

Do you get into other drinks? Beer or spirits?

Am I a borderline alcoholic??? I’m a huge sour beer freak, and some of the first drinks I got serious about were actually old school craft beers – think DogFish Head 90 min IPA. Now, I’m super into my weird sours – Cantillon, Jester King, or Wildflower. Obviously, Little Bang has a very special place in my heart and they do some incredible stuff as well – currently loving the new release of the Chipotle Panther. As for spirits – whiskey and rum… neat or in a very classic cocktail like a Manhattan! I’d also like to learn more about Saké, but it’s difficult in Australia.

Returning briefly to the simplicity mentality when speaking about his wines in particular. 

“KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid! Seriously, forget all the bullshit that comes with wine! All of it!!! The first question we should ask about any glass of wine – does it taste good? Whether it’s a $1000 bottle of grange or a $10 cleanskin – that should always be the first question!”

We recently reviewed the 2019 Rose from Gatch. Click the link below to check it out. Looking to make a purchase? Ansel’s wines can be found online HERE, currently with free shipping on all orders.

Graild is dedicated to showcasing the best in drinks from all styles. Recommendations and suggested options with a desire to drink different.



september, 2021