The Pawn Wine Co.
After a tenure growing grapes and selling to commercial winemakers, Tom Keelan found himself disenfranchised to see his efforts blended down into uninspiring wines bearing no reference to the Adelaide Hills on their labels. This dissatisfaction culminated in Tom and vigneron David Blows making their own wine as a ‘one off’ in 2002. The wine struck a chord with Tom and David as well as the community surrounding them, and they have been producing small batch wine using their estate grown grapes and old world methods ever since.
The name The Pawn Wine Co. came from a cellar hand writing ‘Pawn Star’ across each of the barrels of their first vintage. The idea of the pawn as the overlooked piece in a chess board, but the one which, unified with the other pawns, can turn the tide of the game, resonated with Tom. The resulting company celebrates being small, accessible, and free spirited, and believe that boutique winemakers are pawns of their own game: often overlooked by bigger producers but as a unified force, powerful and able to turn the tide of the game.
The Pawn Wine Co. grow the grapes for every wine that they make, a process which allows them to start their winemaking "in the vineyard". Tom freely admits to additives of sulphur and small amounts of acid in his wines, but still he will only pick grapes which he knows will make for excellent wine. Tom told us that he recently went to a larger winery and was able to taste ten years of vintages of a certain variety “I can’t do that,” he said, “If the grapes won’t make for a vintage I’m proud of, I have no trouble leaving them.”
When I mentioned to Tom that his wines were surprisingly cheap considering their circumstances, he confidently replied that he "has been told often that his wines are too cheap, but never that they are too expensive" and that his current prices are "enough to sustain me and my family, but low enough that anybody who wants them can access them— I don’t need much more than that”
Whilst his wines are sophisticated and thoughtful, Tom does not shy away from informality, calling his Desperado red blend an attempt to make a “great pizza wine,” and having started his desperado range in 2011 when terrible weather meant only a Rosé came up to his standards. The name Desperado comes from a chess move which involves sacrificing your remaining pieces in a last ditch effort to win the game.
Tom called his wines "true to their variety”, and indeed there were no wild diversions or esoteric winemaking terminologies but rather straight-forward and delicious, approachable wines.
Our night began with his Austraian Attack Grüner Veltliner, a lesser known but fascinating variety. The Grüner is an Austrian grape, the original climate of which very closely resembles that of the Adelaide Hills. The Pawn Wine Co. were amongst the first three wineries in the Adelaide Hills to plant the increasingly popular grape. Now planted in over 30 wineries. Tom suggests the variety is unique in flavour hitting you not as a pinpoint but as a wide splash.
We drank the aforementioned Desperado Rosé, which employed a neat trick of technology: showing in the label a rose when kept at the right temperature, fading into a skull when too warm or too cold. Following the Rosé, we drank The Gambit Sangiovese, a light but warm wine, and one of the original plantings from the vineyard. Finishing the event on a bold and luxurious En Passant Tempranillo which Tom called "like a chesterfield lounge”.
Tom brought one last, bonus wine, the Desperado red blend. Tom was quick to pre-emptively dismiss accusations that blends were made from inferior grapes, and said that this was always the first wine of the vintage. The “get home from work” wine was comfortable, homey, and deep.
Grape To Glass
This week Grape To Glass took over the Rockefeller Deli, a midcentury inspired diner serving beautiful food, and great coffee until late into the night. We were delighted by the great service and friendly staff, and loved sitting amongst groovy, comfy retro upholstery and sipping The Pawn Wine Co.’s wines.
Complete with a brief geography lesson on South Australia’s wine regions, the chance to drink wine in the presence of the winemaker left a special impression on the wines and brought out the best in both the wine and the night.
Next in Neighbourhood Event Co.'s Grape To Glass series is Dormilona at Young George on August 10th followed by Walsh & Sons at Gordon St Garage on August 24th.
See the rest of our coverage of Grape To Glass.