Heath, the ex-race car driver who has focused on North America to market his Heath, Southern Sisters, Lizard Flat and Southern Roo wines, told me that he is negotiating to buy the old Leasingham winery from Constellation. It would come with some vineyards, but he’s also interested in working a deal with a co-op of Clare Valley growers to make wines from their grapes there.
"A lot of these guys are tired of one-sided contracts with some of the big wineries, who sometimes decide not to take their grapes at the last minute,” Heath told me. “This way they’ll always have a home, and we can sell good wines for about $5 a bottle in the U.S.”
Heath may be the guy to do it. His own winery, which started from a single vineyard in Adelaide Hills, has consistently produced good values buying grapes from the South Australian regions best suited to each variety. His dogged marketing style has found success with American wine drinkers. (Heath Wines do especially well in Minnesota and Canada, he noted over lunch.)
Using Clare Valley fruit carries more weight than yet another inexpensive range of anonymous wines from fruit grown in warmer inland regions, known more for prolific volume than for specific character. The co-op model is also intriguing. In tough economic times, co-ops have traditionally emerged throughout the world to deliver fairly priced wines. In this instance, growers would produce their own bottlings from their own fruit, and Heath’s role would be to provide the winemaking facilities and marketing.
That would be quite a milepost, wouldn’t it? Good $5 wine? Even at $6 or $7, that would be a good deal for American wine drinkers, and would go a long way to shoring up Australia’s reputation for making a good drink for fair money.