Piggs Peake is a funny little wine company...
At the end of 2002 Steve Langham finished his winemaking degree at Charles Sturt University and decided it was time to have a go a running a wine company.
Steve had served his time in the cellars of Allandale Winery under the watchful eye of Bill Sneddon (who has been running Allandale for about 30 years now) and in his six vintages there worked as a grape picker, lab technician, cellar hand and then winemaker alongside famous industry names such as living legend Karl Stockhausen and Peter Orr. Steve often reflects on the day Bill offered him the winemaking role at Allandale.
“In real terms I had next to no experience in the wine industry and I had only completed 2 years of a six year degree in winemaking. I was no-where near ready for the job. However, Bill had an attitude that when you employ someone you should employ the person that you want to do the job and then you give him the skills and the tools to do the job. So, Bill took over financing my studies (I was sleeping in a tent at Wagga Wagga when I had to go to Uni and studying by the light of a gas burner, and it was winter!) and surrounded me with the most knowledgeable people he could find so that I could learn by example and ask them questions. I was very lucky.”
Steve was employed by Piggs Peake to do the 2003 vintage as winemaker/general manager. Luckily 2003 was one of the great years and so the first release of wines were of very high quality.
Steve’s sister Linda joined the company soon after (that’s right, they are brother and sister not husband and wife) and quickly took over running the place which is why it runs so efficiently. It’s now a running joke at the winery that Steve is in charge.
Steve’s winemaking background at this point had been limited to the six years at Allandale which was a very traditional Hunter producer, but he wasn’t a person to follow tradition.
His first job out of High School was as a Chemical Engineering Cadet for BHP so he understood quite well the concepts of wine chemistry and how science might allow him to bend the wines stylistically.
In 2003 the first “left of centre” wine hit the shelf. It was a white dessert wine based on the German Ice Wine concept. Basically, Hunter Valley Semillon juice was freeze concentrated to mimic the effect of fruit freezing on the vine as it does in Germany. It was then fermented into wine and named I Swine.
In 2004 the dessert Zinfandel (the Suckling Pig) was first produced in an attempt to match wine with red fruits and chocolate. It was an instant hit, exciting chefs and sommeliers who tried it. This was followed up soon after by the bottling of the first Wolfie Zinfandel. The variety wasn’t completely unknown in Australia at this point, but it had a low profile. When the 2005 Wolfie was written up as the greatest Zinfandel ever made in Australia eyes turned towards the little Hunter winery. Then the 2005 Semillon and the 2004 Cabernet Merlot (Piggs Peake’s first Cabernet) were listed in Halliday’s Best of the Best section, the 2006 Cabernet Merlot was written up as the best in Australia and the winery was away.
Steve had made his point and stopped entering shows and sending samples to journalists and just focused on the winemaking at Piggs Peake.
Over the years the winery has gone through re-builds and new technologies have been introduced to keep the winery current with the market. New wines have been added to the range and new staff have come on board.
Garry Wrench has been at the company for over 10 years now manning the cellar door and the winemaking team now numbers four permanent winemakers with Robert Guadagnini, Dave Fatches and Jarryd Green all working in the winery giving a great blend of global experience and youthful excitement to the team.
Typically, a pet project is added to the range each year and unveiled at the official release of the wines in June. This year, there were two projects. Two dry reds, one made out of Touriga and the other made out of Mataro which will be bottled in February 2015 and then officially released in June 2015 (although both are already on sale and selling fast).
Vintage time (late January through to May) is the best time to visit the winery and often one of the winemakers will walk you through the winery, show you (and let you taste) the ferments, try the previous years wines in barrel or even try your hand at plunging a fermenting red (don’t wear white!).