Photo by Tom Arena
No wine demonstrates Australia’s flourishing artisanal winemaking scene better than skin-contact white wines. Commonly referred to as orange wines, the winemaking process leaves white grapes in contact with their skins anywhere from a few days to months or even years, resulting in a wine style that’s generally more tannic, richly flavored and textured than a typical white. The technique has, in the space of a decade, gone from divisive outlier to an important part of Aussie wine culture.
While integral to the ancient winemaking cultures in areas like the Republic of Georgia and, later, Slovenia and Northeast Italy, skin-contact whites didn’t take hold in Australia until the early 21st century. Mornington Peninsula producer Kevin McCarthy is credited for crafting Aus’s first so-called “skinsy white” for his label T’Gallant in 2008. But it was the rise of natural wine, a movement closely associated with orange wines, that would ignite broader interest in the style. The Natural Selection Theory group exploded onto the scene with a 2010 skin-contact Semillon aged in 900ml wax-sealed ceramic eggs. The group no longer exists, but the three surviving members, Anton van Klopper, Tom Shobbrook and James Erskine, still produce skin-contact whites today under their own labels.
Producers like Ruggabellus and BK Wines were also early pioneers, as was Glen Robert, who, with winemaker Andrew Scott, has been experimenting with skin-contact whites since 2011 under their label La Petite Mort. The wines, which may undergo 150 days—or more—on skins, ferment in wax-lined Georgian qvevris buried underground. LPM’s rich amber-hued wines are some of the most unique and evocative in Australia.