Tim Smith’s introduction to the world of wine isn’t your typical story.
The recently crowed 2019 Barossa Winemaker of the Year grew up in Adelaide’s western suburbs, left school at 14 and worked as a roadie for Aussie rock bands for seven years.
“I worked for all of the great ‘80s bands – Jimmy Barnes, Dragon, Rose Tattoo, Midnight Oil, you name it. It was a great life, but it wasn’t a life for a family.”
When a wife and kids came along, Tim got a “real job” in a Barossa winery.
“I’d always been fascinated by wine. As I kid, I used to collect wine labels, which was odd. I was less interested in drinking wine, and more interested in the wine industry.”
Tim went back to school, got a winemaking degree and started working vintages for wineries in Australia and overseas, including 15 years at Yalumba.
It was on a winemaker exchange to the Rhône Valley in France in 2001 that the Tim Smith Wines concept took form.
“At the end of vintage in the Rhône, I was sitting on the doorstep of the Hermitage Hill Chapel, drinking Viognier and looking out over the vines and I thought, bloody hell, this is what I want to do.”
Tim’s first vintage under his own steam was the 2002 and, not surprisingly, it was a red Rhône blend, but not a GMS, an MGS (Mataro, Grenache, Shiraz, with Mataro as the dominant variety).
“Growing it, making it and packing it is easy. I remember after my first vintage, looking at these eight pallets of wine and thinking, mate, you’ve got a mortgage payment due. You’d better get out there and sell it.”
“I flew to Melbourne in 2003 with samples in my backpack, catching a tram around Melbourne and knocking on bottleshop doors. These people just didn’t want to know me. They weren’t interested in small players. It was soul destroying.”
But a big order by Melbourne Street Cellars changed his luck. He loaded up his ute and delivered 40 cases. Word soon got out and Tim Smith Wines was away.
“Melbourne Street Cellars is still one of my best customers in Adelaide.”
The first two vintages of Tim Smith Wines were made in his driveway in Tanunda.
“I was working full-time for Charlie Melton during the day, so I was making my own wine at night.
“I’d come home, strip down to my jocks, grab a beer and walk around the fermenters, crushing everything by foot.”
“It must have been quite a sight for the neighbours.”
He started small in 2002 with 400 cases, and production has now grown to 5500 cases.
As well as the MGS, the range now includes a Barossa Shiraz, a Reserve Barossa Shiraz, a Barossa Mataro, a Barossa Grenache, an Eden Valley Riesling and an Eden Valley Viognier.
“The word ‘honest’ seems to pop up in many of our customers tasting notes.
“That’s a good word for what we do.
“If the wines aren’t the type of wines we’d drink at home, we simply don’t make them. Sorry to Rosé and Moscato fans.”
Given the wines sell out most years, it seems these are wines that many people want to drink.
Another change for Tim Smith Wines has been location.
He moved out to Vine Vale in 2011, and Tim has a simple ‘shed door’ for tastings which is open to the public one day each year.
Grapes for Tim Smith Wines are sourced from 16 private growers all over the Barossa and Eden Valley.
“I work with classic, old school Barossa grapegrowing families. I get in there at crucial times and help with bunch thinning and so on, but really I let them grow the grapes – that’s what they do best.”
Winemaking is what Tim does best.
Wines made under his deft hand have won countless awards domestically and internationally, one of the more notable hauls being 12 Gold Medals at the Berlin Wine Show in 2010.
The 2010 London International Wine Show also highlighted Tim’s winemaking prowess – he was responsible for 3 Gold Medals and 3 Best in Class, one for the Tim Smith Wines 2009 MGS.
Tim shares a Nuriootpa winery with mates John Retsas and Matt Gant from First Drop Wines, but has plans to build his own winery at Vine Vale.
“I want to build a home for the brand. It will unlock countless opportunities to have a place where we can host visitors.”
If you can’t find Tim at Vine Vale, he might be playing drums with his band, the Valley Cats, or riding his Triumph motorcycle around the Barossa.
The rock and roll lifestyle is hard to kick.
Meanwhile, Tim will continue doing what he does best – making bloody good Barossa wine.
His ability to make wine and his contribution to the Barossa was recognised with the Barons of the Barossa Winemaker of the Year award in 2019.
“I was humbled to be chosen to be part of this lineage of truly great winemakers. I’m not a fourth or fifth generation Barossa winemaker. In fact, I’m only here because I fortuitously landed a vintage job at Yalumba 33 years ago, leading me on a completely unexpected and exciting path.”
“It’s a busy life, but a great life. Some people call this work.”