THICK AS THIEVES
Winemaker Syd Bradford is already out in the vines, when we visit him on an unseasonably hot Spring morning. Between running his own label Thick As Thieves, and managing the build of his new house and winery, Syd is one busy man. On a hilltop in Badger Creek, we take in the most sensational view of the river flats below. Neighboured all around by winemaking dignitary, it’s a great place to be. Though when it first came on the market, not everyone could see its potential. “I think we got lucky because a lot of people were put off by the dog kennels next door.” With an established vineyard of 20-year-old Pinot vines and a gorgeous north-westerly aspect, the opportunity was too good to refuse. “And we barely hear the dogs!” Syd says happily. For the last 18-months his house and winery have been built by carpenter Mark Spratt, who played a huge role in the construction of Stones and Meletos. Syd has been doing as much as he can on the build too. “Mark will put the bones down and get it to a point that I can take over.” Like the outside decking around the soon to be finished swimming pool. “There’s a bit of pressure to get the pool in for the kids before summer!”
With a string of hot days mixed with consistent rainfall, Syd jokes it’s been subtropical in the vineyard as the vines growth has exploded.
It can also spell trouble though, as it’s the perfect climate for mildew. Sooty and powdery mildew are a fungal disease that thrive in
a humid environment and can devastate crops. With two science degrees, years in the industry and a horticulture background, Syd is more than qualified for the tasks and challenges involved both in the winery and the vineyard. Yet he remains humble. “I’m learning so much as I go and I’m really lucky to have two of the Yarra’s best consulting me on the vineyard, Pete Payten and John Evans.”
Syd’s wife Anna, an IT Director, appears out of the canopy, wiping her brow. She’s been wire lifting the rows, a step that helps keep the vines canopy where it needs to be. As we stand between the vineyard and the house, family naturally comes up. Their three girls Lily, Kate and Sophia often help on the property and in the winery. And what a wonderful place it is to raise a family.
Back to the vineyard and Syd explains how it was dry grown without irrigation. Though some farmers do this intentionally, such as in Tuscany where it is classed as illegal to use water, it was due to financial constraints from the previous owners. “In the King Valley, vines would be this size at 5-years of age. The thing you can’t tell from the surface is that the roots of these plants are so deep and strong because they’ve had to work hard to find water.”
Syd still stays in touch with Peter Levings who originally planted the Pinot, and is proud of his ongoing stewardship. “We’ve had the last few years to get comfortable with managing the 3-acres we have and are now planning more Pinot and some Gamay vines that will wrap around the house.” Currently two releases are estate grown while the other nine in the TAT catalogue are sourced from premium sites around the Valley and from Koombahla Vineyard in King Valley.
Syd leads us with a spring in his step, down to his winery. It’s been designed to do most of the labour outside and leave the fermenting, aging and storage under the house. As he slides open the giant door, the cool temperature inside is a welcome relief from the heat of the morning. Set under the house, he keeps most of his wine in old-oak barrels and some tanks. Cases of wine are towered high, ready to amaze drinkers around Australia and now globally. “It’s slowly getting overseas. A bit to Japan and Singapore so far.”
Through the garden and past his salvaged poly tunnel, the whole place has a rustic charm and everything together just works. He proudly welcomes us in to his cellar door, one of the coolest we’ve been to. Out front is some rescued beer garden furniture complete with umbrella, all in great nick. Inside Syd has used staves he’s been collecting for years. They’ve absorbed a gorgeous red colour and crystalised tartaric acid from being soaked in tanks of wine over many years. Complete with a sound system and a pile of records, this is classic Syd hospitality. Offering something completely unique in comparison to the standard buttoned up tasting room. “I run it on an appointment only basis. It just works with my schedule and with meeting people that are genuinely interested in the label. I’ll chuck on an LP, we’ll have a chinwag about the releases and it’s so satisfying to see people leave with a bunch of bottles. I’ve met some lovely people through it.”
Thick As Thieves was born after a formative and successful period of education and experience in some of the Yarra Valley’s best known wineries inspired Syd to put his own stamp on a bottle. We ask about the detail Syd shares on how he makes his wines. “I just want to be open about it all. It’s not fluff, this is what goes into it. Someone told me recently carbonic maceration is a wanky term?! It’s not wanky, it’s the technical term for one of the processes I use in my winemaking. I’m not going to dumb it down, but I’m happy to explain it to anyone.” Syd is a straight up, honest guy. True to his values, he’s building a home and a label to be proud of.
As part of the 2018 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, we will host Syd for a community driven, shared table dinner. This special event will be held on Thursday March 22 2018, in The Providore and The Warehouse at Meletos. For more information visit: meletos.com/mfwf