No stalemate for this pawn

Tom Keelan of The Pawn Wine Co. (Photo: The Pawn Wine Co.)

Tom Keelan’s wines are all themed on chess, his favourite pastime. You might say he is a pawn in his own game. The queen is undoubtedly his wife, Rebecca Willson, winemaker at Bremerton in Langhorne Creek and a member of the family that owns it.

Tom makes his The Pawn Wine Co. wines in the Bremerton winery but otherwise does his own thing. He and his business partner David Blows have a substantial 52-hectare vineyard at Macclesfield in the Adelaide Hills, and they sell some of their grapes to other wineries (not Bremerton). The vineyard is at 350 metres altitude, next door to Longview, which Tom also planted. He is a qualified viticulturist with a degree from Adelaide University. He learnt his winemaking chops at Peter Lehmann Wines under Andrew Wigan and Peter Scholz.

The vineyard includes 3 hectares of the Austrian grape grüner veltliner, which has turned out to be well-suited to the Adelaide Hills.

“There are over 30 producers of grüner in the Hills now,” says Tom, still not quite able to believe it himself.

There is a Grüner Group in the Hills who share information and join forces to promote. Tom chaired it for a period; now Larry Jacobs from Hahndorf Hill chairs it.

Tom made his first grüner in 2013; the 2016 is on sale now at AUD $24. These are lip-smacking dry wines, which are remarkably adaptable with food but equally good as an aperitif.

“It’s not going to be the next sauvignon blanc, but we don’t want it to be,” he says.

The chess theme dovetailed neatly with grüner when he was searching for a brand-name. There’s a chess move known as the Austrian Attack. It was a no-brainer for his grüner.

The Pawn Wine Co’s sangiovese is branded The Gambit, the tempranillo is En Passant, another chess tactic, and the premium chardonnay and shiraz are branded Jeu de Fin, which means ‘end game’. Perhaps the best value for money of them all is El Desperado, an AUD $18-$20 ‘pizza wine’ blended from shiraz, tempranillo and sangiovese.

On the website, each wine has a ‘chess trivia’ paragraph explaining the chess references. It explains why the brand El Desperado is so named.

“In chess, El Desperado is a doomed pawn that seems determined to give itself up to bring about a stalemate when captured – it’s a pawn that is as good as dead and so sets out to do as much damage as possible.”

It may also refer to the wine’s birth in the ridiculously wet 2011 vintage when many grapes failed. Instead of making single varietals that year, Tom put them together as a blend, perhaps out of desperation?

I tasted a range of The Pawn wines recently and found them all high quality and well-priced. There’s no checkmate in sight for this particular pawn.

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