Ratcliff finds his rich land

(Image: Ricca Terra Farm)

Ashley Ratcliff is an innovative grapegrower in the South Australian Riverland and an active promoter of the region. He formerly worked for Yalumba both in Angaston and at its Oxford Landing vineyard, he manages a group of Riverland vineyards called Ricca Terra Farms and has just launched his own range of innovative wines. The brand is Ricca Terra, and they are among the most interesting wines to come my way lately.

As Ashley writes:

“After 25 years working for corporate wine companies, and 15 years of growing grapes on our farm, it’s a great feeling to finally have these wines in bottle.”

His philosophy is to plant and grow grape varieties that suit to hot, arid climate of the Riverland, using drought-tolerant rootstocks, hand picking and hand pruning as well as using viticultural methods that conserve water – never losing sight of the main goal which is to produce good wine.

To that end, he’s been pulling out more and more cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay and planting more and more Mediterranean and Portuguese varieties. His new wines employ the black grapes nero d’avola, negroamaro, tinta barroca and tempranillo, and white grapes greco, vermentino, arinto and fiano.

Ashley uses hand pruning because he needs to control the bud numbers, and thereby the yields. This can’t be done with machine pruning, which is the norm in large-scale vineyards. As well, he enlists top winemakers to do the vinification, and for his first batch of wines from the 2017 vintage, brothers Phil and David Lehmann and Hentley Farm’s Andrew Quin are the guys.

The packaging is outstanding: fresh, bright and original, and the wines are deliberately named to attract attention.

Ashley is a distance runner, so there’s a wine named Marathon Man. In a past life, he worked as a wild horse breaker near Fort Worth, Texas, so there’s a wine named Bronco Buster.

Ratcliff is a serious player with a long-term view. How many grapegrowers would plant a new vineyard specifically for rosé? None that I know, except that’s what he’s doing currently. Rosé is such an important wine nowadays and he expects it to become even moreso.

The proof is in the pud, and the four 2017 Ricca Terra wines I’ve tasted are superb – and distinctive. Perhaps my favourite for current drinking is the Bronco Buster (AUD $25), a blend of vermentino, greco, fiano and arinto: aromatic, soft, fruity and deliciously more-ish. The Cumulus Arinto (AUD $30) is a slightly richer, more structured dry white with a trace of barrel-ferment, made from a Portuguese grape that Ashley strongly believes in.

The Colour of Calmness (AUD $25) is a southern French-style rosé blended from nero d’avola, negroamaro and tempranillo, and is also thoroughly slurpable. The name evokes the tumblers of iced pale-red wine that Ashley saw vintage workers using to refresh themselves as they worked in the vineyards of southern Italy.

Finally, the Tinta Barroca (AUD $30) is a light-bodied, pinot noir-like red made from a Portuguese port variety. It’s been given some whole-bunch treatment as well as some barrel fermentation, and is a wine that slips down the hatch dangerously easily. I really enjoy this kind of unpretentious, but seriously easy-drinking light red wine. And it goes with such a wide range of foods, from fish to poultry to pasta and pizza to lighter red meats and cheeses.

These are small production wines, a toe in the water if you like, but they are worth keeping your eyes peeled for.

More info at the Ricca Terra Farms website.

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