Gin distillers find inspiration from the most amazing places these days, and for Jon and Nicole Durdin from Seppeltsfield Road Distillers, the amazing team behind our February 2021 Gin of the Month, the winemaking heritage of their home in South Australia’s Barossa Valley was too brilliant to ignore.
Their Barossa Shiraz Gin pays tribute to their home’s rich history of winemaking, and it’s just one of many gins on the market that take wine as an inspiration.
But how are wine gins made, and what can you expect from this exciting subcategory? Find out all the answers and more – including how to drink them! – below, but be warned, this feature may make you very thirsty!
‘Wine gin’ isn’t an official category yet, but it is a helpful way to describe a growing group of juniper-led spirits that are inspired by fine wines.
Some, as in the case of Seppeltsfield Road Distillers’ Barossa Shiraz Gin or Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin, which is made in the Yarra Valley outside of Melbourne, are both inspired by red wine and use actual wine grapes as ingredients in the gin.
Others, like Salcombe Gin Rosé Sainte Marie, take a style of wine as a starting point — in Salcombe’s case, the fruity and dry palate of a Provencal rosé wine — and translate it into a gin by choosing botanicals that echo the flavours in fine wine.
I love a glass of dry Provencal rosé wine and the image of Mediterranean summers’ day that goes along with it. We wanted to create a gin expression softer than our London Dry, with the lovely hint of red fruit and freshness you would get in a glass of rosé wine.
— Angus Lugsdin, Co-founder of Salcombe Distilling Company
And then there are gins aged in barrels once used for wine, like One Gin Port Barrel Aged Gin, which is created by resting the gin in reclaimed barrels once used to store port after it has been distilled.
Every distiller has their own ‘aha’ moment when it comes to the expressions they choose to create.
For Nicole and Jon, being steeped in the winemaking culture of the Barossa Valley — which is one of the world’s most renowned wine regions — put wine at the forefront of their minds.
Barossa is known for its Shiraz, particularly in the area where our distillery is. When we were living in the UK, we discovered sloe gin, and I wondered whether we could make a sloe-gin style spirit using Shiraz grapes. Two weeks later, Four Pillars launched their Bloody Shiraz Gin!
— Nicole Durdin, Co-founder of Seppeltsfield Road Distillers
Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin was born when, as Co-founders Stuart Gregor and Cameron MacKenzie told Ginned! Magazine back in 2016, the team ‘discovered’ (read: stole) 250kg of Shiraz grapes from one of their friends, a winemaker in the Yarra Valley.
Cam thought it would be fun to steep them, uncrushed, in gin for a few weeks. The result was a sweet, juicy drink that sold out quickly.
— Stu, Co-founder of Four Pillars Distillery
The team at Salcombe Distilling Co., on the other hand, were inspired by the adventure and joy of life in the South of France, encapsulated by the elegant-yet-joyful pink wines made there. They were inspired to capture this joie de vivre in their speciality spirit, gin, while also exploring how to create a pink gin without adding artificial colours, flavours or sugar.
Every distiller will have his or her own method of making a wine gin, depending on their equipment, skill level, the botanicals available to them and their vision of what the final product will be.
For barrel-aged gins like One Gin Port Barrel Aged Gin, it’s as simple as leaving the gin to age in a barrel until it has taken on the flavours of the fortified wine that the barrel used to hold. For others, the process is a little more complex.
The team at Four Pillars make their Bloody Shiraz Gin by soaking Shiraz grapes in their Rare Dry Gin; at Seppeltsfield Road Distillery, Nicole and Jon use their House Gin, distilled with local botanicals, as a starting point and use the same process, topping up the final product with water or spirit used as an alcohol base to adjust the ABV as needed.
At first, we expected that the alcohol would break down the grape skins and we would end up with mush, but that wasn’t the case at all. The berries remained whole, but the alcohol drew out this amazing colour and flavour.
— Nicole Durdin
Not only are the gin botanicals and the grapes local, but even the process captures a piece of Barossa Valley’s heritage.
For me, it’s a modern reincarnation of Barossa’s tradition of fortified winemaking, while also being a reimagination of the sloe gin concept. It’s great because this gin has a real sense of time and place.
— Jon Durdin, Co-founder of Seppeltsfield Road Distillers
Over at Salcombe Distilling Co. on the south coast of England, meanwhile, the wine gin on their roster is made using more traditional distilling techniques. Aiming to capture the dry fruitiness of rosé wines, the team distils carefully selected botanicals, among them strawberries, lemon verbena, orange blossom, rose petals and pink peppercorn They then macerate fresh strawberries in the London Dry Gin, achieving the pale pink colour.
The answer to this question depends entirely on the style of the gin, although a wine gin and tonic will always be a safe bet.
Richly flavoured gins like Seppeltsfield Road Distillers’ Barossa Shiraz Gin, Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin and One Gin Port Barrel Aged Gin, which have used maceration or soaking as a technique, often mimic the palate of a sloe gin. This means that serves that work with the latter will likely work with the former. Try them with ginger ale or ginger beer as a mixer, or in cocktails developed for sloe gin — Jon and Nicole are big fans of the Deep Negroni.