Tim Adams, you’re my hero

Tim Adams

Today Tim Adams did one of the gutsiest things I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Last I was in Clare the word on the street was that the Leasingham winery was doomed. Constellation put it on the market in August 2008, but after two years not a soul had stepped forward to buy the 5,000 tonne facility. “There’s no one who will be able to make a go of that place,” winemaker David O’Leary told me. “My guess is it will be levelled to make way for a nursing home.”

What a travesty to lose this piece of history. Since its conversion from an old jam factory in 1893, this was one of the Clare’s first wineries, the home of the Stanley Wine Company for almost a century before it became Leasingham Wines. What would the Clare be today if it weren’t for this landmark place? Stanley was one of the original pioneers of the planting of riesling in the Clare. The Knappsteins, Brian Barry, Tim Adams, Neil Paulett and Kerri Thompson were all winemakers in this historic facility. A veritable who’s who of Clare winemaking today.

In this age of asset dumping, vineyard ripping and high density housing smothering our precious wine regions, it looked like the wrecking ball was swinging precariously close to the ancient stone tower that was once the cellar door at Leasingham.

“I couldn’t stand the thought of it being bulldozed and sold off to some scumbag to build housing,” Tim Adams told me.

So he bought it.                                                                          

The little guy (and this may be the first and last time that the towering Tim Adams is ever named ‘the little guy’) saved the day by buying out the big boys.

It was a stupid thing to do. At this time in the economic cycle, in the middle of the grape glut, in the midst of droughts and floods, of currency crises, of export woes and domestic decline, this was not the time to make a monumental investment. Tim had a successful, growing business with extensive exports of some of the Clare’s best wines and he’s gone and taken a crazy risk. And he knows it.

“It’s going to be very tough and we are risking all we have achieved to have a crack at this,” he told me. Stupid.

But isn’t this what Aussie heroes do? They take stupid risks to save the things they believe in.

Peter Lehmann bought out the Barossa to save the growers in 1978. Kilikanoon bought Seppeltsfield from the brink of death in 2007. Little blokes, at the time.

For Tim Adams, it’s not just a building.

It was during his final year at school that the young Tim Adams wrote to Clare wineries seeking employment. Mr Mick Knappstein at Stanley Wine Company offered him a position as a cellarhand in 1975. He would mentor Tim until he retired in 1985, after fifty-seven years at the winery. “’Mr Mick’ continued to encourage me and to consult at tastings, embracing me as his last apprentice,” Tim recalled. “This relationship continued until he passed away in 1997.”

Tim plans to release a new range in honour of Mr Mick and to launch it from the Leasingham cellar door. A Riesling, Shiraz, Cabernet Malbec and Pinot Grigio Rosato will be released under the ‘Mr Mick’ label, because they were the styles he liked best. There will also be a range of six cleanskins, the profit from which will be donated to the children’s charity, Variety SA. Tim Adams, you’re my hero.

“Mr Mick was the last private owner and I am his last apprentice, yes it’s a REAL story and not another bullshit virtual label!” Tim said. “As Mick said, ‘There are two kinds of people, those who were born in Clare and those who wish they were.’ How could we forget such a man?”

In spite of the challenges, Tim is confident that he and his wife and business partner, Pam Goldsack, will be successful in what he calls “more of a homecoming than a new venture.” He told me he has her full support, even though this means selling her new car, purchased just a few months ago.

They’ll need some help, too. Next you’re in the Clare, make sure you call in at the cellar door and restaurant. Tim is buzzing with ideas. “It is just what Clare needs, a bustling focal point where we will feature local produce and local art and silverware,” he said. “We have many gifted, creative folk in town and this will give them a place to display their wares.” He’s also planning tutored riesling tastings and a “Meet at Mr Micks” every Friday night with live music and bar food. In a region that’s perpetually lacking in restaurants and local hangouts, it couldn’t come to a better place.

If you have the slightest concern for preserving the history of the Australian wine industry, if you want to do your bit to empower the little bloke to take stupid risks to resurrect a story that the corporates left to crumble, and if you want to enjoy some of the best value wine in Clare at the same time, go out and buy yourself a case of Tim Adams. You won’t go wrong with any of his labels, but my favourites right now are his Reserve Riesling 2008 (95/100), The Aberfeldy Shiraz 2006 (95/100), Clare Riesling 2009 (94/100), Reserve Tempranillo 2008 (94/100), Cabernet Merlot 2006 (94/100), Semillon 2009 (93/100), Shiraz 2007 (92/100) and Pinot Gris 2009 (91/100).

Tyson Stelzer.