It’s funny how life goes. I grew up exposed to, surrounded by, in fact immersed in a household totally focused on wine -having Peter and Margaret Lehmann as my parents saw to this! But, (get this) back then, I never considered going into ‘THE BUSINESS’.
I had half the adults (who always seem to enjoy passing edicts to 8 year olds) telling me that with PL and Marg as my parents I’d “JUST HAVE to go into wine making…daaarling…” The Other half seemed to take great pleasure in pointing out that my life would come up ‘gravy’ if I just jumped aboard the Lehmann Wine Train… Well I took all of these sort of comments on board and thought to myself, “Fuck ’em, I’ll do my own thing!” From the day I decided that on I’d tell anyone who asked that I wanted to be a graphic designer.
My parents wisely kept their own council at this time. Mum and Dad obviously had the confidence that we (my younger brother Phil and I) had been brought up able to make the right choices in the long run. Well they were right. We’ve both found the ‘faith’ (Phil has come into his own ‘winemaking skin’ to be Senior Winemaker for WD Wines – encompassing the Parker Coonawarra Wines, St Johns Road Wines and the Hesketh Wines after honing his craft at Yalumba, Peter Lehmann Wines and Teusner Wines… as well as being a qualified Electrical Engineer.) All the many paths we’ve trod to get where we now are have given us a big bucket of experience to dig around in that is always invaluable.
My first vintage ever was in the legendary year of 1992. I scored a night shift position at St Hallet Wines, working on the old Open Red Fermenters (Chilling digging out, making additions etc). I worked directly under Peter Gambetta (now a Senior Winemaker at Yalumba) and Trev Jones (now of Trev Jones Wines, or is it Boots??). It was bloody hard yakka, but I was hooked.
The second vintage was in 1997 when Nicki, my brand new wife and I headed to South Africa. I had a vintage lined up with the Finlayson family at Glen Carlou Winery in Paarl, just north of Stellenbosch whilst Nicki managed to score cellar door work with the Delheim Winery. That vintage was a real eye-opener. Again, heaps of hard yakka but also a lot of fun! In-fact Dave Finlayson may very well have laid the groundwork for opening my eyes to the possibilities Chardonnay posed which Phil brought to full blown obsession with our Brothers Ilk project in 2008. I was sad to go when it was over and hope to catch up with Dave Finlayson for another one someday and the Aussie version of our mutual love of Chardonnay. After South Africa we spent another 8 months traveling before heading back to the Barossa, Nicki pregnant and me ready to get on with it! Coming home was awesome. 11 months away left me so hungry for the Barossa I thought that I would burst my chest.
My next vintage (1998) narrowly missed being full time in the cellar and instead saw me out in the vineyards picking. I did however manage to squeeze in a little winemaking with my brother Phil (who was doing a vintage at PLW) and together we made the first david Franz wines. The ’98’s are absolutely awesome wines and set the production template the basics of which are still unchanged today. I have a little dream of releasing these wines with Phil as a homage to Dad, probably under our Brothers Ilk label sometime soon.
After the vintage I went to work full time as a vineyard hand. I needed to start (or so dad and mum reckoned) at the ‘bottom’ so worked for Darryl ‘Jacky’ Hearnden looking after Dads newly acquired Stonewell Hill and Stelzer Road vineyards. This was great. I got to spend a lot of time in the vineyards at the grass roots level, absorbing the rhythms and learning the vines. Over the next three years I gradually took over Jacky’s role in the vineyards and since then I have have managed the whole 75 acres for the family. As david Franz has grown and demands on my time intensified I had to admit that I couldn’t do it all so in mid 2013 a great mate of ours, Warwick Murray came on board to help me look after our Stonewell Hill property leaving me free to focus on our Stelzer Road and Bultawilta Blocks.
As the 1999 vintage rolled around rather than spend another three months breaking my back hand picking I managed to convince the PLW Team to let me do a vintage at home with Peter Lehmann Wines. This vintage saw me running the centrifuge during the day shift. This job actually gave me a fair bit of time to ‘frigg around’ with my own bits when spinning through the ‘big’ tanks. I hand produced a lightweight Shiraz (only 15.7% alc vol) and a Cab Shiraz blend(70% 30%). Both wines were big but balanced and having cracked one of each recently (December 2013) reckon that 1999 is one of the ‘forgotten vintages’ that will be seen in the future as one of the best…
In 2000 I managed to convince Dad to back me for a more serious vintage. I used the facilities at PLW to make my 2000 Reds in between pump-overs and working the 2000 vintage as a part of the PLW Red Chilling Team. Although it was a bloody difficult year I have a really soft spot for the 2000 Benjamin’s Promise and reckon the 2000 Georgie’s Walk is still one of the finest wines I’ve ever made. 2000, 2001 2002 and 2003 were all made under the roof of PLW. Until the end of the 2003 vintage, I worked Dads vineyards, did vintages and produced my wines at PLW.
From these years I took in a lot more from the PLW team than they probably realize. In particular a truly unsung hero at the winery, Leone Lange gave me the methodologies and tools I use every time I make my wines. Perhaps the other great influence from my time at PLW, Peter Scholz – of Willows Vineyard fame who comes in every vintage to join the winemaking team – gave me over and above everything else the belief in myself and my wines that still drives me today. Working at PLW gave me the practical day to day knowledge that enable me to actually make my wines properly. once you know the rules you are free to play anywhere on the field, confident that your wines will be sound as well as delicious!
After the 2003 vintage I was determined to finally shift everything home and make all of my wine under one roof… namely MY roof! I sat down and did some figuring and worked out that although it would be tight I could probably afford to do it – which invoked the inevitable question at times like this – “Hey Dad… Can I borrow some dosh…??”
My first purchases (with mum and dad’s money) were an even dozen food grade “Nally” plastic grape bins. To my mind these are ideal fermenters. They have a great surface area to volume ratio, are small light and ‘plastic-y’ for easy handling and compared to stainless steel, cheap as chips. I managed to pick up through means both devious and clever sixteen food grade plastic thousand litre ‘plasticons’ for an absolute song. With these cheap purchases, I was well on the way to having the making of my small winery. Next I turned my thoughts towards separating the grapes from the stems.
Paul Lindner (Now Chief Winemaker at his families ‘Langmeil Winery) and I had been kicking around an idea on how to get the grapes into the fermenter with the minimum of handling. The idea was to crush directly into the top of the fermenter. Although Paul and I (and many others) had been forking grapes through the top of the de-stemmer into the fermenter for years, we wanted to take it one step further and do it out in the vineyard. Basically it took away the need to fork and left all the piles of stalks out in the vineyard where they could go back to the vines. With remarkably little planning and an ‘adapt as we build’ philosophy (and around 10 cartons of Coopers Pale Ale) Paul and I put together a successful ‘contraption’. It started with a second hand 5 tonne an hour Zambelli de-stemmer with the crushing rollers chucked away and the bottom cut off. We cut and welded together a frame, mounted the de-stemmer on top and added the front carriage from an old forklift which carries the fermenting bins underneath. The whole unit fits on the three point linkage on the back of a tractor and is all driven by the tractor’s PTO shaft. It does everything I initially wanted and more, because we can hand or machine pick directly into our fermenters out in the field!
Every winery needs a pump. Big wineries use big pumps, little wineries use little pumps. My very first purchase of the pumping variety was a very little one inch mono that hasn’t missed a beat for over 11 years… I have replaced a couple of staters but at around $45 a pop, it’s not to big of a deal!! Although not as quick as most pumps I had always been a big fan of the ‘Mono Pump’ It is a rugged design that because it works on the principle of positive displacement doesn’t need priming and can cope with being asked to move pretty chunky materials. It is perfect for pumping over my little ferments when they need chilling and with a bit of patience (and perhaps a beer in hand while it chuggs away) eventually does all it needs to.
During fermentation it is important to be able to control your ferment temperature. Back In 2004 a six hundred liter single phase milk vat and ‘drain and return’ looked after all my chilling requirements. Drain and return is still a popular method amongst both big and small producers, as you have the majority of the wine getting icy cold in the chiller whilst the skins and the last little bit of wine in the fermenter keep on steaming away. Finally you splash the chilled wine back over the hot ferment, extremes of temperature clashing to help extract ever more flavours. The only downside of drain and return is if (like me) you have many small batches all cranking away at once that need to be chilled but also need to be kept separate. The solution was to get hold of a tidy little 1″ diameter stainless steel coil and fill my milk vat up with water and use the “Tube in Tube” pump over method to chill my little beauties one at a time , quickly and efficiently. In the last couple of years, I have up sized the chilling plant, added a brine bath instead of plain water (which can be chilled to minus 10 degrees Celsius without freezing) an extra coil and can comfortably look after my entire production of both red and white grapes without running out of ‘Cold’ – AWESOME!!
Back in 1998 and 1999 and my first vintage on the hill – 2004, Pressing was done in tiny batches through a Zambelli ¼ tonne hand basket press borrowed from Paul Lindner and Dave “Westy” Cruikshank of Soul Growers. The basket press is the ultimate form of pressing for red and white grapes. Because it is static you don’t get the addition of maceration every single other form of pressing introduces. This gentle but inexorable form of pressing can extract (with patience) just as much as a continuous screw press, but it does it in an incredibly soft manner. 2005 saw me trade up from the borrowed hand cranked 250kg Zambelli Basket press to a plug in, push button ‘Hypac’ hydraulic 2 tonne Basket press with a stainless steel basket. In the (now) 9 vintages since it has not missed a beat. I’ve made a few mods to the original press, cladding the platen with Stainless Steel – which I believe is now standard, and modifying the base to be compatible with my forward tipper on the forklift. In all honesty I could not recommend more highly the ‘Hypac’ basket presses. It is simple, ridiculously over engineered and easy to clean and maintain. I am processing between 80-100 tonne of fruit each year with roughly 20 – 30 tonne of this being white and rose fruit. We put all the fruit either de stemmed or whole bunch through a set of rollers which we sit on top of the basket and find we get an awesome and efficient extraction.
In late 2006 I finally cracked and bought myself a second pump. This is a mighty 2″ Zambelli that can really shunt the wine around. The Zambelli is a vane style pump that has the advantage of speed over my mono but the trade off is definitely a lower level of robustness. Since 2006, as my overall production has grown I’ve accrued a few more pumps invested in a heap of stainless steel tanks, hoses and all the bits and bobs that are encompassed in a ‘real’ winery… Which by now I guess david Franz really is.
If you’ve visited my wines section or downloaded my order form you will have noticed that there is a veritable cornucopia of wines that I make… Yes I admit it I just can’t help myself! I LOVE trying new things, varieties techniques. In 2002 I stepped a little out of the box and added a third wine to the portfolio. 1998-2001, it was just Shiraz and Cabernet darkening my door so to speak so with a bit of ingenuity made the very first Red Rosé – after all it’s good to have something to put in the fridge. The 2002 Red Rosé was crafted from a block of mixed varietal old vines that was originally planted in 1923. Emboldened by my success and excited by the results of multi varietal co-fermentation in 2003 I pulled together fruit from the odds and sods and orphan small patches of Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mataro and fermented the original base wine for what has become the Larrikin NV Blend. In 2004 when I shifted the entire operation up to the ‘Mt Lehmo’ site I was content to stick with making Shiraz, Cabernet the Red Rosé and The Larrikin Blend and get them all ‘right’. Roll on 2005… Itchy feet again!!! Most of the plonkies I know in the small winemaking arena seem to have a preconception that making whites on the boutique level is somewhere between ‘why bother’ and impossible. Being a bloody minded contrary sort of a chap I of course ignored such concerns and decided to make 2 different whites straight off the bat! The ‘terroir’ of selected pockets of the Barossa and Eden Valley brilliantly nurture two of my favorite white varieties – Riesling and Semillon. in 2005 I had a Chat to Mum and Dad and they let me have roughly a tonne of Semillon from our Stonewell Hill Vineyard. It was whole bunch pressed through the ever versalite ‘Hypac’ (well versatile in the sense that you can squish the crap out of anything you throw in the basket) and slow fermented in the little 600 litre single phase milk vat that Paul and Westy so generously let me borrow again. Once it was through ferment and racked off into another tank, Mick Hearnden’s Riesling was ready to pick. I slipped him some ‘cabbage’ and he let me have a tonne of the good stuff of of his wonderful, dry grown old vines. This also was whole bunch pressed through the Hypac and fermented in the chiller.
Since those humble ‘shed built’ beginnings – 15 or so years ago I have made it a little personal mission to try something new every year. Each year I have made a little more in both quantity and in variety. Evolving my techniques as well as my craft – each year striving to be better at what I do than the last. I reached my glass ceiling after I managed to hand process 100 odd tonnes by myself in 2011. In the lead up to 2012 vintage, I finally cracked and admitted that I just couldn’t keep on doing it alone and my by now indispensable ‘right arm’, Matt Pfeiffer joined me at the Mt Lehmo wine forge. This year - 2019 – we have been joined in the Vineyard by Jacob Schulz - Another multi Generational Stalwart. The range has evolved and grown, but the integrity of the way the fruit is grown and the wines crafted has not. Yes new ideas techniques and theories come into play every year but one thing will never change and that is the honesty with which it all comes together.
So there you are… david Franz at a glance… well sort of I guess. Enjoy the fruits of our labours it is as honest as it is delicious and each wine is made to last.
Cheers, david Franz Lehmann – Vigneron – Winemaker – Artisan.