2017 Best New Winery of the Year: Bondar Wines

James Halliday by James Halliday

3 Aug, 2016

This is the business of Andre Bondar and wife Selina Kelly, he the ‘Winemaker, Grapevine Hacker, the Boss’, she ‘Marketing, Taste-Tester, the (Real) Chief’. An interesting start. But it gets another dimension when you come across this: ‘Selina began her working life as a lawyer but soon realised that the long, boring hours behind a desk were far from what suited her. Selina has a passion for luxury: fashion, diamonds, champagne. And it was this love of the finer things in life that directed her career change towards marketing and the world of wine.’

It’s written in the third person, but you know who the author is. It’s a pity not to continue the story in her own words.

Bondar Wines began its life in March 2012, when Andre, Selina and a small group of their family and friends hand-picked a couple of tonnes of shiraz grapes for their first ever wine. It was a beautiful, calm, warm summer’s evening, and when the sun went down, the McLaren Vale sky lit up with one of the most spectacularly beautiful sunsets any of us had ever seen. The Violet Hour Shiraz is named in its honour.’

Paradoxically, that first vintage from the great 2012 vintage caused them to abandon their initial plan (hatched in 2009) of buying an existing winery close to McLaren Vale’s beaches, restaurant and la dolce vita. It was proving hard to find, and they decided to seek a vineyard that had a track record of producing great shiraz and grenache.

You make your own luck, and they were in the right place at the right time to be able to buy one of McLaren Vale’s best vineyards, Rayner. The sale went through in 2013, but after that year’s vintage.

There are some dots that need to be connected. Selina’s first marketing position was with Hentley Farm, Winery of the Year in the 2015 Wine Companion. She is now marketing manager for Yangarra Estate and Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard (both very distinguished and both owned by Jackson Family Wines of California).

Andre Bondar began his winemaking career in 2001, making vintages around the world and in Australia before becoming winemaker at Nepenthe, a position he held for seven years. This has given him contacts throughout the Adelaide Hills, hence the Bondar chardonnay, and the syrah they have in their sights.

But their ultimate success (or unthinkable failure) will turn on the Rayner vineyard. A ridge bisects the property, with the Blewitt Springs sand on the eastern side, and the Seaview heavier clay loam soils over limestone on the western side. It is an exceptional site for a cellar door, with views over the hills and out to the sea. They hope to have it open for business in 2018.

There is also scope for further plantings; 1ha of bush vine trained grenache was planted on the bony, sandy top of the Blewitt Springs side in the spring of 2015. Then there are experimental 0.1ha plantings of counoise, cinsaut and carignan (which sounds like advice from Yangarra’s winemaker, Peter Fraser).

It looks to me that Andre Bondar has great fruit available, and that he needs to make the best possible wine from it to keep Selina’s wardrobe in current vintage order, diamonds as her best friend, and the refrigerator permanently stocked with champagne.