Last weekend, before the worst storm in fifty years hit South Australia, I took a scenic drive up to McLaren Flat to catch up with Jodie Armstrong from Sew and Sew wines. I first met Jodie when we both did the Rock Your Goals workshop at Brick + Mortar earlier this year. We got chatting about blogging and wine making, and discovered we were both really interested in what the other one was doing. Finally, after months of trying to nail down a day we both had free, the time was right and we were able to make it a date.
When I pulled up, Jodie invited me to come for a short drive to a local winery to collect some cheese platter supplies from their cellar door. She told me that this kind of hospitality is typical of the McLaren Vale wine region, which is brimming with community spirit. Little did I know that these treats were for us to share, and when we got back we settled in for some delicious cheese, Sew and Sew 2014 Pinot Noir and a good catch up.
As I sipped my red, Jodie told me that this particular vintage is made from three clones, handpicked, 20% new oak, and aged for 18 months. I had to stop her and explain that I am a total wine newbie. I like to drink wine, but I really know nothing about how it’s produced and I couldn’t make head nor tail out of what she just told me. Luckily, Jodie is passionate about her wines, from the growing, right through to the events she hosts to promote her labels, she was more than happy to talk me through it.
Jodie’s wine journey began when she studied Agricultural Science and then specialised in Agricultural Extension. She started a pest management business and grew a name for herself consulting for vineyards. It wasn’t long before she found herself managing vineyards, and at one time she was looking after 18 different properties. Once she decided to turn the grapes she had lovingly grown into a wine label of her own, she reduced her workload and now manages 5 vineyards.
The vineyards that Jodie manages do not make their own wine, which means they sell the grapes on to winemakers, which includes Sew and Sew. Jodie told me that she at this time she wouldn’t consider buying grapes from vineyards that she didn’t manage, as being in charge of the growing process gives her total quality control over the final product. She knows each of the clones (small variances within the same grape variety), the conditions, pest control, and harvesting. Jodie is involved in every part of the growing and wine making process.
Once the grapes have been harvested and de-stemmed, the whole berries and juice are left to ferment for 10 days. They are then pressed and stored in oak barrels for 18 months, until the vintage is ready to be bottled. Half way through, the barrels are racked, which is where the wine is siphoned off of the lees, or dead yeast, that has collected at the bottom of the barrel. All of the barrels are stored onsite at the winery, along with vintages from other winemakers. One of the things that makes McLaren Vale such a tight knit community is the shared resources, such as the bottling and storage facilities. Once the wine is bottled and labeled, some of it goes directly to bottle shops and restaurants. The rest is held in cool storage for distribution from Jodie’s website and events. Sew and Sew’s latest vintage will be available from November 11.
At this stage I am sipping my wine, indulging in some cheese and feeling like I finally understand the huge amount of time, effort and cost that goes into producing a bottle of wine. The next question on my list is, how does someone go about selling the wine they have just spent two years making?
Ongoing relationships with independent bottle shops is one of the outlets for Sew and Sew, but the main distribution point is online sales. The popularity of Jodie’s wines becomes apparent when she tells me that last years vintage is completely sold out. It’s her flair for creative events, and in my opinion being an all round lovely person, that has put Sew and Sew on the map.
Earlier this year, Jodie hosted the inaugural Sew and Sew Secret Dinner. She brought together a unique location, a renowned chef, complimentary Sew and Sew wines, burlesque dancing and live music, along with the added suspense of not knowing any of these things beforehand and a sense that anything could happen. The Secret Dinner was a huge success, ensuring that the next one is already in the planning stages.
Pairing Sew and Sew with these kinds of memorable events, not only her own but also being part of events run by other organisations, is one of the main reasons Sew and Sew is becoming a household name, The other thing that has helped the success of the brand is being featured as one of the 10 wines in the Dark Horse category of James Halliday’s Wine Companion, a huge honor for Jodie.
One of the exciting things about the new vintage is the new labels. Jodie tells me that the signature stitching, whose pattern represents the lines of the vines, this year is inspired by the Japanese art of sashiko stitching. Not only does stitching represent the name, Sew and Sew, but as with the name, it honors the intricate, handmade nature of Jodie’s wines. This vintage will include a lightly oaked Chardonnay, a Fiano and a McLaren Vale Shiraz. Jodie’s new labels will feature in two upcoming events: Gather and Yarn – Sashiko Series Launch Party at Pizzateca on November 11 and Friday@Five at the Henry Austin on November 18.
Another initiative that Jodie is passionate about, is the cute bottle gift bags (available on her website for $10) that hare handcrafted by The Full Life Circle, a charity group of sewers from Jakarta. All profits from the sale of the gift bags go back to the charity. Jodie is planning a trip to Jakarta in the next couple of months to arrange supplies and streamline the process to ensure that the maximum amount of money is given back to the group.
As I swallow my last mouthful of Pinot Noir, I ask Jodie to sum up her philosophy on wine making. She says that her wines are soft, feminine, and elegant, and above all, it’s wine that she likes to drink. Jodie is the epitome of staying true to herself. She grows the grapes, she makes wine that she likes, she hosts events that excite her, and she gives back to the community wherever she can. For me, Sew and Sew is a complete package, not just liquid in a bottle.
For more info on Sew and Sew’s wines and events, check out their pages here: