Moonlighting winemakers exploit thirst for boutique gin

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Adelaide Hills winemaker and gin distiller Sacha La Forgia
Adelaide Hills winemaker and gin distiller Sacha La Forgia
The growing demand for boutique gin has seen a steady increase in Australian winemakers working on the side as distillers.

The trend is especially pronounced in South Australia, a state traditionally associated with fine wines.

Kangaroo Island Spirits pioneered the production of hand-crafted gin in 2005, but it took almost 10 years for local competition to emerge. 

Winemaker Rowland Short, of Maximus Wines, launched McLaren Vale Distilling Company’s Settlers Gin in 2014, and 10 months later Adelaide Hills winemaker Sacha La Forgia released his first batch of 78 Degrees gin in January this year.

Jumping on the juniper bandwagon

More locals have followed suit, with Adelaide Hills’ wine and perfume makers Brendan and Laura Carter, of Unico Zelo, releasing their small-batch Applewood gin a few months ago; Antipodes Gin, made by a Victorian-South Australian collaboration, becoming available in August; and the Prohibition Liquor Company, also from Adelaide Hills, are just weeks away from releasing their own brand. 

Word has it that another two distilleries at Victor Harbor and on Kangaroo Island are currently awaiting approval.

With a growing number of small bars and restaurants in the area, such as Hains and Co, Howling Owl and the Salopian Inn, that specialise in boutique gins, there’s a wealth of opportunities for producers and enthusiasts.

It’s very exciting​,” says La Forgia. “It’s going to be a serious industry in a couple of years​. 

As the market grows, so will the number of distilleries and there are lots of winemakers who can easily cross over​.”

A global gin odyssey

La Forgia started distilling as a hobby almost 10 years ago when he was 18 years old. “I learnt about it in chemistry at school and had a still in the laundry at home​,” he says. 

He studied winemaking and went travelling after he left school, chasing New World and European vintages, and working in wineries and checking out distilleries. During that time he built his knowledge and palate for spirits, he says.

Two years ago I went to work for a friend of a friend who owns a grappa distillery in Friuli in Italy. He gave me the confidence to start on my own​,” he says.

When I came back to Australia, I built a still. A lot of the equipment you need is similar to winemaking equipment, and all my time outside of my work as a winemaker was spent getting the distillery up and running before the Crush Festival in January this year, when I released my first batch​.”

La Forgia distils his gin from fermented grapes and then infuses it with botanicals such as juniper, coriander, fresh citrus peel, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, clove, angelica and orris root.

It’s my take on the classic London dry gin, which is juniper and coriander dominant, but I’ve tried to bring it into the new era of distilling, with more interesting and complex aromas and flavours​.”

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