For the love of Grenache

To help celebrate International Grenache Day this last month and our month-long celebrations of this wonderful variety, I sat down with our talented Winemaker, Armand Lacomme to get the insider scoop on the world of Grenache. 

Armand grew up in South Africa and studied Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University. He now calls Australia home, and today we have been lucky enough to have him as our Starrs Reach winemaker for the past 6 years, turning our Riverland fruit into something truly special. Driven by his knowledge, passion, and first-hand experience with this varietal, Armand is committed to our simple ethos of allowing the wine to tell the story of the land on which it is grown with low intervention winemaking. With our 2022 Grenache – soon to be released achieving a Gold Medal and 95 Points at last weeks Riverland Wine Show there is no  doubt Armand has got the goods. However humble in his talent, Armand is always the first to say that good wine begins in the vineyard. This is the verdict… 

How did your winemaking journey begin? Was it always your dream to become a winemaker, or how did this career path come to be? 

It was always my dream to become a winemaker. I naturally gravitated towards winemaking. From an early age I curiously wandered around the vineyard and cellar of my Aunt’s wine farm in Franschhoek, South Africa. The combination of my parent’s love for wine, my French heritage, and my passion to be creative and work with my hands are all contributing factors to why I formed this career path.


Before joining us at Starrs Reach, where has your winemaking career taken you?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had my career take me around the world, to the following places:

·                2007 vintage in Schenkfontein, Piketberg, South Africa 

·                2007 vintage in Domaine de Maubet, Gascogne, France 

·                2010-2011 – Cave Jamet, Chateauneuf Du Pape, France 

·                2011-2012 – Domaine Olivier Hillaire, Chateauneuf Du Pape, France

·                2012-2016 – Allesverloren Wine Estate, South Africa 

·                2016-2021 – Riverland Vintners, Australia 

·                2021 to current – McLaren Vintners, Australia 


What do you love most about working in the wine industry? 

I love that there are no dull moments in the wine industry! I get to employ skills and tactics that best reflect what nature has provided through the seasons, with no two wines being the same. There is nothing like seeing the satisfaction of consumers enjoying a well-made wine and being able to share those wines with my family and friends. 


Considering Grenache is the flavour of the month, why do you love the variety Grenache? 

Grenache is honestly my favourite grape variety alongside Pinot Noir. I love working with these two varietals because of the versatility and fruity notes. It is a tough grape variety that thrives in harsh, hot, and dry conditions and can still produce such an elegant and flavoursome wine. Grenache doesn’t have to be a stand-alone wine, as it works well being blended with other varietals to create something unique. 

Can you tell us a bit about your dealings with Grenache and Rosé in France when you worked there, or in any other regions? 

Chateauneuf du Pape is the best-known region for Grenache, and I was fortunate enough to spend two years there as a winemaker. I had the opportunity to do soil preparation as well as planting and establishing a new grenache vineyard. The majority of vines in Chateauneuf Du Pape are bush vines rather that trellised. The reason for this is that the vines are lower to the ground, where the heat can be radiated during late afternoon and evening to aid in the development of sugars and help with ripening. 

In this region I learned to make Rosé, having access to fruit from other Southern Rhone regions and Provence. The early picked Grenache parcels were used to retain natural acidity and only the free run juice was used for rose, known as methode saignée. I learned the lesson to never judge a book by its cover in my first year in the region, when purchasing a lot of bulk wine from other producers for Rose blends, establishing that quality of cask wine in France can often exceed most bottled wines around the world. 


Where do you draw inspiration from for the Starrs Reach Grenache? 

My inspiration for the Starrs Reach Grenache stems from my time abroad, where the variety has been made in such a way as to retain its varietal characters and express the terroir. This is also true for the Grenache from Starrs Reach! Sheridan and I both believe in showing what the variety is capable of and she has maintained this through the way they manage their vines. Utilising a laissez-faire approach, picking the grapes at the right time, and not manipulating the ferment or fruit in any way. This Grenache is a true representation of what the Riverland can produce, and it does justice to the wonderful varietal that is Grenache. 


What makes the Starrs Reach Grenache so special?

We aim to let the wine speak for itself; focusing on minimal intervention, with healthy ferments that have neutral yeast, not changing varietal characteristics. We have kept lighter oak styles having fruit expression so that the wines can be enjoyed year-round.


In the vineyard, the Starrs Reach Grenache is trellised as a double cordon, with a well-balanced canopy that shades the fruit from the hot Riverland summer. The vineyards are planted over a variation of sandy soil and clay/loam soils over limestone, from the top to the bottom of the hill; giving a fantastic variation in tannin, acid, and complexity for winemaking.


What is your favourite food pairing with the Starrs Reach Grenache, and when do you most enjoy drinking it?

My favourite pairing would have to be lamb chops cooked on the fire, seasoned with rosemary, together with crispy rosemary and garlic baby potatoes. My favourite memory of Starrs Reach Grenache was next to the fire in the Flinders Ranges, enjoying the wine with great company!


It is truly beautiful to see Grenache flourishing and experiencing a recent resurgence within the wine industry! We certainly couldn’t ask for anyone better to pick (forgive the pun) the brain of and craft our Grenache than Armand, and we love working alongside him!

It has been an absolute pleasure interviewing Armand and sharing a bit more with you about the man behind our Starrs Reach range. We appreciate his level of proficiency, care, and attention to detail when it comes to our wines, and we love being able to share them with you al!