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MEET THE MAKER SERIES #3: COMMUNE OF BUTTONS

"There’s that very common saying that you can’t make good wine with shit grapes and that really reins true in natural winemaking where it all starts in the vineyard, ensuring the vines are tended to carefully throughout the growing season, providing the soil with enough nutrients to feed the native yeast and avoid any additions of nutrient support during fermentation."

For a number of years now, brother and sister duo Sophie and Jasper Button have been turning heads with their Basket Range wine label Commune of Buttons. In 2012 the family ran into difficulty selling grapes as they had been doing for some time, instead the Buttons decided to try to their hand at winemaking. In the field the duo commit to biodynamic principles, the property not only has a favourable aspect and cool climate, but the soil is fertile and rich in clay and sandstone. Instilling the wines with a minerality and acid base that is difficult to emulate. In the cellar, these valuable grapes are treated in a minimal and completely hands-off manner. Leaving us, the appreciators and drinkers, to marvel at the wines of exceptional character, purity and balance.

In light of their recent and beautiful new releases, we've been fortunate enough for Jasper and Sophie Button of Commune of Buttons (CB) to take some time out from their busy days in the winery to talk shop with us. You can find their latest release in our shop here x.

 

Hey guys, thank you so much for taking the time today. How is everything for you at the moment in light of COVID?

It’s hard not being able to travel and showcase our wines in person this release but we can’t complain, and generally speaking we’ve been going ok.

South Australia has been pretty lucky with fewer cases and our community is pretty small up here in the hills, so everyone helps out and rallies together to support one another. We will say that the hospitality industry was hit pretty hard at the start of COVID which was hard to see but having said that they were also quite resilient and pivoted well to diversify their businesses, offering more take away options to see them through the closure period.

 

Why did you choose to pursue winemaking?

Winemaking more or less chose us…

In 1994 our Mum and Dad, along with two other families purchased a 120-year-old market garden called ‘Fernglen Estate’ in Basket Range. The families lived together on the property slowly renovating 3 old stone cottage homes to make them liveable and planting 12 aces of grapevines along the way. Over the years the families went their separate ways and Mum and Dad stayed on the property carefully managing the vineyards and selling their grapes (Pinot and Chardonnay) to local winemakers.

We were both living away doing our own thing as you do in your 20’s when in 2012, the market for Adelaide Hills grapes took a turn and Mum who had tended to the vineyard with such care for so many years were faced with having to sell and we knew it was time to come back and work on the land that we’d always called home.

The first year we came back home there was very little market for the grapes, particularly chardonnay, which provided us with a very special opportunity to try our hand at making some wine. The first year we fermented two barrels of chardonnay with no intention of ever selling or labelling the wine; it was an opportunity for us to have a play around and we weren’t about to let the grapes go to waste.

That same year we met Anton Von Klopper of Lucy Margaux who introduced us to a world of wine we’d never imagined. After trying some of Anton’s wines we were blown away by how fresh and vibrant the wines tasted; it was essentially fruit in a glass which ignited something special.

In 2013 we started making wine under the name “Commune of Buttons” an homage to the property and the families that started it 20 years earlier.

 

Can you tell us the principles you farm by and why you choose to farm by these principles?

Our estate vineyards are farmed organically and have been since we returned to the property 8 years ago. Over the past 3 years’ we’ve also begun to apply biodynamic principles. Our approach to the vineyard is different to the winery as we would consider our viticulture to be very hands on, as raising a vineyard year-round is very high intensity. It’s important to us to maintain good soil practices as well as ensuring the we maintain good micro-climate for the vines, which includes a significant amount of green pruning as well as aerial sprays and foliar feeding throughout the growing season.

For the vineyards we don’t manage ourselves we entrust grape growers who we’ve had long term business relationships with for several years and who have a commitment to maintaining the vineyards organically with strong ethics and care for their vines and land.

Regenerative farming is also very important to us as we always work to put back in what we take from the soil which future proofs the land for our families and the families who will come after us.

 

What does ‘natural’ mean to you and what are the core principles in the cellar that you stick to?

‘Natural’ is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot and can also be quite polarising. Without going into the definition of what ‘natural wine’ is or isn’t we’d rather start with the vineyard practices with organic and biodynamic viticulture at the core of our process as we grow most of our grapes on the estate at Basket Range and source a very small amount from local organic grape growers in Piccadilly and Mount Torrens.

There’s that very common saying that you can’t make good wine with shit grapes and that really reins true in natural winemaking where it all starts in the vineyard, ensuring the vines are tended to carefully throughout the growing season, providing the soil with enough nutrients to feed the native yeast and avoid any additions of nutrient support during fermentation.

With the small amount of wine we process we’re able to monitor all the ferments quite carefully both during alcoholic fermentation and ageing. Our ferments are spontaneous meaning we don’t inoculate, and we only add very small additions of sulfur around 1-2g/hL if it’s required. The wines are aged in old barrels for around a year and then bottled un-fined and unfiltered with no additions at bottling.

Did you choose particular varietals to work with for any specific reasons?

We work with the varietals that are planted here on the Commune which includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and in the coming years we’ll see fruit from the newly planted Cabernet Franc vines that went in a few years ago.

We’re lucky to have a strong symbiotic relationship between soil and vine, in particular the Chardonnay that delivers on mineral characters as a result of the sandstone soils. The cool climate of the hills means we get to maintain acid without sacrificing flavour or ripeness of fruit, which is integral for natural winemaking where pH is fundamental for managing microbes during fermentation.

 

What wine do you drink when you’re not drinking your own wine?

 

At the risk of sounding cliché… more often than not it’s Chardonnay. We also have a soft spot for Chenin, and of course, Coopers Mild Ale.

 

Did you choose the area you’re based in, or did the area choose you?

We’re incredibly lucky to have grown up in the Adelaide Hills with our family and we will continue that tradition as we raise our own families. We’ll forever call Basket Range home, not only because we grew up here, but also because it’s important for us to be part of a community that’s so caring and welcoming to all.

We’re loving your 2019 wines that have just landed, every cuvée is delicious and they’re already flying off the shelves. Where to next for the label, is there anything we should be looking out for?

This year we explored a skin contact Chardonnay and we’ve really happy with how that has come into its own. We’ve also just released our 2018 Basketolo Nebbiolo which is only 8 rows grown on the estate right next to the Clover vineyard. While that wine is still very much a baby it really solidifies the importance of holding onto wines and allowing them to develop and flourish during the ageing process.

We’re lucky to have exceptionally fertile soils with both rich clay and sandstone that really shine through in our estate wines and we’ll forever be allowing the soils to drive their flavour profiles.

 

Thank you so much Sophie and Jasper! It has been an absolute pleasure.