Community is a word that gets thrown around a lot. But in the case of winemakers Sarah Feehan, Mel Gray and Jocelyn Mihalynuk, it was the catalyst for their new label, Parley Wine.
Feehan, also former restaurant manager at the Summertown Aristologist, had released her own wines under the name Operatif last year and missed the collaboration of working in a team.
“I felt like it was lonely, there were lots of people around but ultimately all the decision-making was mine and it just didn't feel right,” she says. “I had a conversation with [winemaker] Sophie [Button] and she was talking about the mentorship she receives from her business partner Jordie ... she was like, 'the way we can bounce off each other is wonderful and he inspires me and complements me and I complement him' and I thought, 'there you go'.”
“And having that united front and support from other women makes it feel less daunting to enter into an industry that is largely dominated by men.”
Feehan met Gray (who works at Son of Dot) while picking fruit at the Commune of Buttons vineyard during the 2019 vintage season. “There was a heat wave and the picking timeframe moved from three weeks to 10 days,” says Feehan. “Everything had to come off. So, it was the first official vintage for me. Definitely the hardest one I’ve done. But super rewarding. Really early mornings, picking at first light, and then trying to get everything off before 12pm when it got too hot to be outside.”
“I think I met you that same week in the Brodericks’ [Basket Range Wine] vineyard,” Mihalynuk says to Gray. “I did the classic thing, I was like, ‘I really like your tattoos’.”
“Young women meeting each other in the vines, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we can be friends’,” laughs Gray.
A year later, during the 2020 shutdown, the trio decided to launch their own label. For their first vintage, crucially, they were able to use the gear of other winemakers. They pressed their rosé at Commune of Buttons, processed their syrah at Gentle Folk, and borrowed a basket press from Borachio. It's a reflection of the all-in nature of the Adelaide Hills winemaking scene – specifically, the tight group of natural-wine producers who have found themselves in Basket Range and its leafy green surrounds.
“People were so generous with us the whole way,” says Mihalynuk. “You can see why the community is strong – because you really do benefit from each other always … It’s still that trading network, which is rare. It’s a really nice system.”
The trio paid it forward, extending their Forest Range winery shed to other emerging winemakers. “Sarah Fitzsimmons [previously at the Scenic, now at Public in Melbourne] made an oxidative-style chardonnay and Olivia from Loc made a barrel of shiraz,” says Feehan. “We had these moments where there were like six or seven women in the space. My housemate Matilda and her friends were always around so, if we needed a hand pressing or moving things, there were people.”
The result is four approachable, easy-drinking summer wines that'll be released this weekend. There’s a pét-nat blend of destemmed cabernet sauvignon, whole-bunch syrah and chardonnay juice (added during the bottling stage for “that fun-time fizz”); a skin-contact sauvignon blanc (on skins for 30 days); a chardonnay made with whole-bunch pressed fruit fermented in a stainless steel tank and aged in French oak; and a dry, acid-driven rosé made with whole-bunch syrah.
The bottles, with names such as Midnight Disco, Golden Hour and Love Supreme, are plastered with geometric, retro-style labels designed by Mihalynuk and the majority of fruit is from farmer Fiona Woods’ Top Range vineyard among the rolling hills of McLaren Vale.
While the trio is acutely aware of the gender imbalance in the winemaking scene, they're excited to see the scales slowly tipping. Feehan points to Women and Revolution in Sydney, which represents and connects women across all sectors of the wine industry. “They’re basically building a network of women working in wine, to not just represent women but represent marginalised groups and try to bring more people into the wine industry that perhaps didn’t have the opportunity,” says Feehan. “So that’s something we’ll get involved in and try to look at how it can transfer to Adelaide as well.”
“I go to uni with about 100 people and probably 30-per-cent of us are women now, which is huge compared to the past,” adds Gray. “I will say, though … I’ve got a five-month-old daughter … and I can see why it can be tricky if you don’t have that support around you.”
During vintage this year, Gray was six months’ pregnant, studying at Adelaide Uni and working two jobs. Mihalynuk was working with Gentle Folk, and Feehan was working with her partner, fellow winemaker Tim Stock of Les Fruits.
“We all had full-time jobs around it and tried to find little slivers of time within the day when we could get things done,” says Feehan. “But we found that when we all came back here together, we’d step into this space and go, ‘Oh, actually, I can breathe’.”
Parley Wine launches at Loc Bottle Bar this Saturday, December 4. The wines will be available after that at Loc and The Scenic.