Jared Dixon, Jilly Wines. By Olivia Evans
Jared Dixon, Jilly Wines: Paradiso Magazine
This article was originally published by Paradiso Magazine Issue 13, March 2020.
Jared Dixon is considered a neighbour in this neck of the woods. His moustache is as impressive as his laugh and yet scarcely measures up to his talent. He is widely adored as a mate, humbled by enduring work and inclusivity. His labour of winemaking is driven by undying affection. The means of sharing it comes with an abundance of joy.
The journey to the provincial township of Clunes is a relaxing ascent into the enchantment of inland Byron Bay. Although recently presenting itself as a rusty collection of hills over the dry summer, when the rains come, there is a green forest to calm the eyes from limitless coastlines. The butcher on the right, a few small shops and you’re out the other side of town. But before you finish blinking there is an unassuming driveway leading to Jilly Wines Winery.
A life of making wine in the hills of the Byron Shire was not a natural progression for Jared as it is for others in the business. Most are born into a winemaking family or close to a major wine region. Rather, Jared grew up on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. He played music, he worked in restaurants, he travelled. When living abroad he worked in a kitchen that had a good mentality for sharing knowledge. This was governed by the pulling of corks from delicious bottles of wine after service.
The best piece of advice anyone could be given if wanting to learn about wine is to drink it, talk about it and then drink more of it. It has a rich culture that captivates so many. It has its own language, is righteous and is unmistakably obsessive. Jared returned home as a wine drinker and a soon-to-be student in Oenology (wine making).
When his parents took over the store in Clunes, Jared began to research its western backyard of New England, some three and half hours’ drive directly toward the Great Dividing Range. Oh, you can grow grapes in New England? The history of vines here dates back to the arrival of Europeans and the region has been quietly producing quality fruit since. The vineyards planted on the spine of the Great Divide are the highest viticultural dirt in Australia, ideal for growing cool climate grapes. Yet it’s lower, warmer sites create uniquely diverse conditions for a wine region. It was with this geographical awakening that Jared bought his first tonne of Nebbiolo grapes in 2011. He found his new home in Clunes and in 2012, Jilly Wines released its first fermented grape juice.
Jared has a gentle-handed approach to making wine with a deft understanding for the entire process. He allows it to be a product that is directly related to the land – wine is an agricultural product, after all. Never expect each vintage to taste the same, feel the same, and with the strength of the drought, even exist. Each harvest commences a creative journey to communicate time and place, that can never be reproduced in the same way. The fruit is grown organically, fermented without control of yeasts, temperature or chemicals and is bottled with a pinch of sulphur dioxide to stabilise the final product.
His overall expression is of liveliness and vibrancy. He ferments with indigenous yeasts, an ancient practice which creates unique flavours by drawing bacteria from the air. He is clever with his use of grape skins for sometimes they stay fermenting with the juice producing amber hues and crunchy textures. His decision making is quick, appearing nonchalant, however entirely informed. Some wines are unfiltered, meaning you can expect to see some cloudy splendour and yet his range is broad. There are some for your everyday slurping – downright juice parties that satisfy a broad range of palates. But his mecca are the bottles labelled ‘Lone Ranger’. These are some of the purest, most complex wines. They sing in the glass. They are wildly delicious. Jared’s personality present in every drop.
The relationship that Jared has with the natural world most certainly inspires him to have as little impact on it as possible. The winery itself is completely off-grid and Jared has been sporting the use of larger format packaging in the form of kegs and wine in bags AKA ‘bagnums’. While bagged wine appears beneath the image of fine wine in the world, it statistically saves 70% less waste than glass and has 80% less power carbon footprint than glass. Mind blowing. And the quality of the wine isn’t compromised. Additionally, Jared now has the largest wine keg contract in Australia and is assisting venues with the set-up cost of the keg system to encourage its use. Schooner of Chardonnay anyone? Yes, please. His business exudes thoughtfulness.
Soon the cellar door will be complete, meaning the love of this little spot can be shared. The winery is a cool place full of contemplation, shielding the heat of day. Barrels of wine are guarded by a set of grand sliding doors. It smells of must and oak and although this is a place of work, there’s always a nice stem in reach to check a barrel or to sign off on another day of labour. Standing at the winery, the sun sets towards the left of the hill just behind the newly planted rows of grapes. Jared has planted fruit in Clunes to make wine. It’s a first but not at all risky. He is trialling a string of alternate varieties which are suitable to this climate because of an absolute understanding of his craft. So now we wait for Clunes wine.
We have a lot to be thankful for to have a gentleman like Jared in our haunt. For sustaining a positive web in the community. For isolating progressive ideas within his industry that contribute to the greater environment. For understanding regionality and a sense of place. For honing a skill that involves using your hands. Jared Dixon is enthused about being a winemaker because at the core of it all, he is creating something that comes from the land.