Brad Ebert’s business card makes no mention of the 230-odd games of AFL he’s played with West Coast and Port Adelaide.
It simply reads, “Managing Director, Hey Diddle Wines”.
It’s a subtle sign of the serious intent behind the project Ebert has created with winemaker Ben Chipman, marketer Toby Yap and Port Adelaide teammate Tom Jonas.
“We both know that having a bit of a profile as footballers might open a few doors at first,” Jonas says before heading in to a meeting to dissect last Saturday’s frustrating game in which the Adelaide Crows and the score review system beat Port by three points. “But if what’s in the bottle isn’t up to scratch, those doors won’t stay open long.”
If they can maintain the standards set by their initial release, a fragrant and supple 2017 Barossa Valley shiraz, those doors should remain wide and welcoming long after the boots are hung up and the palate-distorting pong of liniment fades.
Ebert points to time spent as a kid in an uncle’s vineyard in South Australia’s Riverland as the origins of an interest in winemaking.
He even seriously investigated how he might combine studying for a viticulture degree with the demands of AFL, but just couldn’t find the time.
There are Port Adelaide fans of a certain age who wonder why he would not just take the easy way his surname presents him.
Brad is the nephew of Russell Ebert, the greatest Port Adelaide player of them all. Premiership captain, four-time Magarey Medallist and the man who sits alongside Dennis Lillee on the throne atop my childhood Olympus.
We would say he only needed to fill a tanker from the water supply, get Russell to wave his hands over it and he’d have 10,000 cases right there on the spot.
Instead he went for the next best thing and got Ben Chipman. Chipman and Yap have their own label, Tomfoolery, and Ebert had discovered those wines when his sister worked with Yap’s wife for the publisher of a wine magazine.
With Jonas on board, meetings were arranged to see how the four might work together and it was decided early on this would be a serious operation requiring all hands on deck. “I told the boys if they wanted to get involved in the wine business, they had to get properly involved,” says Chipman.
“I wasn’t interested in doing all the heavy lifting for a couple of pretty-boy footballers who just wanted to tip some cash in and get all the glory.”
Chipman’s first lesson for the fledgling Barossa winemakers was the need to find a good, generational grapegrower, the kind that has formed the fabric of the place for 170 years. Chipman searched long and hard for the vineyard site that satisfied Ebert’s and Jonas’s detailed brief. “We wanted the wine to be fresh and fruit-driven because that’s the style the market seems to want right now, but at the same time we didn’t want to lose that guts and grunt you get from Barossa shiraz.”
Chipman targeted a site tucked in between the parishes of Krondorf and Gomersal, owned by the Schiller family. Its rare easterly aspect produces more elegant fruit flavours and a more moderate, yet still distinctly Barossan, richness.
From that point on Ebert and Jonas have been hands-on in every part of the process —out in the vineyard, back in the winery and even alongside marketing gun Yap in designing the stylish packaging that makes no mention of the wine’s footballing associations.
The industry has a long, and mostly sorry, history of high-profile people thinking it might be fun to own a wine brand. Some have longevity, most do not. This one feels right, as wine from a couple of Port boys should.
If the wine was crap and my unbridled bias in favour of the Port Adelaide Football Club compelled me to write about it anyway, it would be easy to anthropomorphise the liquid, make all sorts of clumsy references to a wine with the guile of Gavin Wanganeen, the poise of Robbie Gray and expansive back-end of Stewie Dew.
Luckily, the wine is so much better than that and can confidently stand on its own merits. It’s bright and energetic, layered with brambly fruit characters at just the right point of ripeness.
Never green, never jammy. Just at that perfect juncture where the floral and the fruity meet.
It’s slippery and supple on the palate, imbued with energy, deftly deployed power and length.
This is classic Barossa shiraz viewed through a very contemporary prism. It’s bloody good, no matter where your football allegiances lie.