The wines of Ruggabellus are born out of a deep-rooted, natural connection that vigneron Abel Gibson has with his home in the Barossa Valley, a connection that respects that traditions of the past, but is heavily influenced by the possibilities that only become apparent once you begin to question and search for another side of the story.
Abel's father, Rob Gibson, was senior viticulturist and winemaker at Penfolds and so he grew up literally immersed in wine. He travelled the world to find his own path and when he made his way back home began working at Rockford Wines with Robert O'Callaghan."That's probably where it all changed," says Abel, "I saw wine for the first time, done on a small scale, with an old petrol powered stationary motor, leather pulleys, an old crusher, and a hand cranked basket press, and I thought, wow, this is real, this is really quite artistic, and creative."
Abel then went on to learn about winemaking simply by observing, watching, and doing. He worked on a number of vintages with Rockford, both in the Barossa, and then in Spain, before he began working at Spinifex Wines, where he tried his hand at making his own wine, in small batches, on his lunch break. It was while working here that Abel received the encouragement from Spinifex's owner, Pete Schell, to embark on his own wine journey, and start his very own label...Ruggabellus.
Ruggabellus - 'Rugged Beauty.' This ideal is apparent throughout every facet of Abel's craft with the wines not too polished and none to safe, but beautiful and seamless in their own right. Wines that reflect the place and grape while mirroring the personality of its craftsman. Ruggabellus' wines are the antithesis of the big and rich flavored beasts generally associated with the Barossa Valley, with Abel looking to capture "something a little more representative of the place, rather than sunshine and new American oak.""The mystique of wine is such a beautiful thing," says Abel, "I've grown up with it and seen it as a commodity, and I wasn't interested in that at all. I'm interested in it being something that makes you think, compels you to consider, and is evocative, mystical, and a reflection of the place that it comes from."
Just a mere three years old, Ruggabellus uses fruit from word of mouth agreements with various grape growers around the Barossa. Owning and managing his own vineyard is a long term goal for Abel, but in the meantime, because of the infancy of Ruggabellus, he is having to rely upon established growers in the region to sources his fruit.
However, with the steady rise and continued success that his wines are experiencing, this is helping Abel to work more closely with these growers, influencing them, and enabling him to select the right fruit required for his wines. Abel makes his wines with as minimal intevention as possible, preferring to let the grapes speak. "It's aroma and flavor that you just can't put your finger on," he says. The kind of wines that beguile and intrigue with subtle perfumes and dense silken textures."I like things that are a little bit nervous, and have a little tension," explains Abel about his decision to use stems early on in the winemaking process, "and stems, for me, add a bit of that. They can sit beautifully with the fullness of fruit that the Barossa gets so easily, and create a little play in the mouth, which is something I love."The grapes for Ruggabellus are fermented carbonically, whereby the whole berry goes through ferment completely intact, which Abel says, "is a very important way to capture aromatics, and I love aromatics." The grapes then break late on in the ferments, or in th epress once the wine is extracted.It is this playful combination of while bunch and berry ferments that provide Ruggabllus wines with a unique personality profile. "Whole berry for aromatics and stems for snap, liveliness and vitality," declares Abel.There is no additional tannin boost from the wood Abel uses - old, seasoned oak puncheons - which provide the wine a neutral vellel for it to expand and contract..."If you just leave (the wine) in a tank, it can't do that, it seats and condenses back onto itself, and leaves it a little disorientated," whereas, says Abel, "if it can go into a barrel, I feel like it can reconcile and resolve itself."The result are wines that are unique to place, have their own identity and character, and don't sit within the big, brash and bold Barossa wine box.Mike Bennie, winefront.com.au