The Islander is a boutique wine producer based on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. The company has its own 25-acre vineyard, where a variety of grapes are grown, with their flagships being Semillon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Shiraz. The Islander produces a wide range of blends and straight varietal wines, including several that are preservative-free, at their custom built winery located on the vineyard estate.
The company focuses on making wines with style and class that showcase the terroir – soil, climate, weather, vineyard aspect and general feel of the bushland setting. They strive to create wines of beauty in the rugged South Australian environment that really showcase the best of Kangaroo Island.
We caught up with Yale Norris, a partner in the business, to learn more about his work at Islander Estate Vineyards over the past eight years.
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Everything you need to know before a trip to Islander Estate Vineyards on Kangaroo Island.
Where is Islander Estate Vineyards located?
It's in Cygnet River on Kangaroo Island.
How was Islander Estate Vineyards started? When did it open?
Our vineyard and winery was started by Bordeaux winemaker Jacques Lurton, in 2000. Jacques choose to plant vines and make wine on KI because of our cool climate, which is perfect for growing well-balanced fruit and making delicate, elegant, French-style wines.
Tell us a little bit about your story and how you started working with Islander Estate Vineyards?
My wife, Maren, and I found Kangaroo Island nearly 20 years ago and fell in love with the place. We decided it was the ideal spot to raise our children, so in 2011 we moved here from Colorado. The Island has a vibrant community, as well as a pristine environment – I can’t image living anywhere better. I’ve had a love affair with wine that started with my first real in-depth tasting experience in 1997, in the Hunter Valley. Since then I was keen to get into winemaking. After moving to KI, a good friend introduced me to Jacques and we hit it off straight away. Now, eight years on, with vintages here and in France, I’m involved as a partner in the business and have never looked back.
Where does most of the wine come from?
We grow all the grapes on our Kangaroo Island estate for our Flagship and Estate range wines and most of our Islander range. We source a small amount of fruit (approximately 10%) to other growers.
What makes Australian wines different from other wine?
Historically, Australia wines tended to be very rich and robust, bursting with intense fruit and high alcohol. This was mostly driven by the hot climate. That trend has evolved with time and winemakers are now showing that Australia has some very distinct wine regions, each with different climate zones and different growing conditions. Wines are now being made to showcase the regions and they range from delicate elegant pinot from Tasmania thru to rich and robust shiraz from the Barossa. I think it would be hard to lump modern Australian wines into a single category, as the wines are well and truly defined by their regionality now, very much like wines from the Old World.
What is your favorite Australian red wine?
I’m in love with The Independence — our Flagship Malbec. We are one of just a few producers of Malbec in Australia and I couldn’t image not having this gem in our portfolio. Malbec is a challenging variety to grow as it is very sensitive to weather, but in good years it makes the most amazing wine. Intense, brooding, red fruits with bold tannins and super long finishes. We make this wine to be enjoyed with food, but it's pretty damn good all by itself.
What is your favorite Australian white wine?
Hands down – our Wally White Semillon. It’s a hard wine to make, but so worth all the time and effort. This barrel, fermented beauty is all about structure and texture. It spends two years in the same barrel it fermented in. It has an amazing light creaminess on the palate, with subtle hints of oak and vanilla, but finishes with a stunning citric acidity that draws it out – seems to go on and on long after the glass has been put down. As it ages, it gets softer and rounder but holds the finish. A glass of Wally with a serve of Asian style Porkbelly – aaahhh – heaven!
What pairs best with an Australian white wine?
Our white wine pairs well with sunshine and days that end in Y.
What pairs best with an Australian red wine?
Our red wine pairs well with anything on the BBQ.
Do you carry any wines that are locally made from Kangaroo Island?
We only offer our own wines at our Cellar Door. Our winery is based on Kangaroo Island, and we make our wines from grapes grown on Kangaroo Island.
Is the winemaking process on Kangaroo Island and/or in Australia unique in any way?
I think our winemaking process is unique because it’s based on Jacques’ experience making wines in more than 30 regions from 10 countries around the world over the past 40 years. A few things that we do differently include making most of our red wines in concrete vats that came from a tombmaker in France. These tanks allow us to use very little energy to maintain constant temperatures during the ferments and provide a great environment for the wines to extract maximum color and flavor from the skins. We also ferment our flagship reds in barrels, which is not very common in Australia. This process requires load of work, all done by hand, but the hard work is rewarded in the finished wine.
What kind of experience can I expect when I visit Islander Estate Vineyards?
You can do a tasting or just enjoy a glass or bottle and some nibbles on our back deck or lawn.
Do you serve food at Islander Estate Vineyards?
We offer a selection of local and regional produce as part of a pick your own platter, to sit on the verandah or lawn and enjoy with a glass or bottle of Islander wine.
What kind of wine tasting experiences does Islander Estate Vineyards offer?
We offer guided wine tastings at our cellar door, which include a wide range of wines to suit most palates. We also offer private winery tours which include a walk in the vineyard, full winery tour and tasting in our barrel room, with a small platter of cheese and nibbles.
What makes living and working on Kangaroo Island so special?
I love living and working on Kangaroo Island. There are so many passionate people here who dedicate themselves to producing unique products that showcase the island’s nature bounties, as well as the drive and the innovative spirit of those that live here. We are an isolated community and while that presents challenges, it also brings out the best in people. You need to learn to work with what’s available. And the lack of commercialism makes you realise what’s most important in life – family, friends and giving back to your community.