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April 19, 2017

Rieslingfreak: A lifelong love affair with a grape

Proving there's more variety in one varietal than anyone ever thought.

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  • Words: Anthony Nocera
  • Pictures: Josh Geelen

The first thing people will tell you about John Hughes is that he’s the nicest guy ever. The second is that he really loves riesling. Which is fitting, we guess, considering he’s named his brand after himself.

Rieslingfreak was borne out of John’s lifelong passion and association with the varietal.


Barossa Vintage Festival takes place April 19-23. Full details are here.

“I grew up in Clare and we have family vineyards there,” says John. “We’ve had them for 35 years and it was an old riesling vineyard. Mum and Dad had it in the cellar. So I grew up on that and other rieslings from right around the world.

“And going to university, I used to always sneak riesling from the old man’s cellar and everyone used to call me a riesling freak, so when I went out by myself the decision was made for me … it had to be Rieslingfreak.”

At the core of the brand is a desire to highlight the variability and accessibility of riesling as a wine that everyone, regardless of their tastes, can enjoy.

“What I really like about riesling is the diversity of it. I do a sparkling, I do a fortified, I do a sweet and I do a dry. There’s not many varieties you can do that with when it comes to wine,” says John.

“The fun side for me is drinking the wine and enjoying it, I mean really enjoying it. I’m not one of those people who thinks you need to sit down with a suit and tie and have all this knowledge to love wine. You don’t have to be a ‘wine person’. I’m all about enjoying a moment and enjoying it with riesling. That’s why I do it and how I think it should be. “

As John says this, he pours us a drink, chilled to eight degrees – which he says is the optimum temperature for riesling.

We take a sip and it’s really good.

“That’s number four,” he says. “Each of the wines I make is numbered according to where the grapes come from and the character of the wine. We source from Clare and Eden Valley. I really enjoy Eden Valley and what it brings to the riesling portfolio.

“It comes down to the soil, in Clare it’s got a lot of clay and slate and stone and and the vineyards I use in the Eden Valley the soil has a lot of sand and limestone. From a sensory or tasting point of view, Eden Valley is all about those brown limes and lemons… It’s richer. Clare is more about the floral notes in the wine.”

Each number from Rieslingfreak’s current and back vintages will be on show at their Barossa Vintage Festival event this week.

“It’s our first time being part of the festival. We’re working with FermentAsian to put together a six-course degustation,” says John.

“I like to show a wide range of vintages to allow people to see how the product ages and what it could be in three or four years time. Riesling is so versatile and I want to show people that it can work in a variety of ways. I enjoy riesling, and I could drink it all night … I have. That’s what we want to do with this event. We want to show that all you need on the table is riesling. We’re really excited about the event … and the whole festival, really.

“The festival is so unique. It’s a whole week of food, wine, arts and culture and I don’t know if there’s another region that does anything like this. The whole community gets involved … it’s more than just the wineries and restaurants. It’s everyone in the Barossa celebrating the end of vintage.”

So we ask the self-proclaimed Rieslingfreak what his biggest night on riesling has been and he smiles, “You know, I really can’t remember,” and then, noticing our glasses are empty, he gets up, “More wine?”

And we say yes. But only to one more … even though we could’ve kept going for the whole afternoon.

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