Although the great Greg Trott died in 2005, and although he isn't actually the original founder of the estate, it is still his philosophies, values and lifestyle that are richly integrated into everything Wirra Wirra stands for today. His maxim was: 'Never give misery an even break, nor bad wine a second sip. You must be serious about quality, dedicated to your task in life… but this should all be fun.'
Wirra Wirra, an Aboriginal name meaning 'amongst the gum trees', was in fact founded long before Greg Trott was born. The estate was established by Robert Strangways Wigley in 1894, just 4km south-east of the township of McLaren Vale, and within just seven years he had planted 100 acres of vines in this rapidly emerging wine region. He made the winery one of the most important and respected in the region, even exporting his wines to England, but when he died in 1924 the 240-acre estate was sold by his family, and went into a state of disrepair.
It wasn't until 1969, when chicken farmer Greg Trott and his cousin Roger purchased this McLaren Vale site, that it began to come back to life. Such was the state of the land that the cousins made their first wine in the open air amidst the ruins.
Together, they rebuilt the winery using local materials, and replanted the vines in the sunny McLaren Vale, with its warm Mediterranean climate and moderating influence from the sea. A benefit of the climate here is the unlikelihood of any rainfall during the harvest season, meaning there is much less chance of crop damage. Greg also secured the purchase of vines in the neighbouring Adelaide Hills region, the cooler climate of which makes it ideal for Wirra Wirra's aromatic white grape varieties.
Over the years, Greg and his cousin transformed the property into one of Australia's leading names with a reputation for intense, well-crafted red wines and expressive, flavoursome whites. However, Greg did more than just this to made his mark on Wirra Wirra: the estate is littered with landmarks marking various wacky projects throughout Greg's life there, such as 'Woodhenge' a 10-tonne fence made from gum trees marking the entrance of the estate. All of these projects resulted in one of what Wirra Wirra calls the 'tales, tall and true' that go into the naming of most of its wines, and that help to epitomise the soul of the brand.
One of the most notable of these sites is the ¾-tonne bell called the Angelus, which is rung to signal the start of each vintage, and also to celebrate other noteworthy events. On the day Greg died, the bell struck 70 times, one for each year of his life, to signal to the vineyard workers that he had passed away. One of Wirra Wirra's flagship cabernets was named after the bell. However, following legal pressure from Château Angelus in Bordeaux, Wirra Wirra was forced to change the name of their Cabernet Sauvignon Angelus for the European market, and so the wine is now called Dead Ringer!
A couple of Wirra Wirra's wine ranges also give a nostalgic nod to the original founder, Robert Strangways Wigley, such as the RSW range (using his initials, of course), and also the Mrs Wigley Moscato. Contrary to what one might think, Mrs Wigley was not Robert's wife; she was, in fact, an inquisitive cat who adopted the winery as her home, and used to sleep in the empty open vats.
Although Gregg died having achieved so much for Wirra Wirra, he left some plans unfinished, one of the most ambitious of which was his desire to build a giant trebuchet-style catapult. His team built one for him in his memory, and the estate now marks his birthday each year by using the catapult to fire watermelons into the vineyards.A fitting tribute for a man who lived for eccentricity and fun, and whose spirit is still very much alive at Wirra Wirra.