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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Winemakers looking for a NEWcastle base

Dirt Candy Wine is looking for a Newcastle base to call home.

Having spent the past five years in a shared space in the Hunter Valley, the small-batch, artisan brand is ready to lay roots in its own corner of the former steel city.

A country boy at his core, Dirt Candy Wine frontman Daniel Payne says it’s time his delectable beverages were welcomed into more Newcastle homes.

“We’d love to establish ourselves in Newcastle,” he said.

“Whether that’s a warehouse or cellar door space that would be ideal. 

“I don’t need a lot of tank space, I don’t make that much at a time, we’d really just love a space to do tastings and maybe some food.”

Payne produces between 200 and 2,000 litres of each of his wines.

The combination and size varies each time.

“Very rarely do I make the same wine twice,” Payne says.

“Which is why Jenni has to make new labels again and again.”

Payne’s wife Jenni is the ‘other half’ of the Dirt Candy Wine business.

Wife, mother to the pair’s three children, and the brand’s graphic designer, Payne says Jenni is his secret weapon.

“Anything that looks good, that’s thanks to Jen.

“If it tastes good you can thank me,” he said.

The business that began as a hobby five years ago, has been a labour of love for Payne.

Raised in the Hunter Valley, Payne spent his school breaks working at wineries learning all he could about grapes.

Despite leaving the region to pursue a teaching degree, he never turned his back on his ‘hobby’, eventually completing a course in winemaking at Charles Sturt University in 2017.

“When it started I was just full of ideas,” he said.

“By the time I finished [the course] I had three children and a job as an assistant principal.

“But I still just wanted to make wine, to keep that skill up.”

In its first year of production, Payne made 120 dozen bottles of wine.

They sold out in three months and have doubled year on year.

For Payne, Dirt Candy Wine is a creative outlet, with each element of the business deliberately quirky.

“We didn’t want to be traditional, we wanted to be a little bit different,” Payne says of the business name.

“Grapes are grown in the soil, so that’s the dirt element, and they’re sweet so there’s the candy connection.”

His three children also feature in Payne’s creative process, lending their characters to his first three productions.

Wild One is named after Max, our 12 year old,” Payne says.

“He’s already had two broken legs and a few teeth out in his short life – he’s definitely our courageous one.

“Lucy’s wine is The Gamechanger. It was the first wine I’d made so it was a game changer for me changing from teaching to wine, and it’s pink.

“Our third and youngest is Emily, she’s a one-woman circus,” he said.

“She actually asked me what her wine was going to be. 

“I had to think about how I was going to get all her elements into a blend.

“I got all the reds I could get my hands on, plus the white skins, and I thought surely that’s going to make a wine that fits her personality.

“We called it The Little Circus.

“It had Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional (a Portuguese wine) in it, frozen in shopping bags, and it won a creative award.”

His grapes are sourced from The Hunter Valley, Adelaide Hills, the Riverland, Upper Hunter, Hilltops, and Southern Highlands.

“I might get them as fruit or it might be processed fruit and I’ll get it as juice, they might ferment it and I’ll finish it,” he said.

“I might do part of the process or I might do the whole process, it just depends.

“There’s no limit. I don’t own a vineyard so I’m not locked into varieties or promised exports, I’ve got creative freedom to do whatever I like.”

It is obvious Payne’s creativity is being appreciated.

In 2019 his The Little Circus took out the Danger Zone at the Young Gun of Wine awards, recognising a wine that successfully pushes the boundaries.

In 2020 he was announced finalist in the Top 50 Winemakers at the YGOW awards.

Dirt Candy Wine is currently in the running to win the 2021 Top Winemaker of the Year award to be announced Monday 1 June.

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