Dave Powell looks relaxed in jeans, Rossi boots and black t-shirt. He has long hair; looks like Tim Winton. He’s 53. Doesn’t want to talk about the T-word. Doesn’t want sympathy. He tells me everything.
He’s originally from Adelaide’s eastern suburbs. He’s adopted; his natural father tracked him down, but his natural mum’s not interested. He loves Australia; always stands for the national anthem. He doesn’t miss the jets and dinners; he once had the highest frequent flyer points in Adelaide. He consults to Chateau Tanunda.
He doesn’t go out much; a few beers at the pub. He can still fill a swear jar. He loves cooking mushroom risotto. He doesn’t have much money. He was on half a mill back in the day. “Money doesn’t make you happy,” Dave confirms. Over $17 burgers under a warm pergola at The Table in Lyndoch’s main street, Dave, sucking on a cigarette, pulls the cork on a $750 wine: Powell & Son 2014 Steinert Shiraz from the Eden Valley.
Dave is bankrupt but the wine is filthy rich, an epic drink with stunning intensity, concentration and length. The high-country freshness is welcomed. Power and finesse: a ballet dancer on a wood-chopper’s shoulders.
Powell is about to be in the headlines for the right reasons. There’s nothing wrong with the confidence. “The 15 is better,” he smiles. Dave consults to the company that owns the brand – Riverside Vintners. He has no cut in the business. He makes several wines with his son, Callum, 21, pictured above.
The small team – which also includes GM Paul Breen and winemaker Igor Kuciv, is based in a stone cottage with a constant pall of cigarette smoke pouring from the windows on a dusty track near Lyndoch with tall gums and big paddocks.
Wanker marketers will probably scoff at the Powell & Son label: humble old school minimalism meets lab sample with a hint of ‘Wanted’ poster. Callum designed it. I love it. Looks like the labels I once made for Mum’s apricot jam jars. Really, any packaging carrying the name Powell shouldn’t have to try too hard. You’d be disappointed if craziness didn’t meet genius.
Securing the Steinert Vineyard was key; the vines are more than 120 years old. Rockford used to source the fruit. Now Powell & Son pays $10,000 a tonne for it. They’ve done much work in the block. Dave had feared for the 2016 vintage; then 30mm of rain fell, raising hopes. Dave looks forward to vintage and the staff bonuses: Bundy and Twisties.
Dave lives with mental health issues; he’s on top of it, but it’s for life. Two years ago, when he left the T-word, he walked a lot, like Forrest Gump, sometimes at 2 o’clock in the morning. He walked for five hours some days. He lost 25kg, but has put five back on. There were dark days. Today is a good day: Dave is happy, joking and smiling. The mind is occupied. He’s in a good place.
Whatever happens with Powell & Son – great things, I suspect – it must go on the record that someone in this proud little wine community of ours is prepared to talk so openly about the black dog. That’s more important than 99 points. Or 100…
PS: Dave phoned us to add something. “Can you please make sure you mention Callum in the article? It’s very much a father-son team. He designed the label and is driving the wine style. I’m proud of him.” Sure thing.
See the full Dave Powell interview in the March-April edition of WBM – Australia’s Wine Business Magazine.
Article first appeared in our ebulletin The Week That Was.