Since returning to the family vineyard, Eastern Peake, 2018 Young Winemaker of the Year Owen Latta has challenged the status-quo to make natural wines that are making Australia’s wine and hospitality industry notice – and in doing so, putting Ballarat wine on the map.
Ballarat isn’t necessarily the first place you think of when considering the great wine regions of Victoria. However, a small in vineyard in Coghills Creek, a scenic 20 minutes’ drive from the city, run by second generation winemaker Owen Latta, is doing plenty of things to change that, and people are listening.
Wade Doolan of Different Drop has called Owen “The Ballarat Boy Taking Australian Wine By Storm”. He said, “Owen is setting the Australian wine industry on fire with a two-pronged attack. First, a classic range of premium Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Syrahs under family Eastern Peake label. And second, his wilder stylings pushing the boundaries of the Australian winemaking avant-garde under Latta Vino.”
And it’s no wonder. He’s already been making wine more than 20 years. That’s right, he was only 15 when he produced his own vintage. His dad Norman, who ran the winery at the time, had a fall and had to have three months off.
Owen remembers, “He just said, ‘have a go yourself, son. We’ve got to get through this because there’s no one else around here that can step up to my role, and you’ve seen what I do.’ He said, ‘You should also pick the leftover grapes and make a wine for yourself, just to have a bit of fun with.’ I was just thinking, ‘Well, why not? Let’s do this.’”
When Owen returned to the family vineyard after studying viticulture in Geelong he remembers looking at that first wine. “It was still vibrant and alive, and I was like, ‘I made this as a 15-year-old and I didn’t want to use any additions in it.’ I don’t know why I thought that at the time, but it kind of reflects the way I work now.”
“Owen Latta is the Ballarat kid setting the Australian wine scene on fire. Between the premium wines of Eastern Peake and the more expressive, avant garde releases under his own, eponymous Latta Vino range, Latta has shown his mettle as one of Australia’s most thoughtful and daring winemakers. ”
Now many years on, Owen continues to make minimal intervention wine that is a true reflection of the character of the region, the climate and the vine. Eastern Peake is still grown 100 per cent on the family’s vineyard, and produces some of the best Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah in the state.
But it’s Owen’s second label, Latta Vino, that is really getting people excited. These experimental wines are produced with grapes from vineyards run by old family friends and relatives in the surrounding area. Like Eastern Peake, the fruit is all sustainably grown, and the wine is made with no additions.
In 2015, The Australian Wine Columnist commented, “The 2014 Latta Vino Zero SO2 Nebbiolo ($45), made from grapes grown on the Malakoff vineyard in the Pyrenees, is not only one of the best Australian examples of this wonderful Italian grape but also one of the best no-sulphur reds I’ve tried: elegant, perfumed, refined, powdery tannin, gorgeous.”
In 2018, Owen was named Gourmet Traveller Wine’s Young Winemaker of the Year. According to the magazine, “Owen Latta is the Ballarat kid setting the Australian wine scene on fire. Between the premium wines of Eastern Peake and the more expressive, avant garde releases under his own, eponymous Latta Vino range, Latta has shown his mettle as one of Australia’s most thoughtful and daring winemakers.”
While Owen is clearly making a name for himself and the region, he humbly attributes Ballarat’s food and wine revolution to the return of John Harris and the opening of Mitchell Harris Wines on Doveton Street in town. Regardless of who’s responsible, it’s clear that Ballarat can no longer be overlooked when considering your next regional wine inspired adventure.
For the highly engaged wine lover, Eastern Peake offers a unique exploration of Owen Latta wines during one of their tastings sessions or delve in depth with Keep It Natural, part of the Made of: Ballarat Experiences series for spring and summer 22|23.