WINE judge and author Nick Stock dubs Daniel Payne 'just the right kind of crazy' and in France Daniel would be called 'a Garagiste'.
The Garagiste tag was given in the 1990s to a band of nonconformist Bordeaux winemakers who often actually made their wines in garages. Now the term applies globally to small-volume makers who don't own vines or wineries and buy grapes and turn them into wine in rented winery space.
That encapsulates Daniel and Jenni Payne's Hunter-based Dirt Candy venture and the radical approach that won the Dirt Candy 2018 The Little Circus the prize for the most adventurous wine at the national 2019 Young Guns of Wine (YGOW) awards.
The wine is a blend of merlot, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, touriga nacional and tempranillo co-fermented with traminer skins - about which Nick Stock, the chief judge of YGOW, declared: "threading together of no fewer than six different red grapes and glazing them with the skins of the white traminer is brave, evocative and just the right kind of crazy".
For the now-sold-out 2018 Little Circus and new-release 2019, Daniel hand-picked grapes by driving a ute around six Hunter vineyards collecting bunches with a set of snips and load of buckets. The fruit was foot crushed and, after fermentation, matured in a two-year old oak barrique.
The portfolio of 'idiosyncratic vinous mosaics' includes straight varietals and offbeats like Little Circus, light fizzy red and white pétillant naturel wines and a touriganacional rosé and they're at dirtcandy.com.au and Tighes Hill Cellars, Prince of Merewether and Mary Ellen hotels and Adamstown Cellarbrations.
Daniel and Jenni's children have inspired the names of three Dirt Candy wines - energetic son Max, 10, The Wild One Hunter Shiraz-Cabernet, pink-loving daughter Lucy, 8, The Gamechanger Rosé, and mercurial 'one-woman circus' daughter Emily, 4, Little Circus red.
The Dirt Candy saga began when Cessnock born and bred Daniel developed a love of wine as he did casual winery work while at Newcastle University studying to become a school teacher. Now, aged 37 and with a career as deputy principal of Shortland Primary School, he also revels in seeking out quality grapes from Hunter and Orange growers and turning them in to wine in leased space in a Pokolbin winery.
His Garagiste skills flow from winning a six-year external Charles Sturt University wine degree and Dirt Candy's packaging comes from Jenni's talents in graphic design and marketing.
BERRY FRUIT BLISS
THE Dirt Candy 2019 The Little Circus is a six-variety red blend that delivers aburst of berry fruit flavours. It's purple-tinted crimson and has 13.5% alcohol, potpourri scents and vibrant, ripe mulberry front-palate characters. The middle palate shows blueberry, cherry, spice, spearmint and mocha oak and the finish has dusty tannins.
DRINK WITH: coq au vin.
AGEING: six years.
RATING: 4.5 stars
MADE from Orange Region grapes grown on an organic vineyard on the slopes of Mount Conobolas, this Dirt Candy 2019 The Natural Riesling has brassy-tinted straw hues, honeysuckle scents and crisp lime front-palate flavour. The middle palate shows nashi pear, apple peel and mineral elements and the finish has flinty acid.
DRINK WITH: corn and chorizo frittata.
AGEING: four years.
RATING: 4 stars
SMOOTH HUNTER WHITE
NAMED for Jenni Payne, the Dirt Candy 2018 The One Hunter Chardonnay is green-tinted lemon and has crushed almond aromas and smooth peach front-palate flavour. Fig, pear, lemon curd and creamy oak meld on the middle palate and slatey acid shows at the finish. Dirt Candy was launched in 2017 and now has an annual output of 400 dozen bottles.
DRINK WITH: paella.
AGEING: six years.
RATING: 4.5 stars