From the tasting team

Campbell Mattinson on Dave Powell

By Campbell Mattinson

18 Jan, 2023

Campbell Mattinson sat down with Dave Powell in the Barossa to chat about the evolution of his winemaking and his next adventure.

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In 2007 I was on a Rex flight between Albury and Sydney when the plane was hit by lightning. We felt the plane jolt; the cabin lights went out; the pilot came over the intercom almost immediately.

“We’ll need to emergency land,” he said. 

I was on my way to meet Dave Powell, who at the time was making larger-than-life wines at Torbreck in the Barossa. Instead of continuing on to Sydney, where I was going to meet him, the plane set down at the regional Wagga Wagga airport.

I remember standing on the wet tarmac there, as the plane was checked over, and thinking: of all the people, of all the interviewees, my plane gets hit by lightning on the way to see Dave Powell.

Headlines are never far off when it comes to Dave Powell. His winemaking renown began at Rockford but he really made his name as the force behind Torbreck, and while Dave’s relationship with Torbreck may eventually have turned sour, and legally acrimonious, his work there was, and is, one of the best story-branding creations Australian wine has ever seen.

Lumberjacks and woodcutters, lairds and descendants, teamed on the one hand with the imposing figure and personality of the man himself, and on the other with the most gloriously compelling, full-bodied, Barossa-Eden wines.

Dave of course no longer has anything to do with Torbreck, but it remains an incredible legacy.

I’ve been meaning, because of this, to visit Dave for some years now, especially as he’s since moved on to create equally compelling wines under the name Powell & Son. The day I drove out to meet with him recently – at his winery on the top of a hill at Lyndoch in the Barossa – Dave had, as it turned out, had his own drama, having only minutes earlier had a minor bingle in his ute. “If I have to stop our conversation suddenly to have an angry phone call, that’s why,” he said.

Dave PowellDave Powell. 

Dave then proceeded, as I tasted through his latest wines, to tee off on everything and anything in Australian wine, recent and historic, and while some of his proclamations could easily have been deemed offensive to a member of the media, who he doesn’t have a great deal of love for, his wrath was nonetheless good to hear. Dave Powell has never been shy at prosecuting his case, both inside and outside of the glass, and the rage continues, and the light still burns.

“Has anything changed,” I asked after I’d tasted maybe three or four of his latest wines, “over the years, in the way you go about making wine?” I asked this because the wines tasted different; not stylistically, but in temperament. They were still bold, pure and expressive, but they seemed tamed a little.

“Not really,” he replied.

“It’s just,” I pressed on, “that the wines seem, I don’t know, more elegant. They’re still everything they ever were, but it seems as though there’s more finesse here.” Dave had walked to the open doorway of the stone cottage there. He stood, cigarette in hand, smoke blowing in the wind, his hair mixed up in it. “I feel,” he said, sucking in smoke, “as though I’ve gotten better over the years.”

He exhaled. And then he said something that I won’t forget. “But also, I think, I’m now a bit like I was when I was first at Torbreck, before I started to go off on a bit of a tangent. I didn’t lose my way, I’m not saying that, but maybe I just went a bit too far, and pushed the wines a bit too much. I didn’t notice it at the time.”

I enjoyed hearing him say this. I don’t know how true it is, but I enjoyed hearing it, and I especially enjoyed the intimation of wind-blown, chaos-strewn, battle-scarred perspective inherent in it, and I enjoyed it even more as I tasted through the remainder of his current wines, as each of them seemed to confirm it. The wines as a whole, and in a way entirely faithful to both the man himself and the land they were grown on, are beautiful. 

Not though that headlines don’t still hover, as I also learned on this visit that Dave and his son Callum have recently split, and that Dave’s wines will now be branded under the name of Neldner Road.

For Dave Powell, another new era begins. Indeed if you’re looking for reviews of Dave Powell’s wines on, Neldner Road is the name to search under. There you will find a collection of wines that refuse to go quietly, lightning bolts of their own kind, tempests in a glass.

This article appears in issue #68 of Halliday magazine. Become a member to receive the print publication as well as digital access.

Dave Powell image credit: Campbell Mattinson.

Top image credit: Wine Australia.