A series of tall, clear bottles with pink-coloured wine stand side by side on a shelf, behind the counter at Usher Tinkler Wines. A rosé by any other name, and yet, the wine inside these bottles is not really a rosé ... or is it?
There are blended red grapes inside, it's true, but there are also white grapes in there, as well. At the base of each bottle - called the punt - is a dimpled diamond design that adds an intriguing textural detail to match the striking visuals of the wine label itself - a wraparound diamond shaped sticker featuring a teal-coloured skull grinning inside a white circle enclosing a triangle that sits inside an irregular hexagon … of course.
"The figure is called an enneagram," Ebony Tinkler says. "It's basically an ancient model of the human psyche that helps to classify nine interconnected personality types. The wine itself is composed of nine different grape varieties, picked by nine different people, and then fermented together, just to see what would happen.”
Ebony Tinkler is an emerging force for change, innovation and creativity in the Hunter Valley wine industry. The owner/manager of Usher Tinkler Wines cellar door on McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, she has a science degree from the University of Newcastle, where she majored in biotechnology and completed a post-graduate diploma in marketing.
Married to gun winemaker Usher Tinkler, who grows the grapes and creates the wines, she is the creative force behind the ideas and detailed images that captivate the intrepid energy distilled within this relatively new Hunter Valley wine brand.
"From day one, we've asked the question, 'how do we make the whole brand unique?’” Ebony says. "The wine is obviously very important, it's the reason we're all here, but it's not all about the wine ... It's about the whole product; the branding, the design, and the presentation are all just as important. Otherwise, people might not be inclined to visit and that means they won't taste the wines anyway, no matter how good they are."
It's this thinking that saw Ebony Tinkler named marketer of the year at the 2017 Australian Women in Wine Awards.
"It felt like a reward for all the hard work over the last few years," Tinkler says. "It was also a great opportunity to go somewhere I had never been before and meet other like-minded women to network and socialise and talk about our ideas, share stories and information.”
The number of women working in the Australian wine industry is estimated to be between 8-10 per cent of the industry, with even fewer in important areas like viticulture, management and other senior roles. The Australian Women in Wine Awards in London were set up to affirm female contributions to the industry and provide a forum for females within the industry to connect.
I find that most people don't understand how wine changes, depending on the vintage. So, the idea was to capture that fact, visually, by having the labels change slightly each year.Ebony Tinkler, manager/owner, Usher Tinkler Wines
"I found, when having conversations, in London, that women tended to talk more about their businesses as a whole, whereas, when I usually hang out with a lot of male winemakers they tend to just talk about themselves … ," Tinkler says, laughing with a firm tongue pressed in to her cheek.
"The conversation was a lot more diverse … I think, because we approach and think about business in a different way. It was nice to talk with other women who work in our industry and also to know that you're not completely crazy when stressing out about ideas or just how we all manage our day to day."
Her creative contributions to Usher Tinkler Wines are obvious in the minute detail that pervades everything from the cellar door to the punt at the bottom of a wine bottle.
In a successful attempt to combine the “eat, drink, be merry” facets of wine, the rustically stylish cellar door does more than just pour fermented grape juice. It doubles as an Italian salumi bar, serving enormous platters of freshly shaved, cured meats and cheese to complement a guided tasting of their estate grown wines.
"The feedback I received from the judges for the award was that our universal approach to the wine, and the way I'd designed our overall brand is what impressed them most," she says. "I think it's important to really look at, not only where you're pouring your wine, but how you're pouring it, and what you serve with it."
Unlike the enneagram, which is meant to be a creative one-off, the Usher Tinkler Wines Reserve range has been designed with time in mind. Since the first release (2014), the label for these heavy bottles of fine Hunter wine have been slowly changing and evolving, little by little.
The idea is to visually represent the fact that wine will change and taste different, from year to year, depending on the conditions of the vintage; particularly in the Hunter where one year it might be sunny and dry, and then cloudy and wet the next.
"I find that most people don't understand how wine changes, depending on the vintage," Tinkler says "So, the idea was to capture that fact, visually, by having the labels change slightly each year. I hope it will get people thinking about wine in a different way. And then maybe they'll get excited about the way the vineyards are represented in the wine as each year goes by.”
"For us, it's about giving people a wine experience that is delicious, interesting and creative, right the way through, from the vineyard to the glass," she says.
"We do this to be creative. It’s why we make wine."
Enneagram While the mysteriously-detailed skull might grin menacingly from the bottle, signifying elements of ‘the individualist’ or ‘the achiever”, with a dash of ‘the enthusiast’, the wine inside tastes more akin to drinking one of the rides at a carnival fun park, with a stick of pink fairy floss in one hand and a mixed punnet of raspberries and strawberries in the other. It’s even more delicious chilled.