As part of our January Artisan feature, we were excited to get inside the heads of Phil Sexton (Director) and Steve Flamsteed (Head Winemaker) for Innocent Bystander. With some great backgrounds in food and beverage, along with some outstanding wine knowledge, this team have produced some beautiful products that we are showcasing in junction over January.
Join us to enjoy Innocent Bystander Prosecco, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Pink Moscato.
How long has Innocent Bystander been operating?
We first produced a Yarra Valley wine (Under our Giant Steps label) in 2001. Our Healesville winery and cellar door, where our wines meet the world, opened in 2006. The Innocent Bystander brand began in 2004
How did IB get started? What was the inspiration?
Owner, Phil Sexton, had a long-held fascination with producing cool-climate pinot noir and chardonnay. It was his desire to produce these styles that led him to uproot from Western Australia and purchase and plant the Sexton Vineyard here in The Yarra Valley.
What did the founders do previous to starting IB?
Phil Sexton is widely considered one of the pioneers of the craft brewing movement in both Australia and the United States. In 1981, Phil was employed as Brewer by the Swan Brewery. In the same year Phil established (by hand and without money!) Devil’s Lair in Margaret River. Three years later he established The Matilda Bay Brewing Company.
By the early-90’s Phil was dividing his time between Margaret River and Perth – running Devils Lair, a coffee roasting business, Dome, and a number of restaurants and bars.
After trying to slow down in the mid 90’s, Phil moved to Portland Oregon for 2 years to help a friend with his brewing businesses. While overseas, he sold Devils Lair and it wasn’t long before he decided to return to Australia.
During his transition East (to set up IB), Phil and two business partners (ex Matilda Bay colleagues) established Little Creatures Brewing in Fremantle Western Australia; ‘to attend to unfinished business” in the craft beer business.
Growing up in Margaret River during the rise of the wine industry, Phil Sexton was captivated by winemaking and the opportunity it offered to engage in agriculture, theater, art and science.
In 2003, I (Steve Flamsteed) joined Phil to make the Giant Steps Wines and after we head hunted Suzanne Tyzack from the Sales and Marketing arm of a well known craft brewery, we began to development of the Innocent Bystander Winery.
For me, my first qualification was in food in Brisbane in the mid 1980’s. I travelled extensively in Europe in the late 80s and it was whilst travelling in France where I developed a number of culinary passions including cheese making, which would see me later return to France to study this trade. However, it was after working at Chateau du Bluizard in the Beaujolais region that I was inspired to become a winemaker.
On returning to Australia, I enrolled in the winemaking degree at Roseworthy Agricultural College, graduating with a Bachelor of Science (Wine Science). From 1999, I have worked across cool climate regions of Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia eventually settling in the Yarra in 2002
What is your ultimate wine pairing dish and beverage?
My favourite is simple but amazing:
2015 Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris served really cold with Coopers Ale beer battered Flathead tails (on the beach or the shore of a nice river) with garlic aioli and lemon wedges.
What is your favourite product from your range currently?
2014 Innocent Bystander Syrah – I think Shiraz or Syrah may prove to be the Yarra Valley’s most exciting variety. There are layers of spice and red berries in that wine and it’s going through fantastic evolution at the moment.
What’s your number one tip for the ultimate wine experience?
Both classics, one expensive, one not so expensive :
Where would you take a visitor for an essential country food experience?
Tamsins Table in Gippsland. Incredible and still a bit of a secret
If you could visit any city for a days eating and drinking experience, where would it be and why?
Lyon – it is the culinary centre of France.
What other local artisans or producers do you admire? Why?
Carla and Ann-Marie are making some of the best goats cheese in the country and they are the real thing. We have to order our La Luna each week as it is made to order.