The story really starts in 1848, with a gentleman by the name of Johann Gottlieb Bittner. Travelling from Prussia, via Hamburg, to South Australia, he bought an allotment in a town called Tanunda, which would later become globally know as the iconic Barossa Valley.
The name “Bittner”, translates to Cooper/barrel maker, and true to his name, Johann Bittner planted acres of vines and built ‘The Wine Shed’. By 1889, he and his family had delivered their first vintage; and one of the first to come out of the Barossa Valley.
Sadly, their winemaking career was cut short in 1918, due to a harsh Australian draught. The Bittner’s were not used to the warm, temperate climate that they’d found themselves in, and when their eight acres of vine reduced to four, they were eventually forced to give up their winemaking dreams.
That was until 1995—76 years later—when single mother Julie Cooper, and her daughter Paige, moved from Whyalla to Adelaide. Upon arrival, Julie secured a job as a receptionist and cellar door manager to support her daughter. She had no idea about her family history with wine and the coincidences that would unfold.
“In my early 20’s, I had no serious passion for wine—I didn’t even drink it!” Julie Cooper tells Thrillist Australia.
“When I took a job as a receptionist at a winery in Adelaide, all I was thinking about was supporting my daughter and what I should study next, without any grasp on what was to come.
“But within six months, I found the drive, desire and my ultimate passion to work with wine. I remember getting to barrel taste at the end of each week with the winemaker I was working for, and thinking that I’d never had something so interesting and consuming enter my world.”
“Before this job, I’d been all focused on business and maths, so this passion for wine was like finding a diamond in the rough for me.”
But it all makes perfect sense, as wine was in Julie’s blood.
In the early 1900s, the last of the Bittner name—a woman—married a Cooper, but not just any Cooper; Julie’s great grandpa.
“Finding out about our family history was just an off-hand comment from my grandpa, almost as if it were common knowledge,” says Julie’s daughter Paige, the other half of Ortus Wine.
“‘Didn’t you know we settled in the Barossa, planted vines and built ‘The Wine Shed’?’ he just casually asked us one day. We were like; ‘well, no, we didn’t—but it was the perfect start to the Ortus brand.”
In Latin, Ortus translates to ‘new beginnings/birth’, which felt like the most fitting name for the mother and daughter duo, Julie and Paige, to launch their wine label.
At first, Paige wasn’t interested in the wine-making business, but her mum was already working in the industry, so they were always around vineyards, the smell of crushed grapes and people swilling wine glasses around on weekends.
When she began her biotech degree, she was surprised where it took her: back to wine. She started to notice how much of the wine industry was chemistry-based, while also being creative and social.
“It was the perfect fit, it just took me a second to figure it out,” she says.
And now, over fifteen years, Julie and Paige have built their own legacy with Ortus. It’s rare and incredible to see two women dominating the wine-making space, even more so with their family history and super strong bond to each other.
“Our relationship is very strong,” Julie says. “Being a single parent means being both Mum and Dad, so there becomes many different roles with a single parent relationship.
“Now, as adults, Mum and daughter working together, we have the experience of kind of growing up together and knowing what each of our strengths is.
“Paige is much more gifted in the creative side of our duo, while I naturally take more of the business focus, which works well together. We don’t always agree on things, but that’s the best part because we learn from each other. It’s also just been really fun and rewarding, to run a business with my daughter.”
“Mum and are very different in so many ways, but fundamentally similar which is important,” reflects Paige. “We both have the passion and dedication, our thought processes are similar and sometimes we don’t really have to explain to each other what we’re thinking.”
“She’s the sharp business mind, and I love the hosting and making people feel welcome, talking about the wine and our story. Our personalities are definitely Yin and Yang, and it works in this setting perfectly.”
Growing fruit from their own McLaren Vale vineyards, Julie and Paige work side by side through every step in creating Ortus Shiraz—from the vineyard to the bottle and sharing the wine with cellar door guests and beloved locals.
It may be in their blood, but from no money or prospects, they’ve worked hard and lived true to the Bittner family crest’s motto: “Nothing without labour”. They also set out to inspire other women.
“Working with my daughter as women in the wine industry, has been uplifting, exciting and rewarding,” says Julie.
“We might be a minority, but we are confident in what we’re doing and hope that we can inspire other women too.”
As for their wine? It’s delicious. South Australia is very well-known for it’s heavy reds—producing predominantly Shiraz—and with so many historical and commercial vineyards in the region, it can be hard to get noticed. But not for these women, who not only produce a killer Shiraz, but also have their own Grenache, Riesling, and two limited-edition versions of their Shiraz and Grenache too.
“The most obvious growth for us is in the range. We had three to start with for the longest time, now we have eight wines,” says Paige.
“Having a bit more volume to play with, we can blend/play/tweak! We do limited editions of a couple of barrels, there is more experimentation, and exploration into alternative varieties. It just feels more full.”
And, they stand out from the rest.
“I’d describe our wines as different,” says Paige.
“Not in the sense that we do quirky wines, but different to each other in the range. I don’t have the philosophy that a winemakers style should be obvious, I want to challenge myself and make different styles.
“I try to do everything from an aged Riesling, a Grenache where I let the grape juice do its own thing, or a Shiraz that I throw every winemaking technique available at it (and everything in between); but also, approachable, I really like to stress that wine should be enjoyed, and the most important take-home message is if you simply like it.”
“We try to do things a little different with each wine, to cover a variety of styles that aren’t necessarily done at a cellar door experience,” adds Julie.
“An older Grenache in barrel, for example, that is more complex than the current vintage fruit-driven Grenache, or an aged Riesling, opposed to a current or recent vintage, which has a completely different palate experience.”
Their cellar door, which opened in December of 2021, is where you’ll find these women from Friday to Sunday, chatting to guests about their wines, their story, their love for each other and what they’ve built together.
Passion and pride oozes out of this family winemaking team, and it’s truly inspiring to see.
“When we’re not at the cellar door, we’re brainstorming what wine we want to do next, or ideas of activities we can do, live music, movies, food!” says Paige.
“While vintage is always very hands-on, and is actually around the corner too. It’s always nice to get dirty and remind yourself that wine is agriculture at the end of the day, so should be fun, enjoyed and unpretentious.”
They have an apartment attached to the cellar door too, which honestly sounds like the dream set-up — allbeit a little dangerous for us wine-lovers.
The ladies of Ortus are really at the beginning of their wine journey, making a name for themselves in the South Australian and wide Australian wine industry, for their fresh perspective and inspiring story, as a dynamic mother and daughter duo, producing delicious wines from local vineyards in South Australia.
It just goes to show the power of history. What we’re meant to do will always find us, whether it be in this generation or the next. For the ladies of Ortus Wines, this full-circle moment has led them in a fruitful, delicious and joyful journey. Not only have they rebirthed their ancestors’ ‘The Wine Shed’ and utilised their family crest as a logo, they’ve both found a true calling as women in the world of wine.
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.