The first time I ever came across the name
Brian Barry Wines (Clare Valley) was in 1999 when a mad Thai mate of mine
called Meta, conned me into splitting a case of their 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon.
I knew nothing about the brand but trusted Meta judgement because he had an
excellent palate and similar tastes to mine, except for his insistence on
drinking c-though from time to time.
The wine went into my cellar as Meta said it would age well. When
I tried the first bottle around 2002, I metaphorically swore at Meta because the
wine seemed to be pretty ordinary and not worth his glowing recommendation, so I
did not hold out a huge amount of hope for the wine. In 2004 I opened another
bottle and was very pleasantly surprised. Here is that tasting note. “Abundant
powdery tannins have softened considerably but still have a way to go, the acid
is still youthful, and the fruit is starting to surface. Squeaky clean, the wine
is very attractive and appealing. Ample weight and very typical Clare with its
earthy minty flavours, the intensity is medium. Finish is reasonable but given
time the wine should show further improvement. Rated as Recommended it does look
like Meta knew what he was doing when he talked me into this one. Original cost
I must admit the second bottle was far superior to the first and
the wine should be reasonably long lived and should continue to improve.
There was no further thought about this winery until I recently
received a sample of their latest offering, Brian Barry 2004 Juds Hill
Cabernet Sauvignon, together with a very refreshing and honest letter of
introduction and the further email correspondence yielded content that was
interesting enough to share it with you.
Brian Barry is a sprightly 79 years
old and the 2006 vintage is his 62nd; now that sounds like quite an
achievement: but wait, it gets better. Brian lives in Adelaide and commutes to
the Clare Valley three times a week in his prize possession, a clapped out 1984
Holden Nova that apparently is riddled with dents, that are made almost
invisible by the thick coating of backed on dust and grime. Brian oversees the
harvest, the crush, initial additions if required and all subsequent winemaking
procedures. In the case of the Riesling, the machine harvesting begins at around
10 pm and Brian stays overnight at the vineyard to make sure there are no
problems with the harvest, then he follows the truck with the grapes to the
winery for crush at around 6 am. There is no accommodation on the vineyard so he
just sits in his car.
For varied reasons Brian Barry Wines make it wines at O'Leary
Walker, Petaluma or Kirrihill. After David O’Leary graduated from Roseworthy, in
1977 Brian employed David at Leasingham in his first ever winery job. The
tentacles of long term relations extend to Petaluma because Brian used to
consult to Brian Croser when Croser was starting out. Kirrihill Winery is used
because it's a new winery about a two minute drive to the Juds Hill Vineyard.
It’s a small family operation and Brian is ably supported by his
son Judson Barry. The vineyards were planted in 1977; are dry grown and yield
very low crops; for example in 2006 they averaged a tiny 0.97 tonnes per acre.
They have approximately 61 acres in Clare that are planted to Riesling, Shiraz,
Merlot and Cabernet. Most of the grapes are used for their own production but
any excess is sold off to Petaluma. They have been making small quantities of
wine under their own label since 1980.
Brian Barry 2004 Juds Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
Cropped at 1.3 tons to the acre and sealed under screwcap: the
bouquet is very ripe, sweet, and shows dusty notes that are dominated by black
fruits, black coffee, and a touch of mint. The palate is powerful, ripe and
intensely savoury, and despite the 16% alcohol, there is no heat, prune flavour,
or signs of overt sweetness; the flavour profile is black coffee and black
fruits on the uptake with green herbs on the mid palate and (almost) bitter
chocolate on the finish. A full-bodied, warm and cuddly wine with pleasant dusty
tannins that are heading into the creamy spectrum and intense, deeply-seated
fruit; the structure seems like three individual layers and needs time to mesh
together. Rated as Recommended with *** for value; should the wine come together
it will be bloody enjoyable; this label is worth watching.
Ripped off Big Time
Cloudwine has just
sent me a
list of the wines being offered for sale (by way of expressions of
interest) by the liquidators of Heritage Fine Wine.
To say I was shocked by the prices that Heritage paid for the wines is an
understatement. Have a look at some examples:
1999 Kay Bros Amery Merlot McLaren Vale
21 bottles at 48.12
1997 Fox Creek Wines Reserve Shiraz
3 bottles 138.03
1997 Barossa Valley Estate E&E Black Pepper 24 bottles
2000 Torbreck Vintners Juveniles
1998 d'Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz
2000 Gartner Family Vineyards Cabernet
31.33 (I paid $25 from the winery)
2001 Kilikanoon Covenant Shiraz Clare Valley 2,340
Can you seriously believe that they were stupid enough to pay $138+ for an
ordinary vintage of the Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz? I wonder if the wine came
from a “friend” of a staff member?
The situation that defies understanding is the purchase of 2,340 bottle of
wine at full retail price from one supplier, and this purchase is not an
isolate example. Can you imagine going to a winery or a bottle shop and
saying “I want to buy 2,340 bottles of “x” wine, (a wine that is available
freely and not in short supply,) and I don’t want a discount?
According to many of the wines purchased by Heritage, judging by the prices
paid, that’s exactly what happened.
I wonder what sort of kickback or “settlement discount” was paid the
Heritage that was not passed onto the investors.
The directors of Heritage should be in jail.
Readers feedback to
Winemaker Gives His Perspective
Chris Robinson, a part owner in a Gippsland vineyard, responds to
Smithy's recent dummy spit about the merit of big, high alcohol wines.
I had to respond to the recent
post on this issue on your website:
Andrew Sutherland-Smith of Warrabilla Wines attempts to make a strong
counter argument for why high alcohol wines are a logical product of
Australian viticulture. However, there are a number of his comments which
are simply wrong - and worst of all ignore both history, climate and trends.
Andrew first references wines from the 19th C in Australia as having this
high alcohol feature, suggesting this is a feature of Australian wine making
that has been around for some time. This is quite incorrect. The European
winemakers resident in Australia at the time were struggling to avoid
exactly this "problem". The Swiss emigrants sought out cooler climates like
the Yarra Valley and Geelong for exactly that reason - to get less alcohol
and more acidity in the wines. The Victorian wines that surprised many a
Frenchman in the 19th C had alcohol levels similar to those of Bordeaux at
the time - 12 degrees average.
Secondly, one has only to look at the trucks carting huge loads of tartaric
acid around to the vineyards, to know that the winemaker in Australia
generally struggles with this problem of alcohol and acid balance. Climate
and soils all work against acid freshness and balance with alcohol. It is a
fact every winemaker should know, especially if they have ever had a stint
overseas. Winemakers usually correct this balance problem by tossing in
tartaric acid, something that would not be acceptable in most of Europe.
Does the consuming public in Australia even know about this. Not on your
How convenient it is that the public palate has evolved to the greater
acceptability of high alcohol and low acid levels in wine. The long term
trend will not favour this, and the drinking public will as always
re-discover elegance, as they do in all fine things. I predict in a decade
Australian wines will be struggling to make a strong presence in worldwide
export markets - unless they get those alcohol levels down! Overseas demand
drove the oak out of chardonnay and it will do the same for alcohol.
Back to Andrew's comments. He further confuses extended grape hang (as did the
Age wine writer) with the typical vintage results we get in Australia. One
does not need to "hang" grapes in Australia to get alcohol, as they do in
California. It is the product of just about any normal vintage. The fact is
that alcohol levels have been creeping up in Australia. Where once they were
coming in at maximum 12.5 - 13% they now often exceed 15%. I think over this
level you cannot even export to the EC because this is no longer
classed as table wine!
The main reason is that wine styles have evolved to this because of Mr.
Parker's influence with a subsequent matching response from winemakers - and
secondly these wines just taste good up front. They do not require any
thinking about - and really why should they? But charging over $80 a bottle
for something that has no real wine-making challenge makes me wonder.
Alcohol levels are a fact of life in winemaking in Australia. Let's admit it
is the easy course for a winemaker and not pretend that this is some skilled
process. The Duck Muck story is a classic. Left-overs become 100 point
wines. Spare me!
For those who like a bit of freshness, usually old farts like me who enjoy
drinking European style wines, we find this new style just too cloying to be
enjoyable. For many of us wine is made to be an adjunct to food, not a
stand-alone drink that deserves solo consumption. I mean how many BBQ's do
we have to attend to enjoy these blockbusters that only go with a feisty
curry or over-cooked steaks and chops?
To each his own palate, but let's not make excuses for a fact of life in
winemaking in this country. It is too easy to make high alcohol wines and we
are enjoying the happy confluence of a drinking public that currently like
this style. The Age wine writer makes every sense to me. There are indeed
some deranged wine makers out there. Luckily there are some cool climate
winemakers who understand the need for balance and make to that style.
Amateur (in the French sense!)
TORB's comment: Chris states that it is illegal to use
tartaric acid in places like France, which is correct; whilst we use it here
quite freely. The other side of this "additive coin" is that in Australia,
it illegal for winemakers to add sugar to wine, yet in France it is quite
legal. Isn't it interesting how it is so convenient that the laws for each
countries winemaking gives them the additives that they need.
Readers Feedback on
West Australian 2006 Tour Diary
The amount of feedback generated by The WA 2006 Tour Dairy
was in some ways I surprising. the first e-mail was from David Dewhurst.
your article on Margaret River wines and many of your statements rang lots
of bells. Being a Pom originally, it has to be said my Aussie wine
experience has been limited to three years over east and four here out west,
but that's not for lack of trying and experimentation! Anyway, having
established my lack of credentials, I totally agree with where you are
coming from in general terms regarding value for money in Margaret River.
There is a lot of thin, weedy acidic muck
being passed off as top quality wine at more than $20 a pop that frankly I
would not put on chips! This goes for bot c-throughs and the reds. The chardys and SSB/SBS down there are raved about but
rarely are they crisp, pleasant and value for money. Too ripe, too much tropical
fruit, lots of oak in the chardys; generally yuk! Occasional good Rieslings
it has to be said, there are far better and cheaper offerings from Pemberton, Mount Barker, Denmark and Frankland. One sparkly
from Rockfield blew
my socks off - they also had interesting burgundian-style
chardy from 2001, but later vintages were much more oaky.
As for the reds, well generally expensive, although the occasional one is
worth it. Some power there but also massive vintage variation. I have to
admit, I really prefer
the cooler climate style of cab and shiraz in WA
over the bigger/riper Barossa/McLaren Vale
style. Again though, I agree that MR struggles on the value for money stakes
here and I am as bemused as you seemed to be as to where MR actually got its
reputation. A few great, long established names I guess. I remember talking
with a couple of winemakers in Pemberton a while back who reckoned the best
soils in Margaret River were taken 25-30 years ago. Certainly there is a lot
of very young stuff out there, some of it marketed and presented
intensively, image seemingly most important, much of which is absolute
One of my favourite signs in Margaret River was a little cardboard cut out
buried in the undergrowth on a roadside stating "Great Wines, Realistic
Prices" with an arrow pointing up the road! Which pretty much sums it up
really! The wines at this spot (Brown Hill) were pretty good for the price
too and the premium wines were only $25, which is a far cry from standard
MR, that's for sure! One other comment from a winemaker outside Margaret
River, which made me chuckle and still does every time I go tasting there
and even tasting in general: "the price of Margaret River wine is
proportional to the size of the winery gates"- lot of truth in that!!"
Now contrast those comments with these passionate and
first hand thoughts from Mark Gifford, a small producer in MR who
owns a winery called
Vineyards. I could have written a very long response, and much of it
would be in agreement with Mark's thoughts, but much of it would beg to
differ; time will reveal all. It should also be noted, that we did not
set out to go "Myth Busting". It was only after a number of days of
tasting wine, when things were not coming together the way we had expected,
that Brian and I started
scratching our bald heads and wondering why the reality wasn't matching the
myth/reputation/image. The trip was virtually complete by the time the "myth
busting" idea was hatched.
have read through your
recent article and thought you might welcome some feedback from someone "on
the ground" so to speak..
It is interesting that you imply straight off the bat that you are about to
"...bust a few myths around WA wines in general and Margaret River in
particular." The two myths that you "bust" are:
1. MR does not suffer from much vintage variation
2. Buy a bottle of red wine from MR and the chances are it will be pretty
With regards to myth one, I'd never heard of it. Since living down here
since the 80's and having a number of friends in the industry the issue of
vintage variation was always high in their minds. You also indicate that you
can place characteristics of specific vintages (eg 2002 "very long cool
summer", 2003 "was even more difficult... etc") over the whole of the
region. If only it was as simple as that - there is a marked variation of
temperatures and sunshine hours within the 100km x 50km strip known as MR -
it is simply not possible to define vintage variations with global
statements. I'll provide an example:
2005 had on average 75mm of rain between 31st March and 2nd April 2005. For
areas such as Willyabrup with their rolling gravel hills and predominantly
dry grown vines this really didn't harm the fruit at all as the water was
unable to penetrate the soil deeply. There was little mildews pressures post
the event. Many of these wines will be very good if not excellent, as up to
that point there had been good heat l through the growing season. Areas such
as Jindong and further south in the larger plantings at Karridale etc may
have been experienced problems with the later ripening varieties, but to
state that they couldn't have made some great wine, would be to early to
We planted our vineyard in Margaret River because of vintage
variation, and I would state that most vineyards would want it that way as
well. By putting your vines into an areas which extends the ripening of the
grapes into autumn you maximise the flavours and tannin structure without
ripening too quickly and reducing your acid profile. It is essential that we
go through these nervous times as this is where great wines can be made.
Myth 2 is what it is. If people believe that all red wine from MR is tippety
top stuff, good on them but all serious wine drinkers know the risks with
ANY wine region in Australia. Only through trial and error, or referring to
critical comments on the wines that are out there, can you have a better
shot at ensuring that you've got a wine that suits you. This isn't a myth in
my minds eye, just a hangover from the 80's when there were just a few
producers and their product was hard to procure (like the the "Wendouree
Your reasons for the perceived lack of quality to me could be questioned and
I'll answer some of your points raised to show how much complexity could be
placed on top of your statements:
1. 2002/2003 poor vintages - you are in general correct but there are and
always will be exceptions due to the size and breadth of the MR appellation.
2. Wineries under performing - again this really is a judgement call, it is
a tough business out there at the moment and savings will be made, but when
2002 and 2003 wines were put to bed this wasn't a big issue, only in the
past 2 years have the banks really started to bite. I genuinely believe that
everyone out there tries their best to make good quality wine, however not
everyone can throw money and man hours at their vines, this may be the
3. How many $80 MR Cabernets from young vines
are actually out there? I'd be hard pressed to name one. The top wines in
many MR establishments have been reducing their standard prices for a few
years now, and now you can get a good selection of reds for $20-30 that can
easily match it with Coonawarra. Pricing of MR wines is at the forefront of
all the wineries in the region and it is being addressed.
4. The red wine grape glut is here in MR -
the train went through this station last year and the amount of reds that
may be left on the vine is a largely unknown. Our major wineries are turning
away large sections of red fruit and reducing their overall tonnages at the
5. Some wineries are kidding themselves a
bit, but they have generally strived to make great wines and vintage
variation may have caught up with them. Their reputation may be tarnished
but it won't be destroyed unless they let it happen.
Now as for you scratching your poor old pate! Your statistics on the split
of red and whites provides only part of the picture; (noting the numbers you
quoted is a state based split and not MR by itself.) They do does not
indicate the amount of top grafting that has occurred in the past 3 years
and I would not be surprised if white now beat red for hectares and tonnage.
When much of the plantings occurred in the
mid-late 90's reds were the rage and if you had good Cab Sauv and Shiraz it
was a gravy train ticket - vineyards were weighted in general at 60-70%
reds, grafting may be bringing that back to 50-50. You may also look at the
yield average in the state (and this figure may be lower for many boutique
operations), and this is one of the reasons why prices tend to be more
inflated than the industrial estates of eastern Australia, that bear no
resemblance to our industry.
The explosion of vineyards does not actually equate to an explosion in
plantings. It highlights the times we are in - when a grower of 10-15 years
for a large winery gets told that his grapes are not now required, what can
he do? I would say that as many as 30-40 wine labels have started solely
because of this push off the cliff. They are not using young vines in
general; in fact many of the older grapes are now been used for individual
labels. The large wineries ran back to their own new plantings in the late
nineties (E&T and Vasse Felix are the most obvious examples - 2 of the
original 34 you would say?). My bet is that many of the wineries that you
think may go under, may in fact become stronger if they put their head down
and aim for quality products. Also the wheel will turn and many may revert
to supplying wineries once again and have an easier life.
Finally some short words from an acquaintance in WA,
that for good reason which to remain to remain anonymous; he is known as
Cranky on the Auswine Forum.
"Just saw your pre-tour diary notes of
the WA jaunt, and have to agree on the quantity of ordinary MR wines out
The problem is not new... a collective got
together a few years back to try and increase "value for money" in MR reds,
and released the first cask wine purely sourced from the area ("The
A large portion of the cleanskins in Perth
are from MR, too. Way to many young vines being wrung out for quantity over
Case in point: I tried some wines at an in
store tasting today... Watershed wines, 4 yr old vines, but "have older vine
sources from 16 growers throughout the district". The 2005 SSB - not a bad
hot weather quaffer, touch of residual sweetness, but $19 for a quaffer?
Thier 2003 Shiraz pretty good; spicy, drinkable, probably closest to
reasonable value at $28, though still not great. The 2003 Cabernet, thin,
green, acid, some hints of what could be a better wine in a decent vintage,
or when the vines are 10 to 20 years older.
Hopefully the overall average quality will improve as the fairly
recent mass industrial plantings (E&T, Palandri to name the biggest) get a
bit older, and with luck, treated with more care? There will also be the
inevitable failure of new wineries who simply don't know what they are
doing, leading to an improvement in the average quality.
I just hope it won't take another 20 years!"