"TORB Terroir-ises SA" – (The 2004 South Australian Tour Diary)
Chapter Five – The Barossa – Monday Chapter Four can be found here
After a reasonably early and almost sober night, I was up bright and early on this fine Monday. The area needed rain desperately, and although it had been forecast a few days previously, the sky said “not today thanks.” It was a bright day in more ways than one. We also had some promising appointments lined up with some of the jewels of the Barossa. Some days you wake up feeling as good as a bottle of young Grange and some days you wake up feeling like a bag of stale cask wine and today, with what was in store, I felt as good as a vertical of Grange.
Reality had sunk in and I had bought milk to have with my papier-mâché flavoured fibre and oats as two days in a row of cholesterol injections by way of bacon and egg roll was overkill. As usual, we met at the greasy spoon café and I had coffee whilst The Lord of the Pie had a repeat of yesterday, a two egg bacon roll, cappuccino and a large carton of coffee flavoured moo juice. Well, it was almost the same, yesterday he forgot to order both tomato and BBQ sauce, a mistake he did not make twice.
The Council Owned Stretch Limo …………
With Enough Leg Room for the Pie King …
Over breakfast, I gazed deeply into his eyes, something I normally avoid like a dose of the pox and noticed something. John’s eyes are much more square then I remember them, it must be all that Fox sport he is watching. The coke bottle bottoms he wears on his beak also look a little thicker but at least his Pieship’s secret is now out in public so he no longer has to hide it.
After breakfast as we piled into the Council Owned Stretch Limo, John asked me to drive and we headed back to the pub to pick up his luggage. As soon as he was back in the car, he picked up his shoe phone and rang home to find out what happened to the flower delivery which was promised for yesterday morning and had not arrived when he last spoke to The Pie Kid at seven o’clock last night. It turned out, the florist, who is normally a rational man, arrived in a zombie like state, at 7.45 pm after starting his flower deliveries at 8 am. Sue was gratified to know that John had not forsaken her and was delighted. John stopped talking about contracts and other things against the florist that could get him arrested.
Being Monday, all the wineries are open, some prior to bankers hours and we had no difficulty gaining a 9 am appointment at Thorn Clarke. These guys are at Angaston, in fact they are well past the town down a dirt road in broad acre farming country. Last year was my first visit and for a new winery, the depth of their operation was impressive. (For those details see last years Tour Diary.) The winery has quickly established a reputation, especially in the US, for value wines. We arrived at the appointed time, unfortunately I had tried all bar two of the current releases and the next releases are still unfinished.
Thorn-Clarke 2003 Terra Barossa Cabernet sells for about $15-16. The wine smells youthful, reasonably varietal and has nuances of sawdust oak. The flavour profile is intensely sweet which lasted a nanosecond followed by savoury red fruit flavours with a subtle underlying sweetness finishing with leafy flavours. Medium-weight, tannins are unobtrusive and the consistency supple. A clean, drink now, bistro wine, the complexity is simple. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Thorn-Clarke 2002 William Randall Shiraz sells for $45 at CD. The vivid, bright dark purple colour is great, the nose showing plum, chocolate and leafy, minty notes. A well-balanced, muscular weight wine with fine, smooth dusty tannins and distinct, obvious fruit. The wine has a lovely palate with a good mouth feel, it goes in smooth and finishes dry with reasonable persistence and length. Plums, dark chocolate, mint and blackcurrant provide an agreeable level of complexity but given time, the consistency should become silky, seductive and the wine opulent. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should be best drunk in 2006+ and the rating may increase in that time.
Our next appointment was not till 10.45 so we had loads of spare time. His Pieship occasionally has a good idea and this morning he had his annual allocation of them and suggested another cup of coffee when we went past Salters at Saltram. They were just opening up when we got there and my normal contact, Richard was back on deck. We had a most enjoyable chat whilst we had a necessary injection of quality caffeine. The previous day’s tasting was discussed and analysed, Richard was delighted that his staff did such a good job and that the place can survive without him. But he is a little nervous that word might get out about that fact. Don’t worry; your secret is safe with me. And I am a politician and you can trust what I say!
This time it was my turn for a good idea and suggested that we go back to Liebichwein (as they were closed yesterday) and see if we could get to try their wines. A quick drive back up through Tanunda and up to the winery turnoff where we were greeted by a bloody closed sign! I am determined to get to try their wine but they are equally as determined not to let me!
…………………………………The Bethany CD
So we headed up the track past another closed winery and eventually found a winery that works for a living and doesn’t keep corporate executive hours.
Bethany is located half way up a hill with a picturesque view, it is a delightful spot and as we did not have much time left, we only tried two wines rather quickly.
Bethany 2001 Cabernet Merlot is a 70/30% blend and sells for $23 at CD. The nose of this wine was a little oxidised but as we were running short of time we ignored the slight imperfection. An easy drinking, varietal Cabernet that is well balanced, medium weight and solid. Blackcurrant, spice and mint flavours finish clean and dry. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, it should hit its straps in a year or so.
Bethany 2001 Shiraz sells for $25 at CD. The attractive bouquet is driven by ripe black fruit and delivers savoury, berry flavours, subtle dark chocolate, plums and aniseed. Medium weight, the very smooth, dusty tannins, refreshing acid and distinct fruit are well balanced and result in a solid structure and pleasant mouth feel. The wine finishes with good persistence and dry. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
The two wines tried were entirely consistent in style.
The 2004 vintage has been a long one, the latest finish I have seen recently. Getting towards the middle of May, it is unusual to see so many gangs of pickers still around the Barossa. You may see them in Coonawarra, but there were far more than normal around the Barossa this year. The next appointment was at Turkey Flat and hopefully, this year I will get to see Peter Schulz. I was meant to meet him last year, but circumstances were against us and it did not happen. When we arrived, the convoy of pickers’ cars with the obligatory port-a-loo were parked in convoy outside the vineyard. The pickers were hard at the Grenache and Mataro.
We were greeted by Ali at CD, the same lady who was kind enough to look after me last year in Peter’s absence. At the start of the tasting, she looked after us again whilst Peter was finishing up some other work, which was fully understandable as they were still effectively in vintage mode. After tasting the wines, we went on a tour of the winery and had a long chat, but onto the tasting notes first. I had tried most of the (now) current releases during my visit last year and was hoping I would get a preview of the wines due for release in July. They came good again.
Turkey Flat 2002 Grenache sells at CD for $18 and is the current release. It is an “iron fist in a velvet glove” style which is a little unusual for Grenache-based wines. The pure, persistent fruit produces chocolate, raspberry and a slight bitterness that should fade quickly as the wine matures. Silky, dusty tannins produce a gorgeous mouth feel and wonderful length finish. Medium weight, the structure is almost seamless and the complexity harmonious. A great food wine, it is rated Recommended with **** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures in 2006 and beyond.
Turkey Flat 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon sells at CD for $28.50. The wine was matured in 20% new oak and came from unirrigated vines that were cropped at 1 ton to the acre. Dark purple in colour, the hue is bright and clean. The bouquet is varietally correct, lifted, attractive and seductive, just like Halle Berry on a good day. Standout fruit of the highest quality is sweet on the uptake with red berry, cigar box, leafy notes and chocolate. The wine maintains perfect balance between pure, distinct fruit, refreshing acid and smooth drying tannins that finish with excellent length. Medium in weight, the construction is clean and firm with a harmonious complexity. This wine is sensational; it’s classy and just needs time. Rated as Excellent with **** for value, it should peak about 2010. Who says the Barossa does not make good Cabernet Sauvignon, I was delighted to buy this one.
Turkey Flat 2002 Shiraz was bottled in February and will be released in July and should sell for about $33. Dark, vivid purple in colour, the hue is bright. The bouquet is lifted by slight VA and the rich fruit, seductive. One of the best wines for the price tasted on this trip, so what makes it so? Two things: great mouth-feel, but more importantly a seriously grand structure, both of which have their genesis in the tannins. Smooth and ultra-fine, they crawl across the palate at the speed of turtle on a leisurely, lengthy, long-service holiday. The pure, distinct fruit which is buried by the tannins at present, progresses from red into blue and them black spectrum fruit flavours and milk chocolate. An ample weight wine, the complexity is refined and the consistency firm but supple. Rated as Excellent with ***** for value, the rating should increase in 2010+ when the wine peaks.
Turkey Flat 2002 The Turk would sell for around $15 if it sold at CD. This is aimed at the restaurant market in Sydney, Melbourne and the US. It a blend of 40% Shiraz, 40% Grenache, 10% Cabernet, 7% Mourvedre and 3% other grapes. The lesser quality fruit goes into this wine along with heavy Cabernet pressings. Dusty, smooth tannins, refreshing crisp acid and pure fruit combine to form a supple, easy drinking, medium-weight wine. Excellent flavour complexity of chocolate, raspberry, aniseed and a multiplicity (that’s a big word for me) of other flavours are ably supported by the deceptively good tannins that build across the palate and linger for yonks. Ultra clean, this wine way over delivers and I would buy cases of it if it was available for general sale. Rated as Recommended with ***** for value.
…………………. The New Winery ………..
I have been impressed with Turkey Flat wines for some years and each visit just gets better and better. So, it was no surprise when I finally met Peter Schulz one of the first things he said to me was “My philosophy is simple, my main objective is to make all my wines a little bit better every year.” Philosophy does not get much simpler than that objective, but the genius is the simplicity, especially if the objective is met.
The property is steeped in history; the vines were originally planted on the site in 1847. In 1865, Gottlieb Schulz, Peter’s great grandfather who was a successful butcher, established a thriving retail business among the vines. From there, the cattle farming expanded to include dairy cows but the vines remained. The Schulz family still own the business and Peter and his wife, Christie, started making wine commercially here in 1990. Since then, on average, they have faced a new competitor every 3½ days which a frightening statistic when growing a new business and trying to survive.
In 1999, in line with their “make less wine, but make it better” philosophy, they decided to no longer irrigate their Cabernet Sauvignon. That move cost them 30% of their yield but the quality was way up and that dry-grown attitude has remained. Much of the vineyards have no irrigation and even those that do rarely see water through the pipes. For example, one of the Shiraz vineyards received all of twelve hours of drip irrigation in January and that was it for the whole of last summer. Peter believes that crop load per vine is a more important measure than tons per acre but his cut off point for Shiraz is 2 tons per acre.
No Beer Cans Here …..
As making good wine is better than making volume, production is capped at 18,000 cases. Of that, 8,000 cases are Rosé, the balance being 10,000 cases of red. They have potential for a lot more but are not interested. If there is growth, it will only be in the Rosé, Butchers Block or The Turk.
We discussed recent vintages. Peter felt that the 98’s are not as good as 96 or 99 and this does not only apply to his wines, it applies to many other wines from the Barossa. 2004 has been a strong, solid year, not as good as 2002 but better than 2001. It will produce “feminine wines.”
The Italians have had a large influence on Peter and the winery. In fact, after this visit, I wondered if Peter is a frustrated Ferrari driver who is taking out his passion for things Italian in his winemaking equipment as much of the equipment is built in Italy. When I asked Peter why the fermenters were made there, his answer was “because it looks like a Ferrari rather than a beer can.” He also believes having a winery that is not only functional, but looks classy, “is a marketing opportunity.” Peter also stated he likes the style and structure that is found in top quality Italian wine.
Peter believes in doing everything on site so it is under his watchful eye and control. That starts with the wine making process which includes almost all types possible, from cold soaks through to submerged caps. Everything is done on site, including employing a mobile bottling plant. That in itself is unusual in the Barossa as most small producers use Vinpac. On this trip, after hearing a number of stories about things that can go wrong when you leave the bottling to others and it is outside your control, employing a mobile bottling plant, where you see exactly what is happening, can be a smart move.
……………. Peter hard at work …………..
The winery has been expanded in the last few years. The latest addition is a new winery which has freed up the old building for use as a barrel room. The air replacement system is fascinating. The building is insulated with a special silver foil that is inexpensive and easy to install. Instead of conventional air conditioning which is expensive to install and operate, the winery uses an ecologically friendly and inexpensive “air exchange system” for the barrel room. It works on a very simple system. The principle is that even on the warmest Barossa summer nights, for a small period of time the temperature drops below 15 degrees. As soon as that happens, the vents open, the warm air is pumped out and the cooler air is pumped in. The vents then close and the whole process literally took minutes. As the barrel room is well insulated and there is a large mass of already cool liquid, the air remains cool. Very smart idea and in line with the sort of smarts of the guy that owns and runs the place. Peter is also a very personable guy and it was a pleasure to meet him.
Peter is in this business for the long haul. He has inherited land that his been in his family for four generations and does not believe in short term fixes or “get rich quick” schemes. On the contrary, he believes the road to long term success is to over-deliver a quality product. And as I said at the start of this section, every time I visit the winery the wines seem to be getting better. The flag-fall, unlike many others is reasonably constant and excellent value.
Hell, how do you do better than a stop at a winery like Turkey Flat? Normally, it would not be easy to achieve but the next stop was an appointment at Rockford. I would hazard a guess, that everything possible that could be said or written about this piece of living history has already been said and written, but that will not stop me putting my spin on it. I have made a number of visits to this institution over the years but I have never written a feature story about it, just snippets and tasting notes.
On this trip, I was lucky enough to have an appointment with David Kalleske, the General Manager. In most organisations it is typical, indeed obligatory, to have ones title on ones business card, it is a status thing in most businesses. So what has the title on a business card have to do with Rockford? Simple! It’s a perfect illustration of everything else at Rockford. David Kalleske does not have has his position or title on his business card. Rockford flies in the face of convention; they do not require confirmation of pumped-up status, or have the need, or desire to prove a thing. When you are doing it with confidence and winning, you do not need to prove it with status symbols.
So what makes Rockford so special and why does it have such an awesome reputation? The gods were smiling on me when I made this appointment. I could not have arrived at a better time to get the ammunition to answer that question. It was vintage! The winery was working at full capacity. The entrance to the winery courtyard is through a narrow entrance between the stone buildings. These stone buildings are imposing and in tune with the character of the place. Indeed, they are the character of the place, but there is so much more that makes this winery unique.
When we arrived, the five senses were completely captivated by the marvel and majesty of the work going on all around us. The work was being carried out in a fashion that made one think, that by walking through between those two stone-wall buildings, we had progressed back in time 100 years.
………My back hurts just thinking about this…
We straddled past a truck full of rich, ripe grapes which were being unloaded. In most wineries a tip truck would be used to dump them into the crusher. Not at Rockford, that sort of rough handling is frowned upon and verboten. They were being gently moved, by hand, with a pitch fork. But the hand process had started way before the grapes got to the winery, they were hand picked and before that, the vines were hand pruned.
The look, the smell, the sound and feel was so alive you could feel it enveloping your very being, right through to your very core.
The cacophony of noise, a rhythmic “thrum thrum” was loud but soothing, almost mesmerising. It was produced from the single cylinder motor that was built in 1908 in Hahndorf. This motor drives the belt driven Bagshaw Crusher that was made in 1880. There are four wooden paddles inside the crusher which are used to de-stem the fruit. The same motor also drives the must pump which moves the fruit from the crusher to the fermenters. The equipment is all Australian made. When parts have been needed, they have either been found locally or manufactured.
Bits of history litter the courtyard and they are not there for show. Take the solid slate fermenter for example. It is about 100 years old and was purchased from the old Quelltaler Estate winery in Clare when they decided to get modern (and go backwards.)
The air was awash with an intoxicating complexity of contrasting and competing aromas. From the fresh scents of ripe grapes through to the pungent smell of the ferments and finally, the lifted alcohol brandy spirit that was being added to the vintage port.
When Robert O’Callaghan started the winery in the early 1980’s most people thought he was certifiably nuts! At that stage people were pulling out vines, not planting them. Most wineries were looking for ways to embrace and utilise winemaking technology, not go backwards in time and do it the old fashioned way. Here was an upstart with no vines of his own, with no vineyards of his own, or even plans to own any. Robert had no money and naturally enough, the bank didn’t want to know him (some things do not change.) He borrowed money from a friend, Doug Collet (who owned Woodstock wines) and kicked off with his first vintage in 1984.
What O’Callaghan lacked in winemaking assets he made up for with his vision of a winery that treated the grapes with love and respect. That love and respect has now extended to his staff and his customers. The staff speak of the “Rockford Family.” There are few businesses where the staff so obviously exude love for the job and enthusiasm for their place of employment, but then Rockford is more than just employment, it is a family.
The original 1908 motor that drives the crusher and must pump ….
The philosophy permeates every nook and cranny in the winery, every where you look you can see its influence. It starts with the hand-picked grapes. Why hand-pick when machine-picking is so more cost-effective? This winery is not about being cost-effective, it is not run by corporate, pencil-pushing, bean-counters, it is run with passion and vision. The grapes are hand-picked because you can get the right bunches off at the right time. By treating them gently, it ensures they are not bruised.
The red wines at Rockford have a unique style and that style is consistent right through their line-up. They all are fruit driven, have minimal oak influence but have sufficient natural tannin to ensure they last. They also have a mouth feel that is very much Rockford. The consistency is no accident. They believe that good wine is made in the vineyard. From the time the grapes are ripe, everything that happens in the winemaking process has the ability to detract from the finished wine. The less interference and the more gentle the process, the better the resulting wine. The attitude is, how can we do as little as possible, as gently as possible, to ensure we do the least amount of damage.
Tradition! If you have ever seen the movie or the play, “Fiddler on the Roof,” it was all about tradition. Wondering about this winery, you could be forgiven for thinking you had walked onto the Fiddler movie set. Making wine here is also all about tradition and doing it “the old-fashioned way.” In days gone by, people had the time; time to do all sorts of things. Time to talk to others, time to care and time to share. That was before today’s “disposal society,” when if something does not work 100%, you turf it out and get a new one. In those days you took the time to do things properly. If something broke down you mended it. In many ways, it was a more gentle time. Rockford operates in that timeframe and with those old fashioned traditions.
………. The must with loads of whole berries
Rockford treats their grapes with respect and gentle handling, much the way an Edwardian gentleman would treat an aristocratic lady. Gentle handling is seen as key to getting the ultra-fine, super soft grape tannins into the wine. It starts with hand picking. The grapes are shovelled into the de-stemmer where the majority of the green matter is gently removed. The “damage” to the stems was interesting to observe, the paddles must have been caressing the grapes off. However, some leafy material remained and went into the must. What was more interesting to observe, was the large amount of whole grapes still intact. Rockford believes this gentle handling is a positive attribute and is critical in achieving the desired tannin structure and resulting mouth feel. It is very labour intensive to operate this way and the winery can only manage 20 tons a day. Whilst that may not sound like much, it is a s**t load of work for the poor bastard that has to hand shovel it all into the de-stemmer with his trusty pitchfork.
The day I was there every single tank was full, it was a bumper crop. Whilst they like to do everything the old fashioned way, some minimal concessions to modern winemaking are made. The open fermenters are pumped over twice daily and are chilled if necessary.
Everything is kept separate and each parcel from each vineyard is processed as a complete wine. The blending comes later. There is an important reason for processing the parcels of fruit as individual wines. In poor years, good wine can still be produced by omitting various parcels from the finished blends.
The Rockford barrel room is interesting. As you walk along the narrow, dimly lit corridor which is gently infused with filtered sunlight coming through the holes in the tin, you pass a combination of huge old oak vats and smaller barrels. Recently a couple of new vats were made and because of the layout of the corridor, the roof had to be lifted off to get them into position. If you think that presents problems, you have not seen the barrel rooms. They both have sunken floors which offer a unique set of challenges. There is almost zero space and you can not get a fork-lift into either room. Once the barrels are placed in position by hand, they have to stay there. They are stacked six high and instead of being placed on metal frames one on top the other; they are “offset stacked” into place with wooden chocks much like door stops. Each bung has to be accessible because these barrels are not going anywhere in a hurry. Getting the wine in and out is no easy feat. Basically, once the barrels are emptied, they have to be refilled with new wine immediately. That would create some interesting logistical challenges.
There was also something noticeable by its absence in the barrel room - new oak! Not much of it around at all.
For those that have been lucky enough to try it, Rockford makes an excellent quality Vintage Port. It is not like the Hardys or Reynella VP’s which, although “old fashioned” in style are big and in your face. The Rockford VP is significantly more feminine in nature. The day I was there, they were adding the brandy spirit to the port. The juice was gently being extracted using the basket press and the spirit added. I was lucky enough to taste it as it was being made. Humongous primary fruit and rocket fuel, a perfect mixture for John prior to a meat pie, he sure didn’t spit that stuff.
We then went into the Stonewall Tasting Room and met Ian Bickford who proudly calls himself “the new Angela”. For those that do not know, Angela was the person who looked after Stonewaller’s until the recent arrival of her baby (and she is now back at work one day a week.) Ian has a long history in the South Australian hospitality industry. He worked with Cheong Liew for eight years, helped head up the team that established the Fleurieu Restaurant at the Hyatt. Ian was also one of the initial partners in the 1918 restaurant at Tanunda (where we had eaten the previous night). He has a good understanding and appreciation of wine and over the years, has shared a glass (or five) with some of Australia's best winemakers.
The 1880 Bagshaw Crusher …………….
One thing I have noticed about Rockford wines when they are first opened is the weight can seem very different to a wine that has been decanted for a few hours. They seem to gain weight and the tannins come up as the wine gains air time. This should be in the back of your mind when reading these tasting notes.
Rockford 1999 Moppa Springs sells for $21.50 at CD and is a blend of 81% Grenache, 12% Shiraz and 7% Mourvedre. Violet in colour, the hue is bright and the bouquet is savoury, smoky and has slight char. Despite the oak influence on the nose, it does not show significantly on the palate. Sweet and savoury pure fruit washes across the tongue in seamless layers. Unobtrusive tannins provide a soft consistency and the complexity is agreeable and harmonious. This is a good, medium-weight food wine that is rated Recommended with *** for value.
I would hazard a guess that prior to my visit, David had a look at Torbwine and saw some of my negative comments on straight Grenache. What other reason could there be for him, with all the wine available to him, to select a Rockford 1993 Dry Country Grenache to show me how well Rockford Grenache ages. Violet in colour, the wine is starting to show some bricking. The bouquet is clean, smoky and shows aged leathery characteristics. Medium-weight, the acid is still remarkably refreshing and the dusty tannins are supple. Very savoury, pure fruit flavours with milk chocolate, seamlessly build incredibly slowly across the palate and sedately finishes dry. Add to that a harmonious, sophisticated complicity that can only come with age, and you have a Grenache that is about as good as I have tasted. Rated as Highly Recommended, it is drinking at its peak but should hold for years.
Rockford 2001 Rod and Spur sells for $28 at CD and is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon 34% Shiraz. Normally a Shiraz dominant blend, in this vintage, due to the quality of available Cabernet Sauvignon, the blend was changed. A wine with perfect balance and a great structure; ultra-fine, tight, dusty tannins and pure fruit combine to produce a squeaky-clean medium-weight wine. Ripe, juicy, red and blue spectrum fruit wades slowly across the palate and is beautifully offset with refreshing acid and drying tannins. The structure is solid and seamless; the complexity is well developed and refined so it is no surprise that the wine is drinking well now. Despite that, it should hold and improve for a few years. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value.
Rockford 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon is a back release and sells to Stonewallers for $45. I purchased a six pack of this wine on initial release and it drank so well then I must confess that I only have one left. This wine also has the dubious distinction of being the only wine I have broken in my cellar since 1982. When I broke a bottle in 2001, I had great difficulty in restraining myself from licking it up. The bouquet is savoury with typical varietal Cabernet characters, dusty oak and olives. This wine is in an interesting stage of development. There is a large amount of smooth drying tannins that produce an extended length finish. Distinct, obvious fruit is sweet on the uptake with a savoury, olive mid palate and the refreshing acid adds to the well developed complexity. Ample-weight, it will only get better and is probably best left till about 2007. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine matures.
Rockford 2001 Basket Press Shiraz sells for $43 at CD. Purple in colour, the hue is vibrant. The bouquet is youthful, perfumed and shows very ripe fruit. The palate is seduced by cunningly deceptive, silky tannins that don’t seem like they are there, but just like Sir Edmond Hillary, they take a while to climb to the summit. Squeaky clean with a great mouth feel, the pure fruit, which is the product of a hot year, is very ripe but savoury. Ample in weight, the consistency is soft and the complexity harmonious, but do not let that fool you, the structure is solid. This wine will not be as long lived as many under this label and should peak about 2010. Rated as Excellent with **** for Value.
….. Filling the Basket Press with VP Grapes
Rockford 1997 Vintage Port sells for $56 at CD. This is a lovely wine and even people that do not enjoy VP’s should try it, if they get the chance. It is savoury, elegant with sweet underlying fruit and good persistence. Silky and supple, the structure is seamless and it has a harmonious, sophisticated complexity. It was just like the fortified wine we had tried earlier in the day which was being pressed, but this obviously has more maturity. Rated as Excellent with *** for value.
As mentioned previously, the winery doesn’t own any vineyards and yet the wines are remarkably stylistically consistent from year to year. Two reasons for this, they have a great diversity of grower’s vineyards from which to source grapes and those vineyards are the same year in and year out. The second reason is consistent, mature winemaking that comes from years of doing the same thing well.
Rockford do not take their success for granted or have any arrogance. Far from it, there is genuine humility because they know they have made it and are determined to maintain their position. Rockford is cognisant that it is easy to come unstuck which is why there is a tight customer focus. Most wineries would kill to be in a position like Rockford with a long waiting list and the ability to sell all their wines quickly. Unlike many wineries, especially the “corporates”, Rockford’s believes in customer loyalty, another tradition from days gone by. That is why they have the Stonewall Society for their established mailing list customers and why they carefully restrict sales of the Basket Press Shiraz and Black Shiraz. Many wineries in their position would jack up the price and work on the modern, “demand and supply model,” you want it, you pay through the nose for it mentality. That is not the way Rockford does things. They want long term business and believe it is better to have “disciples” rather than fashion-conscious, points-chasing customers who are only interested in the urinal bragging rights associated with serving cult wines.
Made by hand takes on a new meaning ..
If you are not on their mailing list, it can be difficult to obtain their wine as the majority of it is sold to existing customers by mail order. Rockford feels that in some ways, their mailing list is their best asset but in others it is an utter nightmare. They have elected to market their wines using the mailing list but don’t like the thought of it becoming elitist. It was a way to look after their existing customers but by the same token, they do not want to be seen as “closing ranks” and pi**ing people off because they can’t get Rockford wine. But all is not lost, when you are in the Barossa, call in to CD and tell them TORB sent you; that is bound to get you thrown out. Seriously, there are a few restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne that stock their wines so you never know when you may come across them and if you are lucky enough to do so, give them a try.
Finally, contrary to popular belief, Robert O’Callaghan hates being called Rocky and prefers Robert. Some years ago, when Robert owned a dog called Rocky, someone rang up the winery and asked to speak to Rocky. Robert said “Sorry, he can’t come to the phone right now, he is lying in front of the fire licking his balls.
Wow, what an experience that turned out to be, and although it was well past pie o’clock by the time we had finished, there was not a peep out of John complaining about his lack of sustenance. As we drove past the entrance to Liebichwein the sign said “open” and I thought at long last, here we go; I am going to get to taste their wines and we have plenty of time before our next appointment too. When I asked John to turn into their street, his hands did not move on the steering wheel. He muttered something questioning my parentage and his daily requirements for a pie and moo juice fix that could not wait any longer, that is if I wished to remain healthy and in one piece.
I miss out on Liebichwein again, but all is not lost, I still have a plan and hope. So it was off to lunch and the Pie King must have been taking pity on me, because without being asked, he stopped off at my favourite sandwich shop in Tanunda. The one where he has had to resort to chook pies on the last two visits, so he must feel extremely guilty about not stopping at Liebichwein. Now guess what his Pieship ordered for lunch and guess what was available?
Mrs Villis, the god of pies must have been smiling on her little angel (and best customer) John got two meat pies and didn’t have to undergo the indignity of having to eat chicken pies again. That, of course was washed down with the coffee flavoured moo juice. I had a turkey and salad sandwich with a cup of espresso, life can be boring, but then on the other hand it could be worse, I could have a pie fetish and be like John.
…From hand made at Rockford to the tanks at Lehmann
…. …… and yet both make very good wine
Our final appointment of the day was at another one of the Barossa’s long-time stalwart wineries Peter Lehmann Wines. The winery started in 1978 when there was a surplus of grapes and some of the grower’s contracts were not being honoured. Lehmann agreed to take the grapes, make the wine and pay the growers when he was able. From the growers’ perspective, that was a far preferable to ditching the grapes, which in reality was the only other option. Lehmann was involved in a huge crap shoot so when he formed the company, he called it Masterson after the famous gambling character. The Queen of Clubs became the logo, not because it’s pretty but because it is regarded as the “gamblers card”. In 1980, with the aid of a couple of major investors, a winery was built and in 1982 the company became Peter Lehmann Wines.
Around that time, the Barossa was dying, the government funded grape-pull scheme was in play but Lehmann had faith and a vision and became the champion of the Barossa. He signed many contracts with growers who had nowhere to turn and honoured them. Lehmann never stopped promoting the Barossa.
In 1992, the major shareholder was in financial hot excrement and the winery looked like it could wind up being flushed. The cavalry came to the rescue, many of them the original growers that Peter had saved from financial ruin and a public company was formed. Lehmann was a minor, but important shareholder. Last year there was an incredible and very hostile attempted takeover. There was not one, but two major companies involved and both wanted the winery. The Hess Group won and by all accounts, according to the staff, have left the winery to get on with their fermenting.
Lehmann runs a very tidy operation ….
Even the gardener is neat … …..
I must admit, I love the look and feel of the cellar door, part of which dates back to the 1840’s. It is much bigger than most but retains a warm atmosphere. The open fire in winter helps with more than just heat; it also provides an inviting feeling which is carried through to the staff. Many of the faces are the same year in and year out. The staff are always welcoming, almost like you are a visitor being invited into a person’s home and are some of the most professional in the business.
This is also one of the wineries where all the wines are openly available for tasting. They encourage customers to try good wine and don’t look down their nose at people who are obviously beginners. If anything they do the reverse and try to help people understand more about what is in the glass.
After those positive comments, it is time to mention my major concern about this winery. At the lower end of the pricing spectrum the wines are great and represent terrific value. If I want wine by the glass in a restaurant and see a Lehmann label, there is no need to look further. For everyday drinking, year in and year out they are dependable. It is the top end that has concerned me over my past few visits. Its not that the wines are bad, it is just that I have found them to be stylistically inconsistent and some heading towards the over-ripe “dead fruit” end of things. If you take the flagship, the Stonewell for example, in the first half of the 90’s the wines were huge with loads of Yankee oak and needed years in the cellar to soften. In 1996 that changed and they went to French oak and made a technically perfect, (but boring to my palate wine, that many people loved,) and was feminine by comparison to its predecessors. The 1997 was stylistically different and may not be as technically good at the 1996, but it held more interest. So what would the 1998 hold?
These stylistic changes also applied to the Eight Songs. I loved the 1996 which was the first release. The 1997 was a product of its very average vintage conditions. The 1998 was good but getting bigger and riper. The 1999 was super ripe, bordering on dead fruit. And so it goes on with the Mentor too. Given these directional changes and switches I did not know what I was going to find but it would be fun finding out.
I had made an appointment and we were ably looked after by Georgie Prout. We walked through what amounts to a small art galley which features, amongst other works, the Queen Series of paintings and into a well appointed private tasting room. Time to do some tasting!
…………….. The Gallery
Peter Lehmann 2000 Mud Flat Shiraz sells for $25 and is only available at CD. This is an unusual blend of 92% Shiraz with 8% co-fermented Muscatel. A well crafted wine with an excellent mouth feel, it is savoury on the uptake, intensely so, with spice, liquorice, blackberry and a burnt coffee finish. Silky tannins, crisp acid and persistent, distinct fruit combine to produce an ample-weight, well crafted wine. The harmonious complexity and silky consistency makes this a very attractive, drinkable wine that will go well with a broad range of food. Rated as Recommended with **** for value. The 2002 vintage will be sold through normal retail channels.
Peter Lehmann 2002 The Futures Shiraz sells for $30 and is a fairly new label. Dark purple in colour, the hue is bright. Rich, ripe, seductively perfumed fruit combines with dusty oak on the bouquet. A well crafted wine with creamy mouth feel which comes from the smooth, very fine, dusty tannins; the pure deep fruit drives this ample-weight wine. Clever winemaking has produced savoury fruit with slight underlying sweetness and fresh acid that cuts through the fruit, with the fruit coming back to finish with excellent persistence. A hedonistic wine that is highly drinkable, and although it is drinking well now, it should improve for a few years. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value.
Peter Lehmann 1999 The Mentor sells for $40 at CD but can normally be found on special for as low as $30. An unusual bouquet with petroleum like characters and sweet underlying liquorice produces a surprisingly savoury palate with no sweet characters. Blackberry, liquorice, char and mint flavours are enhanced by the ultra-fine, smooth drying tannins which also results in an excellent mouth feel. The wine is muscular in weight with a supple consistency and a solid structure that should become seamless in time. The mouth feel and structure means it is drinking well now but may gain complexity as it ages. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value (but not at $40), the wine is ready to drink now but should hold for years.
Peter Lehmann 2000 Eight Songs The last vintage of this wine had a RRP of $55 at CD but sold for less through retailers. This vintage can be found on the street for about $30 so there has been a significant price decrease. The wine is now packaged in six packs rather than eight. All the label pictures in the pack are the same; in previous vintages there were eight different pictures, one for each bottle label. The nose is fruit driven with dusty French oak. Obvious, distinct fruit produces a lovely uptake with a savoury top layer, sweet underlying red and blue berry fruit and whilst the flavour finishes with reasonable persistence, it is a bit short on the back palate. A full-bodied wine with supple consistency, a solid structure and well developed complexity it is a smart wine and has a better flavour profile than the previous vintage, however many of the previous vintages are of a higher standard. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value at $30.
Peter Lehmann 1998 Stonewell sells for $75 at CD. The wine is sold out but it was kindly opened for us to try. A very seductive and complex bouquet leads to a palate with rich, dark fruit that is black in nature. There is a touch of sweetness running through the palate which finishes long and dry. Full-bodied, there is no heaviness or over-extraction to the wine and it is clean. A firm, solid wine, it is a class act and whilst it is drinking well now, it will benefit from time in the bottle. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it should peak about 2008.
Earlier in this section, I made comment on the stylistic shift at the top end of the Lehmann portfolio over the last few years, and in passing, our host, Georgie provided the answer and explained all in one simple sentence. “Andrew is now making wines for drinking rather than cellaring.” Without exception, if that is what they are trying to achieve, they are doing it, and doing it well.
A postscript on the Stonewell. Between the time these notes were type and the time the Chapter went live, I tasted the 96 Stonewell again, completely blind. The wine was harmonious with everything in balance and perfectly proportioned. Very juggable but that should not be seen as derogatory. The wine has obvious pedigree and high quality, and most importantly, there was nothing boring about it. It has improved a lot since I first tried it about three years ago. Rated as Excellent without a second thought, it was a bad move auctioning the balance of my six-pack.
It was just after 4 pm and time to head back to the Davis McLaren Vale Hilton and with his Pieship behind the wheel, we headed for home. As we reached Rowland Flat, I saw that the Liebichwein sign still said open, you beauty, my last chance to try their wines on this trip. “Quick John, turn left they are open” and he responded with ……. ….. I have tried enough bloody wine…..
Traffic was heavy and it took about two hours to drive from the Barossa back to McLaren Vale. When we arrived, John was greeted by the Davis clan, including their three Chihuahuas. That greeting left me in no doubt, he has got them all fooled, they all love him, even the dogs have been conned. Unlike other years, John had been remarkably restrained on this trip; he had only purchased about a dozen bottles of wine so there was no need for me to sneak in his excess ill-gotten purchases after dark when Sue was not looking.
Prior to dinner, we sat down with a bottle of Majella 1998 Sparkling Shiraz. Sparkling Shiraz is one of the few red wines that Sue will drink and we all certainly enjoyed this wine. We sat next to the fire, relaxed, talked about the trip and our adventures. No notes on the wine but it is smooth and in its peak drinking window.
Time for the $64,000 dollar question. After the Pie King has been away for four days, what do you think the Pie Queen cooked for her King’s welcome home dinner? Why, a shepherds pie of course and a home cooked meal was delicious and just what was needed. John’s only had two complaints about dinner. Firstly he had to eat his vegies and secondly, although there was a potato topping on the shepherds pie, it had no pastry.
With dinner, we had a Tatachilla 1997 Foundation Shiraz. I have an affinity for this label and this is the only vintage I did not purchase. The fruit was pretty good but the wine showed coarse wood tannin and this is probably the weakest vintage under this label. If you have any drink up, it will not improve.
Now we have got past the $64,000 question, it is time for the $125,000 question and you will not get choices a to d. What did her Pieship make his Pieship for dessert?
John had arranged to take the next few days off but had just about enough wine-tasting for one week. I still had two days of wine tasting ahead of me in McLaren Vale and John had decided that he would only come to a select few. That was easy to arrange as I was staying with them and they live close to the wineries. After a fantastic four days in the Barossa, that leg of the trip was over but McLaren Vale and Clare still lay ahead. Another four chapters worth! And don’t worry; the Meat Pie King still makes some appearances.
What will be the highlights of McLaren Vale? Find out in the next two chapters.
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2004