"TORB Tortoises Through SA" – (The 2005 South Australian Tour Diary)
Chapter One - Introduction
Last years nine-day trip was so big and so intense that I decided to break this year's trip up into two with the added in intention of slowing down and taking it easier. The plan was to do a one-week trip in February and a second weeks tour at the traditional time in May by which time harvest will be completed. There were a number of advantages to this plan. Firstly, it would give me more time to spend at each winery; it would take the pressure off and make the trip more relaxing and finally, the Tour Diary for the first week would be completed prior to the second trip. I thought I would still manage around 300 tasting notes in total as well as the usual anecdotes, pictures, and vivid descriptions of the Pie King's antics. After completing the first week, it was clear I have underestimated the results. Yes, it was a lot easier and the pace was more relaxed but I have amassed well over two hundred tasting notes and hopefully you will find the stories to go with them the best yet.
Naturally, this Tour Diary will be broken down into chapters, which will be posted in (hopefully) weekly instalments on torbwine.com. All the tasting notes will be individually uploaded in the Tasting Note Data Base for easy future searching.
When planning this trip, and requesting appointments, I made a point of asking wineries to allow me to taste as many unreleased wines as possible. I am delighted to advise that a number of wineries were extremely cooperative and generously allowed me to try many unreleased wine, in some cases, years off release. Tasting notes for these wines should prove invaluable when planning future purchases and with the proliferation of new wines coming out, you can never have enough information.
At the other extreme, some tiny wineries opened up bottles of everything they had produced so I could get a complete picture of what they were trying to do. In many cases, these wines had sold out long ago making the winery’s stock not only scarce but valuable. The generosity and hospitality exhibited by the majority of the wineries I visit never fails to amaze me, so it would be remiss of me not to thank the many wineries that went to so much trouble and effort to make my visit a memorable one. Without them, there would be no story and I truly appreciate their honesty and candour when answering difficult questions.
In past Tour Diaries, I have provided a vintage perspective at the start of the story but as the 2005 vintage is still in progress, the full vintage review will have to wait till after the May trip. However, some of the highlights for McLaren Vale and the Barossa may interest readers. Some broad generalities:
There are a lot of credible wines from this difficult year (2003) but equally, there are some shockers. Interestingly enough, there are very few in the middle, most are either very good or very ordinary. The early reports from 2004 are mixed. Some wineries are genuinely over the moon with the vintage and some are concerned about the quality of the final output. There is also no doubt, a number of wineries are talking up 2004 after a very poor 2003. There is no point in talking about 2005 as harvest has only just starting and only a miniscule percentage of the red grapes have been picked.
As usual, the TORB Rating System has been used throughout these notes. If you are unfamiliar with the TORB Rating System, it worth spending a minute or two becoming familiar with it; click here for details. It is important to understand that I am a very hard marker.
It's an easy two hour drive from Berrima to the nation's capital with very little traffic and freeway conditions almost all the way but as I came around the bend outside the Canberra Rifle Club, and across the road from the Mount Majura winery, I knew I was in for trouble. Right in front of me, on the side of the road a large truck had pulled off and was parked on the grass where no one could miss the large sign writing “Vili’s Pies.” Holy cow, I am not even in South Aust yet and I am already having my vision assaulted by The Pie Kings favourite every day pleasure, the signs (bad pun intended) are not looking good for this trip, but don’t worry, they will get worse!
Brian works around the corner from the Canberra airport and met me as I arrived. We had agreed to take some aged wine with us to Rutherglen and he was happy to relieve me of my small parcel. As I arrived early, I was able to obtain the escape row seat over the wing which provides lots of legroom and it makes the trip more comfortable. There were a reasonable number of vacant seats on the flight and I was lucky enough to have a spare seat next to me which made it even more comfortable.
When I landed at Adelaide airport, it was almost like I was returning home; what a great feeling. This familiarity did not preclude me from making the same mistake I made last time by missing a vital turn as I drove out of the airport sending me into town. Once I had corrected the error and was heading on the Main South Road the trip was a breeze. As the plane only arrived after seven, I told John I would grab a bite to eat along the way and there were no shortage of fast food joints on this road. In fact, in the space of about 3 km I lost count of a number of fast food outlets available. However, there were three Subways in the space of about 1 km and the Chicken Teriyaki on wheat was not only healthy, it was delicious. I was really glad I had the opportunity to have something healthy as staying at the Pie King’s residence certainly does not assist ones cholesterol or waistline.
For those readers who did not catch up with events last year, the Meat Pie Family sold the McLaren Vale Hilton and purchased ten acres at Blewitt Springs with eight acres under vine. As I had not been there previously, and John is either incapable of giving explicit directions, or thinks that I am incapable of following them, he met me in McLaren Vale proper. After an eight minute ride, the last couple on Blewitt Springs Road, we arrived as a property called the Old Weighbridge Vineyard. As I got out of the car, I received an enthusiastic, warm welcome from two chubby Chihuahuas. The welcome was just as warm from Mrs Pie King (Sue) and the budding Pie Saxophonist (Hosanna.) John decided my arrival was cause for a quiet little drink and a nibble so we opened up a bottle to kick start proceedings.
To accompany the wine, John produced a marvellous plate with assorted cheeses; a beautiful King Island Blue, wonderfully ripe Brie as well as a King Island Cheddar with tasty olives and sun dried tomatoes for good measure. I was so glad that I had consumed that sub are on the way up (not!) Never the less, I managed to consume my fair share of both the wine and cheese.
Balnaves 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, was the first bottle opened and was superb; way too young to drink and probably needs another five years to show its best. Tannins were very long, drying, and fill the mouth with loads of blackcurrant, blackberry and mint; this is a typical Coonawarra Cabernet and is outstanding value for the quality of the wine. As the first bottle was depleted in record time, John said to me (out of Sue's hearing) “the reason I love you coming is because it's a great excuse to go out and get pissed” and that is exactly what happened after we opened a second bottle.
Leasingham 1996 Classic Clare Shiraz caused John to fall in lust; this wine is just entering its peak drinking window, it's a young adult with the best years of its life still in front of it. Muscular in weight, the tannins are resolving nicely; it shows perfect balance and is rated as Excellent. As John stuck his nose into it, he lifted his head and with a beady eye and a raised eyebrow said, "sump oil,” smiled, and then stuck his nose back into the glass. I refused to divulge how much of it I drank, for fear of self-incrimination.
Whilst we were drinking the wine I received a lesson in viticulture 101 as The Pie King proceeded to unload all the information he had learnt about pruning, canopy management and other assorted subjects with as much enthusiasm as he would normally reserve for a gold medal winning meat pie. Luckily, his knowledge is not great that it only took twenty minutes to tell me everything he knew. Instead of reading Winestate Magazine and other such lofty publications, John's new bedtime reading material covers such lofty subjects as soil fertilisation, pest control and the “sensual analysis of tannins in pips."
John confided that he had stopped subscribing to Winestate and it was now subscribing to Grape Growers instead. He picked up the magazine, opened it up handed it to me and said “now isn't that a sexy tractor?” If I was concerned about his mental stability and well-being previously, that concern has now grown to alarming levels; this puppy is extremely sick.
Whilst Her Pieship was out of the room, His Pieship leaned over to me, and in a conspiratorial tone of voice said, "Sue doesn't like most of my friends, I don't know why she likes you.” I didn't tell him I think I know the answer to that question. It is simply that I get him out of the house (and away from her.)
After an outstanding welcome, it was finally off to bed and I was very pleased to see that not everything had changed in the new house. My old lopsided bed was still there; (the one that John used to sleep on when Sue kicked him out to the doghouse and judging by the worn out springs on one side that must have happened with regular monotony) and the, shall we say, rather bright colour scheme was still the same.
Up bright and early the next morning, the house was as quiet as a graveyard at 5:30 a.m. and struggling through my e-mails at that hour seemed like hard work without the benefit of a strong black coffee in my system. The night before, Sue had suggested I head up Blewitt Springs Road as the incline was gentle; tell that to my puffing lungs. Obviously, she has never walked up the hill because it is anything but a gentle incline.
After my walk, His Pieship and I had breakfast together and he was bemoaning the fact that he had to spend three hours on a Friday afternoon at an occupational health and safety meeting. He severely questioned the parentage of the person who called a meeting at this time and thought it was a gross invasion of his privacy as all he wanted to do on this Friday afternoon was to dream and think about what we were going to drink that night. The operative word here is “dream” as apparently John has a notorious reputation for falling asleep in meetings. John admitted he has been known to fall asleep in meetings when he is chairing them and he went on to say “it's a bit of a worry when you can't even feign interest in your own work."
With breakfast completed, it was time to get down to the serious business of wine tasting and as I had not been to Langhorne Creek for about five years; this was my first port of call. Oh! How this area has changed in that time. The new plantings are amazing. Mile upon mile upon mile of new vines; this is not a creek; this is an ocean of new vines. At the start of the district, there is a new, large processing facility that looks in many ways like a normal winery. The difference is, that most wineries have large billboards outside advertising who they are, not this one. There was a name on the brickwork but it was just about completely the hidden by dense shrubbery. Clearly, this place does not believe in advertising but it is indicative of the nature of much of the area; bulk wine production. Having said that, there are some excellent wineries, a few of them old and established.
My first stop was the historic Bleasdale winery. I had tried to make an appointment, but unfortunately there was a shareholders meeting that day so no one could spend time with me. This is an impressive looking old cellar door and as you walk in, the sense of history seems to pervade the place which is not all that surprising considering it was established in 1850. It is a family-owned operation and Michael Potts is the fifth generation winemaker. There is an impressively large selection of wine to sample and they are more than happy to let you wander around and help yourself. The wine ranges from a 1990 vintage port (which was both oxidised and affected by cork taint) through to flagon wine, and everything in between. The winery has a reputation as producing good, honest, value for money wines.
Bleasdale 2001 Bremerview Shiraz sells for $16.50 at cellar door. It has a lifted, enticing nose showing clean mulberry, black pepper, chocolate, coffee, sawdust toasted oak, loads of mint - excellent complexity. Smooth, dusty tannins and fresh acid combine with distinct, persistent fruit to form an ample weight wine with a supple consistency, solid structure and an agreeable level of complexity. With an intense hit of mulberry and with mint and chocolate, the wine has excellent power without excess puppy fat. An easy drinking wine that has the backbone to cellar into the medium term, it is drinking well now and is rated as Recommended with **** for value. The only criticism of the wine is that it shows slightly stewed fruit at the end of the palate.
Bleasdale 2002 Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon also sells for $16 50 at cellar door. The wine is well balanced, youthful and a little rustic but in a positive sense. Smooth, powdery tannins needs time to integrate with the obvious fruit which delivers a very savoury, spicy uptake, sweet mid-palate with loads of milk chocolate and mint with a touch of green capsicum as well as liquorice on the finish. Ample-weight, the consistency is firm, the structure tight and solid and the complexity is agreeable. It appears to be a bit “clunky” at this stage but hopefully it will improve and it is attractive for the price. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it should come into its own in 2008 and beyond.
Bleasdale 2002 Frank Potts sells for $28 at cellar door and they must have done something right with this wine is there is a limit of two bottles per customer. It is a blend of 78% Cabernet, 13% Malbec and 9% Petite Verdot. The bouquet is tight, dusty and shows glimpses of pure clean fruit in the black berry spectrum with spice and aniseed. Deep, intense fruit, fresh acid and smooth drying tannins combine like a well oiled gymnast to produce a wine of beautiful balance. Ripe blackberry, black cherry, aniseed, mint and chocolate, all of which is not sweet, finishing dry with good persistence. Muscular in weight, the wine has a firm consistency, solid structure and whilst the complexity is harmonious, it needs time to gain complexity and fill in the mid-palate hole. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value it should peak around 2009 and beyond.
Whilst I tasted these wines, I wandered around cellar door and couldn't help noticing 162 litres of bulk wine packaged in black plastic 27 litre drums sitting in a pile. As I tasted the next bottle of wine, two gentlemen walked in to pick them up. They must really like this stuff, they bought it without tasting it and apparently buy it every year, take it home and bottle it themselves for their own consumption. I wonder if they have heard that variety is the spice of life? Who in their right mind would want to drink 200 bottles of the same wine in a year; the mind boggles.
Bleasdale 1999 Petrel Reserve Shiraz retails for about $28 a bottle. The floral, youthful nose is more reminiscent of the 2002 and shows some liquoriice characteristics to its deep fruit. Chalky tannins show good management and whilst they are unobtrusive, there is enough to hold the wine together, however the lively acid which certainly stands out is a concern. Intense blackberry and plum, together with bitter coffee have waves of repeating flavour and offer excellent power for weight. Ample in weight, with a firm consistency and solid structure, the diverse complexity offers a love it, or hate it style and frankly, I'm not sure what to make of it. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Bleasdale 2002 Generations Shiraz sells for $38 at cellar door. Loads of milk chocolate, plum, white pepper and a herb which I think may have been sage that goes right through the mid-palate; finishes with a little mint and liquoriice with excellent persistence. Just ample-weight, the consistency is both firm and supple and the well developed complexity should become seamless in time. Easy drinking now, with a good mouth feel, it is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
Whilst tasting the wines, you cannot help noticing all the historic artefacts in the winery, but to me, the most impressive of all is the wall of black-and-white photographs. In the 1940s, one of the members of the Potts family had a serious interest in photography and the resulting photographs could have easily propelled the person into the ranks as a professional photographer. Some are stunning and a few have recently found their way onto the labels of the Bleasdale bottles. If you are into black-and-white photography, this is a must visit, and if you are not, you should go anyway as this will show you how good it can be.
The wines show excellent consistency in winemaking as well as a distinctive house style. Tannin management is excellent and the only negative comment I could make about the wines was the acid management on the Petrel. This is a reliable winery that offers excellent value for money and if you see any of their wines on a restaurant menu, there is a very good chance you will not be disappointed with the wine.
My next appointment was at Lake Breeze Winery where I had an appointment with the wine maker, Greg Follett. Though the winery is a relative newcomer to the winemaking world, it has an excellent reputation to those in the know. The Follett family has been dairy farming and growing grapes in this district for almost 130 years. A family business, it involves three brothers together with their mother and father being the sole shareholders. They have approximately 230 acres of vines and most (about 80%) of the fruit is sold under contract to the likes of Southcorp and Orlando. The property boasts some old bush vine Grenache which are over 70 years old and whilst some vines were planted in 1986, the majority were actually planted in the 1960s. This gives them access to high-quality fruit from mature vines. With access to fruit like that, if you can't make good wine there is something wrong.
All fruit used in the wines is estate grown and is harvested in separate batches. This gives the winery ample blending options.
The brand was launched in 1987, a new barrel shed was erected in 1994 and the new winery was built in 1998. Since inception they have maintained a conservative approach towards the business and have remained debt free and fund growth through profits. Because they are debt free, they have the luxury of no outside financial pressures and to do not need to sell their wines quickly. They also believe in only making wine from “acceptable quality” grapes, and as a result, there was no 2001 Winemakers Selection Shiraz.
I first visited this winery some years ago and was reasonably impressed with what I found. Since that time, every time I have tried the wines, almost without exception, they have been very credible and offer excellent value. Late last year, at an industry event I met Greg Follett and he suggested that next time I was in the area I make an appointment to see him. When I arrived, I was greeted by his wife, Robyn, who looked after me for the first part of my visit as Greg was out back unloading new barrels, a job he was apparently not particularly partial to, but as a member of the team, he felt it was his duty to get involved and do his bit. However, when we met, he did express his joy in being interrupted and taken away from his duties.
Lake Breeze 2001 Arthur’s Reserve sells for $28 at cellar door. A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Petite Verdot, it is the first vintage under this label as 2001 saw their first harvest of Petite Verdot grapes. The bouquet shows floral notes with loads of spice, truffle/mushroom characters, and coffee oak as it opened up. Bright fruit, piquant acid and dusty drying tannins combine to form a well-balanced, medium-weight wine with a firm consistency, solid structure and diverse complexity. Blackcurrant, chocolate, liquorice, and spicy white pepper finish with excellent persistence; it's more-ish. An unusually flavoured wine, it will go well with food and will be best over the next five years. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Lake Breeze 2002 Arthur’s Reserve will be released sometime in the next six to 12 months. It looks like they learnt a thing or two with the previous vintage because they have reduced the Petite Verdot to 17% and the wine is much better for it. As the wine was being poured, the fruit was literally bouncing out of the glass. On the palate, it was youthful with spice, white pepper, blackcurrant, dark chocolate, liquorice and like the previous wine, it had an unusual flavour profile. Deep, persistent fruit, balanced acid and drying tannins present a medium-weight wine with a firm but supple consistency, a tight, rock solid structure and an agreeable complexity. A complete wine, it needs time to show its best and is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should peak in 2008 and beyond. Only 400 dozen of this wine has been produced so keep your eye out for it because it is impressive.
Lake Breeze 2002 Bernoota is a blend of 60% Shiraz and 40% Cabernet and retails for $18 at cellar door. A ripe, fruit-driven nose with smoky oak, the wine has a good mouth feel for the price. Drying tannins, lively acid and obvious fruit produce a medium-bodied wine with an agreeable complexity and supple consistency. There appears to be a combination of ripe blackcurrant, mint and other dark berry flavours that also show some unripe characteristics and for some reason, the acid seems disjointed. Rated as Acceptable with *** for value.
Lake Breeze 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $20 at cellar door when it is released around June. Fine, drying tannins shows some softness but they are there in spades and combine with deep, pure fruit to produce a well-balanced and constructed wine. There is nothing unripe about this medium-weight baby, intense mint with bitter coffee, and chocolate underpinning blackcurrant spectrum fruit, the tannins are slightly sappy but certainly not unattractive. An excellent wine for the dollars it should hit straps around 2008 and is currently rated as Recommended with **** for value with room for improvement as it matures.
Lake Breeze 2002 Winemakers Selection Shiraz will be released around November and the last vintage sold for $35. The bottle had just been opened and was a touch reductive but there is no doubt the smell will blow off. Matured in 50% French oak, the bouquet had a reasonable quantity of oak influence showing both mushroom and vanillin aromas. Deep, persistent, strong fruit and youthful acid combine with unobtrusive drying tannins to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, solid structure and well-developed complexity; the wine has excellent balance and construction. There is nothing sweet about this on the uptake, but it's deceptive as there is a wave of sweet underlying fruit cruising below the surface producing blackberry, chocolate, blackcurrant, liquorice and mint flavours. Ample-weight, the fruit has excellent power and combines with a supple consistency and well-developed complexity to produce a wine that is truly worthy of the “Reserve” label. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value with room for improvement as the wine matures in 2009 and beyond.
There is nothing flash about this joint but in many ways, that is the attraction of Lake Breeze. The wines are good quality, solid, dependable, well-made and offer good value. What more could a wine lover want?
It was quickly becoming apparent that the Langhorne Creek wines were very attractive because of their supple mouth feel and telltale regional softness of the tannins. The tannins in these wines are deceptive. Whilst they are there, they are not overt and have sufficient backbone to ensure many of the wines will have the ability to age gracefully whilst still being approachable in their youth.
One thing I noticed was that Langhorne Creek is extremely poorly signposted. In some ways, it's almost like the region doesn't want people to know there are wineries in the district, let alone wine for sale. After I left Lake Breeze, even though I had a hand drawn map that Robyn had completed for me, I managed to take a wrong turn somewhere, drive many kilometres in the wrong direction and totally missed Temple Bruer. Even though this winery is open, I could not find one signpost to indicate where it was supposed to be located.
As it was lunchtime, I stopped at the only place that was open and was hoping to be able to get a wholemeal salad roll. Considering the large Vili’s pie sign at the front of the General Store and its obvious emphasis on greasy food, I was not surprised when I was informed they “were out of it but had plenty of white instead." Luckily, the resulting chicken and salad sandwich, even though it was on white, was tasty.
My next appointment was with David Freschi who is the wine maker for Brothers in Arms as well as producing his own label under the Casa Freschi brand. We were to meet at the Brothers in Arms winery and as I had no idea where it was, (and it was not signposted anywhere,) I asked at the General Store. They looked at me as though I came from outer space (possibly people who ask for wholemeal bread are) and explained that although they had no idea where it was, I was the second person to ask about the winery's location in last week. However, I did know it was opposite the Metala vineyard and they knew where that was located and were able to “tell me where to go” so to speak. This purpose-built winery is a fairly new and has been dug into the side of a tiny hill. As they don't want to attract visitors, there is no signage on the building.
When I walked in, the place seemed deserted but there was one car out the front so things looked promising. The first thing that struck me about the inside of the winery was the cleanliness. Whilst I have seen some clean wineries in my time, this place was like an operating theatre. Apparently, Jancis Robinson had been there recently and had offered to fly (the person responsible) Trevor Weinert to London to clean up her kitchen after dinner parties.
…. Even the taps wear condoms!
David arrived a few minutes after I did and his enthusiasm and love for what he does was immediately apparent. David explained the history of the winery and how it all came about. The origins of this winery are rooted in the Metala vineyards which are directly across the road. The owners of the Metala vineyard had been making small quantities of wine under the Brothers in Arms label since 1998 and were looking to expand. David was adjacent to the Metala vineyard and was also looking for a facility to make his own wine so there was a natural synergistic fit, and the winery was completed in time for the 2002 vintage and David was appointed winemaker.
The winemaking philosophy can be summed up in two words, “uncompromising” and “non-interventionist.” They also believe that in making the wine as efficient as humanly or in this case, mechanically, possible. According to David, “the winery has been designed to be run by computer by an uncultured winemaker.”
The fermenters used in this winery are unique in Australia. They are split into two chambers and are tailor-made to take into account the way they want to operate. They have been split into two so that the top part can be used for fermentation and the bottom part can be used as a holding tank. The top part can be chilled for fermentation whilst the bottom half can be warmed for malolactic fermentation. The system also ensures the wine can be racked and returned within its own unit, keeping everything sterile. This is especially important as lots of wild yeasts are used. I won't bore you with the details, but an extraordinary amount of effort goes into ensuring the fruit is gently handled to ensure there is no bitterness or harshness introduced into the wine. This is another reason why the gravity feed through the whole winery is so important. David believes that by utilising gravity feed, he is not compromising the texture of the wine.
At that point, I asked David what gave Langhorne Creek wines their distinctive tannin structure and mouth feel. He answered "A number of reasons. I think it is mainly the temperate climate; Lake Alexandria is huge and has a very positive cooling effect which means that we have no really hot afternoons. It normally produces a cooling breeze which keeps the temperature reasonably constant. A lot of it also has to do with the vineyard; the way things are grown and the soil which is alluvial and fertile. In our situation, yields ranged between one and one and a half tons per acre whilst others in the region may be as high as four or five.
David qualified from Roseworthy and since that time has spent a number of years overseas resulting in a special affinity for Italy and Italian wines. In 1998, he purchased his current 4.5 ha property and redid the vineyard and planted Nebbiolo. He explained, "Nebbiolo, because of its generic high levels of tannin and acidity is the perfect blending complement to what is generally low acid and softer tannin wines that are produced in Langhorne Creek.” There are two wines under the Casa Freschi label.
Casa Freschi 2002 La Signora which sells for $34 by mail order is the current release and is produced from 52% Nebbiolo, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Shiraz, 5% Malbec and whilst it may seem like a wacky combination, it really works and perfectly illustrates David’s thoughts on the use of Nebbiolo for blending. According to David, “the wine is designed to express a site, not a variety.” The bouquet of this wine is as unusual as the blend of grapes showing terrific black spectrum complexity. Excellent tannin management has produced an ultra smooth, well-balanced and constructed wine with deep, pure, strong fruit which fills the mouth completely. Intensely off sweet, there is a subtle river of slightly sweet fruit below that has great persistence and intensity. It's not subtle, but it has fantastic power and some class. Ample in weight, the consistency is firm; the structure is solid and the complexity both diverse and sophisticated. Rated as Excellent with **** for value, whilst the wine is very approachable now, it should hit its true straps around 2009.
The, Profondo which unfortunately I did not get to taste due to extremely limited quantities (150 cases), is a traditional blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
Current production is approximately a thousand dozen for his own label (red production is anticipated to stay at that level permanently) and 18,000 dozen for Brothers in Arms. Whilst the potential to grow the Brothers in Arms brand is theoretically limitless, the main business focus is the production of grapes so that brand is likely to stay at its current level too. All the oak used is French and there is focused, indeed fanatical, attention to detail.
To put the quality in perspective, in the case of Casa Freschi, all grapes that are picked wind up in the wine but here is the kicker. In 2004 for example, approximately 60% of the grapes were not picked because they did not reach the desired quality objectives. It's not what you put in the wine that’s important it's what's left out. Unlike a lot of other wineries, the blend is made at the earliest possible time; sometimes as early as in the vineyards but sometimes it's after malo lactic fermentation. Early blending is especially important as Nebbiolo matures at a different rate to Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz and the earlier you can blend it the better the quality of the wine, once again proving that when dealing with the Italian varieties, the traditional winemaking rule book has to be thrown away.
The visit to this establishment was an eye opener and for once, I don't believe a short summary is warranted because everything about this place is different and a one summary could not do it justice.
On this trip, I had two major objectives. The first, was to visit small wineries that I hadn't been to for years, and the second was to visit a number of small players I had heard about but had not had an opportunity to visit previously. It was intended as “a voyage of discovery” or rediscovery as the case may be, with the (relatively) bigger wineries getting the majority of my attention in May. My next appointment was at Aldinga which is located on the coast at the southern end of McLaren Vale. It was just before two when I left Langhorne Creek so my timing was perfect as it's about an hour's drive. Naughty me, I promised I would call my next appointment prior to leaving Langhorne Creek but considering that I hadn't had a mobile phone reception for most of the day the chances were I wouldn't have got through even if I had remembered.
Hands up those who have ever heard of a winery called Blown Away? Not too many people I'm willing to bet! I had seen the name previously and couldn't remember where until I made the appointment. When I asked where they were located, I was informed they were next door to Cascabel which is a winery I visited regularly so I knew exactly where they were and where I had noticed their rather distinctive sign.
As I drove up to the property, a Toorak tractor came out of nowhere, saw me driving in and came up the drive too. My lack of a phone call almost came back to haunt me as Sue was beginning to think that I was not coming and had decided to go out and I am glad that she did. Sue had nicked up the road to Vinpac to pick up their latest bottling.
One of the things I love most about the wine industry is the diversity of the business. In the space of a very short period of time, you can go from a huge conglomerates winery to something as surgically clean and hidden away as Brothers in Arms and then arrive at a winery like Blown Away. The 10 acre property is owned by Dave and Sue Watson who bought it approximately 12 years ago. When it was acquired, there were 6 acres of almond trees and two acres of old vines which had been planted in the 1960s. Dave wanted to keep the almond trees but Sue thought they were too much like hard work and wanted more vines instead, guess who won? They ripped up the almond trees and planted Shiraz.
The fruit from the newer vines is sold off to a local winery and if they feel the grapes from the old vines are good enough, then they will make wine under the Blown Away label. 2001 was the first commercial vintage and Trevor Tucker (ex Maglieri winemaker) makes the wine for them. As they have no cellar door, the tasting took place in the family dining room. In 2001, they produced a Grenache Cabernet and although it is an unusual blend it worked. In 2002, they produced a straight Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon but there was no Grenache, all that fruit was sold. As 2003 was a difficult vintage, the only wine that was made was a Cabernet Sauvignon. Talk about boutique!
Blown Away 2001 Grenache Cabernet sold for $17 a bottle by the dozen when it was released. The wine is a 60/40 blend and had an unusual bouquet. Tannins are smooth and unobtrusive but there is enough to hold the wind together, the acid is fresh and the fruit distinct. The wine is savoury, almost bitter with upfront chocolate, blackberry fruit, and the injection of spice which is offset by a sweet finish with fresh acid cutting through it. A wine that requires good robust food with an oily sauce to show its best, it is a good first effort and whilst it's not a great wine, it is enjoyable. Rated as Recommended with **** for value.
Blown Away 2002 Shiraz must be the flagship wine as it has a price tag of $28 and 80 dozen were produced. The bouquet was primarily blackberry fruit with undertones of something unusual, possibly horse, and chocolate. Smooth, unobtrusive tannins combine with obvious fruit to produce a well-balanced wine with a good mouth feel; ample in weight, the consistency is supple, structure harmonious and complexity agreeable. Blackberry, liquid smoke, chocolate and the (attractive) bitter finish is complemented by good underlying sweetness; the wine finishes with reasonable intensity for its ample-weight. Consistency is supple, the structure harmonious and the complexity agreeable. A reasonably early drinking wine, it is ok and whilst it has potential it is not a great wine by any means. Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
TORB's Post Script:
When I tried this wine cellar door fairly recently, the bottle which had just been opened, opened up with a bit of stink. At the time, Sue thought the wine was not showing as well as it could have and was convinced a little airtime was all it needed. As a result, she sent me a bottle to try at my leisure.
This bottle was more attractive on opening, with no sign of the offending odours. It was also better on the palate. Smooth, tightly grained tannins are well matched to the unobtrusive acid and assertive fruit; they combine to produce a well-balanced wine with a good mouth feel. Ample in weight, the consistency is supple, the structure harmonious and the complexity agreeable. Controlled, ripe blackberry, liquid smoke and dark chocolate flavours are complemented by an underlying sweetness; the wine finishes dry with liquorice and good intensity. Consistency is supple, the structure harmonious and the complexity agreeable. It is drinking well now but with its solid tannin backing, it has the potential to improve in the short to medium term. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, I will happily drink the rest with dinner.
Blown Away 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $20 a bottle by the case and 60 dozen were produced. Deep fruit oversees the unobtrusive drying tannins and deliver blackberry, blackcurrant, mulberry spectrum fruit with a touch of liquid smoke and subtle chocolate. A youthful wine that will be better in three years, it is certainly worth considering. Medium-weight, the consistency is supple, the structure shows some elegance and the complexity is agreeable. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Blown Away 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon is still way off release. The wine has just been bottled and is a great result for the poor vintage; in fact, this is the only 2003 that was good enough to make the grade for the Blown Away label. Unobtrusive, drying tannins will provide sufficient stuffing to last this wine into the medium term and are well matched to the youthful acid and pure, distinct, persistent fruit which is driving the wine. The wine is solid and although it is a bit chunky at this stage everything is as it should be and it just needs time. Mulberry, clean blackcurrant, chocolate and a hint of tomato leaf deliver a moorish flavour sensation that makes you want to have another sip. Ample-weight, the structure is tight and the complexity already well developed. This wine is worth keeping your eye out for and is rated as Recommended with **** for value with room for improvement as the wine matures in 2008 and beyond.
In summary, the wines from each vintage appear to be getting better and there is already a consistency to the house style. They know where they are going and should do well in the future. This is a winery worth watching and I'm glad I made the time to visit. As an aside, Dave makes biodiesel and they run the Toorak tractors on it as well as the farm tractor. I am also told by a reliable source, the biodiesel even smells like fish and chips!
It was time to head back Pie Headquarters as the day was just about done and we had big plans for the night. When his Pieship arrived home, he was in a right state and vented with great gusto about the ineptitude of the outside consultant who had been brought in to manage the occupational health and safety session which John had to attend that afternoon. He complained bitterly; every time he fell asleep in the meeting, the consultant had the hide to wake him up by asking him a question. Apparently, things came to a head when the consultant asked the manager who had arranged the meeting why John was there because he clearly had no interest in the subject. The manager answered, “Because he is my boss!”
One of the highlights of my trip, which has become a tradition, is the first night dinner at the Victory Hotel. This pub is a McLaren Vale institution has a phenomenally good wine list although we always bring our own; the corkage is reasonable, the food is normally very good and the price is very reasonable. The attendees over the last few years have been the same with John and Sue, their daughter Hosanna and a school friend of hers, Roger Pike (Marius Wines), Glen Green and his partner Vasiliki (aka The Greek Goddess,) Steve Norman (aka 707,) Gavin (Auswine) and Robyn Trott and this year, without an official invitation, a couple of gatecrashers; Mark Wickman and Greg Wickens fronted up but as they had bottles of wine under their arms they were made welcome.
As you would expect, everyone wanted to know about the Pie King's new venture and was interested about the state of his grapes and even if they weren't, we all had to “feign interest in the subject” as John was going to tell us all about it anyway. John told the group that he has a buyer for part of this year's crop but is still looking for a buyer for the rest. Prior to verasion (when the grapes start changing colour) John spoke to an unnamed winery and asked them if they were interested in buying his (Shiraz) grapes. The person of the other end of the phone asked him if he had any Chenin Blanc and as cool as a cucumber he replied “Yes, but you had better buy them quickly because they are about to turn into Shiraz.” The recipient failed to see the humour and John doesn't think it would be a good idea to ring them next year.
Later in the conversation someone suggested that he contact Fox Creek winery to see if they would take his grapes. John slowly and methodically lifted his head out of his glass of wine and said “if they buy my grapes I will love them -- why I will even have sex with them!” As quick as a flash, one of the group responded “does that make you the Vixen?”
As befitting a visit by the secretary of the Red Bigot Society no one was game enough to bring any c-through, although Glen got reasonably close. Most of the wines were served double-blind.
The first wine showed good upfront ripe fruit with some sappiness to the tannins but the finish was a little ordinary with a hole in the mid-palate and finished short. Blackberry, and chocolate flavours completed the package. The wine was unveiled as the Kalimna Road 2002 Shiraz Tannat which sells for approximately $25 and was rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Now if you think that last wine would have been a bastard in an option game, I knew things could only get worse as Glen decided to serve his masked wine next. Glen holds a Ph.D. in wine options bastardry and normally brings the most obscure wines known to mankind. Considering the wine was almost c-through red and served cold, it looked like he was going to be entirely consistent but praise the Lord, he took pity on us and told that us what it was early in the piece. The wine was a Rose style and showed spicy redcurrant on the palate. Not exactly the most exciting thing I've ever drunk, it turned out to be a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is called Arnim Sauv Rouge NV and it hails from South Africa.
The next wine had a floral bouquet that also showed plenty of aged characters. The acid was bright and the tannins had resolved. Just ample in weight, it was an easy drinking wine with reasonable persistence and the flavours were in the savoury spectrum. It was unveiled as the Charles Melton 1997 Shiraz and was rated as Recommended.
Henschke 1991 Cyril Cabernet Sauvignon was kindly brought along by Roger and for the second year in a row he produced the wine of the night. (Start thinking about next time Roger, you are now officially under starters orders. ) Despite having a short time in the decanter, there was loads the bottle stink with boot polish and menthol. Finally, after the bottle stink blew off the bouquet was glorious. The palate showed excellent flavour complexity with blackcurrant, aged leather with dry earthy characters and a load of clean mint and the finish was aided by youthful, fresh acid and excellent length. Typical comments from the group included "this is the reason you drink wine" and "here are all sorts of good things in there; it's subtle but it goes all away through" and the best one of a lot "it's a bloody pity my glass is empty." Rated as Excellent.
During the dinner, on frequent occasions, as could be expected when you are talking about wine, especially when you have an evangelical grower there, the subject of vines reared its tendrils. Of course, our resident expert of six months standing, after lifting his head slowly out of a bucket of wine, always had an opinion. In fact, the Pie King was reasonably impressive with his pronouncements and Steve even complimented him by saying “John, you almost sound like you know what you're talking about.” His Pieship was carrying it off a beautifully up until the time he said “in the book it says….”
Saltram 1995 Number 1 was brought by Steve. For its age, this wine showed a fairly high level of varnished oak on the bouquet. Blackberry, plum and chocolate flavours still seem as though they are reasonably youthful and the wine may possibly improve further but that is as long as the fruit holds up. The oak component in this wine was certainly controversial with the number of the tasters not particularly liking it. In my book, it just qualifies as Highly Recommended.
For my starter, I ordered bocconcini, tomato and basil which is normally superb in summer and one of my favourite dishes of the season. They really had to go out of their way and try hard to screw this dish up so badly. The bocconcini was tasteless, the tomato an absolutely perfect example of an industrialised manufactured product and the basil was drowned by Spanish opinion and green leaves. The dressing was also extremely ordinary and needless to say this was not a good choice. At least, I had a good bottle of wine to drink with it.
Dalwhinnie 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon was kindly brought along by Gavin. Whoever said 2000 was a crappy vintage has not tried this wine. Lots of fresh, primary, pure fruit is driving the wine but it still maintains perfect balance. Almost seamless already, it has terrific intensity and lots of class but needs time to build complexity. Wonderfully constructed, it is clean and is the sort of wine I would be happy to drink anytime. Rated as Excellent.
I won't say much about the next wine as I bought it but will quote other people's comments. Initially there were some bottle stink which blew off reasonably quickly revealing mushroom oak, coffee and mint. Roger said “it's a bloody big wine and has ripe raspberry, dark cherry and bitter chocolate.” Gavin didn't like it saying it was too warm and alcoholic but it did have beautiful, fine tannins. With the best years of its life still in front of it, I rated it as Excellent. and the second-best wine of the night. It was revealed as Houghton 1996 Jack Mann.
The seating arrangements at the dinner were interesting. The youngsters were at one end of the table and next to them were the three ladies with all males grouped together at the other end. How Australian can you get? But the guys were not around the barbie with a beer, we were solving the problems of the world whilst imbibing in fine wine and, as three of them are “in the business,” we were just helping out with market research, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
For my main course, without thinking about the wine, I ordered kangaroo fillets with a spicy Moroccan sauce. It was as advertised, perfectly cooked and delicious but unfortunately not a good match for the next wine.
Kay Bros 1994 Block 6 Shiraz - whoever brought this wine could be my new second-best friend. This is a superb wine that is consistent year in and year out. It maintained a wonderful intensity of fruit and is still very youthful. Tannins are integrating well and the weight and mouth feel are both beautiful. Flavours of bitumen, boot polish and raspberry flowed across the palate and tickled the tonsils as they wafted past.
The next wine was served blind. It had a well integrated bouquet of chocolate cake and was showing a touch of alcohol but this may have been more to do with the temperature of the room than the character of the wine. The French oak was obvious, showing mushroom, liquorice and clove together with blackcurrant and spearmint so it was a fair guess that this was going to be a Cabernet Sauvignon. It was unveiled as a Pierro 1995 Bordeaux Blend and was also rated as Excellent.
Next up was another wine that was brought by Roger who told us nothing about it because he wanted to get an unbiased opinion. He got that all right. The mystery wine was obviously very young and exhibited loads of very ripe plummy fruit. There was also lots of lemon flavoured oak and whilst there was nothing subtle about the wine, it would appeal to those liking “an in your face drop with good intensity and persistence.” It had big front palate but not much to back it up. Rated as Recommended, the wine turned out to be the Koltz 2003 The Pagan Shiraz. The Koltz is made by Mark Day who also makes Roger’s Marius brand. In some ways, serving this wine totally blind and telling us nothing about it backfired. The wine is an Amarone style Shiraz, which in itself is extremely unusual and is perfectly consistent with the Amarone winemaking technique, especially when you consider that it is specifically designed as an early drinker.
The last normal wine of the night was also brought by Gavin. Some of us got to try it blind but some of us were a bit behind in our drinking and it had been unveiled by the time we got to it. It was a reasonably controversial wine with some people loving it and with a limited number of us not being as impressed, I was in the latter group. To me, and it was late in the night and I had not been spitting, the wine was dominated by clove and cinnamon and was over (French) oaked. Loads of very ripe plummy fruit, chocolate, cinnamon and caramel as well as marzipan flavours, it finished with good length and reasonable persistence. My single overriding concern with this wine is the question of the balance between the fruit and the oak for the longer term. It has a good mouth feel and is attractive now; rated as Recommended with ** for value, it was the Massena 2003 11th Hour Shiraz.
One of the participants had a magnificent analogy. “Oak is like a push-up bra, it makes everything looked great but if you can see the bra it's not attractive."
The final wine of the night was looked forward to with much anticipation and was kindly brought by Steve. Quinta Da Roeda 1967 Port is a Croft single vineyard wine. Glenn said, "it smells like bloody Oozo.” Once again, The Pie King lifted his head out of the glass and with great pomp and pronouncement stated “it has dissolved all the hair in my nostrils.” From my perspective, the wine showed aniseed, chocolate, honey and hints of orange and finished with excellent persistence. However, on the negative side, the alcohol was very obvious and there was nothing subtle about the wine, to me it was well past it.
Whilst I disappeared to the “little boy's room” for about two seconds, orders for coffee and dessert were taken and I did not even know they had been taken until they were delivered. There was one dessert that appealed to me and I asked the waitress for a serving, only to be told that the greedy- guts on the other side of the table had snaffled the last one; thanks a lot Vasaliki, I will remember that one.
A terrific night was had by all and the comraderie that has developed at these dinners over the years is fantastic. It’s well and good to drink great wine and eat good food but it is much more enjoyable when everyone gets on well and obviously enjoys each other's company. After seeing his Pieship having his head buried in a glass of wine all night I think I finally worked out the reason for it. It wasn't that he wanted to appreciate the wine or even get slightly smashed, he must have been feeling depressed; not because of his boring meeting this afternoon, but because there were no pies on the menu.
As we said goodnight to each other outside the pub, we promised ourselves we would do it all again in May on my next visit and whilst I am looking forward to it, I definitely won't order the bocconcini again.
It would be cynical in the extreme to say that the only reason that the Pie King married the Pie Queen was because she did not drink wine and could drive home after dinner. The thought definitely has merit, not to mention one distinct advantage. So, we all piled into the Council-owned pie-mobile and headed towards Blewitt Springs. In the car, the subject of the name of the vineyard came up. Naturally enough, I suggested it should be called Pie King Vineyards. As the property has a weighbridge, Sue had another suggestion and came up with the name Pie King Bridge Vineyards and what's the bet on one of my trips back the sign will be repainted with the new name and a picture of a Vili’s pie below it. Or will the picture be of a bottle of Pie King Bridge Shiraz?
When we arrived back at Pie King Bridge Vineyards it was a time for bed as we had a big day planned in the Adelaide Hills tomorrow.