As the face of Australian wine continues to change, we look at how each region is spurring these changes.
Australia is a land that seamlessly combines innovation and progress with a deep understanding of the importance of heritage and this week we are focussing on both the pioneers and the rising stars of the Barossa.
A land of rolling hills and ancient vines, in the heart of South Australia, Barossa is arguably Australia’s most recognised wine region, but has not been without its ups and downs.
Barossa’s story began in the mid 1800s when a group of Silesian Lutherans, fleeing religious persecution, settled in the region and began working the land of Barossa’s largest land owner George Fife Angas. The settlers took to growing fruit and due to the climate in the region, grapes were most ideally suited and toward the end of the 1800s, several wineries had been established. Distinctly Germanic names such a Johann Henschke, Oscar Seppelt of Seppeltsfield and Kaesler that are leading names in the Barossa wine industry today are evidence of these early pioneers, and many are continuing today through several generations of the same family.
The wines were originally produced for religious and home use but it didn’t take long before they were being made commercially and by the start of the 20th Century wine was being exported back to England. The demand for fortified wine was huge and this coupled with the long journey on water, fortified wines dominated Barossa’s wine market right up until the end of the 1960s, but this would lead to a crisis that would set the industry into decline. As demand for fortified wines dried up, many growers were left unprofitable and the South Australian Government introduced the vine pull scheme, uprooting many of Barossa’s ancient vines during the 1980s. It took the efforts of some of the regions new faces of the time to bring the industry back by paying the growers above market value for their grapes, and saving the old vines that have become a hallmark of Barossa wine.
It is Barossa’s ancient vines that have shaped the region's style and reputation and the forward thinking attitude of the region's producers is one that is only beginning to filter through to the rest of the wine world. The winemakers of the 1980s helped to revive Barossa’s heritage, paving the way for the next generation of Barossa winemakers and this balance between heritage and progression has continued with an unparalleled energy through the region's newest and brightest stars of the 21st Century.
Wolfgang Franz Otto Blass created a Cabernet-Shiraz, Australian wine legend when he launched Wolf Blass Black Label in 1973. Its first three vintages scored an unprecedented hat-trick by winning the prestigious Jimmy Watson trophy at the Royal Melbourne Show, which has never been repeated. This prodigious accolade was repeated with their 1998 vintage... It is the most awarded red wine in Australia with the 1994 being the only vintage not to win a gold medal. Each vintage averages 7 gold medals, which is an admirable boast.
Like many of the iconic Australian wines, Wolf Blass Black Label is a multi regional blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz being the dominant grape varieties. A little Merlot and Malbec can be found in some vintages but their percentages are small. The fruit comes from Barossa, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley, Langhorne Creek, Coonawarra and Clare Valley. A higher proportion of Shiraz is added to cool vintages and more Cabernet Sauvignon to warm ones as the absolute key is balance and harmony.
The philosophy behind Black Label is simple: to take the year’s very best wines and weave them together into a synergistic whole, the resultant wine being greater than the sum of its parts. It’s about creating a wine with many layers of flavour in a complex composition of intense fruit characters, magnificent structure, a rich lustrous texture, long velvety tannins and a lingering palate.
98+ Points Stuart McCloskey
“Textbook aromas of pencil lead, blackcurrants and touch of wood smoke intermixed roasted meats, dried herbs, ground pepper and blackberries. The 2012 possesses great purity and the quality of the fruit is clearly evident as is the winemaking skill. The wine is elegant and impeccably balanced – Not a hair out of place. Silk-like tannins compliment the deeply layered fruit and the seamless acidity keeps everything in check. The finish seems eternal, which is exactly what you want it to be. Simply stunning, an absolute joy to drink now (3-4 hours in a decanter) but will live well into 2030+”.
Vineyard Region: Langhorne Creek - McLaren Vale
Grape Varieties: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon - 41% Shiraz - 5% Malbec
Maturation: Matured as individual vineyard batches in a combination of 40% new and 38% seasoned French oak, 12% new and 10% seasoned American oak for 20 months.
Drinking / Cellar Window: Now to 2040
Closure: Screw cap
£55.00 per bottle
St Hallett was started in 1944 by the Linder family and over time have built a reputation as a benchmark of Barossa winemaking, being one of the first to understand the importance of saving Barossa’s old vines. Focussing on high end, single blocks and separate parcels with a commitment to batch processing each parcel separately throughout the whole process, from crushing through to aging. Each parcel needs to be handled differently due to the slight variations between them, and the meticulous care and attention St Hallett dedicate to this ensures the very best wines are crafted.
Headed by winemaker Toby Barlow who studied winemaking at Adelaide University he worked for several wineries across different world regions which include Brown Brothers (NE Victoria), Argyle (USA) , Matua (NZ) , Monarch (Hunter Valley) and Cave de Tain l’Hermitage (France). This diverse experience has awarded Toby invaluable experience across numerous regions, working with various climates, varieties and styles that influence his winemaking in Barossa.
All their grapes are sourced from within the Barossa Zone, their Old Block being the leader of their range produced from old vine grapes from Lyndoch and Eden Valley supported by fruit grown in Greenock, Ebenezer and Seppeltsfield.
St Hallet’s offerings include their flagship wine, Old Block Shiraz which is produced from ancient, 100 hundred-year-old vines. The Blackwell Shiraz is superbly crafted. Each parcel of Shiraz is individually matched to one of a selection of American oak barrels in which the wine spends two years maturing and gaining considerable texture and power prior to release.
Butchers Cart Shiraz 2015
The Barossa is, perhaps, a little misjudged when it comes to the perception of wine styles and climates… We gained a fascinating insight to the diversity of Barossa Valley through the range and history of Grant Burge with Craig Stansborough (chief winemaker, producing wines for Grant Burge for over 20 years), whom we had the pleasure of hosting in early September 2018.
The majority of Grant Burge's fruit is sourced from the southern half of the Barossa, which has higher rainfall compared to the north. This provides wines with more balance and freshness. The southern soils (rich deep red/brown medium clay/loam and are rich in nutrients with ideal water-holding capacity) play an important, and distinct role in the final wine. Southern Barossa wines generally are focused towards red berry fruit whereas the drier north often produces wines which are rich with big plummy, ripe characters.
Craig believes attention to detail is of utmost importance when crafting beautiful Barossa wines. The team is blessed with fantastic fruit which requires polishing and shaping, rather than heavy-handed manipulation in the winery.
“Our wines are renowned all over the world for their consistent quality and integrity, allowing the terroir of the hallowed Barossa Valley to speak for itself through minimal intervention winemaking practices and careful vineyard management. We source fruit from vineyards planted throughout the Barossa, and each planting features individual microclimates and characters, with grape varieties matched to the vineyards, ensuring harvests are of the highest quality”.
Grant Burge craft a number of wines, each unique and different in style. Ranging from rich and full to elegant and ethereal, as well as lighter, fruit-driven wines. Clearly, the versatility of the region is one of its greatest strengths and something that the Grant Burge family have nurtured for centuries and more, specifically since March 1855, when John Burge immigrated to the Barossa from Hillcot, near Pewsey in Wiltshire, England with his wife Eliza and their two sons. John worked as a winemaker at Hillside Vineyards and his love of viticulture was passed onto his son Meshach, who continued the tradition, making his first wine in 1865. Although Grant Burge winery was not established until 1951, the heritage of the Burge Family carries through generations of winemakers.
The icon from their range
Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz 2012
98 Points - James Halliday "The 22nd release of Meshach celebrates the great '12 Barossa Valley vintage. The colour is still deep crimson-purple, setting the pattern for the bouquet and palate to follow. A wine of the highest quality in the Olympian class of Barossa Valley shiraz, seamless, calmly powerful and perfectly balanced. Black fruits dominate, but this is no one-dimensional power play, with hints of licorice, bitter chocolate and graphite. The tannins and oak contributions are perfectly placed and paced."
Headed by winemaker Pete Schell who over the years has worked six French vintages in Provence, the Languedoc, Bordeaux and Burgundy, this experience having a profound influence on his winemaking. Working alongside his wife Magali Gely, they moved to Australia from New Zealand in the 1990s to study oenology and marketing at Roseworthy college, they started Spinifex in 2001.
Pete sources grapes from a dedicated team of growers in the Barossa and Eden Valleys taking advantage of the diverse range of soils and micro climates across the Barossa zone. He draws on his experiences in France to craft wines from varieties that dominate Southern French wine, Mataro (aka Mourvedre), Grenache, Shiraz and Cinsault and his approach is of an old style using open top fermenters, basket presses and long post-fermentation maceration on the skins.
Pete has also joined the elite group of Barossa producers to receive the coveted five star rating from James Halliday and is also a member of the Artisan of Barossa, a group of winemakers who strongly believe in the philosophy of small batch winemaking with a focus on regional terroir. This attitude is carried through into their wines, the Papillon is sourced from low yielding, hand harvested, dry-grown bush vines that range from 40 to 120 years old. The Esprit is a Grenache dominant blend made from grapes grown across several vineyards that range from 25 and 160 years old, each vineyard playing a vital role and adding their individual identity to the wine.
Spinifex have won much acclaim from critics such as James Halliday calling their wine “nothing short of electrifying” and James Suckling calling Pete “a New Zealander transplanted to the Barossa is one of the stars of the region”.
The historic vineyard located in the idyllic, rugged surroundings of the Barossa Ranges was planted at the beginning of the last century and is home to some of Barossa’s oldest vines. Now owned by Greg and Alison who, in 1995 left their life in the city to move their family Sean, Bridget and Jessica to start a new life amongst the vines.
With a strong belief in organic and biodynamic practices, Greg and Alison have managed to bring renewed vitality to these ancient vines by carefully and painstakingly hand pruning and removing dead wood from the vines to re-establish their original shape, helping the vines to continue to prosper. The unique soil and cooler climate in the Barossa Ranges allow the vines to be ‘dry-grown’, only watering in extreme conditions to maintain the health of the plant. The soil is coarse, yellow, podzolic soil on top of clay subsoil, mixed with decomposing rock which has ideal water retention allowing for this practice. This results in extremely low yields of highly concentrated grapes, the cooler climate helping to preserve essential acidity, a combination that produces wines of great power and intensity.
Greg and Alison collaborate with their neighbour, winemaker Chris Ringland to produce their 1905 Shiraz, produced from the vineyard's original vines planted over a century ago. For their Gregor Shiraz, an Amarone style wine produced from hand-picked, semi dried grapes and their Tin Lids, a Shiraz-Cabernet blend they have worked for the past 10 years alongside Pete Schell of Spinifex. These flagship wines are made from extremely low yielding vines in miniscule quantities of just 130 to 300 cases.
Greg and Alison’s relationship with the winemakers they collaborate with is key, their influences showing throughout their wines. Chris Ringland is not only a colleague but a neighbour and close friend, his pedigree has gained him a reputation as Australia’s most iconic winemakers, his own wines selling for hundreds of pounds a bottle, a true testament to his skill as a winemaker and the possibilities of the Barossa Ranges terroir. We sell his Hoffman Vineyard Shiraz 2010 for a mere £274.00 a bottle!
The influences that Chris and Pete have had on the Hobbs wines is clear to see, the sheer level of concentration and power in the 1905 Shiraz is akin to Chris Ringland’s own wines, his signature clearly evident in the wine.
“Our philosophy in making our wines is simple; nurture the vines and concentrate on preserving the complex balance of flavours and acids as the grapes mature. The secrets of soil and seasons bring so much to the wines we make. Hand pruned, hand picked and hand made.” Greg and Alison
Regarded as one of Barossa’s most outstanding winemakers, Dan Standish, whilst still working as a winemaker at Torbreck in 1999, negotiated a parcel of 96 years old Shiraz vines from his father's vineyard in the Vine Vale subregion and began the Standish Wine Company. From these ancient vines Dan’s first wine was The Standish Shiraz of which he produces just 300 cases and features on the latest Langton Classification. This led to 2 further creations, The Relic and The Schubert Theorum. Dan has had a wealth of experience in winemaking working in Napa, Sonoma and Rioja, but it was the knowledge gained whilst working in Rhone that influenced him the most, his wines are a reflection of this intrinsic style.
The batches of fruit are fermented and matured separately and a meticulous selection process follows in which Dan will discard as much as 80% and sell it off in bulk as it just doesn’t make the grade. Only the finest material is sold under the Standish Wine Company label.
The Relic was by far and away the stand out wine from the Australia Trade Tasting, a wine that literally created a buzz in the room and almost had people queuing up to try it.
“The wines from Standish take Barossa’s traditional richness and power to higher levels of freshness and refinement without sacrificing anything along the way. Quantities of these wines are small to begin with, and only a fraction of the total production is exported to select markets, but they’re worth the necessary search. The 2016s from Dan Standish set a new standard for consistency and quality, with all four of these wines receiving a rating of 98 or 99 points.” Joe Czerwinski – Robert Parker.com
Rob Gibson began Gibson Wines in 1997 after a 22 year career working at Penfolds. In 1975 Rob began at Penfolds as a crusher operator and assistant in the red wine fermenters, but was offered a Penfold's Wines Traineeship in 1979 to study winemaking and viticulture. After completing this Rob joined the team of a new project that was aimed at selecting the very best quality Shiraz for Penfold’s Grange Hermitage production. This project led to ground breaking work discovering new information about the production of the very best Shiraz and for the first time connected the individual vineyard block characteristic at the point of veraison to the resultant wine character.
His 22 year career has earned Rob an incredible level of winemaking knowledge which show through both his Barossa and McLaren Vale wines, he is an expert at handling Shiraz, James Halliday calling his Barossa Vale Shiraz 2003 “classy and reminiscent of Penfold’s Baby Grange, Bin 389”, which given that Bin 389 sells for £50 and above, this is an amazing compliment to give a £14.95 bottle of wine. The wine is available under cork or under screw cap, the cork showing a greater level of maturity.
Rob’s time spent working at Penfolds has had a profound influence on his winemaking and cleary shows in his wines, the old vine series being a particular highlight.
View all 229 wines from Barossa Valley