We sit down with Cameron and Allister from Elderton Wines as we introduce their new releases to the UK
We work with many family run wine producers and it’s incredible to see that many of you are directly involved in running the business at Elderton today (that’s not always the case with others!) Can you tell us the family story and how you came to The Barossa? What was life like growing up as part of a winemaking family?
Elderton began when early German settlers gave the name to a vineyard on the banks of the North Para River in Nuriootpa in 1894. In 1916 it was purchased by Samuel Elderton Tolley who built himself a sprawling homestead on the estate and sold fruit to his family’s winery. It ran successfully until the early years of the vine pull, around 1975, when it became derelict.
In 1979 Lorraine and Neil Ashmead were given a proposal, “If you buy the house, I will give you the surrounding 72 acres of old vines for nothing.” The rambling old homestead looked ideal for a growing family and the Ashmead’s worked tirelessly to salvage and restore this treasure of a vineyard.
In 1982, the first wine was made under the Elderton label. Tough times prevailed but ultimately the vision of the founders shone through and Elderton is today celebrated as a major reason for the rejuvenation of the Barossa. In 1993 Elderton shot to national prominence after winning the Jimmy Watson Trophy. International success ensued.
The second generation took the reins of the business in 2003. We (brothers Cameron and Allister) believe very strongly in continuing the traditions that began a generation earlier, on the Nuriootpa vineyard. We want to take the family company to the next level, so together we devised a plan to buy great vineyards in other significant sub appellations of the Barossa. Through using sustainable practices, the hope is that the next generation of the Ashmead family have a lot to work with when they are at the helm.
Al & Cam - Growing up on the vineyard was always exciting. Playing around in the vineyards, playing hide and seek among the barrels and so much else going on, kept it interesting and fun. Walking through the vineyards to primary and high school, getting swooped by magpies was not as much fun! It has to be said though, that whilst we had a pool and a lawn tennis court at home, it was obvious that mum and dad struggled to make a go of it in those formative years. Both Cam and I spent time at boarding school and went to University with a plan to succeed. Neither of us knew we were definitely coming home, and it only makes it more special that we have worked together now for almost 20 years and our wives are also intimately involved in the winery operations.
Jules hails from a 5th generation winemaking family in Rutherglen, who own Campbell Wines which turns 150 this year. She also grew up amongst the vines and went on to study winemaking at Adelaide University. She travelled to some of the world’s greatest wine regions to learn her craft before settling back as far as the Barossa.
Jules Ashmead and Brock Harrison
How has the business developed since you, together with Cam, took the reins? Are any of the next generation of Ashmeads showing an interest in joining the family business?
Elderton has taken a much tighter focus on being recognised as one of the great estates of the Barossa and Australia since Cam and I took the reins. Real attention has been put into world class viticulture and buying more exceptional vineyards for our estate grown wines. In 2002, we built our own winery, and of course having Jules at the helm of winemaking means so much to the family.
The next generation has six kids. Bec and I have three girls, and Cam and Jules have three boys. They get along like a house on fire! Charlotte is the oldest and is only 14, so there is plenty of time for them to develop thoughts on where they want their own paths to go. I have no doubt that there is plenty of talent to choose from when and if the time is right.
Could you please describe your wine ranges and how you select each wine for each particular series?
We have four ranges of wines, and it is probably easiest understood within the confines of the French appellation system:
- E Series is effectively Vin de France, where the fruit is not necessarily from the Barossa and is purchased rather than being estate grown. It is our way to showcase the entry point of Elderton at prices that allow any wine lover very affordable access into the wines of Elderton.
- Estate is like Village wines. Good wines from the Barossa that represent tradition and terroir. Wines like this put the Barossa on the map as it transitioned away from the fortified eras of pre 1975.
- Exceptional Sites is obviously Premier Cru. Outstanding wines that represent the next level up in the hierarchy. Still remarkable value for money.
- Elite Single Vineyards – Grand Cru. Best of the Best from some very, very old vines.
Can you tell us the story behind the Fifteen Shiraz? Who are the current buyers (i.e. is it offered at the cellar door or only to your club members etc?) What can customers expect from this special wine?
Fifteen (from 2018 vintage to be renamed Helbig 1915), is a single block of Shiraz from our Greenock vineyard that was planted by the Helbig family in 1915. It is a small and exceptional shiraz vineyard that has been sought after by the best of the best Barossan winemakers for more than a generation. The Ashmead family pounced at the opportunity to buy this vineyard in 2010. The first vintage of this wine was released by the Ashmeads from the 2013 harvest.
The wine itself is a pure expression of place and variety. Old vine Shiraz from Greenock will always show exceptional richness, ripeness and beauty. Completely different to Command, but equally compelling. Something to put away in the cellar for the mid to long term.
In addition to the original family estate on the Nurioopta site, you are also now harvesting from your Craneford and Greenock vineyards. Can you explain how these sites differ? Are they creating any additional challenges?
Each of these three sites are remarkably different and make up an intriguing patchwork for making delicious wines from estate and up.
Nuriootpa is the family’s original vineyard and it boasts a Mediterranean climate and minimal supplemented irrigation. The soil is Alluvial river silt over red and brown clays with limestone beneath and we grow Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot here for Elderton’s icon wines.
The Greenock vineyard was originally planted by the Helbig family in 1915 and the Ashmead family purchased this is 2010. It sits in its own little valley on the northeast corner of the hamlet of Greenock. The soil is free draining and rich in ironstone, changing through to very sandy loam at lower points and is used to grow Shiraz, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre, Cabernet and Semillon.
The Craneford vineyard is located in the Eden Valley. It was planted by the Obst family in 1990 and purchased by the Ashmead family in 2007. Like other Eden Valley locations, the soil and climate varies quite considerably from that of the Barossa Valley floor. It is generally wetter and cooler and the soils tend to be skeletal and minerally. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling are all grown on this site.
We have heard a great deal about the 2020 vintage and how it has been a year like no other in Australia. You’ve mentioned that it’s been tricky in the vineyard – can you elaborate?
A very dry winter was followed by an uncharacteristic, instantly hot and windy late spring / early summer. This heat and wind effectively reduced our yields by 70%, and had us worried, as generally the really warm weather hits us in late January / February. This weather never came and we had a remarkable long and slow ‘English’ Summer with the temperature rarely going over about 26 degrees.
The results are small amounts of some of the darkest and most naturally tannic wines that we have seen in our history in the Barossa. Exciting to think of the wine’s potential, but sad to think that not many will get the opportunity to get their hands on them.
A number of our customers are long-time followers of Elderton and will remember your older releases. When was the last time you opened some of your cellar stock? Was it an event or was it shared amongst the family?
We open bottles at home and in the cellar door reasonably frequently. It is always fun to see these wines evolve. It is always interesting to hear from our long term friends and customers about how good the estate range of reds age. At that price people often believe they need to drink them young, forgetting that we have a plethora of old vines and exceptional vineyards that provide fruit for the top three ranges of our wines. We are spoilt for choice really, and hopefully this is very much reflected in the Estate range of wines, and even more so in the Exceptional and Elite.
Getting Up Close With Elderton
What makes The Barossa such a special place for both winemaking and living?
Spirit of the Community. It is a region with a long and remarkable history (of both tough times and successes). It is a region that helps each other and celebrates some amazing food and wine traditions. It is safe and welcoming with beautiful rolling hills and vineyards and agriculture everywhere. It is also now very cosmopolitan and thus is a wonderful place to call home.
What does the Ashmead family do when you are not working?
For Bec and I, we love family, travel and entertaining. Our three girls keep us very busy with their educational and sporting pursuits and we both rejoice in their growth, and their successes. Cooking is a passion for me, and long lunches with family and good mates. We love trail walks and tennis. We also talk about work a lot though!
For Jules and Cam we love action sports. The boys are into mountain biking and taking the rocky lines. In the winter, we get away to the snow to tear up the pistes. Otherwise we like balancing that out with food and the great wines of the world.
Jules and Cameron, Rebecca
and Allister Ashmead
Do you have a favourite beauty spot in the region, or a favourite restaurant which you would recommend to our customers (after visiting your cellar door, of course)?
Vintners seems sometimes like a second home to the Ashmeads! It is a restaurant on the outskirts of Angaston that has been at the cutting edge of great food and hospitality for 20+ years. It is a must visit for anyone coming to the region as it is likely that one or many of your favourite winemakers may be lunching in there (depending on the season of course).
Also a visit to Mengler’s Hill with views down to the Barossa Valley is probably a must to help get visual bearings on the Barossa Valley. If you are new to Australia, follow on from here to Kaiserstuhl National Park and walk among the kangaroos whilst trying to spot an elusive koala up in the gum trees.
You must have many neighbours who also lead successful winemaking careers. Do you ever get together with other winemakers?
We have lots of friends and neighbours who are successful winemakers and our friends (a few of whom you also represent!). The great thing in the Barossa is that we share in and rejoice each other’s successes. Most of us have our own way and own reason for the way we do things, but it always provides interesting conversation and lots of laughs.
If you were stranded on a desert island what would you choose as your one luxury dinner and wine combination (and it does not have to be one of yours)?
For Bec and I it would have to probably be Chablis and Seafood. If it was a cold desert island, then it would undoubtedly be Barossa Shiraz and a braise cooked low and slow on coals.
For Cam and Jules, we would go for some Grenache and Dim Sum. Maybe some Rutherglen Rare Muscat with some delicious sticky decadent dessert.
97 Points - James Halliday "122yo vines, hand-picked over 5 weeks, open-fermented, 8 days on skins, fermentation finished in new French and American puncheons, matured for 30 months in those barrels. Wears its heart on its sleeve, but there's no shame in that when it has a proud record of success for its opulent purple and black fruits and deft oak handling."
96+ Points - Joe Czerwinski "A bit tighter and more focused than the 2015, the 2016 Command Single Vineyard Shiraz looks to have a bit more tannic richness and length, even if it's not quite as opulent or plush. It's still full-bodied and packed with dark fruit flavors and enough oak to give it shape and length. One of the best Commands I've tried."
£49.95 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £236.35 per case of 6 (OWC)
Ashmead Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
95 Points - James Halliday "Full-bodied, rich and opulent, with new oak very much in evidence from start to finish. Unexpectedly, it is on the aftertaste that the fruit breaks free from the yoke of the oak."
Winemaker "Rich blackberry and cassis fruits follow on the palate, with nuances of bay leaf. The generous fruit flavours are supported by a backbone of tightly wound tannins that will further soften with medium to long term cellaring.
£41.50 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £194.10 per case of 6 (OWC)
95 Points - James Halliday "Sophisticated winemaking weaves the three varieties into a medium-bodied palate perfectly framed by oak and fine, ripe tannins. On an equilibrium right now, which it will, of course, hold for years to come.
The Ode to Lorraine is a blend of the finest barrels of each of the Elderton Nuriootpa vineyard varietals. Each year, through meticulous work on the tasting bench, we select a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot which best reflects the nuances of each variety. The 2016 vintage is a blend of parcels, fermented in concrete open fermenters, with selected barrel ferments and press cuts, giving warm and generous fruit characters, spiciness and generous length, whilst still being a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend."
£28.95 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £131.35 per case of 6
"Attractive peach and nectarine, supported by a soft underlying acidity and creamy texture with harmonious oak"
Eden Valley Chardonnay 2018
Winemaker "Elegant, driven & focused. Aromas of Fresh stonefruit and fig with hints of macadamia, the palate is fresh and approachable - attractive peach and nectarine, supported by a soft underlying acidity and creamy texture with harmonious oak. Drink now or cellar confidently for 5+ years."
£15.95 per bottle
Winemaker "Full bodied, rich & classic in style. Aromas of Black forest fruits, dark chocolate and vanilla with hints of coconut. Plum and berries on the palate with chocolate and a spice finish.
The 2017 vintage was characterised by steady ripening of fruit across the Barossa. From our vineyards we were able to get great fresh flavours particular to each site, with some tight just-ripe tannins behind to balance the fruit. We love the freshness that 2017 brings, and the elegance in the wines as a result."
£18.50 per bottle
Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Winemaker " Concentrated dark fruits fill the palate with hints of chocolate, supported by very fine elegant tannins that lead to a long and seamless finish. Full bodied, rich & classy.
Above average rainfall during winter, followed by a cooler than average spring, ensured adequate soil moisture for healthy canopy development. The cooler unseasonal conditions prevailed during January and February delaying veraison. Autumn saw the start of an Indian summer which continued well into April, resulting in perfect ripening conditions on the Valley floor for gradual development of flavour, with very fine grained tannins and excellent retention of natural acidity. The 2017 Elderton Estate Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon is a fresh and very pure fruit driven wine with an underlying elegance, depictive of a cooler Barossa vintage."
£18.50 per bottle
95 points - Nick Butler, The Real Review "Dark, ripe plums, cedary oak, graphite and charcuterie - plenty to consider when swirled in the glass. It's ripe and balanced - built on the sure foundation of quality fruit. The shiraz portion dominates the blend and it is all the better for it. Great work at the blending table. Delicious."
£18.50 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £158.25 per case of 12
E Series Shiraz Cabernet 2017
Winemaker "A Classic Australian medium bodied blend. Plum, cherry, cassis and hints of vanilla. Drink now. - E is for excellence, it is for excitement, evolution, epicure, elegance and euphoria. E is for Elderton. E is for earth. Embrace and enjoy. Easy!"
£13.95 per bottle
Elderton Wines Mixed Six Pack
Deeply rooted in the heritage of Barossa Valley, Elderton wines are essential for anyone wanting to discover (or claiming expertise of) Australian wine.
Don’t sleep on it, as wines of this quality and value are hard to come by.
1 x Elderton Eden Valley Chardonnay 2018
1 x Elderton E Series Shiraz Cabernet 2017
1 x Elderton Barossa Shiraz 2017
1 x Elderton Barossa GSM 2018
1 x Elderton Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
1 x Elderton Ode to Lorraine 2016
SAVE £9.35 with our mixed case
(RRP £114.35 per case of 6)
Offer Price £105.00 per case of 6