I've been thinking about these wines a fair bit lately, as the release day for our 6 vintage vertical approaches. I’ve been thinking about our journey with Grenache, from when I first arrived in Australia and worked it for the first time, to going off on our own and making it our hero variety, to the 1st Juxtaposed wine - the 2015 Old Vine Grenache, all the way to our current release. The story with the variety is varied, but one of learning, perseverance, and of ultimately, success. Because if you are here reading this, it is likely because of your love of the variety, and that you’ve enjoyed one or two of our Grenaches over the years.
Let’s go back to the beginning. I arrived in Australia in 2008, fresh of a vintage at Leoville Las Cases in Bordeaux, France. I took a job at a reasonably large McLaren Vale winery, and I still remember the first time I saw the Grenache fruit that came off the old bush vines. It was majestic, and delicious. I also saw how it was treated in the winery and couldn’t believe the lack of attention and care it received. It was picked too ripe and processed like every other variety that went through there. Despite all that, I was amazed at how good it was post ferment, and this is when perhaps it really piqued my interest. In the end the wines from there never achieved their potential but from that point on I was hooked.
When we started out brand in 2011, we picked out a couple vineyards to take a small amount of fruit from, but Grenache was the 1st we looked at and was always going to be the base for what we were going to do. The Pappas vineyard, in the Sellicks Foothills, was going to be the source of our Grenache. These vines were planted in the 90’s, so not quite the vine age of some of the vineyards we source from for our OVG, but this vineyard is on some really nice geology/soils right at the base of the Sellicks Foothills, and provided us with Grenache that was juicy, fruit forward and textural, if not as complex as some of its farther inland compatriots. To this day we still take a small amount of Grenache from his vineyard.
In 2014 we decided to make a couple single vineyard wines under our Archetype label, and Grenache was always going to be included (along with Shiraz). I talked a bit about these wines in my last blog post, so I won’t go into them too much here, but looking back there weren’t many premium Grenache options, as consumers hadn’t really come around to the idea that Grenache had all this potential as the fine wine conduit in McLaren Vale. Shiraz was still king. Sales were slow for the Archetype Grenache (compared to the Shiraz), even with a 17.5/20 from Jancis Robinson in a McLaren Vale Grenache line-up – the highest scoring wine in the tasting. But we were not deterred.
2015 saw the beginning of the Juxtaposed wines, with the release of the first Old Vine Grenache. Sourced 100% from Bernard Smart’s Clarendon vineyard planted in 1921, this continued our push to make Grenache our top wine. This is where the tide began to turn. This wine also did well with the Australian wine media, getting high scores from everyone who rated it, but the difference was that it appeared consumers were now paying attention. Sales were brisk and I think this was the first wine that we ever made that sold out at a rapid pace. Fortunately, I socked away a bit of this wine, without any real plans for it – just to perhaps see how it might age over time.
The 2016 was next, and this is perhaps one of our most recognizable wines we’ve ever produced. Noy necessarily for the wine, but for the label. The Mr. T label was definitely a departure for most wine labels, and people to this day still bring up that wine as being one of the coolest labels they’ve ever seen. The wine wasn’t my favourite, as to me it had a eucalypt streak through that wine that detracted from the overall package. This is also the only wine from te set that was not labelled ‘Old Vine’, as it contained about 70% Smart vineyard Grenache and the remaining amount from the Pappas vineyard, which really doesn’t qualify as being called old vine, so it wasn’t designated as such. Again, sales were brisk, and this wine sold out pretty quickly.
The following vintage (2017) might be my favourite vintage in this set. 2017 was quite even and cool and allowed the fruit to ripen without much pressure. This was also the first year we harvest fruit from the Wait vineyard in Blewitt Springs (both Grenache and Shiraz), and this was a bit of a game changer. This wine pretty much made itself, and the finished wine had a great blend of delicacy and restraint, while also being concentrated and with depth. It wasn’t a surprise to me that recently when looking through some of my older wine Dr Jamie Goode included this wine in his ‘Favourite wines of 2021’ list https://wineanorak.com/2022/01/11/my-top-wines-from-2021-part-1-reds/
The 2018 I think really established us in the Grenache conversation. This wine married generosity and approachability, with complexity and depth. It was the all rounder of this set. I still remember the day the review for this wine came out on the https://www.winefront.com.au/. Within 15 minutes my phone began to ring continuously with orders. I could have sold out of that wine in a day. Looking at this wine now, I feel like it is everything that it was meant to be. This is in a sweet spot right now. The texture is beautiful. Another blend of the Wait and Smart vineyards.
The 2019 was a bit more of a tricky vintage. The growing season was a bit more uneven with a few heat spikes. To me this wine is a little less elegant, and more about power and intensity. The aromatics of this wine absolutely leap out of the glass. A more hedonistic vintage of the OVG, and another iconic label from the artist SMUG.
The 2020 might have been the toughest of all the vintages in this line-up. This was the third consecutive drought year, with miniscule crops and small berried, leading to very, very concentrated flavours. You really had to manage the ferments a little bit more than usual in 2020 because of the small berry sizes, leading to higher extraction rates and more tannin influence. Generally, in Grenache too much tannin isn’t often a problem, as it’s a thin skinned, low colour/low tannin variety (similar to Pinot Noir in that aspect). To me the 2020 has yet to unfurl. It’s wrapped up tight and at this point is just starting to unwind. A long life ahead for this wine no doubt.
Going forward we’ve got the 2021s getting ready to be bottled in the next coupe months, and this is a vintage to get excited about. The winter rains returned in 2020 and gave us big yields and very high quality for the 21 vintage. I think we’ll probably see the first single vineyard releases for the Wait and Smart vineyard grenaches, as well as an OVG. Exciting times.
Our journey with Grenache is far from over. It does put a smile on my face to think that we’ve been lucky enough to be along for the ride with the ascension of Grenache to the hero grape for McLaren Vale. It’s ability to showcase terroir is unparalleled and now that consumers have awoke to the deliciousness and complexity of these wines, it allows us producers to devote to them the attention they deserve. And a tip of the hat to the winemakers of McLaren Vale who have carried the torch and lifted it to new heights with measured winemaking approaches focusing on characters that originate from the vineyards these grapes are grown in, and not from the tools they use in the winery. Grenache is the vehicle for delivering terroir in fine wine from McLaren Vale, and I’m grateful that I’ve been allowed to do my part in proving this.