From time to time you may find some ramblings from our winemaker here: on new release wines, seasonal updates, interesting experiences or a bee in his bonnet.
I wanted to write a little bit about my PhD thesis. As you may or may not know, my days are spent as a research scientist at the Australian Wine Research Institute. It’s a pretty cool gig. Over the past 10 years I’ve mostly worked in the sensory group, managing some of the sensory panels, analyzing and interpreting sensory data and writing reports. That may sound boring, but I can assure you for a wine geek like me it’s not. There are always different research projects coming through the door and we would look after the sensory analysis part of the project, so there is forever an abundance of clever, novel and interesting wines coming through the door to our lab. They are not always good wines, but interesting no doubt. Over the years I have slowly moved from running and managing the sensory panels to managing research projects, and always with a sensory focus (as is my field of expertise). In 2016 I began to put together a project that was to explore the idea of regional sensory characters in Australian Shiraz, or the terroir of Shiraz in Australia. Terroir is a concept most wine geeks are plenty familiar with, but for the uninitiated it is this – it is quite simply the idea that a thing (in this case wine, but also applies to lots of other things: cheese, meat, etc.) will taste a particular and unique way because of the place it comes from, and that it will be different from another similar thing that comes from somewhere else. So in this context, Barossa Shiraz tastes different to McLaren Vale Shiraz because they come from different places. Now that’s not really a stretch to imagine the plausibility of this. It’s a pretty logical assumption. There are many things that come together to make a wine taste the way it does: climate, soil, rainfall, geology, viticulture practices, winemaking practices, and more. All these things have an influence on the final product, and that final product is different to another final product from somewhere else. And for many of you, right now you are saying “Of course they are!”, as we’ve never had a wine that tasted the same as another wine from a different producer. But this isn’t about same, this is about similar. So this idea is about how Barossa Valley wines will all have some sort of sensory character or characters that define it as Barossan, and similarly from McLaren Vale, and the Yarra Valley, and Hunter Valley, etc. This is the concept of regionality, or regional characters. The goal of my project was to evaluate, examine and establish the sensory and chemical fingerprints of wines from McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley, Heathcote and Canberra District.
Now there have been many attempts to test terroir over the years…
and none have been very successful. But our idea centered around sensory evaluation, and by establishing the sensory characters of the regions, we could then look at the chemistry and after that the climate, geography, etc, and to a certain extent reverse engineer the terroir of the regions. If you understand the sensory, you can then evaluate the chemistry and as we know what chemical compounds are responsible for certain aromas and flavours, you can begin to connect some dots on what is driving the sensory attributes. You can then step back further and evaluate the climate, and see how it affects the chemistry, and so on. This approach had never been taken before anywhere on the planet, so it was pretty cool to be leading this project. So now fast forward to 2020, and the project was wrapped up, after having presented results in New York, California, Hong Kong, and Melbourne among others, and the project was accepted as a PhD thesis by publication at Charles Sturt University. Here’s a few of the papers/articles that were published based on this work:
An investigation of the Pivot© Profile sensory analysis method using wine experts: Comparison with descriptive analysis and results from two expert panels. Wes Pearson, Leigh Schmidtke, Leigh Francis, John W. Blackman
Characterising inter- and intra-regional variation in sensory profiles of Australian Shiraz wines from six regions. W. Pearson, L.M. Schmidtke, I.L. Francis, B.T. Carr, J.W. Blackman
Regionality in Australian Shiraz: compositional and climate measures that relate to key sensory attributes. W. Pearson, L.M. Schmidtke, I.L. Francis, S. Li, A. Hall, J.W. Blackman
Sensory analysis: Provenance, preference and pivot: Exploring premium Shiraz with international sommeliers and Australian winemakers using a new rapid sensory method. Wes Pearson; Leigh Schmidtke; Leigh Francis; John Blackman
Benchmarking regional and subregional influences on Shiraz fine wines. Leigh Schmidtke, John Blackman, Leigh Francis, Wes Pearson, Sijing Li, Thomas B. Carr, Andrew Hall
Now I haven’t written all this about my research work just to toot my own horn.
I told you that story so I could tell you this one…
In 2015 we really started our terroir journey with our Juxtaposed wines. That vintage we received a small parcel of Grenache grapes from Bernard and Wayne Smart. The Smarts have been farming grapes in the area for decades, and one of their blocks in particular, a Grenache vineyard in Clarendon (planted in 1921), was where we obtained these grapes from. Now at the time, these grapes were not the hot commodity they are today. Grenache was still not quite ready for its day in the sun, however we still felt that the age of the vineyard, along with it being Grenache (the variety we loved), was worthy of us giving this vineyard and the fruit that came off of it the respect it deserved. So in 2015 we made the Juxtaposed Old Vine Grenache for the first time, solely with fruit from the Smart vineyard in Clarendon, as sort of a love letter to the vineyard. The fruit was crushed and destemmed, fermented and pressed to old oak, topped regularly to maintain freshness, and then bottled 14 months later. I didn’t do a thing to it. The reason I wanted to keep my hands off was to let the vineyard do the talking. I wanted the wine to be an expression of the Smart vineyard in the 2015 vintage, and nothing more. I wanted the terroir of the vineyard to shine through. Since then, with our Grenache and with our Shiraz wines, this has been our modus operandi, so to speak. We’ve decided that we’d let the grapes do the talking, and for the most part we keep out of it. As a winemaker, I intervene when needed to protect the wine from spoilage, but that’s it. We haven’t bought a new oak barrel in almost 8 years! How this ties in with my research has been an evolution through the last few vintages and years of my PhD, and I’d like to think that in 2019/2020 they both came together to help the 2019 Old Vine Shiraz wines we made get over the line. The Sherry vineyard and Wait vineyard wines that we made in those two years have been unmitigated successes in both media and consumer responses. It’s such a satisfying exercise when people come to visit the winery and I can open both bottles for them and give them the experience of tasting two wines that come from vineyards about 3 km apart from each other, and yet taste as different as different could be, all the while being delicious.
Slowly this has become one of the calling cards for how we are making these Juxtaposed wines, and as things move forward, I continue to see this evolving to better deliver to the people that buy and drink our wines, the sense of place that exists in the sensory profiles of these wines. I think that’s what makes these wines interesting. It’s more than just a wine that tastes good. It came from a place. And it tastes different to a wine that came from a different place. And this is some of what makes the world of wine so fascinating.
Thanks for reading,
So, it’s early May now and the 2021 harvest is in the books. Overall, it has been an excellent year for McLaren Vale Wines. It’s not always that you have great quality AND great quantities, but that was the story of 2021 in McLaren Vale. After the dismal volumes of 2020, this will be a great year for both reds and whites in the Vale. Our harvest kicked off in late Feb with our Fiano from the Lacey vineyard in the Sellicks Foothills. One day after, we harvested the Dry Creek Shiraz from the same sub region and the Shiraz for our Rosé, and in those two days we thought that we had processed half of all the grapes we’d see over the vintage. How wrong we were! Almost every vineyard we harvested fruit from provided more than our original estimates, and with two of our favourite Grenache vineyards (Smart and Wait) we were able to harvest more grapes than we have ever got before! Relatively speaking, these are still small volumes but for us this was very exciting, as the quality was truely outstanding. After that first weekend, we had a brief break between our next batch of grapes through the winery. About 9 days later we harvested Sangiovese from the Bottin vineyard (2021 will see a return of a Sangiovese dry red to the line-up), Minchella Home Block Shiraz, Wait Shiraz, Sommerville Cabernet Franc, Lennon Merlot, Pappas Grenache, Wait Grenache, Stillwell Cabernet Sauvignon, Smart Grenache, and finally, Oliver’s Touriga Nacional for some vintage fortified. Overall, Dodgy Brothers Wines crushed nearly 30 tonnes of grapes this year – the second most we have ever processed!
So now that things have slowed down a little, we can begin to clean these wines up and get them ready for their winter sleep, while also turning our attention to the 2020 reds as we begin to prepare them for bottling. We’ll also be bottling the 2021 Fiano and Rosé at the same time, so they’ll need some attention as well.
To sum up the vintage, I’d have to say that I haven’t been this excited about a vintage in a very long time. I can’t wait to share these wines with you. you’ll need to have a little patience though, as they won’t see the inside of a bottle till June/July 2022 and will be looking at a August 22 release date.
2021 Vintage Progress
We find ourselves about ½ way through the 2021 vintage at this point. So far, I think it would be fair to say that we are in the midst of an excellent vintage. The growing season this year has been different to the last few that we have seen here in McLaren Vale. The winter brought us some good rainfall – something that we haven’t seen in a few years. This set up a good fruit set on the vines in the spring, with moderate and calm weather allowing for proper flowering and fruit set. The summer season brought us what can best be described as moderate temperatures, with only one prolonged hot stretch, but even that was mild by previous years’ standards. The result is a crop of quality and quantity. For grapegrowers and winemakers, this is a welcome result after a couple years of poor yields. One of the interesting characteristics of the fruit this vintage is intense colours and flavour development, al lower ripeness levels. I would attribute this to the many cool nights that we have had over the ripening period – more so than usual from my experience. This has allowed for a very measured and consistent development of colour and flavour in the grapes. So far, the resulting wines have bright, vibrant, and deep colour, with balanced acidity and incredible flavour concentration. It’s a bit of a cliché, but they say great wines are made in the vineyard, and that is certainly the case this year. You know it’s going to be a great season when the grapes arrive at the winery and you don’t have to do anything to them. I always refer to myself as a babysitter, I’m just there to guide the grapes and try to just stay out of the way. Some years that’s easier to do than others, and this is one of those years.
Our label collaboration
Another interesting part of our wines this year is our label collaboration. All of this year’s Juxtaposed wines’ labels have been done as a collaboration with Verb Syndicate Creative Studio in Wollongong. They have been curating the Wollongong and Port Kembla street art festivals ‘Wonderwalls’ over the past few years. I wanted to continue the Juxtaposed wines’ connection to modern culture, while shifting gears a little bit. Urban street art has gone from bombing your name up on the subway cars of NYC in the late 70s to the modern representations you’ll see on these labels, but hasn’t lost that authentic, elemental attachment to the street and the b-boy and girl culture that goes along with it.
2019 Doggy Bros 'The Delemma'
Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stillwell Vineyard (60%) in McLaren Vale and Cabernet Franc (40%) from the Sommerville Vineyard in Willunga. Simple winemaking, old oak, made to be approachable in it’s youth while still having a bit of stuffing. Cabernet is a bit like the Rodney Dangerfield of McLaren Vale varieties, but it makes pretty tidy wines – can’t front. Haven’t made a Dilemma since 2014. $29 RRP.
2020 Juxtaposed Fiano
From the Lacey vineyard in the Sellicks Foothills in McLaren Vale. Not much to say about the winemaking in this one, pretty traditional. Destemmed, but whole berry pressed. Did one fermenter with full solids and racked the other one. Fermented to dryness, racked and sulphured up and put to barrel. Didn’t touch it till bottling. 120 cases, $26 RRP.
2019 Juxtaposed Old Vine Shiraz’s
When I was putting the blends together this year I tasted the two wines that ended being bottled on their own and there was just so much unique character between the two. Add in the fact that the Sherry vineyard was sold in late 2019 and we will no longer have access to that fruit, and I thought that it was appropriate to bottle an homage to the vineyard that has been the source of much of our Shiraz grapes for the past few years.
Both these wines see large format, old French and Hungarian oak. No filtering and wouldn’t even know what to do if I had to fine something. Around 100 cases production for each and $37 RRP.
We can reflect
Now that the 2019 red and 2020 Fiano are in bottle, we can reflect a little bit on what they actually deliver and how they compare to previous wines and vintages. 2019 was generally speaking a pretty good year. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a great vintage, but it was pretty good. I’d say similar to maybe 2015 and 2013. The one hiccup in 2019 was a prolonged heat spell late January that affected some of the fruit in some of the region, depending on variety and maturity. Looking back I definitely saw this heat wave manifest itself in the quality of the Fiano grapes when they were harvested, and to some of the other Shiraz sites that we harvest a bit earlier. The cooler Shiraz sites and the Grenache were relatively unharmed by the heat, as they were still immature at that point and just shook it off. That’s good news for most of our wines, as (other than the Fiano which comes from only one source) all our wines are made of multiple vineyards, and the cooler Vale sites really shone in 2019. Our two Blewitt Springs Shiraz vineyards and Grenache from Clarendon and Blewitt as well all excelled in 2019. The 2020 Fiano was a breeze, with the grapes coming into the winery at the perfect ripeness and maturity. The only problem with 2020 was that there wasn’t any crop! Overall the 2020 vintage is excellent quality wise, but it’s terrible quantity wise. Our reds will be in short supply, but for now we have 120 cases of the 2020 Fiano ready to go and couldn’t be happier with the quality.
2019 Red Wine and 2020 Fiano
2019 was generally speaking a pretty good year. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a great vintage, but it was pretty good. I’d say similar to maybe 2015 and 2013. The one hiccup in 2019 was a prolonged heat spell late January that affected some of the fruit in some of the region, depending on variety and maturity. Looking back I definitely saw this heat wave manifest itself in the quality of the Fiano grapes when they were harvested, and to some of the other Shiraz sites that we harvest a bit earlier. The cooler Shiraz sites and the Grenache were relatively unharmed by the heat, as they were still immature at that point and just shook it off. That’s good news for most of our wines, as (other than the Fiano which comes from only one source) all our wines are made of multiple vineyards, and the cooler Vale sites really shone in 2019. Our two Blewitt Springs Shiraz vineyards and Grenache from Clarendon and Blewitt as well all excelled in 2019. The 2020 Fiano was a breeze, with the grapes coming into the winery at the perfect ripeness and maturity. The only problem with 2020 was that there wasn’t any crop! Overall the 2020 vintage is excellent quality wise, but it’s terrible quantity wise. Our reds will be in short supply, but for now we have 120 cases of the 2020 Fiano ready to go and couldn’t be happier with the quality.