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'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.
Archetype [ahr-ki-tahyp] noun
The original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.
In 2014 it was our 4th vintage for Dodgy Brothers, and we wanted to expand our range. We thought that we should find two vineyards – one Shiraz and one Grenache, and highlight those two vineyards individually. These vineyards - unique and expressive in their own way, were representative of the place they come from, while also incorporating a McLaren Vale style fingerprint. Or that was the idea anyway.
The two vineyards we chose were the Redwind vineyard on Bayliss rd for Shiraz, and the Blown Away vineyard on Plains rd for Grenache. Both of these vineyards are located in the Sellicks Foothills sub region, in the southwest end of McLaren Vale. We picked these two vineyards because of their reputation for providing top flight fruit, and that they would fit into the style of wine we were making. Both the Shiraz and the Grenache were handled traditionally: both crushed and destemmed with about a 10-day ferment, pressed off to mostly old oak (the Shiraz had 1 new barrel out of 4), and then about 14 months of elevage in barrel before bottling.
Upon release, both the wines were well received, with the Shiraz getting our highest ever (at the time) Halliday score, while the Grenache kicked some goals with UK wine critic Jancis Robinson, with her saying she lost her heart to the wine and asked the question “Grenache at its best?” at a McLaren Vale Grenache tasting in London.
Commercially, the Shiraz was more popular than the Grenache. Looking back, single vineyard Grenache was a bit of a rarity at the time, and I think that perhaps affected the sales of the wine. The Shiraz sold out in a few months, while the Grenache sales were much slower. But It’s pretty amazing to see where Grenache has come to in 8 years. Grenache grapes are almost impossible to find in McLaren Vale these days, and I have no doubt the average price per ton of Grenache this year will eclipse Shiraz. Add that to the fact that we can’t make enough Grenache these days to meet demand, and we make a fraction of the volume of Shiraz compared to Grenache. I suppose we were just a little bit ahead of the curve.
Happily, I socked away a stash of both of these wines to see how they develop over time, and also to potentially offer them to our customers a ways down the road. Fortunately for you, that time has arrived. I cracked both of these wines last week and they are lovely drinking at the moment. The Grenache is soft and round while still retaining some freshness and vibrancy – the delicate tannins are now refined and silky, while the fruit has developed into secondary and tertiary characters. The Shiraz has rounded out from the beast of a wine it was, with silky texture and a core of concentrated fruit still providing the foundation of the wine. These are robust reds, meant for drinking on a cool summer night or fireside in the heart of winter.
2014 Archetype Shiraz: The complex bouquet ranges through black fruits, polished leather and licorice, the medium-bodied palate seductively juicy and supple, with a long, lingering fruit-filled finish and aftertaste. A classy example of McLaren Vale shiraz, the handling of cedary French oak right on the money. Drink 2017-2030. 96 points, James Halliday Wine Companion
2014 Archetype Grenache: From a single vineyard in the Sellicks Foothills. Pale ruby. Very rich and broad and hedonistic on the nose. Immediately appealing! Fine tannins. Real energy and lift. Grenache at its best? Almost irresistible combination of sweetness and transparency. Rose-petal flavours. 14.3% Drink 2017-2023. 17.5/20, Jancis Robinson
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 Dodgy Bros ‘Sellicks Foothills’ Shiraz
Fruit from the Dry Creek vineyard in Ryan rd in the Sellicks Foothills. Typical McLaren Vale generosity and fruit concentration. Bang for your buck. All fruit, no artefact. $25 RRP
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.