Exploring Shiraz with Negociants and three iconic Aussie families
Welcome, friends, to another week of awesome wine! Some months back we welcomed Ailia Avery in the shop to Talk Aussie wines (Remember our discussion of “Critter Wines”?) This week we return to focus on Shiraz from three iconic Australian families.
Jim Barry Wines
It is hard not to talk about Jim Barry when one talks about the history of Australian wine. Jim Barry helped to shape the Clare Valley as a benchmark region in Australia by producing world-class wines (wait till you taste the McRae Wood!). The lineage goes back to 1947 when Jim was the 17th graduate from Roseworthy Agricultural Collage. From there he was winemaker for 22 years at the Clarevale cooperative and then went on to establish Taylors Wines in 1969! Jim started to acquire vineyards in 1959, and in 1964 he bought the McRae Wood vineyard.
In 1974, Jim started to bottle his own wines. In 1985, Peter Barry took the reigns. Peter increased the vineyard holdings to over 200 hectares and firmly established Jim Barry wines as one of the iconic producers in the Clare. Today, Peter’s Kids Tom, Sam and Olivia are the future. Sam is the commercial Manager, Tom is the third-generation winemaker and Olivia is working in London for Negociants UK as an ambassador for the family winery.
The land on which Langmeil Winery now stands was purchased by a 36-year-old German blacksmith, Christian Auricht. He and his family arrived in South Australia in 1838 after emigrating from eastern-central Europe (Silesia) to escape religious persecution.
The property was purchased in 1996 by three local mates whose families have lived in the Barossa Valley for several generations: Richard Lindner, Carl Lindner and Chris Bitter. They restored the remaining old buildings and the village well and beautified the gardens. As a tribute to the early pioneers, the new owners refurbished the old winery and named it Langmeil, after the original village. In addition, some of Christian Auricht’s original vines still remained, a small patch of 1840s Shiraz, albeit neglected. The most important task was to rescue them. After several months of tender loving care, The Freedom vineyard was successfully revived. The vines are dry grown and hand picked. After careful gardening, Langmeil’s first vintage was harvested in 1997.
Langmeil Winery embodies the ideals inspired by the refinement of knowledge shared from generations of Barossan’s–real people making real wine. Family owned and operated, the Lindner family is dedicated to producing wines from the varieties that have proven their qualitative attributes for generations.
Yalumba was founded in 1849 by Samuel Smith, British migrant and English brewer, who had brought his family to Angaston seeking a new life. After purchasing a 30-acre parcel of land just beyond the southern-eastern boundary of Angaston, Smith and his son began planting the first vines by moonlight. Samuel named his patch “Yalumba”–aboriginal for “all the land around.”For more than 160 years, Australia’s oldest family-owned winery has gone about the business of doing all the little things brilliantly. This philosophy has helped Yalumba grow in size, stature and success, embodying all that has made it a great Australian wine story.
With all that in mind, how about a little history?
Although Australia’s history of viticulture is relatively short—vines arrived on the continent with the First Fleet of British prisoners in 1788—the country has made its mark on the global wine market and is now a huge exporter of both its wines and its winemaking methodology.
In its earliest days as an English penal colony, Australia’s winemaking suffered from little expertise. However, free settlers from Europe began to arrive, spurred by the promise of gold, and the vine flourished, spreading from New South Wales throughout the southeast by 1850. By 1854, over 6000 liters of wine was exported to Britain.
A burgeoning population thirsted for wine in the colony as well, and many small wineries sprung up throughout New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia to meet the new demand. Penfolds and Lindemans, two of Australia’s most recognizable brands—both are now owned by Treasury Wine Estates—launched during this early period. However, as the easily extractable surface and stream deposits of gold depleted, many prospectors left, and domestic demand for wine fell. Lowered demand, coupled with restrictive state trade barriers, led some producers to export to survive, whereas others remained small and localized—a division that exists, in exacerbated form, to this day. Economic recession and phylloxera befell Australia in the latter half of the 19th century, further harming the industry, but officials took strict and immediate measures to combat the spread of phylloxera, confining it to Victoria and a portion of New South Wales. While the root louse decimated the Victorian wine industry—Australia’s most important wine area in the late 1800s—it cleared the way for South Australia to emerge as the continent’s largest region of production.
A second key factor in South Australia’s rise to prominence was the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, as federation brought a relaxation of the interstate trade barriers. Today, the state of South Australia annually produces about 50 percent of the nation’s wine, and most of Australia’s largest wine groups are headquartered there.
As viticulture was shifting around the turn of the century to the newly irrigated lands surrounding the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee Rivers, the focus largely turned to sweet, fortified wine production. From the post-phylloxera period until the 1960s, approximately 80 percent of Australia’s production consisted of sweet, fortified wines. Britain imported more wine from Australia than France in the decade before World War II, and Australian wineries eagerly provided assistance during a critical wartime beer shortage for the U.S. Army!
While these sweet, alcoholic wines remained in the majority until 1970, momentum was building for dry table wines. A surge in quality at the lowest level, coupled with the adoption of new technologies, changing consumer preferences and skyrocketing domestic consumption, brought Australia to the forefront globally by the 21st century. The Australian wine industry began to offer premium varietal wines at value price points, led by Chardonnay, Shiraz (Syrah) and Cabernet Sauvignon; these grapes eclipsed plantings of the high-yielding varieties previously utilized for port-style wines by the mid-1990s.
Australians also developed bag-in-the-box technology and were early proponents of the Stelvin closure. The Australian varietal wines were fruity, clean, uncomplicated, soft and technically sound at a time when many value bottlings from the Old World were simply poor wines, and by 2003 Australia’s gross annual wine sales reached 4.5 billion dollars—a target the Australians conservatively set for 2025. Today, Australia is the fourth largest wine exporter in volume, behind Italy, France and Spain. The Barossa Valley. Photo via winefolly.com. Picture by Kyle Taylor.
At the heart of Australian commercial winemaking are technical proficiency, mechanical harvesting, irrigation and blending. The Australian Wine Research Institute and the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), both based in Adelaide, have contributed greatly to the nation’s scientific understanding of the grape, and the University of Adelaide has an acclaimed oenology program. Australian winemakers rose to the forefront of viticultural innovation, utilizing modern techniques of canopy management and soil mapping, and they have spread their technical acumen across the globe as “flying winemakers”—a term that originated in reference to Australians. Cultured yeasts, acidification and micro-oxygenation are common at the mass-market level, although chaptalization is not allowed—grapes have no problem ripening in Australia’s climate.
Lacking a large population and a source of cheap labor, Australia’s vintners rely on mechanical harvesting and have planted their vineyards accordingly on flat sites rather than unworkable hillsides. The mechanical harvests often occur at night, to preserve freshness and acidity. CSIRO developed the counterintuitive technique of minimal (zero) pruning, which actually restricts vigor, for Australia’s low-cost vineyards.
Irrigation in the extremely dry climate of Australia is essential—only through irrigation were large swaths of the country’s vineyard lands made accessible to the vine. Riverland in South Australia and Riverina in New South Wales, which together account for nearly 40 percent of Australia’s wine production, were unsuitable for viticulture prior to the use of irrigation. However, vintners have to tread carefully when irrigating Australia’s high-saline soils, and they have become adept at moisture management.
Essentially, Australia’s large companies—despite an approximate 2,300 wineries, in 2008 14 winemakers accounted for 70 percent of the total production—have the capability to make fruity, accessible wine cheaply, and sell it for less than many of their counterparts in California, South America and the Old World. Furthermore, at the base level they can regulate and assure quality and a sense of brand consistency by blending over vast tracts of land, often spread over several states. This blending philosophy carries from the mass-market to the highest levels of quality in Australia, including Penfolds’ iconic “Grange,” a Shiraz debuted by Max Schubert in 1951 as “Grange Hermitage.” Unlike most luxury wines, “Grange,” a renowned wine and one of the first New World collectible bottlings, is generally blended from many vineyards across several regions—a testament to the Australian style.
As Penfolds’ “Grange” Shiraz illustrates, Australia’s global successes have not been solely on the inexpensive side of wine sales; Australia’s top reds, led by “Grange” and Henschke’s “Hill of Grace” Shiraz, built considerable momentum in the 1990s and 2000s. Despite more recent large-scale replanting to take advantage of the turn toward dry varietal wines, Australia’s success in combating and isolating phylloxera has bestowed the country with some of the oldest vines in the world—some are over 150 years old, and are planted on their own rootstock. Australia’s producers can coax extraordinarily rich and concentrated red wines from such vines, and an inky, dense, high-alcohol style became the darling of a number of influential American wine critics during the late ’90s and 2000s.
While Australia’s larger producers could issue mass bottlings extremely competitively, old vine “cult” Australian wines surged upward in price and demand. Some cult bottlings, such as “Grange” and Yalumba’s “Octavius” Shiraz, stem from Australia’s oldest and largest producers, whereas others—Clarendon Hills’ “Astralis” and Torbreck’s “RunRig” Shiraz—are the result of newer projects. All of the aforementioned wines are sourced from old vine parcels. With the successes of such limited, high-end bottles, some producers are transitioning from the traditional American oak to French barrique, and placing more emphasis on the expression of single vineyard sites.
With surging exports and domestic consumption, lavish critical praise, a strong base of quality and efficiency and a wide range of varietal offerings, the future looked very bright indeed for Australian wines in the mid-2000s. However, problems for the industry loom. The country’s southeastern winemaking regions have been gripped by severe and continuing drought, affecting the 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 vintages and leading to questions about the long-term sustainability of some of the country’s irrigated vineyards. Water rights are a huge concern. In 2009, terrible brush fires wreaked havoc on vineyards in the Yarra Valley and other wine-producing regions in Victoria—a direct effect of the dry weather and one of the worst natural disasters in Australia’s history. Springtime and early fall frosts also create constant worry for winemakers. The Australian wine industry has suddenly had to cope with economic realities of a wine glut as well. Australia’s commercial brands have lost steam in the face of economic recession and declining demand in the U.S., and all but the most renowned premium bottlings are struggling to maintain sales. In the long run, Australia’s climatic troubles may actually serve to regulate its oversupply, cutting down on the sudden excess of wine.
In the export markets of Europe and the U.S., Australian vintage-dated wines always appear on shelves before Northern Hemisphere wines, as the harvest occurs six months earlier in the wine-producing countries of the Southern Hemisphere.
Now, how about some wine?
Jim Barry, “Barry Bros,” Red Blend :: $22 sale $18
Juicy and vibrant on the nose, this wine displays red and dark fruit avours – raspberry, blackberry, and cherry, with li”s of violet orals and sweet spice. The palate is lively and bright with a burst of red fruits. A medium bodied composition with so”, ne grained tannins give length and depth, nishing with a touch of spice and savoury oak. Very easy drinking, this wine is ready to be enjoyed now, but will drink to 2020.
Langmeil, “Valley Floor,” Shiraz :: $30 sale $26.50
Rich, sweet and spicy fruit in balance with velvety yet youthfully austere tannins. A complex, medium to full bodied wine showing hints of mocha and vanilla, which flow through to the lengthy, fruitful, pepper and spice finish.
Yalumba, “Hand Picked,” Shiraz/Viognier :: $40 sale $35
The Hand Picked Shiraz Viognier reveals the freshness of an Eden Valley forest with the wines cool feel portrayed in scents of violets, red apple skin and cedar. Tense and firm with a core of red fruit spiced with notes of cinnamon and black pepper. An airy and elegant red, it’s the texture that beguiles here, clean lined, fine grained, transparent with a thrilling level of acidity that renders this lithe and light on its feet. Enjoy with slow roasted pork shoulder or Sicilian penne with roasted tomatoes and eggplant.
Jim Barry, “McRae Wood,” Shiraz :: $50 sale $44
The palate is restrained in its youth, whilst having the concentration and depth the McRae Wood is famous for. Vibrant dark forest fruits of blackberry and plum are complemented by a rich streak of earthy goodness. This wine shows a generous girth with rich fruit cake fruits, cherry and blackberry supported with balanced acidity and complex, delicate grained tannins. Made using the ‘Jim Barry’ method and as such can be enjoyed upon release, but would equally benefit from cellaring to allow the wine to show some mature characteristics that come with age.
All prices good through Tuesday, February 28.
This Saturday we’ve got Black Shirt Brewing in the house. As with all our guests, they’ll be bringing amazing beer. BUT, they’ll also be bringing their CROWLER system. What’s a crowler? Think growler, but for cans. Smaller, lighter and a portion of beer you can consume in one go. No more stale, stanky dregs! You’ve got to try to believe.
We start sippin’ and tastin’ at 4 pm. Hope you can make it! Tag your pics #pickitupatpearl so we can CHEERS!