Monthly Archives: May 2011

Eden, part 3, or we go to Penfolds

After our Henschke tour, we headed to Penfolds Magill Estate.  The table is massive, as we were joined by the West Coast group.

Penfolds was founded by an English doctor, born in 1811 and the youngest of 11 children. In 1844, he and his wife Mary purchased the Magill Estate, "comprising 500 acres of the choicest land". Mary was responsible for the early management and winemaking at the estate. The early wines, made from Grenache, were prescribed as tonic wines for anemic patients.

The Penfolds slogan “1844 to evermore” stems from its original purpose as a perscribed tonic.

We tasted through several different lines that Penfolds offers, with varietals ranging from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah.  A catalogue from 1889 lists wines from the Grange and Magill vineyards as Mataro, Grenache, Constantia, Grange Port, Frontignac, Grange Tawny, Pedro Ximenes, Tokay, Madeira, Grange Sherry and Muscadine. The catalogue adds, “We have also light red and white dinner wines of claret and riesling types, suitable for use in Clubs.” 

I have no idea what the Penfolds website means by Clubs, but sounds like fun.

Peter Gago, Chief Winemaker since 2002, walked us through the tasting. A conversation about closures came up at almost every tasting we attended on the trip. Peter had one of the best answers about corks vs. screwcaps, saying that we have yet to discover the best closure, and that we shouldn't stop with screw tops. It's worth reading about the "re-corking clinics" on the Penfolds website.

We did have the opportunity to sample the 2006 Grange, arguably Australia’s most famous wine.  Peter was bullish on the 2006 vintage.  Peak drinking time is between 2012-2046.  He described it as, “Very Penfolds, very Barossa, very Grange!”

Grange was first bottled in the 1950s. Check out the awesome, original labels.

After our tasting, we went on a tour of the estate.

Helen Keller visited the famed estate, and was able to guess, within a few thousand liters, what the barrel in this picture would hold.

This poster also caught my eye.  Unfortunately, it didn’t have a date stamp.

Rule #3 dictates that whistling and singing on the premises is strictly prohibited.

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Eden, take 2

Following our lunch at Heggies, we headed to Henschke’s Hill of Grace vineyard.  Most of South Australia has been spared exposure to phylloxera, so it was common for us to see signs like this.

Vine aphid, root louse, insect. Whatever you'd like to call it, it attacks and kills grapevines. It can be transported in soil, grapes, leaves, or on footwear, clothing or vehicles.

Signs warning to keep out of vineyards without permission were common, too. 

We all had to step in this bucket, with cleaning solution, prior to entering Hill of Grace, so as to not spread any unwanted pests.

No exposure to phylloxera means that South Australia has some of the oldest commercial grapevines in the world.

This is Grandfathers block, the oldest in the Hill of Grace vineyard, planted by Nicolaus Stanitzki around the 1860s. The vines are on their own roots from pre-phylloxera material brought from Europe by the early settlers. These gnarled Shiraz vines are dry-grown.

The first wine we sampled was the 2006 Hill of Roses.  The wine is named as a tribute to Johann Gottlieb Rosenzweig, one of the early Barossa Lutheran pioneers, whose name translates to “rose twig”. 

The vines for Hill of Roses come from the Post Office block (see namesake in background). These vines are only 19 years old, too young for inclusion in the Hill of Grace bottling. That being said, the wine was deemed tasty enough to have its own bottling.

Henschke considers 2006 an excellent vintage, with cellaring potential for the Hill of Roses up through 2026.

Dark fruits, herbaceous and spicy. Complex and layered with velvety tannins.

Cyril Henschke, the 4th generation, made the first single vineyard wine from the vines in the Grandfathers block in 1958.  These original vines are now over 145 years old.  The grapes are all hand-harvested and fermented in traditional open-top fermenters.

Here I am, enjoying my Hill of Grace in the Hill of Grace. It is a translation from the German ‘Gnadenberg’, a region in Silesia, and the name given to the Lutheran church across the road.

Don’t tell, but I preferred the 2006 Hill of Roses to the 2006 Hill of Grace.  There was something about its brooding nature, or maybe I tend to root for the underdog.

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Photo stream from Barossa Dirt

The blog Barossa Dirt…True Tales & Twisted Vines sent out a photographer to chronicle our time in Barossa.  You’ll recognize the scenery from the last couple of posts.

It’s always lovely to be photographed while spitting.  You can check out the stream here.

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Eden Valley, part 1

On the morning of Friday, May 6, we headed to the Eden Valley.  Louisa Rose, the Chief Winemaker from Yalumba, was our host.

Our first stop was Pewsey Vale Vineyard.

We knew there was going to be a Riesling tasting, but we weren’t expecting this.

We felt like we were walking into an episode of Top Chef, seeing the tasting table set up in the vineyard.

We tasted through a flight of 8 Eden Valley Rieslings.  Eden Valley is within the Mount Lofty high country, overlooking the Barossa Valley.  It’s comprised of river valleys and undulating hills.  That being said, I learned on this trip that to an Australian, a “river” could be a dry creek bed and “high country” or a “hill” requires little elevation. 

Louisa walked us through the tasting. My favorites were the 2010 Thorn-Clarke Mt. Crawford Single Vineyard, the 2010 Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland and the 2010 Pewsey Vale Vineyard.

Another standout was the 2005 Pewsey Vale Vineyard The Contours.  Eden Valley Rieslings, while intensely citrus and acidic in their youth, have a unique ability to age, picking up toasty, marmalade qualities.  Turns out we were standing in The Contours block, which was planted in 1962.  I’m sure that didn’t hurt.

See where The Contours gets its name? This wouldn't be considered efficient planting these days, but Louisa loves the quality of the fruit from this vineyard.

After the tasting, we headed to Heggies Vineyard Dam for lunch.

This was the view from our lunch table. Australians tend to be pretty straightforward when it comes to naming things.

Luckily, it was one of the nicest weather days we had on the trip.

The lunch setting was very fitting for a place named Eden Valley. We didn't really want to leave.

Jane Ferrari, another member of the Yalumba family, joined us for lunch.  She has got to be one of the most entertaining storytellers I’ve ever met.  The best tales will not be printed here, though it’s worth asking me sometime about the “slick nickel”.

She does a lot of traveling for Yalumba, and chronicles it on her blog.

Stay tuned for Hill of Grace and Magill Estate.

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The Barossa, part 3

After our lunch and tasting at Rusden, we headed to Seppeltsfield, which according to James Halliday is “the most historic winery and greatest showpiece in the Barossa Valley, an absolute must-see for anyone making their first visit to the Barossa.”

Seppeltsfield, founded in 1851, has the largest solera system outside of Spain. They focus on fortified wine production

The grounds have several garden areas, including over 2,000 date palms, which were planted around the time of the Great Depression by the Seppeltsfield employees, who were happy to still have jobs.

In addition to the palms, there's a rose garden, the Pine Forest and the Elm Walk, where we're strolling above.

 We did a tasting of 7 fortified wines.

A wide range of styles was presented - from Fino-esque sherry through to XO Tawny. The Para Grand, made from Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre, with an average age of 18 years, was an incredible value at $32. Nutty, with caramel apple and orange blossom, it made me hungry for a cheese plate.

The wine we were all waiting for came last.

Yup, that bottle says 1911. In 1878, the stone cellar was completed by Benno Seppelt and to celebrate, he selected a barrel of his finest wine and gave instructions that it was not to be bottled for 100 years. This became a tradition and Seppeltsfield is the only winery still with significant, consecutive stock of over 100 years worth of vintages. This particular wine was released on February 20, 2011, to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the winery. This viscous tawny reminded us of a fine aged balsamic.

The tour continued after the tasting.

A miniature replica of the Seppeltsfield grounds prompted one of my colleagues to proclaim, "It's like a dollhouse for drunks!"

Like good tourists, we all had our pictures taken in front of our birth year barrels.

Certain to be the best tawny in the lot, at 32 years young.

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Barossa, take 2

Mid-day on 5/5, we reassembled for lunch and a Barossa Shiraz Terroirs Master Class at Rusden Wines.

Resident cat overseeing the vineyards.

We sampled a flight of 9  Barossa Shiraz, with the intent of highlighting sub-regional differences.

Two standouts for me were the 2008 Rusden Black Guts; well-balanced, elegant, red and blue fruits, lavender, mineral and the 2006 Elderton Command Single Vineyard; peat, iodine, silky tannins, dark cherries, quite concentrated.

You know lunch is going to be good when you see big hunks of meat cooking in a brick oven.

The pork and the lamb were delicious on their own as well as with the locally-made horseradish and wines.

There was some activity out in the winery that we checked out after lunch.

Time to press the Mataro (Mourvedre) that had been shoveled out of the open fermenters.

Yes, he had gotten into the fermenter with bare feet.

Basket press at work, doing a slow crush.


Check out the must oozing out between the staves.


Look at that electric magenta color! We all tasted a sample and it was like liquid jam.

This next photo is not entirely pertinent, but I thought it was pretty enough to warrant inclusion.

Probably an image that many folks have of what life is like at a winery.

Barossa’s going to be a 3-parter, so stay tuned.

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Visiting the Barossa, part 1

We kicked off our first day in the Barossa on May 5 by being split into small groups for personalized vineyard and winery tours. 

My host was Stuart Bourne, winemaker from Barossa Valley Estate.  I have never met a man who could talk so much or so quickly and include so many expletives in my life.  It was fantastic.  Most of what we discussed on our visit will not be posted here, though I will tell you that if an Australian describes something to you as “fucking Mickey Mouse”, it means clean.

South Australia received an inordinate amount of rain this past vintage, making it challenging for many producers. Stuart was quite pleased with the quality of the fruit that came in for him, though, and is showing it off to us here.

 BVE was one of the largest facilities I have ever visited. It seems to run like a well-oiled machine.

Note the press that runs along tracks so it can moved under any tank.

All of their tanks can be temperature-controlled remotely.

Stuart admonishing that this system is a babysitter and not a nanny - it should not be used to raise the kids, but rather just to watch the kids so mom and dad can hit the town.

We tried several tank samples – Chardonnay, Sangiovese and one of their more famous wines.

Barrel sample of E & E Black Pepper Shiraz on the right and the current release (2006) on the left. It was fun to see how the wine will evolve.


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Clare Valley, take 2

On Wednesday, May 4, we visited the Clare Valley’s oldest winery, Sevenhill.

Sevenhill was founded by Austrian Jesuits who came to South Australia as chaplains to a group of 130 Catholics, who were fleeing from political and religious oppression. The immigrants settled near the township of Clare, impressed by the fertility of the soil, and purchased 100 acres of land in 1851, naming it Sevenhill, after the Seven Hill district of Rome. Pictured here is St. Aloysuis' Church, made from local stone, and completed in 1875. We also toured its crypt, the only one below a parish church in Australia.

The tradition of making sacramental wine continues at the winery, along with premium table wine production. 

Some of the vines on the property are up to 140 years old.

 This spider liked the old vines.  We saw these buggers all over the vineyards and wineries we visited:

Fortunately, no one tried to spook me while I was taking this photo.

After our tour of the Sevenhill grounds, we attended a “Clare Valley Regional Heroes Master Class”, where we had an in-depth presentation on the region and sampled current-release and aged Rieslings and Shiraz.

My favorite current release Riesling was the 2010 Grosset Polish Hill; pretty orange blossom and cantaloupe notes, some herbaceousness and tons of minerality. My favorite with some age was the 2006 Paulett's Reserve; incredibly concentrated with lemon head candies and lovely petrol notes.

Not many people think of Clare when they think of Shiraz, but they should.  Two standouts for me were the 2008 Mitchell Peppertree from Watervale; savory, bacon, floral, olive, elegant black fruits and the 2006 Jim Barry Armagh; nutty spice, scrubby earth and pie-filling fruit.

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Animal interruption

Someone on our trip asked at a wine luncheon if joeys were available for purchase at pet stores.  A winemaker snorted and replied, “shit, no.”

Taking a morning stroll through the Kaiser Stuhl Conservation Park in Eden, we were able to see our first kangaroos at a photograph-worthy distance.

In addition to grazing, I saw them kissing.

I also saw them hopping (duh).

Our group, among the gums. I am thankful for such a lovely bunch of folks, as we are spending an ungodly amount of quality time with one another. I wonder how many bottles of wine have been consumed between us so far? I bet someone has been keeping track. I may or may not publish that number.

On our way to Adelaide, we passed through a high koala traffic area.

Turns out that in the tree next to the caution sign along the highway, we spotted a koala.

This animal-heavy day also happened to include Hill of Grace and Grange, but that is for another post.


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Clare Valley, part 1

Upon arrival in Clare Valley, we headed to a spot overlooking the region.

It was lovely to be greeted by the setting sun and top Clare Valley winemakers after a long day of traveling.

At this point on the trip, we were 2 for 2 when it came to hilltop oysters. This time the pairing was Riesling instead of Semillon.

Winemaker from Paulett's with slate in his hands. Friable and plentiful, this soil contributes to the flavor of the Clare Valley Rieslings.

While visiting the Paulett winery, we had the opportunity to sample 2 different Riesling clones, grown and processed under the same conditions. Distinct aromatic and flavor differences were evident in the two tank samples we tried, despite the shared vintage year and winemaking techniques.

Stay tuned for Jesuits, giant spiders, kangaroos, koalas and more.

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