Barossa — a changing landscape

Sniffing around the Barossa last week – after judging the area’s wine show – turned up a number of wonderful, off the radar wine ventures.

Just as we’ve seen in Canberra this week following Hardy’s decision exit from the region, Australia’s grape surplus, combined with industry rationalisation, has been driving change, often in unpredictable ways.

It might be easy to view the surplus as coming only from vast new plantings of the wrong varieties planted in high cost areas. Indeed, this ‘structural imbalance’ is real and will be painful in the adjustment.
But as I saw in the Barossa, exciting new wine names are appearing daily as sophisticated grape growers and winemakers turn their attention to very special patches of vines – some very old and some new.

As a wine judge these are of particular interest because many of these makers chose to operate outside of the show circuit. With a clear vision of what they want to make and how to market it, they need neither external benchmarking nor gongs. Even if they’re inclined to enter shows, they’re not always prepared – or able — to pay the entry fee.

Even regular visitors to the Barossa are likely to be unaware of wine names like Teusner, Tscharke, Lienert, Hentley Farm, Clos Otto, Fools Bay, Gibson or Murray Street Vineyards – to name just a few outstanding newcomers.

Some don’t have cellar door facilities and sell by word of mouth, through personal contacts or – like Lienert – are too new to have put a price tag on imminent first releases.

In a tin shed on Jenke Road, Seppeltsfield, vigneron Kevin North showed a range of outstanding wines to myself and fellow judges P-J Charteris and Lester Jesberg.

Kevin sources fruit for the Fools Bay label from local and valley floor vineyards and Hentley Farm brand from the Barossa’s Marananga sub-region, to the west of Tanunda. This reflects a trend amongst new small makers to emphasise a particular corner of the valley rather than the region as a whole.

At a modest $15 a bottle Fools Bay ‘Dirty Bliss’ Grenache Shiraz 2005 and Fools Bay ‘Dusty’s Design’ Shiraz 2005 offer generous, soft current drinking with a genuine Barossa accent.

For $30, Hentley Farm Shiraz 2005 delivers tremendous perfume, vibrance, delicious depth of fruit flavour and savoury complexity. It’s estate grown and, to my taste, a very exciting drink.

A day later, with the help of consulting viticulturist Warwick Murray, we discovered several extraordinary wines made by Damien Tscharke.

As well as the Barossa staples, semillon, shiraz, grenache and mourvedre, Damien works with the Spanish varieties, albarino, tempranillo and graciano and the Italian Montepulciano and zinfandel – all grown in the Marananga sub-region.

Damien offers the traditional varieties under the Glaymond Wines label and the exotics under the tscharke label at prices varying from $18 to $32.

The tscharke ‘Girl Talk’ Albarino 2006 is a vibrant, aromatic, soft style – an attractive aperitif wine with a flavour and savouriness quite removed from that of riesling, sauvignon or chardonnay.

tscharke ‘Only Son’ Tempranillo Graciano, is an intensely flavoured medium bodied red with fine, savoury, very dry tannins – a great wine to serve with high protein food.

But for me the pick of the range was the gutsy tscharke ‘The Master ’Montepulciano 2005, one of only two expressions of this variety encountered outside of Italy.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2006 & 2007

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