Andrew Seppelt’s sensational Barossa wines

Murray Street Vineyards’ new-release reds are sensational — generous, juicy, seamless wines, made by Andrew Seppelt and sourced from low yielding vines sprinkled along the Western rim of the Barossa Valley.

They stand comparison with the best shiraz and blends from any part of the globe. And yet they’re just a small part of a wider movement towards sub-regional and individual vineyard labelling in the Barossa — a movement led by an amazing pool of talent exploiting the wealth of great vineyards, some dating almost to the beginning of European settlement in 1842.

But from a distance the Barossa might seem like one, big, homogenous region, churning out rich, warm, soft shiraz. While there’s a grain of truth in the generalisation, in reality it’s a complex valley of varying landscapes, producing a diversity of styles within that generally big, ripe, soft mould.

And if shiraz is the Valley’s signature variety, it’s commonly blended with the other Rhone varieties, grenache and mourvedre (known locally as mataro) — varieties that also stand on their own, sometimes with distinction.

Were we to tour the Barossa by helicopter, we’d start in the south at the separate Lyndoch Valley with its slopes, flats and feeder valleys; then north over the ridge into the southern Barossa proper with its rolling landscape, eroded by the North Para River; over the Gomersal plateau with black, cracking soils, inhospitable to vines, and its magic, sandy western ridge; through to the rising and flatter central and northern valley to the Kalimna sand dunes; east to the rim of the recently (geologically speaking) uplifted ranges of the Eden Valley and across to the lower,  more eroded western rim, including the Marananga and Seppeltsfield bowls. Doing the tour by Google Earth isn’t a bad approximation.

And were we to walk this roughly 30-kilometre by 12-kilometre landscape with geologist David Farmer we’d see about fifteen distinct land surfaces, including the southern angular-rock type soils, the cobbled soils of Roland Flat, the Kalimna dunes and the Gomersal Ridge sands.

Throughout this infinitely varied landscape, scores of winemakers like Andrew Seppelt are now defining the sub-regions by the wines they make — and currently debating formal boundaries and names (existing parish boundaries, for example, offer convenience but don’t gel, necessarily, with wine styles or natural land surface delineations).

But whatever names or boundaries the sub-regions ultimately adopt, the reality is that the division of wine styles in the Barossa is no longer restricted to north, south, east, west and the Eden Valley (part of the Barossa ‘zone’ but already an approved and separate ‘region’).

Andrew Seppelt’s patch of the Barossa stretches from Gomersal in the south, then north to Greenock and Kalimna — all on the valley’s western rim, an area pioneered by his great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Ernst Seppelt in 1851 and carried on from 1868 by his eldest son, Oscar Benno Seppelt.

The Seppelt family ultimately lost control of the Seppelt brand and the historic Seppeltsfield property. But Andrew’s Murray Street Vineyards, owned jointly with his wife, Vanessa, and Bill and Pattie Jahnke, lies just to the south of the old family property at Greenock.

Andrew writes, “Murray Street Vineyards is the result of a 10 year dream of my wife, Vanessa, and I. Believing that the Barossa is the best place in the world to grow shiraz, mataro, grenache, viognier and Marsanne, we set about sourcing fruit from the most extraordinary soil types in the Barossa Valley. Additional planting were made on the ancient, weathered slate slopes of Gomersal to complement the sandy clay loams of Kalimna’s lower reaches and the ironstone of the upper Kalimna hills”.

From a palette of shy-yielding vines (2.5 to 5 tonnes to the hectare), aged from five to about 90 years, Andrew produces an excellent, full-flavoured viognier marsanne blend (2009 vintage, $35) as well as the five sensational reds mentioned in the introduction.

‘The Barossa’ 2007 ($35), a blend predominantly of shiraz, with mataro and grenache, shows the lifted, alluring fragrance of grenache. It’s generous and soft, the tone set by grenache but enriched by earthy shiraz and spicy, tannic mataro. It’s a joy to drink now but has the depth to age well in the medium term.

‘Greenock Shiraz 2007 and Gomersal Shiraz 2007 (both $55) express variations on the shiraz theme from vineyards just a few kilometres apart. They’re both rich, full and soft, but the Greenock wine has a savoury edge and slight firmer tannins; and the Gomersal wine is more fragrant with a scrumptious, juicy palate.

Sophia Shiraz 2006 ($75), named for Andrew’s great-great grandmother, is a truly great shiraz blended from the best fruit from the Gomersal and Greenock vineyards – vibrant, deeply fruity, tender and solid.

Sophie’s fellow flagship, Benno Shiraz Mataro 2006 ($75), offers yet another variation on the theme. Like Sophia, it’s built on the best shiraz from Gomersal and Greenock but contains, as well, mataro from Gomersal. The influence of the mataro is profound – boosting the aroma, making the palate more buoyant, adding spicy flavours and firm, fine tannins.

This is a must-try Barossa variety. Older readers might recall Penfolds Bin 2 Mataro, a wonderful drop. And in recent times I’ve tasted extraordinary all-mataro wines from Dean Hewitson (two wines, one from southern Barossa vines planted in 1853) and Rolf Binder, from vines just behind his Veritas winery to the west of Tanunda.

For more information about Murray Street Vineyards see www.murraystreet.com.au

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010

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