Coonawarra an Barossa grape growers turn to winemaking

In Australia, the multi-district blend is a fact of life for wine drinkers. With ease and speed our winemakers shift grapes, juice, and bulk wine over thousands of kilometres. Such flexibility results in large volumes of consistently good wines at reasonable prices.

If the rule for big-volume wines is varied grape sourcing, there are exceptions: Mildara’s Jamieson’s Run red and Wynns Coonawarra Hermitage are examples of mass-production from within a single region – even if the grapes are sourced widely within that area.

Even as we shift up market, many of our wines are cross-regional blends: Penfolds Grange Hermitage, Bin 707 and Bin 389 and Lindemans Nyrang Hermitage are examples of high -quality reds blended across regional and, in the case of Nyrang, state boundaries.

But as our taste for wine grows more sophisticated, it’s easy to see consumer interest at the middle and top of the market focusing more strongly on the distinctive flavours delivered by individual vineyards.

This infinite flavour variation based on vineyard location, of course, is the spice and life of wine buffs and always has been. Australia is peculiar in having developed multi-regional blends for its top-shelf brands.

Traveling through major wine-growing areas in the past few weeks there were everywhere signs of growing emphasis on regional and individual vineyard identity.

It’s hard to point to the source of it, but consumers, merchants, growers and makers all have a hand in it. And, finally, the interest springs from the emergence of wine styles peculiar to an area.

In Coonawarra, source of perhaps the most exciting reds in all of the new world, we’ve seen in recent years the emergence of a band of individual growers making small batches of phenomenally good reds.

The well-established Bowen Estate, Hollicks, Brands, Redmans, and Leconfield vineyard-wineries have been joined by Rymill (simply brilliant wines) and Zema Estate (in my view, inconsistent to date, but beautifully located and getting better).

As well, a number of growers without wineries now turn a portion of their fruit (and they don’t pick the worst batches for themselves) into wine. This is partly to spread their risks. But when you talk to them you sense an immense pride in their vineyards and a desire to build a brand, and, hopefully, a better living.

Mike Wetherall, Doug Balnaves, and Brian Lynn (Majella) are all primarily grape growers now making sensationally good wine in small batches. None of them have wineries: Wetherall makes his at Hollicks, Balnaves at Leconfield, and Lynn at Brands.

The other thing they have in common is that you’ll have to go to Coonawarra to buy a bottle! It’s well worth it if you’d like to experience the subtleties and shades of this great wine growing area.

And if you do go to Coonawarra, you may trip over the odd English Master of Wine buying for a supermarket chain. They’re everywhere. And if the main focus is big-volume value-for-money wines, they are also actively seeking small parcels of distinctive wine from small individual vineyards.

They’re in Coonawarra, and they’re in the Barossa as well. On a call to Rolf Binder at Veritas Winery, we were hot on the trail of a British buyer. He’d bought a parcel of a wonderful shiraz made from very old vines and was talking about making specific small batches of other Barossa hallmarks for the U.K. market.

Rolf, with his sister Christa, are just two of a growing number of Barossa growers beginning to focus strongly on table-wine styles peculiar to the area.

They represent a new generation, descended from the Barossa’s original German settlers. For previous generations, grapes were just one farm item to be sold to wine makers.

The new generation’s been to Roseworthy, worked in winemaking with big companies for a decade or more, and is now bringing advanced technical skills back to the farm. Why sell the grapes, they say, when we can make our wine and give it our own identity.

These new makers turn out a full range of wine, but the great specialties are the absolutely delightful, full-bodied shirazes and grenaches made from very old, bush-pruned vines. St Halletts, Rockford, Turkey Flat, Charles Melton, and Bethany are a few of the wineries at the hub of this discovery of a regional and vineyard identity.

If the world’s interest in wine continues, there’s a bright future for those emphasising an area’s unique wines. With time, I guess names of our better wines will be vineyard names, just as we’ve seen in France.

If there’s one thing we can learn from the French, it’s that a strong regional identity provides a marketing umbrella under which thousands of small makers may prosper, each with his own vineyard thumbprint.