Emerging single vineyard wines

The market may not yet flooded with wines named after individual vineyards, but the trend is there. An increasing number of our top reds and whites now acknowledge the fact that where the grapes grow is what gives the wine its character. And even when it’s not acknowledged, a particular vineyard is often at the heart of consistently outstanding wine.

Penfold’s Kalimna vineyard in the northern Barossa Valley, for example, provides the ‘mother’ wine for Grange but the source is not trumpeted on the label. It is, after all, just one of several components. But Grange wouldn’t be Grange without Kalimna shiraz at the heart of the blend.

Some of Penfolds Barossa neighbours, though, find the use of individual vineyard names a great plus in marketing their best wines. Australians relate easily to the simple honesty of a place name. And foreign wine drinkers grasp the idea of geography as a guide to wine quality through long exposure to the French appellation system.

A few years back Bob McLean of St Hallett began making a wine using shiraz from his ‘Old Block’ vineyard. Why throw the best into the blending vat, he thought, when there are drinkers ready to pay a premium for better quality. The result is an annual few thimbles full of a distinctive Barossa red that sells out instantly here and in the very fussy U.K. market.

McLean’s marketing success springs not from glossy ads or hype but from one simple fact: ‘Old Block’ vineyard consistently produced outstanding grapes long before its name appeared on the bottle. Performance led to recognition.

On the other side of Tanunda from St Hallett, brother and sister wine-making team, Rolf and Christa Binder make a small, exciting range of wines from vineyards in the Western Barossa. The reds, in particular, bear a rich Barossa thumbprint and sell quickly to appreciative wine drinkers in Australia and the U.K. They particularly love the Binder’s ‘Hanisch Vineyard’ shiraz.

Which is not surprising. It not only tastes good, but lack of widespread recognition keeps the price well below the going price for wines of similar quality. Given the tiny fixed output and individual character of ‘Hanisch’, there seems only one future direction for the price.

Down in Coonawarra, a quick visit to Nibs cook-it-yourself restaurant led to the Lynn family’s Majella vineyard. By chance, as we drooled over Majella 1991, old Mrs Lynn introduced herself and spun the family story — and there was a Canberra connection.

During the 1940s she’d worked in the Supply Minister’s office, under the Curtin and Chifley Governments, “as minutes secretary to the Minister’s Secretary”. She later married George Lynn, a farmer, and settled in Coonawarra, raising fat lambs and children.

In 1968, the fat lambs were turfed off the ‘Majella’ block to make way for the childrens’ ambitions. That was the year Brian Lynn, encouraged by Bill Redman, persuaded his father to plant vines.

Over time, wine-grape sales became increasingly important. And the inclusion of grapes from the block in some of Coonawarra’s most expensive wines, encouraged Mrs Lynn and her son Brian Lynn, from 1991, to turn their best shiraz into wine they could sell themselves. Hence, the birth of Majella, one of the best (and scarcest) Coonawarra Shirazes you’ll ever taste.

If you want some, you’ll have to ring Brian in Coonawarra. He has a special feeling for Canberrans, and even flies a Raiders flag in his living room.

At Padthaway, an hour’s drive north of Coonawarra, Orlando bought ‘Lawson’s Vineyard’ in 1980. Orlando’s wine makers were staggered by the quality of shiraz coming off the vineyard, especially as the area’s reputation, at the time, had been built on its whites. Again, the sheer quality of the vineyard’s grapes gave birth to Lawsons Padthaway Shiraz. The just-released 1991 has already won a trophy and four gold medals.

Lawsons sells for around $30 a bottle — the going price for top-shelf reds. Which makes Stonyfell ‘Metala’, another great single-vineyard a great bargain at $11-$15 a bottle.

Metala’ vineyard, at Langhorne Creek (near Lake Alexandrina), was planted in 1891 and many of these original vines survive today. The reputation of the vineyard grew largely through the wonderful reds made by Jack Kilgour during the thirties, forties and fifties. The wine acquired the vineyard name in the 1960s under wine maker Brian Dolan, whose son Nigel makes the spectacular modern version under the ownership of Rothbury Estate.