Limestone Coast, Barossa Valley and and grower cooperative

November 3rd, 1996

The Barossa Valley and the Limestone Coast (Coonawarra-Padthaway) – respectively one hour’s drive north and four hour’s drive south of Adelaide – are Australia’s largest premium grape-growing areas.

The two regions are set to contribute about 131,000 tonnes (9 million dozen bottles) of Australia’s estimated 927,000 tonne 1997 wine-grape harvest.

ABARE estimates put the Barossa Valley’s production about ten per cent ahead of the Limestone Coast’s. But vineyard development has been so rapid in the last few years, nobody I speak to in the industry believes the official figures. And I will take bets that the Limestone Coast streaks ahead of the Barossa over the next decade.

Whatever the real figures, there is no disputing the crucial role the Barossa and Limestone Coast play as the high-quality, big-volume producers of the industry.

Despite similar grape output volumes, the two regions could not be more dissimilar climatically, geologically and geographically. The Barossa is a warmer, hilly, diverse, more ancient landscape with vineyard ownership fragmented amongst some 500 growers.

By contrast, the Limestone Coast is cooler, flatter, geologically more homogenous, newer (Coonawarra and Padthaway rose above sea level perhaps only 700,000 years ago) and vineyard ownership is very much dominated by vast broadacre plantings owned by the large wine companies.

Coonawarra’s grape-growing history stretches back one hundred years to the founding of the Penola Fruit Colony by John Riddoch. From then on it revealed glimpses of the glories to come.

However, its identity emerged to a broader audience only after David Wynn purchased Riddoch’s Chateau Comaum Winery in the early 1950s and created Wynns Coonawarra Estate.

Padthaway, the other large slab of the Limestone Coast, saw its first vines planted by Seppelts around 1964 (they called the area Keppoch) and the area now produces about as much wine as Coonawarra (roughly 30,000 tonnes each per annum).

Originally a source of cheap but good wine that disappeared anonymously into mass blends, Padthaway increasingly puts its name on labels as premium-wine markets expand and mature. Numerous other sites are now under development around the Limestone Coast.

The Barossa’s winemaking history started in the mid 1840s when the first commercial vineyards were planted by August Fielder, the Aldenhoven brothers and Johann Gramp (from which sprang Orlando).

Shiraz vines planted in 1847, adjacent to Jacobs Creek just outside Tanunda, are still productive today. Although probably used originally to make a sweet port style, today’s tiny yields make a wonderful dry Shiraz under Peter and Christie Schulz’s Turkey Flat label.

According to the Barossa Wine & Tourism Association, “… wine maker Carl Sobels, who had 30 years’ experience in Europe, was one of the most influential early winemakers in the Barossa Valley, producing some of the first wines for export. In the 1850s he was advocating the production of light table wines rather than sweet fortified wines.”

Fortunately for today’s red wine drinkers, shiraz, mourvedre and grenache, grown in the Barossa’s warm climate, proved sufficiently versatile to fulfill the needs of changing fashion. These varieties are as at home in port making as they are in red-wine production. Thus, they survived.

The Barossa was home, too, to the large-scale introduction of cold-fermentation techniques in the early 1950s. The technology “led to great advances in table wine production.” Although Hamilton’s Ewell winery near Adelaide had used the technology since the late 1930s, its introduction by Orlando’s Colin Gramp around 1953 marked the beginning of our modern wine industry.

Gramp brought the technology and one of its bright exponents, Guenther Prass, to the Barossa from Germany. Together, Gramp and Prass developed Barossa Pearl, the light, fresh, medium-sweet sparkling wine that captured Australian palates from the moment of its release during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Barossa Pearl was Guenther Prass’s first big contribution to Australia’s wine industry. He went on to head Orlando during its ownership by Reckitt and Coleman and during his time at the helm moved the company’s sphere of operation well beyond the Barossa and built some of our most enduring and valuable wine brands – without acquiring a single winery.

We can thank Prass for Jacobs Creek, Coolabah Wine Casks, Carrington Champagne and the up market brands, Steingarten Riesling, St Helga Eden Valley Riesling, St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and St Hilary Padthaway Chardonnay.

In the late eighties, Prass moved to Hardys where he had a hand in the creation of the now popular Sir James Cuvee Brut and the resurrection of Nottage Hill.

Now, at 70, he’s returned to the Barossa, heading Barossa Valley Estate a winery belonging to the last of the big grape-grower co-operatives. More next week.

November 10th, 1996

At Angle Vale on the hot, flat plain between Adelaide and the Barossa, an old but revitalised winery offers Australian wine consumers some of the best value wines on the market.

Barossa Valley Estates (BVE) crushes, and turns into wine, over 3,000 tonnes of Barossa Valley grapes each vintage. Three quarters of it appears under four comparatively new labels – Barossa Valley Estates, Moculta, Ebenezer and E & E – and the balance heads south in bulk to BRL Hardy, one of our largest wine makers.

The winery and labels belong to the Valley Growers Co-operative, a grouping of Barossa Valley grape growers formed in 1985 in response to grape surpluses and depressed prices.

The sixty-five growers forming the co-operative weathered perennial surpluses into the 1990s but now face a rosier future. Strong growth in both Australian and export markets put an end to the grape surplus. And, of course, they own prime sites throughout the Barossa, a now internationally recognised region.

The winery has benefited, too, through its connection with BRL Hardy. The connection came via the Berri Renmano Co-Operative which was joined with Hardys in a public float in the early 1990s.

BRL Hardy continues to give technical help to the winery as well as providing thorough national distribution.

BVE’s luxurious E & E Black Pepper Shiraz drew publicity from day one, and like so many of our best Shirazes now enjoys an international following. But the whole range, from top to bottom, offers real Barossa flavours at reasonable prices.

At numerous blind tastings this year, BVE wines rated highly in my notes. (In fact, the stand out conclusion after tasting about 2000 wines so far this year is that BRL Hardy, if I can take the liberty of including BVE as part of its range, is the big quality achiever. Watch out Southcorp! You’ve got a competitor!)

BVE’s range starts with a Classic Dry White and Classic Dry Red at around the $6-$8 mark.

1996 BVE Classic Dry White – a fruit-salad blend of chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, palomino, pedro ximenez, semillon and traminer – provides tremendously fresh, zesty drinking. It’s all Barossa. And it’s all right.

BVE Classic Dry Red 1995 shows more Barossa personality than the white. It’s no blockbuster, but it has the lovely, gentle, ‘sweet’ fruit aroma and flavour and lovely, easy drinkability that typify the area. The equally seductive 1996 (a grenache, merlot, shiraz, ruby cabernet blend) comes onto the market before Christmas.

BVE Classic Semillon Chardonnay 1996 offers exceptional drinking at the price. Barossa semillon gives the fleshy chardonnay flavour a gorgeous ‘lemon’ tang.

BVE’s Moculta range (named after village of Moculta – birthplace of Max Schubert – in the northern Barossa) retails in the $10-$12 range. .

BVE Moculta Chardonnay 1995 is a typically big, generous, soft, warm-climate Aussie Chardonnay. The 1996 vintage, due on retail shelves before Christmas, to may palate, offers more vibrant, pure chardonnay flavours.

BVE Moculta Cabernet Merlot 1995’s gentle perfume and fine, supple palate might go well with the Christmas ham, but the real red action is in the Shiraz.

BVE Moculta Shiraz 1995 is a delight. It has, as wine maker Fiona Donald puts it, “the Barossa’s sweet, concentrated fruit on the palate.” There’s terrific regional drinking here and the price is right.

BVE’s Ebenezer range (another Barossa Village name) has one white at $16-$17 retail and two reds at $17-$18.

BVE Ebenezer Chardonnay 1995 combines ripe-fruit and strong barrel-ferment flavour with a lovely, soft, creamy texture. It’s very good, but it lacks the magic of the reds.

BVE Ebenezer Cabernet blend 1993 is a highly individual wine, delivering a sweet, fruity, oaky, massive aroma before romping over the palate with all the same elements. It doesn’t pussy foot around. If you like ‘old fashioned’ reds that wear work boots, not dancing pumps, this is it. Yummy.

BVE Ebenezer Shiraz 1993, a lovely, warm, earthy red delivers that magic, deep, sweet Barossa shiraz flavour in a more concentrated and solid form than we see in the Moculta version.

E & E Black Pepper Shiraz 1993 presents Barossa shiraz in stunning, concentrated form. And, yes, it does smell of black pepper! Sourced from old, low-yielding vines in the elevated northeastern Barossa, it provides luxury Christmas drinking at around $30 a bottle.

E & E comes, too, in a sparkling version (1992 is the current vintage) which provides yet another and refreshing expression of Barossa shiraz.