Yearly Archives: 2005

Winners from the Limestone Coast show

The Limestone Coast wine zone takes in all of South Australia south of Lake Alexandrina, bounded to the east by the Victorian border and to the west and south by the sea.

This unique limestone plain is home to The Coorong, Naracoorte World Heritage caves, the extinct volcano, Mount Gambier, the Robe crayfish industry, vast pinus radiata plantations, flocks of tasty fat lambs, sundry crops and about fifteen thousand hectares of vines. In the bumper 2004 harvest these produced about 172 thousand tonnes of grapes – equivalent to around 13 million dozen bottles.

So the Limestone Coast is a big wine producer. But it’s also a high-quality producer embracing one of Australia’s greatest gems, Coonawarra, as well as Padthaway, Wrattonbully, Lucindale, Mount Gambier, Robe, Mount Benson and Bordertown.

Together these make a feast of wine across a wide range of styles and prices. As the results of the recent Limestone Coast Wine Show indicate, the region produces not only high average quality but spectacular highlights as well.

In a field of 433 entries from 64 producers, two three-member judging teams awarded 33 gold, 64 silver and 163 bronze medals – a strike rate of 60 per cent.

And the spread of latitude, local climates, soil types and winemaker approaches saw a diversity of wine style sharing the medal haul with gold medals awarded to two rieslings, two chardonnays, one sauvignon blanc, ten shirazes and eighteen cabernet and cabernet blends.

Where cabernet fares poorly in most Australian regions, Coonawarra – a world specialist in the variety – underpinned, but didn’t monopolise, an exciting display by the variety at the show.

While Murdoch Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 – an intense, firm, slow evolving example of the style, won the Cabernet trophy, there was a feast of other styles, ranging from the fragrant and juicy Penley Estate Coonawarra Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (top drops) to the sublime, mellow perfection of Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 1982.

And amongst the blends, the emerging Wrattonbully region earned golds for the 2002 and 2003 vintages of Stonehaven Rat & Bull Cabernet Shiraz while Padthaway struck gold with Browns ‘The Brigstock’ Cabernet Shiraz 2002.

The cabernet gold-medal shopping list included, as well, Majella Coonawarra 2003, Mildara Rothwell Coonawarra 2003, Leconfield Coonawarra 2003, Reschke ‘Empyrean’ Coonawarra 2002, Peppertree Coonawarra Grand Reserve 2002, Stonehaven Hidden Sea 2001, Jacob’s Creek St Hugo Coonawarra 1996, Orlando Jacaranda Ridge 1998, Balnaves Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot 2001, Penley Estate Coonawarra Conder Cabernet Shiraz 2004, Mildara Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2003 and Majella Mallea Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2002,

Shiraz showed class across the region with styles ranging from the supple, low-oak, new style Wynns Coonawarra 2004 to the inky-deep, powerful Orlando Lawson’s Vineyard Padthaway 2003, 2002 and 1994 (the 2002 won the best-shiraz Trophy).

While Coonawarra won three of the ten shiraz gold medals (Wynns 2004, Ladbroke Grove Reserve 2002 and Majella 2003) and Padthaway earned six (Morambro Creek 2003, Orlando Lawsons 2002, 2003 & 1994, Stonehaven Limited Release 1999 and 2001).

The tenth shiraz gold medal went to Wrattonbully grape grower Greg Koch for his Redden Bridge ‘Gully’ Shiraz 2003, winner, too, of the trophy for best single-vineyard wine. This excellent new drop is due for release next year. So watch this space.

And to finish on a refreshing white note, Balnaves topped the show with its intense and silky Coonawarra Chardonnay 2003, made by Pete Bissell.


Penley Estate Coonawarra Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 $19.99
At last week’s Limestone Coast Show, Singapore based writer, Ch’ng Poh Tiong awarded Phoenix the International Judge’s Trophy as his favoured wine of the show. Together with James Halliday, we’d ranked it at the top of the small 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon class, noting its vibrant, sweet, fruity aroma and juicy, fleshy, drink-now palate. Waxing metaphorical at the trophy presentation, Poh Tiong praised its ‘smouldering-ember smoky’character – fitting for a wine named Phoenix, I suppose. With or without metaphors, it’s simply delicious and made specifically for early drinking. It’s to be released in early December and will be available at cellar door (08 8736 3211) and fine wine retail outlets.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Johnson’s Block Shiraz Cabernet 2003 $35
Johnson’s block is a distinguished Coonawarra vineyard with vines dating from 1925. Recent rejuvenation work – principally restructuring dense, woody, vine canopies – seems to have paid off in Johnson’s blend with its beautifully even, ripe berry fruit flavours and supple tannins. It also displays Sue Hodder’s well thought out change in winemaking philosophy inspired by the elegance and longevity of Wynns reds of the 1950s. The limpid colour, bright berry flavours, supple tannins and supportive oak provide a substantial, potentially long live modern interpretation of a traditional style well removed from the darker, more alcoholic, more tannic, more oaky reds that’ve prevailed in recent decades. Johnson’s hits the mark as it focuses on Coonawarra’s unique, bright berry flavours without compromising depth or complexity of flavour.

Ladbroke Grove Coonawarra Riesling 2005 $17.99
This is a little producer to watch. Ladbroke’s Killian Cabernet 2001 won three trophies in the 2003 Limestone Coast Show. This year it was the riesling’s turn. After topping a strong 2005 vintage riesling class it went on to win the Karl Seppelt Trophy. Fruit comes from a northern Coonawarra vineyard, contracted to Ladbroke Grove and made in the Di Giorgio Winery by former Wynns winemaker, Peter Douglas. The wine springs out of the glass with its floral and lemon varietal aroma then lights up the palate with vibrant, very fine lemony flavours. Refreshing, delicate, minerally acids give the wine structure and length – and probably longevity, too.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

Wine review — Seppelt Benno, Richmond Grove & Lindemans

Seppelt ‘Benno’ Bendigo Shiraz 2003 $50, St Peters Grampians Shiraz 2003 $60
These are sensational reds – the top two in Seppelt’s range of Victorian Shirazes. ‘Benno’ appears indestructible having lasted a week on the tasting bench, building and strengthening over time. It has an essence-like concentration of fruit flavour and plush, fine, velvety texture. St Peters, from vineyards around the winery at Great Western, is pure magic with its ethereal aroma and taut, concentrated, savoury palate that grows in interest with every sip. This may have lasted a week on the tasting bench, too. But it didn’t have a chance. It simply had to be consumed. This is unquestionably one of Australia’s very great red wines.
Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 2004 $13 to $18
Chuffed by a gold medal at the Melbourne Show, the Orlando PR team recently sent wine scribes a bottle of the 2004 medal winner with another of the 1999. After a year and half in bottle the 2004 tastes beautifully fresh and young with delicious, delicate, lime-like varietal aroma and flavour. The 1999, the second vintage sealed with screw cap, proved again the seal’s effectiveness. Here was a six-year-old, still with delicacy, freshness and ‘lime’ varietal character, but with that extra honeyed richness of bottle age. Chateau Shanahan bought and cellared that ’99 at about $11 a bottle and, in real terms, the 2004 can be found on special at a comparable price. This is one of Australia’s great bargain wines.
Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay 2005, $8 to $10
This was one of Australia’s early export successes, taking our ‘sunshine in a bottle’ chardonnay style to the world before being introduced to the domestic market once the supply of chardonnay grapes expanded. It’s now made on a very large scale and still offers outstanding value for money, especially on discount. Bin 65 offers bright, fresh, well defined melon and peach varietal flavours with smooth mid-palate texture, a little seasoning of oak and a fresh, clean finish. It’s generous and tasty without being overblown or over oaky

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

The Eileen Hardy story part 2

Eileen Hardy Shiraz – flagship red of the Hardy Wine Company was introduced in 1973 to celebrate the 80th birthday of family matriarch, Eileen Hardy. That wine, a selection of the best McLaren Vale Shiraz from the 1970 vintage, still drinks well today.

What began as a birthday gift became a company flagship, despite significant style and quality changes across the years. As we saw last week, modern Eileen now brings together all that’s been learned in vineyard and winery in the 35 years since that first vintage.

Individual vineyard plots – mostly in McLaren Vale but including components from Clare, Padthaway and Frankland River — contribute small batches of varying style. These are all fermented separately and matured in French oak barrels separately until chief red-wine maker Paul Lapsley and his boss, Peter Dawson, assemble the final blend.

The current release 2001, for example, comes 88 per cent from McLaren Vale and 9 per cent from Frankland River with a splash from other regions – all matured in a variety of high quality French oak barrels.

It weighs in at a comparatively modest 13.6 per cent alcohol (some of our gun reds hit 14.5 or more) and is clearly a wine to cellar. The colour’s deep but not opaque and the aroma and flavour are built on bright, intense varietal character with a delicious savouriness. The structure is firm, tight and satisfying – a wine to reveal more as it ages for a decade or two.

From past tasting and a fresh look at the 1970 then the nineties vintages last week, I’d say the very early Eileens were wonderful and the eighties vintages lacklustre. During the nineties the style strengthened, especially towards the end of the decade. But in the new century Eileen appears to be settling into a consistent, fine, savoury style – epitomised to me by the glorious but not yet released 2002 vintage. This is jaw-dropping stuff.

The white flagship, Eileen Hardy Chardonnay is a jaw dropper, too. Made by chief white-wine maker, Tom Newton – with support from Peter Dawson – this is blazing new trails.

It’s a wine without boundaries. Newton and Dawson’s search for the best material began in 1986 in Padthaway – the company’s largest chardonnay resource – and widened over time to include Canberra, the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania.

Says Dawson, “we look for a good expression of chardonnay with intensity and the inherent structure to support oak fermentation, malolactic fermentation and oak maturation”.

What this means is that if you use the right grapes, a string of potentially intrusive winemaking practices are subsumed by the intense fruit flavour. The result is a beautiful, complex, dry, firmly structured wine capable of extended bottle ageing.

That the ‘right’ fruit is now sourced predominantly from Tasmania was partly an accident. A search for intensely flavoured, delicate chardonnay and pinot noir for sparkling wine, while successful, also revealed promising parcels of table wine material.

The first Tasmanian material was included in Eileen in 1999. So good was it, that in 2000, a particularly warm vintage in many cool regions, the proportion of Tasmanian fruit in the blend shot up to sixty five per cent – the remainder coming from the high, cool Hoddles Creek vineyard in the Yarra Valley.

Subsequent vintages retain a core of Tasmanian material combined with fruit from the Yarra Valley, Tumbarumba and the Adelaide Hills.

The current release 2002 is as good as Australian chardonnays gets.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

Wine review — Hardys Oomoo, Eileen Hardy & Peter Lehmann

Hardys Oomoo McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004, $9.90 to $15
Here’s proof of the trickle down effect: the flagship Eileen Hardy Shiraz is McLaren Vale based and amongst the best reds in Australia. Budget priced Oomoo benefits from the effort expended on Eileen. This is reflected in its fruit brightness, generous, chocolaty regional character, savoury ‘real red’ flavour and a convincing, grippy finish. If you find some mid priced reds taste more like fruit juice than red wine, give this one a go. It’s made for red wine lovers but doesn’t belt you over the head with oak or suck the water from your eyes with hard tannins. Drink now to 2009.

Hardys Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2002,     $35 to $45
A vertical tasting of Eileen Hardy Chardonnays from the first vintage, 1986, to the unreleased 2004 (see main story) confirmed in my mind that Eileen sits at the top of the pack in Australia. To my palate it hit the pace in 2000 and, since then, it’s made little advances with the 2002 and 2004 being as good as it gets in Australia. And that makes it a bargain given the $100 plus price tags of some of its competitors. Good bottles of 2002 I’d rate as probably the best Aussie chardonnay yet tasted. However, the 2004 gives it a close run and will ultimately be the better buy as it comes screw cap sealed and should not suffer the bottle variation seen under earlier cork-sealed vintages.

Peter Lehmann Barossa Semillon 2002 & Barossa Shiraz Grenache 2004 about $12
These are delicious, approachable wines offering regional character at a budget price. Lehmann pioneered this crisp, light, lemony style of semillon in the Barossa. Picked early and treated gently, Barossa semillon delivers vibrant varietal flavour in a delicate dry white that weighs in at a modest 11.5 per cent alcohol. That means flavour without alcoholic astringency. The red uses shiraz as a base to give generosity. But grenache tempers shiraz, softening and lightening the mid palate and boosting the aroma. The focus is primarily on vibrant and fruit and softness, but there’s sufficient tannin to give structure and a little grip.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

The Eileen Hardy story part 1

This is the story of three jaw-dropping wines – a $90 shiraz, a $13 shiraz and a $40 chardonnay.

The first has been 35 years in the making and the second, 19 years. The third, with only a few vintages in bottle, might be just a shadow of itself without the 35-year endeavour behind the $90 bottle.

The $90 and $40 wines are Eileen Hardy Shiraz and Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, respectively – flagships for the Hardy Wine Company, a division of US based Constellation brands.

Both wines give the lie to the notion – put about by French makers and some critics — that big Aussie companies make nothing but oceans of bland soul-less wine. What rubbish.

The Eileens are superb, small production wines built on a deep and growing intimacy with numerous small vineyard plots.

At a tasting this week, Hardy red-wine maker, Paul Lapsley, explained that in May, after red-wine classifications, the team reviewed the performance of wines from each vineyard and sub-plots within vineyards and from there determined a pruning regime and target yields.

Vineyards likely to produce fruit good enough for Eileen Hardy shiraz had, over the last five years, been converted from mechanical pruning to hand pruning. While expensive, it means individual care of every vine and a higher success rate in creating properly ripe berries – the very core of a wine of this calibre.

Correct pruning is only part of the picture. Lapsley says that it’s important to keep the vines free of excess stress and to avoid overcropping. To achieve this, the Eileen vineyards are mulched to retain ground water while shoot thinning and the removal of unripe fruit help maintain a crop load in balance with the foliage.

If all goes well this produces berries that ripen at modest sugar levels (too much sugar equals too much alcohol in the finished wine) and produce wines with vibrant fruit, not the ‘thick stewiness of over-ripe fruit’.

Typically, says Lapsley,  “the vineyards that produce this quality are 30 to 100 years old. Old vines produce wines that have a sweetness and creaminess on the mid palate – a silkiness”.

The perfect Eileen Hardy Shiraz grape, Paul reckons, weighs about one gram, displays vibrant fruit ripeness and has ripe tannins in the skins and seeds. That’s how finicky this flagship wine business is – aiming to get every berry just right.

Having harvest the right fruit Lapsley’s aim in the winery is to “express that fruit”, to build a savoury element, and to extract the tannins that give structure without harshness.

Each batch is gently crushed to include whole berries and fermented in small open fermenters with the skins floating as a cap on top. The open fermenters mean some desirable alcohol evaporation, with finished wines 1 to 1.5 per cent lower in alcohol than wines from closed vessels.

And the floating cap (as opposed to submerged using boards), according to Paul, allows some oxygen exposure, greater permeability for pumping the juice over and better temperature control.

From the fermenter each batch goes to compatible oak barrels. And the diversity of small parcels used in Eileen means an equal diversity of new used French oak barrels from various top coopers.

And remember, at this stage Eileen is still a collection of unique small batches. The blend comes much later as we’ll see next week.

Hardys Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2002 $35 to $45
A vertical tasting of Eileen Hardy Chardonnays from the first vintage, 1986, to the unreleased 2004 (see main story) confirmed in my mind that Eileen sits at the top of the pack in Australia. To my palate it hit the pace in 2000 and, since then, it’s made little advances with the 2002 and 2004 being as good as it gets in Australia. And that makes it a bargain given the $100 plus price tags of some of its competitors. Good bottles of 2002 I’d rate as probably the best Aussie chardonnay yet tasted. However, the 2004 gives it a close run and will ultimately be the better buy as it comes screw cap sealed and should not suffer the bottle variation seen under earlier cork-sealed vintages.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

Wine review — Thomas, St Hallett & Pol Roger Champagne

Thomas Hunter Valley Braemore Semillon 2005 $24, Kiss Shiraz 2004 $48
Former Tyrrell winemaker, Andrew Thomas, now makes wine for Hungerford Hill and a range of Hunter clients as well as sourcing outstanding material for his own label. The two reviewed here are superb regional specialties. The intense, delicate, vibrant and potentially very long-lived Braemore semillon comes from the alluvial soils of Hermitage Road, in the lower Hunter. And Kiss, from mature shiraz vines near Brokenwood’s Graveyard vineyard, Pokolbin,  is a remarkable red in the classic Hunter mould: generous fruit flavour but medium bodied and with soft, silky tannins. It’s seductive and lovely now but has the depth to age well for a decade or more. Cellar door phone 02 6574 7371.

St Hallett Gamekeepers Reserve Barossa Shiraz Grenache 2004 $12 to $16
Launched by big Bob McLean in the early nineties, Gamekeepers Reserve always offered good value but has evolved constantly under winemaker Stuart Blackwell. It’s made for early drinking, so the focus is on bright, fresh berry flavours with soft tannins. Stuart attributes the floral aromatics and fresh berry flavour to Grenache and a touch of Touriga Nacional (a Portuguese port variety). Aerobic winemaking, he says, helps to smooth the tannins, while shiraz fills out the mid palate. It’s made without oak maturation and this seems to suit this very slurpy, grapey style. It’s a style to enjoy at room temperature in cooler weather or lightly chilled as the thermometer rises.

Pol Roger Champagne Vintage 1998 about $100
Pol’s a Chateau Shanahan Champagne favourite, loved for its purity of fruit flavour and lovely delicacy. It’s a blend of pinot noir (60 per cent) and chardonnay (40 per cent) from twenty of the highest rated vineyards in the Champagne region. What always amazes me about these top Champagnes is how young and fresh they taste with considerable age. In this instance seven years in the bottle seems to have harmonised the delicious fruit flavours and subtle, lees-aged character into a luxurious, delicate mouthful of stunning freshness. From past experience Pol vintage seems to develop favourable for another five or six years if correctly cellared.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

Geologist David Farmer defines Barossa land surfaces

As reported last week, David Farmer, co-founder of former Canberra-based Farmer Bros, is about to re-enter the wine trade via a cellar door mail order operation – — in the Barossa Valley.

While setting up the business, though, David’s been applying the disciplines of his old trade, geology, to the Barossa. This work when published could reshape the Barossa marketing landscape.

An exploration geologist before turning to the wine trade in 1975, Farmer’s been sleuthing the Barossa landscape for several years now, seeking to understand what created the various land surfaces and pondering the style of wine that each of these might create.

While this may seem an academic activity, an intimate knowledge of land surface and its relationship to wine styles in the long term lies at the heart of France’s wine appellation system.

Farmer’s not arguing for a similar naming system here. But he believes that an understanding of the landscape could contribute to a better understanding of wine styles. And, linked with that, comes better, more informative marketing of wine from a particular site.

Marketing wines from individual vineyards or groups of vineyards isn’t new. It evolves in virtually every wine region as winemakers recognise the individuality of wine from particular sites.

In an area as old, complex and intensively planted as the Barossa, the practice is well established and growing rapidly as winemakers compete for grapes from the best vineyard plots and then vinify even quite small batches individually.

From his work Farmer expects to define about fifteen distinct grape-growing sub-regions within the Barossa, based on his observations of the land surface, what lies immediately beneath it and what formed it.

Winemakers with long-term experience sourcing grapes throughout the valley understand site-related flavour variation. But the names given to the sites tend to be generalised and based on points of the compass or local place names.

As the practice of releasing these wines separately grows, the use of Farmer’s definitions in conjunction with the old site names could add dramatically to the marketing message – especially were the sites to be viewed on the three-dimensional maps now under construction.

In the future, instead of hearing of northern, southern, eastern or western Barossa, or of Kalimna, Moppa, Lyndoch or Stockwell, we’ll hear, as well, of the southern angular-rock type soils, the cobbled soils of Roland Flat, the Kalimna dunes and the Gomersal Ridge sands.

And through Farmer’s 3-D map, we’ll be able to see each of these and more in the context of the Valley as a whole: starting 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, North-Para-River-eroded landscape; 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 uplifted ranges (the Eden Valley) and across to the lower,  more eroded western rim, including the Marananga and Seppeltsfield bowls.

Throughout this infinitely varied landscape, winemakers are defining the sub-regions by the wines they make. What Farmer is doing, with a touch of genius, is creating a future marketing platform for an emerging generation of highly individual sub-regional wines. The publication date has yet to be announced. Check Farmer’s website, for updates.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

Wine review — Langmeil, Penfolds & Peter Lehmann

Langmeil Barossa ‘Valley Floor’ Shiraz 2003, $24.50 cellar door
After judging at the Barossa show a few weeks back I dropped into Langmeil, home to some of the Valley’s oldest vines, dating to 1843. The $100 ‘Freedom ‘ Shiraz 2003, made from these vines, is impressively vibrant and concentrated and just one of a handful of reds expressing various characteristics of the valley and its grapes. The range includes the wonderful ‘Fifth Wave Grenache 2002 ($28) from 60-70 year old vines; Jackaman’s Cabernet 2003 from a one-acre 19th century vineyard at Lyndoch in the south; Old Vine Company Shiraz 2002 ($100) from century old vines; and, the value pick of them all, this sumptuous, silky ‘Valley Floor’ Shiraz. Cellar door 08 8563 2595.
Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 2004, Shiraz 2003, Shiraz Cabernet 2003 $9 to $15
Forget recommended retail prices.  The global oversupply and competitive retail environment continue to squish prices, especially on big brands like Koonunga Hill. That means watch for the special s and dive in because the quality is very high. The 2004 Chardonnay is impressive as it shows the attractive flavours and textures of good fruit subjected to proper barrel fermentation and ageing. The Shiraz shows the lifted aromatics of the variety and while ripe and juicy has proper, soft red-wine tannins but doesn’t hammer the mouth with oak. Good old Shiraz Cabernet, the original Koonunga, is a little weightier with the strength of cabernet supporting rich shiraz – and with typical Penfolds layered structure.
Peter Lehmann Barossa Rosé 2005 about $15
Rosé ought to be a winner in the hot Aussie climate. And its current surge in popularity might spread if every rosé measured up to this beautiful example from Peter Lehmann. It romped home at the recent Barossa Show thanks to its sparkling-bright, light pink colour, fresh-strawberry aroma and deliciously fruity, crisp, refreshing palate. This is a purpose made rosé based on old bush-vine Barossa grenache — a pale coloured variety noted for the fragrance, softness and fruitiness of its wine. These are the keys to its success in rosé making as fruit flavour hits the spot better than residual sugar. The 2004 may still be around. It’s very good. But rosé’s always best as a baby. So move on to the 2005 as soon as it’s released.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

Farmer Bros old firm set to rise in the Barossa

If you’re wondering where David Farmer went, I’ve found him in the Barossa. I found his brother Richard there, too. They’re about to re-enter the wine trade.

For those who don’t remember the Farmers, this is the pair that back in 1975 took advantage of Whitlam’s Trade Practices Act and liberalised ACT liquor licensing laws to smash retail price maintenance in the Territory and beyond.

They established Farmer Bros at Manuka in June of that year and by the end of 1976 had a thriving Australia-wide mail order wine business, operating out of a warehouse/store in Mort Street, Braddon.

In 1985, by now with a large store in Sydney’s Waterloo as well, the brothers split — in the acrimonious way to which family partnerships seem prone. David and a group of partners, myself included, bought Richard’s half of the business. Richard promptly set up in opposition. And the original Farmer Bros, now under David’s control, expanded rapidly, quadrupling its turnover, expanding to Melbourne and buying a hotel in Tasmania.

Following the demise of his business, Richard moved out the industry. Farmer Bros survived a little longer. But in late 1994 after a near merger with Cellarmaster Wines – the large and then privately owned wine club operator — the receivers walked in.

The business’s major asset, its mailing list, was sold to Cellarmasters. As a result ‘Farmer Bros Direct’ continues to exist, though Cellarmasters now belongs to Fosters. Coles Myer’s Liquorland Group bought the Farmer Bros stores in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

David Farmer worked with Cellarmaster for a short period before joining Theo Karedis, owner of Sydney-based Theo’s liquor store chain. With Theo, David established David Farmers warehouse style outlet at Philip and produced those highly distinctive, informative tabloid catalogues that used to fall out of the Canberra Times.

When Theo sold his chain — including the David Farmer outlet — to Coles Myer about two years ago, David continued to produce the David Farmer, Theo’s and Crown of the Hill catalogues for the Sydney and Canberra markets – an arrangement that continued until June this year.

By this time Coles Myer had re-branded the David Farmer store twice – firstly as Theo’s and now as First Choice, a brand created to take on Woolworths Dan Murphy chain.

Meanwhile, the ever inventive David had slipped off to the Barossa and established, an idiosyncratic website built around wine but including an eclectic mix of politics, election polls, food, book reviews, industry news and analysis, much of the latter provided by brother Richard.

While David provides a marketing consultancy to several wineries in the Barossa, he’d established Glug as an entrée back into wine retailing. This time, however, his comeback will be as vigneron – he already has the license – by tapping into small parcels of fruit from high-quality Barossa vineyards and having these made into wine by leading local producers.

The first of these are to be released at the National Press Club in November. I’ll cover these in a later article. But the topic of interest for next week will be a look at David’s perspective of the Barossa’s surprisingly diverse viticultural landscape.

A geologist before turning to the wine trade, Farmer’s been sleuthing the Barossa landscape for several years now, seeking to understand what created the various land surfaces and pondering the diversity of wine styles that each of these might create.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

Wine review — Yalumba & Peter Lehmann

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2004 $19.95 to $22.95
Yalumba offers three viogniers, each outstanding at its price – and little wonder. Since establishing Australia’s first significant plantings in the Eden Valley in 1980, they’ve worked hard to tame and bottle what winemaker Louisa Rose calls an ‘incredibly challenging’ and ‘unpredictable’ variety. The amazingly plush, complex $60-a-bottle ‘The Virgilius’ comes from those original plantings; and at the other end the $10-$13 ‘Y’ is a tasty South Australia blend. In between, at $19.95 cellar door or $22.95 retail, comes this trophy winner from the recent Cowra and Barossa Shows. Partly barrel and partly tank fermented with indigenous yeast, it offers viognier’s unique and delicious apricot-like aroma and flavour and silky, slippery texture.

Peter Lehmann Eden Valley Riesling 2005 $16 to $20
More often than not the very best rieslings reveal more as they age. This was reflected in last week’s Barossa wine show results. Amongst the 2005 vintage contenders, the flagship rieslings of Peter Lehmann, Yalumba and Leo Buring all rated behind cheaper commercial releases from the same companies. But, over time, we are sure to see those delicate, steely flagships surge ahead. Meanwhile, as these mature, there’s huge drinking pleasure in the more revealing, slightly cheaper rieslings like this trophy winner from Peter Lehmann. With lovely aromatics, delicious fruit and taut, ultra-fresh, dry finish, it’s a stunning summer drink. Watch for the specials when it’s released in the next month or two.

Yalumba Barossa Bush Vines Grenache 2004 about $18
This gold medal winner from last week’s Barossa show presents a fragrant, bright, fruity expression of grenache without the confection character sometimes found in the variety. Winemaker Kevin Glastonbury says it’s all sourced from 60-70 year old Barossa vines. The fruit is hand picked, crushed, partially de-stemmed then left in fermenters varying in capacity from 8 to 20 tonnes. After a couple of days soaking on skins a spontaneous ferment begins but this is augmented by the addition of cultured yeasts shortly thereafter. Part of the wine sits on skins for a few months after fermentation. The balance goes to 3, 4 and 5 year old barrels for maturation.  The result is a generous, soft, savoury red featuring slightly brighter fruit in the about-to-be-released 2004 than in the more savoury, currently available 2003.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007