Lark Hill grabs a slice of Canberra’s shiraz heartland

Early in August, Lark Hill Winery bought an established 3.6-hectare vineyard at Murrumbateman. The purchase coincided with the release of Lark Hill Shiraz Viognier 2010 and Viognier 2011 (top drops today), both sourced from the vineyard.

Chris Carpenter commented, “We purchased the vineyard in order to secure our long-term supplies of these varieties, and have renamed it ‘Dark Horse Vineyard’. We will be converting this vineyard to biodynamic and organic farming this year”.

Carpenter says the vineyard comprises about 1.2 hectares each of shiraz and sangiovese, about 0.8 hectares of viognier, 0.4 hectares of marsanne and a small patch of roussanne (part of the Rhone Valley white family, along with marsanne and viognier).

The purchase increases the Carpenter’s vineyard holdings to about 10 hectares – the balancing being on their original vineyard, planted in 1978, on the Lake George escarpment, overlooking Bungendore. At 860 metres it’s Canberra’s highest, coolest vineyard.

Over the years David and Sue Carpenter pared back varieties that didn’t work on this cool site. As a result they now focus on the proven winners – riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir and, from 2006, Austria’s specialty white variety, gruner veltliner. By this time their son, Chris, had joined the business and shiraz had entrenched itself as Canberra’s standout variety.

The site being too cold for shiraz, the Carpenters sourced material from lower, warmer Murrumbateman for several years before taking the plunge and buying their own vineyard this month.

The vineyard was one of two blocks in the Ravensworth operation, associated with Bryan and Jocelyn Martin and other business associates over the years.

Martin says the Ravensworth name belonged originally to Brendan Ryan and an American partner.

Later, Michael Kirk, brother of Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk, bought Brendan Ryan’s section of the vineyard and converted Ravensworth from a partnership to a company, with Kirk and the Martins as shareholders. Kirk leased his section of the vineyard to the Martins.

In this month’s transactions, the Carpenters bought Kirk’s section of the vineyard and the Martins bought Kirk out of Ravensworth, to be become sole owners of the name as well as the other section of vineyard.

Martin says he planted the vineyards and knows every vine by name. But he’s relieved to be managing only one vineyard from now on. While the Carpenters vineyard includes the marsanne vines behind Ravensworth’s highly regarded dry white, Chris Carpenter says they will sell the fruit to Martin.

The Carpenters intend to convert the Murrumbatemen vineyard to certified biodynamic – an expensive process, expected to take about five years.

Chris Carpenter says they made no shiraz from the vineyard this year but expect to produce a shiraz viognier under the Dark Horse label in 2012. Lark Hill produced sangiovese from the site in 2007 and 2009 ¬ – the latter, still being offered at cellar door.

The Lark Hill Shiraz Viognier 2010 reviewed below came from the vineyard but had been bottled and labelled before the purchase, so doesn’t have the Dark Horse name on the label.

Lark Hill Canberra District Shiraz Viognier 2010 $40
Grown at Murrumbateman and made at Lark Hill, this wine combines shiraz and the white variety viognier (six per cent of the blend) fermented together. It’s a highly fragrant combination, inspired by the wines of Cote-Rotie in France’s northern Rhone Valley. In the 2010 vintage the floral, spicy and peppery aromas and flavours come with a marked savoury streak and quite firm tannins. That’s firm in a slinky, elegant, medium-bodied context. It builds in interest over time – always a good sign.

QR codes – smarties are onto them

Lark Hill introduced QR codes to their back labels with the release of their 2011 vintage whites – riesling, gruner veltliner and viognier.

QR stands for “quick response” code and refers to a little, square white-on-black pattern, readable by special scanners or smart phones. They’ve been a big deal in Japan for yonks and now seem certain to spread in Australia with the rapid uptake of smart phones – including Apple’s iPhone and other brands, such as Samsung Galaxy, using Google’s Android operating system.

Free scanning apps for the phones read QR codes, which can be encoded with a variety of data, including a link to a website. This is what the Carpenters use in their codes.

Chris Carpenter writes, “I believe we are the first Canberra wine to use QRs. Our aim is to provide what amounts to after-sales support for people – so if a bottle is picked up in a bottle shop, restaurant or similar, anyone with a smart phone can find out more about the wine including its RRP, reviews and our tasting notes.

We will be keeping these links as permanent pages on our website and continuing to add reviews and tasting notes as the wines age – so the QR codes should be useful even if somebody picks up a bottle in their cellar in 10 years (or 20!)”.

Using Bakodo (a free app) we zapped the Lark Hill codes on the Chateau Shanahan iPhone – and bingo, strait through to the detail on the website.

If you have a smart phone try scanning the QR code on Lark Hill Gruner Veltliner back label, pictured.

Lark Hill -- first Canberra winery to adopt a QR code

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
First published 17 August 2011 in The Canberra Times