Australia’s Barossa Valley. This was the first wine region I visited, back in 1996. I revisited as a professional in 2004 and 2005 to see some of the new young(-ish) producers who were making waves here. And now, a decade on, I was back to spend a day seeing the new new Barossa.
I began at Artisans of the Barossa, a collaborative cellar door for seven producers, many of whom had featured on my previous explorations. Jaysen Collins (above) of Massena hosted me, and we tasted through a good selection of these wines. Prior to the establishment of this joint cellar door in 2011, Artisans existed as a joint marketing enterprise with 12 members – ‘we were doing pop-ups before they were trendy’, says Jaysen. A subset of seven of these producers decided to open a cellar door and restaurant together. They leased a building in Vine Vale and this allows them to have their wines open to consumers seven days a week.
The wines are really interesting. Jaysen’s Massena wines impress across the board. I particularly liked the Primitivo-dominant ‘The Twighlight Path, and the Mataro-based Moonlight Run is really nice. My favourites from Jaysen, though, were the excellent 11th Hour Old Vine Shiraz and the Saperavi/Petite Sirah/Tannat blend The Howling Dog.
Spinifex: how I loved these wines last time I was here. How are Pete Schell’s latest releases? The Grenache-dominant Esprit realy impresses: Pete gets texture and mouthfeel, which are worth more than fruit impact. His Riesling, from his how vineyard, is just stunning: layered and complex. Grown up wine.
Jason Schwarz is making some really lovely wines. His Nitschke Block Shiraz is archetypal classic old vine Barossa Shiraz. I was taken by his Meta Grenache, which is fermented with wild yeasts an is 70% whole bunch.
A new producer for me is Sons of Eden. They’re pretty good, with the highlight being the Romulus and Remus pair of old vine Shirazes, one aged in American oak (Romulus) and one in French oak (Remus). Both were good, but – surprisingly – I preferred the American oak version.
The others? John Duvals wines are effortlessly, wonderfully classically Barossa. There’s some polish, an ease, a smoothness to them. Kym Teusner’s wines are delicious, sometimes serious, always commercially astute. He’s grown his business to a size where the Artisans doesn’t fit so well, and so he’ll soon be moving on. And there’s Gregg Hobbs wines. These beat to a different drum. They’re intense and dense, but they don’t cross to the dark side, despie 16% alcohol. Appassimento in the Barossa? Sounds nuts, but the wines just work.
After Artisans, it was off to see Abel Gibson (above). The dude. I’ve reviewed the Ruggabellus wines here recently, so it was great to visit. Abel and Emma recently bought a lovely property with lovely old vines Shiraz, Semillon and Riesling. The new focus is on whites, and I just loved his Sallio and Quomodo Rieslings, which are serious and complex.
Then Small Fry. It’s a relatively new label from Suzi Hilder and Wayne Ahrens (above), who’ve been in the industry a while (Wayne was a cousin of Peter Lehmann). They own two vineyards, one in the Eden Valley, and the other in Vine Vale. They farm biodynamically and add as little as possible to the wines. The attractively labelled wines are consistently good, with my favourite being the Stella Luna Cinsualt Shiraz. Lots of good people buy grapes from Wayne.
I was now early evening, and we headed over to Sami-Odi to meet owner Fraser McKinley. He’s farming 2.8 hectares of vines and makes just two wines each year, which are packaged in unusual and distinctive bottles. Each year there is a Little Wine and also the Sami-Odi wine. Both are intense, vivid and pure – showing elegance despite their size.
Also joining us for some pre-dinner drinks were Tom Shobbrook, Abel Gibson and David Brookes. We cracked some grower Champagne, some Pet Nat, and then headed over to Tom’s place for dinner.
What a lovely evening. Good energy, lovely food and some superb wines. Particular highlights? It’s hard to single out anything. Giallo (Sauvignon Blanc), Cinsault and Grenache are compelling and delicious. Then there’s the stunning Syrah 2013, the lovely Romanee Tuff and the Tommy Ruff Syrah Mourvedre. Such a strong line-up of naturally made wines, but with real purity. This is the new new Barossa. Such a historic region, but one with a great future.