I recently tasted through the range from McLaren Vale producer Chapel Hill, whose wines I hadn’t seen in a while. I was impressed. ‘The past 12 years have been a transitional period for the winery,’ says winemaker Michael Fragos. ‘It was in the 2008 vintage that we started showcasing our single site wines and when the changes to our approach to winemaking really gained purpose and momentum.’
Michael outlined the wine growing philosophy at Chapel Hill:
“The Chapel Hill vineyard benefits from elevation, ancient rocks, contoured plantings and moderating sea breezes. The undulating landscape results in a series of small blocks with unique combinations of geology, soil, aspect and climate.
- As the winery does not have access to mains water, rain water is collected and utilised in the winery. Winery waste water is captured and treated though a wetlands system for subsequent vineyard irrigation.
- All marc and mulched bunch stems from the winery are composted on site then spread back on to the vineyard, negating the need for synthetic fertilisers.
- The spray program has been revised to minimise the impact on beneficial insects, this maintains a natural balance in the vineyard and prevents pest and disease outbreaks.
- Hoeing, spot spraying and brush cutting have replaced blanket under vine weed spraying. Volunteer cover crops have been encouraged in both the mid-row and under vine area to smother out problem weeds. These grasses are left to die off naturally over summer, providing valuable cover for the soil and hence reducing evaporation, increasing organic carbon levels and reducing erosion.
“Similarly, with our winemaking, all grapes benefit from gentle handling and patient winemaking, we utilise:
- Small batch open fermentation with gentle plunging
- Basket pressing
- Maturation in 100% French oak (with a lower percentage of new oak)
- Minimal additions
- Natural clarification (no fining or filtration)”
Chapel Hill Shiraz 2015 McLaren Vale, Australia
14.5% alcohol. This is floral, sweet and intense with direct black cherry and blackberry fruit. Nice grip with some freshness to the fruit, and a creamy, sweet undercurrent from the oak. This is ripe but shows good balance, and has keen acidity and structure supporting the lush fruit. Still primary and a bit unformed, but delivering a lot of pleasure, and with lots of concentration and intensity. 93/10
Chapel Hill Mourvedre 2014 McLaren Vale, Australia
14.5% alcohol. Vivid, herb-tinged, spicy blackberry and blueberry fruit here, with a herby edge. Vivid and fresh with some red fruit brightness and a peppery twist, as well as herbs and olives. Sweet and savoury at the same time, with nice grip on the palate. There’s a nice contrast between the dense fruit and the bright, spicy, peppery character. Varietally true, and opens up nicely on day two, after initially being a bit reductive. 91/100
Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2014 McLaren Vale, Australia
14.5% alcohol. This is bright, supple and fresh, with a vivid, lively raspberry and red cherry character, as well as hints of tar and spice. It’s juicy and quite elegant, although at the same time nicely ripe. Sweet raspberries and plums, coupled with savoury herbs, pepper and tar. Some tannic grip, too. Opens up well on the second day, suggesting that this should develop nicely. 91/100
Chapel Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 McLaren Vale, Australia
14.5% alcohol. This is a a lovely fresh, full Cabernet Sauvignon with juicy berry fruits and hints of tar and spice. It has a blackcurrant core and also some bright red fruits. Lovely freshness allied to density of fruit, showing how good Cabernet can be in this region. Could age nicely, too. Harmonious and pure. 93/100
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