A collection of individuals: 2012 Shiraz McLaren Vale
Nature or nurture? Vineyard or winery? Decisions made through the full life-cycle of a wine impact the end result. The team at Chalk Hill in the McLaren Vale, Australia set out to understand how much a winemaker’s philosophy on style can impact a wine. A repeat experiment last carried out in 2010, Chalk Hill’s super-premium Alpha Crucis Shiraz Winemakers’ Series’ release parcelled off 36 rows of vines from a single vineyard, managed by viticulturist Jock Harvey, to six different winemakers.
The six winemakers’ approached were an even split with three males and three females, all with different training and experiences, although each were skilled at small parcel winemaking. They comprised Emmanuelle Bekkers of Chalk Hill, Corrina Wright of Oliver’s Taranga, Rebecca Willson of Bremerton Wines, Mike Brown of Gemtree Wines, Steve Grimley of Loom Wine and Peter Schell of Spinifex. Each winemaker received the fruit into their own winery, they processed it in their own style before it being bottled separately. Other than a single source material, each winemaker was able to choose their own date of harvest, the technique and method of fermenting, and the means of maturation to reflect their personal style preference. The wines made were described by Chalk Hill as “a collection of individuals”. Chalk Hill asked tasters to see if there is any perceived difference in the wines based on gender, something that in my experience was clearly evident. The men producing grunty wines, the women something more elegant.
When Chalk Hill approached these winemakers they were asked to focus on making a wine that reflects their individual winemaking philosophy, in a style they find enjoyable. The aim was not to rank the wines in terms of quality. And although all the wines were of exceptional quality, and even though it goes against the grain of the initiative, I have ordered the wines in order of quality as I saw it, subjective as that may be.
French born and trained with degrees in Biochemistry and Oenology, Emmanuelle Bekkers has worked numerous vintages in Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Languedoc Rousillon regions in France along with the Hardy Wine Company, Boar’s Rock and Langhorne Creek Winery in Australia. She has been the winemaker at Chalk Hill since 2001.
Elegant and delicate. This is a very attractive wine. Red and black fruit mix nicely with a huge amount of vanilla. Full, rich and a bit smoky on the palate, it’s aromatic with plenty of cherries, plums and black currant. A classic beauty. Because most others in the line-up were big and/or grunty, this one seemed very petite. Looked at on its own, however, the wine is structurally sound, with great weight and length. It was unsurprising when a female winemaker was revealed in relation to this wine. For me, this wine consistently came out tops. I really enjoyed this interpretation.
Harvest on 29 February, whole bunches were destemmed before a 3 day cold soak. Fermented to 15.5% alc/vol spending 12 days on skins prior to being pressed into new French oak hogsheads and puncheons for malolactic fermentation and maturation. Bottled in July 2013. RRP $72.95
Corrina Wright comes from a heritage of viticulture and winemaking for six generations over 170 years. She is now winemaker and director of the Oliver’s family Tarange vineyard and judges at a number of shows.
Lighter bodied with a soft and silky texture and medium tannins. Where the others were big on the fruit, this more refined red has more of a focus on florals with pretty violets notes, subtle sweet oak and vanilla. There’s red berries on the palate with a depth of oak flavouring and a lively acidity. The smooth, velvety texture and more feminine flavourings with a lingering finish puts this wine in the more feminine side of the spectrum for the tasting. It’s really rather nice.
Harvested on 2 March 2012, grapes sorted before a 3 day cold soak. Ferment started with indigenous yeasts in small open fermenter. Transferred to oak to ferment to 14.5% alc. Aged in 25% new French oak 300L hogsheads, the rest in 2nd and 3rd use oak. Bottled July 2013. RRP $72.95
Barossa raised with winemaking experience in France, South Africa and many parts of Australia, Steve Grimely now oversees the team at McLaren Vale Winemakers while consulting for various Australian and international clients.
This wine will put hairs on your chest. If that’s the sort of thing you were after. A grunty, manly wine with a savoury smoke and tobacco on the nose and with big, big tannins on the palate. Hearty, richly textured and fully flavoured with plenty of vanilla, darker fruits along the lines of black currant and a definite menthol character. The flavour profile is quite tightly defined. This wine’s charm its weight, structure and sheer presence.
Harvested 7 March 2012. Fruit destemmed but not crushed prior to 9 day fermentation to 15.% alc/vol with plunging three times daily and pumped over every second. The wine stayed on skins another seven days prior to being basket pressed. Aged in 20% new French oak 225L barriques, the remainder 2nd and 3rd use oak. Bottled July 2013.
Peter Schell called the Barossa Valley home for over ten years after the chance to buy a parcel of old-vines Mataro in 2001 started his career as a wine producer and the Spinifex label was born. In that time he has also worked six French vintages, in Provence, the Languedoc, Bordeaux and Burgundy. His time spent in the south of France fuelled an interest in unique, hand crafted wines with personality, which are generous and honest expressions of the varieties and the provenance.
The nose is huge on the cherry, the palate sited on a foundation of big, big tannins with a long lingering finish and again with the cherries. Delicately aromatic with baked plum, almost prune-like. The wine is really vibrant with plenty of violets, cherries and a delicious chocolatey character. Delightfully aromatic, almost sugar-like. The wine is silk textured with oak and more pronounced healthy tannins. A good balance with a nice palate. Grunty and manly while retaining some finesse.
Harvested 24 February. Grapes picked with 30% whole bunches, the remainder destemmed. Natural fermentation to 14.5% alc/vol. The wine stayed on skins for 15 days before being transferred for ageing in 30% new French 225L barriques, the rest in 2nd and 3rd use oak. Bottled July 2012. RRP $72.95
Mike Brown commenced his winemaking career on completion of a postgraduate Oenology degree from Adelaide University after working in wine marketing. Now a winemaker at Gemtree Vineyards where his wife Melissa is responsible for the viticulture, Mike also acts as a consultant winemaker to a number of wine brands in the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley regions.
One of these things is not like the others. The wine was nicely perfumed and hugely aromatic to start with, the palate showing big, big fruit with red berries, cherries and plums. But mixed in with the fresh and the vibrant, there’s also some slightly stinky reductive elements that start shining through. As a young wine with a healthy amount of fruit, liquorice and spice, the funky sulfide reduction qualities give the wine an extra interest factor. Making for a rather gamey, meaty kind of a red. For the size of the other departments, I would have liked to see bigger tannins, which were relatively fine grained and overshadowed by the fruit and sweeter oak notes seen on the finish.
Harvested 1 March 2012. Grapes de-stemmed, crushed and fermented to 14.5% alc/vol. The wine pumped over and plunged daily before prior to being pressed off into French oak barriques – one third new, two thirds 2nd use – for malolactic fermentation and ageing. Bottled July 2013. RRP $72.95
Rebecca Willson is the senior winemaker at Bremerton Wines, a family-owned wine company in Langhorne Creek, South Australia. With a Post graduate degree in Oenology from the University of Adelaide, she’s made wines in the US and Australia.
Very plummy on both the palate and the nose, there’s a huge density of fruit. Healthy tannins with the highest acidity in the lot, lively. Smoothly textured. Tobacco and vanilla stand alongside the prominent presence of plum. And then there’s the oak, plenty of oak. It provides structure, complexity and texture, but for me it’s overwhelming. Even with the volume of fruit in the wine, the oak still dominated. That was a very minor let down in an otherwise pleasing wine.
Harvested on 1 March 2012, given a cold soak,inoculated with yeast and fermented in temperatures oscillating between 22-17°C for two weeks to 15.5% alc/vol. Wine was pressed into 70% French oak, 30% American for ageing. Of which 60% were Puncheons, 15% new. Bottled July 2013. RRP $72.9