Torbreck Newsletter October 08

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Christmas 2008

Greetings from Roennfeldt Road

I am delighted to be able to tell you that with the help of my friend Pete Kight in the US I have been able to take back control of Torbreck, the company that I founded back in 1994. I am grateful to Jack Cowin for the financial help he gave us and for having faith in us to leave us alone to do our own thing. It was fortuitous that I was able to reward him financially for his belief in Torbreck and for the fact that he gave me the ability to buy the company back.

Needless to say, without our band of loyal customers we wouldn’t be where we are today and I would like to say a sincere thank you. I never forget that it is the support from people like you that have taken Torbreck to where it is in such a short time. With the completion of the new building and having everything now on one site, I am glad that under the current economic circumstances, we are now in a period of consolidation rather than the expansion phase that we have been in over the last decade. What’s more, I can get back to doing what I enjoy most – making wine.

The wines are going from strength to strength. As a testament to this, the Chinese Consulates in both Sydney and Brisbane, as well as the Embassy in Canberra have commissioned Torbreck to create a special bottling for their diplomatic missions in Australia. We are particularly happy to have replaced Penfolds as their banquet wine. This came as an extension of our relationship with our friend Kevin Kam at Golden Century Restaurant in Sydney.

On the subject of all things Chinese, we were very pleased that Robert Parker chose RunRig to be served as one of six of his favourite wines in the world for a recent series of dinners he hosted in China. The most spectacular dinner was a black tie gala held on the Great Wall. The 2003 RunRig was in good company, served between the 1999 Guigal Côte Rôtie La Turque and the 2002 Shafer’s Hillside Select Cabernet. He later wrote “...this wine hit on all cylinders. It didn’t lose a beat coming after the perfect Côte Rôtie... beautifully balanced, elegant, and powerful”. When Robert had originally reviewed the wine, he had scored it 99 points, but having tried the 2003 RunRig with a few years bottle age alongside some world classics, he reappraised his original score of 99 points to 100..

Fishing Trip


Despite how it looks, I am not trying to claim the tuna as my own.

The goat runner. Soshi and a very tired goat.

He’s not so quick after a couple of Bundys.

Most of my customers will know that I am a pretty keen fisherman. In the last school holidays I took my boys up to Darwin for four days to introduce them to fishing. Owen, my youngest son, managed to show both Callum and I up by catching both the biggest tuna and mangrove jack of the trip.

I love getting away with my boys. Each year my Vineyard Manager Michael Wilson and I take our kids up to Angorichina Station in the Flinders Ranges on a camping trip. We have a real boys’ week - everything is cooked directly on the fire or in the camp oven and by the end of the second day we are all as dirty and smelly as each other. On our last trip we took our intrepid Japanese cellar hand, Soshi, along with us. We were driving through the bush and came across one of the many feral goats that are found throughout the Flinders. As I turned around to point out the goat to the boys, Soshi jumped out of the car and started chasing it. I have never laughed so much, seeing this kamikaze Japanese bloke chasing a feral goat over some pretty rough terrain. He ran a good half a mile before running it down but when he did eventually catch up with it, he was too afraid to grab it because he thought it might bite him! He eventually cast away his fears long enough for us to take a photo. The goat was very patient, allowing us a quick couple of photos before happily running back to join the rest of the mob.

He thought it was the greatest thing he had ever done and decided to celebrate by getting rotten drunk on Bundy and falling asleep by the fire. He provided a great example of the the excesses of alcohol for our young sons, particularly when they saw him the next morning!

The boys were particularly chuffed when they got back from their trip to see that the wine that I make with them, The Celts, had a write up in the latest issue of Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine in Ken Gargett’s article titled “Hidden Gems”, regarding wines that are only available through cellar door. The boys get a real kick out of making the wine. I realised that Owen will be the money man in the partnership when he asked me if the Celts project is making a profit yet!

I have recently been in the US and Canada. I was asked to make a presentation to the LCBO (the Ontario state liquor control board, the world’s most powerful purchasing body in regards to wine. They buy an incredible 10 billion dollars worth of beverages annually). I held an assemblage tasting to showcase the individual Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro components that make up the Steading and Juveniles blends. At the end of the tasting I poured the 02 Juveniles to show how well the wine ages. From that one tasting, the LCBO placed a 600 case order as they knew that they could sell the wine not just as an early drinking wine but as one to put in the cellar. As you all know, I am very passionate about Grenache and I was delighted to see people start to realise how good old vine Grenache is, not just from an immediate drinkability point of view, but from an aging point of view.

In the US I was in Jackson Hole and while there I did a charity wine dinner with Ben Ford, Harrison’s son. The event was a great success, with the Torbreck wines raising US$20 000 for charity. Ben extended an invitation from his father to visit the family ranch the next day, but unfortunately I was leaving that day and was could not take up the offer.

I am pleased to be invited back to the Naples Winter Wine Festival. I have talked my good friend Tetsuya Wakuda into coming over with me, so it will be a Torbreck and Tetsuya private dinner with hosts Jim and Martha Fligg.


Simon Christopher Fisher (‘Fish’)
21-8-1981 – 20-8-2008.

Fish's vineyard
Simon Fisher was a top bloke. A larrikin musician with a cheeky smile, he was our Assistant Cellar Door manager until his untimely passing in late August.

I thought it would be appropriate to name our newest vineyard in his memory. Planted to various clones of Shiraz that I have taken from our best vineyards, it will be a nursery of sorts to the best young Shiraz talent in the Barossa.

Planted into the deep red loams of Marananga in the area immediately surrounding our new winery facility, I am sure that these vines, in time to come, will produce some of our best grapes; and I know that during budburst every season they will be a reminder to us all at Torbreck of our lost but never forgotten friend Fish and his larrikin smile.

Ken Fowler’s Vineyard
As past chairman of the Barossa Valley Grape Growers and with more than 50 years experience growing grapes, Ken is very serious about his vineyard, particularly the soil and its health. His 56 acre vineyard is the highest on the Barossa floor, located in the Western Barossa at Gomersal, and so it is a degree or two cooler throughout the year. He has an intuition with the vines which sees them deliver each and every year – balanced, concentrated, healthy fruit. He is a great farmer.

The jewels in the crown of the incredible vineyard are 5 acres of 120 year old Shiraz; 8 acres of 100 year old Shiraz; 4 acres of 80 year old Shiraz and 4 acres of 100 year old Mataro (Mourvèdre). All the vines are planted on the uniquely sandy loams that characterise this vineyard.

Ken’s vines are almost always under some sort of moderated stress as he gives them just a drop or two of water to keep them healthy and balanced but never enough to make the roots complacent.

Speaking about those roots; I imagine that the root system of Ken’s old vines reach many metres beneath the ground for their water and nutrients which is another reason why they are so resistant and consistent and the exact reason why they express their ‘terroir’ signature each year.

Why am I telling you all this?
After many years of asking, Ken (in his eighties) finally agreed to sell us the property which I am delighted about. We will now take in all the fruit from the vineyard (which had previously provided for many esteemed Barossa wineries) which will add further dimension to our wines and will perfectly complement our other historic property ‘Hillside’ in Lyndoch which was purchased in 2002.

Stewart Fowler, Ken’s son, has joined us to act as farmer/caretaker for the vineyard, ensuring that the same values and dedication to this precious resource are continued.

The Wines
The 2008 whites are the first that we have crushed and juiced on the Torbreck property. As much as we were happy with the way they were done before, it is nice to have total control over the process. The heat in 2008 made for a difficult vintage. Our 2008 Woodcutter’s Semillon (which was picked before the heat struck) goes to show how the great work my Vineyard Manager Michael Wilson has done in the vineyard which enable us to make crisp, concise, pure wines in such difficult conditions and is further testament to the fact that the wines are made in the vineyard. If you get it right in the vineyard the winemaking process is fairly easy.

Surprisingly, in a vintage like 2008 you would think that Viognier would be over the top, but because we were able to pick it early enough and it had better canopy coverage in the vineyard, the Viognier is not quite as extreme as the vintage would suggest. We have decided to blend some in with the Roussanne and Marsanne as it enhances rather than overpowers the wine, which is why we haven’t put it in for the last few years.

The only downside to putting a little Viognier in to our white Rhône blend is that it means that there is even less of the already rare single vineyard 2008 Viognier to go around. Having said that, the wine is delicious, with its classic aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine.

The upside of the vintage is that the warm weather really suited Grenache and Mataro. The 2008 Juveniles is probably the juiciest and punchiest we have made for some time. It is a wine that really exemplifies what the un-oaked style is all about.

As I have said previously, the 2006 vintage was overlooked a little coming as it did after the fabulous 2005. Now we realise that the purity of fruit that is showing in the 2006’s, and is evident in the three wines we have just released from that vintage: The Factor, The Pict and Les Amis.

It was interesting to see that in his latest Australian Wine Companion James Halliday rated the 2005 Factor one point higher (at 96 pts) than the 2005 RunRig. Because RunRig is our flagship, people (understandably) expect it to be our best wine and there’s no doubt that in most cases it is, but this occasionally means that The Factor is overlooked - which is funny, as most wineries would be proud to have a wine of The Factor’s calibre as their flagship. It is in some ways to me a bit like my younger son, Owen. He sometimes feels like he is always going to grow up in the shadow of his older brother but the boys, as with the RunRig and Factor shine in their own light.

When I make wines like the 2006 Les Amis and Pict, I am grateful that I worked for six years under Robert O’Callaghan at Rockford. He taught me that the wines should speak of the soils that the grapes are grown in, rather than the vessel that they are stored in. Even though both the wines are aged for two years in new Tronçais barriques, the oak plays a supporting role in the wine rather than over powering it. We are delighted with the integration that we have got between the oak and the fruit, particularly at this young age. The surprise package for me is the Pict – Mataro generally is fairly unapproachable for its first few years in bottle, but this wine is astonishingly drinkable already. The Les Amis is no slouch either!

We made less of the 2007 Descendant because of the drought affected season. We prune quite late and as such we were able to adjust our level of pruning in respect to the small amount of winter rainfall that we had. We cut vineyards back hard to reduce the crop (by way of reducing bud numbers) and managed to obtain perfectly even crop levels albeit 20% down on 2006. The fruit gained perfect maturity and has a beautiful balance between the Shiraz and Viognier components.

We picked the 2008 The Bothie fruit early to maintain the lovely floral aromatics and the natural acidity means that we avoided the damage done to a lot of vineyards in the heat. We also had one of our best growers, Don Helbig, plant a bit of Brown Frontignac in his vineyard from cuttings that he got from an old vineyard, that give the wine some more complexity without losing any of its freshness.

You will notice that we have not included RunRig in this offering. I have always wanted to release the wine with a little more time in bottle and have finally won my accountant over! The 2006 wine is looking spectacular already and will be even better with a few months extra bottle age. We will release the wine in our first newsletter next year.

For more detailed information on the wines, our vineyards and how we do what we do, our new website ( is up and running. We have had lots of comments from both our mailing list and trade customers about how user friendly and accessible
it is.

On a final note, I would like to wish you and your family a safe and happy festive season and all the very best for the New Year.

Warm regards,

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