So far this year I have attended the usual wine events and seminars, but without doubt the most memorable of them was the inaugural Grenache Symposium held in June in the Rhône Valley. The purpose of this symposium was to gather all the best producers of Grenache from around the world and discuss how to raise the profile of this sometimes-maligned variety. Most of the heavy hitters from the Grenache arena were there and many areas were discussed, from production techniques through to marketing. Undeniably the most famous region for Grenache based wines is Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the rest of us did everything short of begging these guys to acknowledge the varietal on their labels. I'm not holding my breath waiting for the French producers to do something to help out their fellow winemakers, but we had to ask. We are already giving them a nudge quality wise, especially considering all the old vineyards both here and in McLaren Vale and, in comparison, our wines made from Grenache are much better value for money.
Now, I have to come clean and admit that all these nasty French winemakers are actually good friends of mine. I was very flattered when the Châteauneuf-du-Pape guys including Vincent Avril from Clos des Papes, Daniel Brunier from Vieux Télégraphe and Philippe Cambie from Clos St Jean all told me the 1998 Steading that I was showing at the final tasting looked like it had been made 20 kilometres down the road. High praise from the French indeed!
On my way down to the event I stopped off in one of my favourite cities in the world, Lyon. Not only is this town the gastronomic capital of France, but it also has one of the best wine retailers in the country. My next stop after Lyon was to catch up with my friends the Chaves and knowing that Jean Louis is very particular about the wine he drinks (which always makes a visit somewhat challenging), I spent two hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon digging through the shelves to find wines befitting J.L.'s palate before another memorable meal at Bocuse. After getting down on my knees and shuffling through numerous bottles I struck gold. The first gem I found was a 1952 Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde from Chapoutier. As J.L. told me later, this was one of the last wines made by Michel's grandfather. This wine was unmistakeably from the region, showing all the classic hallmarks of great Côte-Rôtie and one of the best older bottles I have ever had from the appellation. The second bottle I discovered was even more remarkable: a 1972 Romanée-Saint-Vivant from the cellars of Leroy. Even though not as old as the Rhône wine, this was one of those creations that makes you realise Burgundy is the greatest wine region on earth! Only a week later I was having dinner in a great little one star restaurant in Bandol and I ordered a 1995 wine made from the same vineyard (now under the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti banner) and no greater example of terroir could you find. Even though twenty years separated the two wines they were eerily similar and no doubt made from the same patch of dirt.
I've just returned to the office after having a quick dinner at the Tanunda Club with my CFO David Adams, which leads perfectly into my next topic of conversation. Before I do however, I must tell you about the unusual greeting we received as we arrived at "The Club" as we call it. On the weekend, Tanunda won the local football association Grand Final, so we should not have been surprised to find several members of the local team sitting naked outside of the building (as you would on a cold night). Seems like a strange way to celebrate you say - I'm sure these boys have not been home since their win, and at this stage are feeling no pain! Anyway, over a perfectly cooked piece of Barossa beef, David and I enjoyed a bottle of the new release 2007 RunRig. I must admit that when I'm not working I normally don't drink my own wine, (being fearful of developing a cellar palate) however I'm glad that David had to drive back to Adelaide and only had one glass. As you know 2007 was a challenging vintage and the advantage of making a multiple site wine really came into its own. The eight different vineyards we source fruit from for this wine have come together beautifully in this blend, each expressing very singular examples of Barossa Shiraz, then when blended together have resulted in a very complex and savoury concoction.
A few weeks ago we had Lisa Perotti-Brown, who now reviews Australian wine for The Wine Advocate in the tasting lab and at the end of the line up of all the current releases, I opened a bottle of the 1995 RunRig. After Lisa had told me how she thought the '95 was showing fabulously and had many years life left in it, she asked me why I had chosen that particular older vintage to taste. I told her it was because the '95 vintage and the '07 vintage were remarkably similar and that was how I expected the young wine to look after a decade or so in the cellar.
As many of you will already know, I felt we were beaten to the punch with some of the ripeness levels in some of our vineyards in the 2008 season, so accordingly I have already declassified all the fruit from the RunRig sources and there will be no release under that label next year. I make no excuses for the fact that I think RunRig is as good a Barossa wine as you will find and if a wine from a year is not up to my high standards, I prefer not to make it rather than make lame statements as to why a particular vintage of the wine is not as good as it should be.
The release of the 2007 RunRig also happens to coincide with the new five yearly Classification of Australian Wines by the auction house Langton's. I'm delighted to tell you that this wine has gained entry to the highest category, Exceptional, along with other Australian classics including Grange and Hill of Grace. This is a huge vindication of all that I and my staff at Torbreck have strived for over the last 15 years or more, and gives us great encouragement to keep working to the exacting benchmarks we have set for ourselves. The other good news for us regarding the Langton's Classification is that our single vineyard Shiraz Viognier, Descendant, has also earned a place on the list, which is quite fitting considering this wine is directly related to the RunRig.
We have organised dinners in both Sydney and Melbourne to celebrate and welcome our mailing list customers to come and join us. The dinners will be a retrospective, featuring each vintage of RunRig I've made since 1997 including the new release 2007. As usual with our dinners, they sell out fast so it will be on a first come basis. The Sydney dinner is on October 27th at Prime Restaurant, Martin Place and the Melbourne dinner is at Grossi Florentino on November 23rd. To book for either of these dinners, please contact Tracey Gray on 08 8562 4155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm sure by now you have all seen the sensation that has been created by the release of our inaugural vintage of The Laird. When I decided to place my neck on the chopping block by charging so much for a bottle of wine, it came as no surprise that it caused a level of controversy. The only real dissention came from the Barossan winemaking community (although on a bright note I was congratulated by one local winemaker for raising the bar). Of course the acid test is whether or not we have been able to sell the wine and I'm happy to report that we have less than 50 dozen 750 ml bottles and a few dozen magnums left. The sales have been evenly placed across our more successful markets. By the time we release the 2006 vintage next year, the 2005 will be safely tucked up in people's cellars or already sold through the wine menus of the restaurants capable of listing such high level offerings.
Speaking of restaurants, we have recently listed our new release Natural Wine from 2010. This wine is 100% Grenache taken from my home vineyard (which is organically grown) and then made naturally with no intervention in the winemaking process. This means no addition of yeast, acid, sulphur or oak so as to be as natural an expression of the terroir of the vineyard as can be. We only sell this wine in restaurants by the glass, so check out your local to see if they got the nod. This winemaking philosophy is hardly new, however I have been enjoying the experimentation in the winery to make a wine as close to nature as possible. We already make our wines at Torbreck in a non-interventionist style but it has been educational and fun to go the Full Monty!
There are several other new vintage wines we have just released, the most exciting of them being the 2009 Woodcutter's Shiraz. Once again I'm sure you all remember me banging on about how great I thought the '09 harvest was and how I believe it to be the best vintage I've experienced in 27 years in the Barossa . Now is your chance to see if I know what I'm talking about! The '09 is all pure Barossa fruit, dark chocolate and dark berries with wonderful lifted aromas and if you can find a better bottle of wine at this price let me know. The wine has just a touch of oak as we have begun to replace our foudres, adding four new ones to the mix every year, which gives the wine an extra level of complexity. This is without a doubt the best Woodcutter's Shiraz to date - and if you don't believe me, you know where to find me!
2010 is the new release of the dessert wine we make called The Bothie. Back in 2004 one of my favourite winegrowers, Don Helbig, planted a new vineyard with the brown variety of Frontignac (or Muscat Brun à Petit Grains) and the new Bothie is made entirely from Don's vineyard. The wine still possesses the classic floral aromatics we expect from this variety but the slightly darker berries give the wine a little more body, albeit still being light on its feet with plenty of refreshing acidity. As the vineyard is only small we have made just 300 dozen. This wine is a perennial favourite in Cellar Door, so we hope it will not run out before the 2011 comes to life.
After several years when the ripeness needed to make the wine style got away from us, in 2010 we have a small amount of our rosé, Saignée. This wine is certainly a style for foodies, as usual for us made with 100% Mataro, fermented bone dry and aged for six months in seasoned French oak. We only made 200 dozen so unfortunately it won't be available for tasting in Cellar Door so those that enjoy a more traditional style of light red with lifted varietal spice will have to get in quick, as once the weather warms up restaurants will be all over us like a rash to snatch this one.
We have also just released the 2008 Celts, made from the small patch of Shiraz vines planted next to the tasting room. Now as my boys are both in boarding school and I have to wait until the end of the all important rowing season, it's a struggle to get them in the same place at the same time to help with the picking and winemaking. My eldest, Callum, who is sure he is destined to take over the reins at Torbreck one day, loves to get involved, however my youngest, Owen, is not convinced that learning to make wine will be any help in becoming a lawyer/doctor/vet or whatever takes his fancy at the ripe old age of 14! All that being said, they have both had their hands and feet well and truly in this wine (thank heavens for the alcohol)!
As usual, we only make a hat full of this wine and the '08 is a big number with lots of brooding dark berry flavours and lashings of finely tuned French oak. This one is available exclusively at Cellar Door and via our mailing list, so drop in for a taste next time you're over this way. On that note, I would also like to thank all of our loyal customers that have been into cellar door over the last year. We love to see you at Torbreck and on behalf of Scott and his team, we thank you for your support.
For now I'm sure that's plenty for you to think about. I'll get back to you later in the year to talk through our wines that will be ready for release just before Christmas, especially the 2010 whites.
All the best and happy drinking (in moderation, of course).