If you’ve been keeping up with the weather in South Australia over the past few weeks, no doubt you’re feeling a bit of sympathy for the state’s wineries. Extreme heat and violent unexpected storms are just two examples of the all too familiar perennial challenges of climate change.
But the old saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ seems particularly apt for describing McLaren Vale’s response over the last couple of decades to a changing climate. This South Australia region, framed by Adelaide to the north, the Mt Lofty Ranges to the east and south, and the Gulf St Vincent to the west, has developed a well-earned reputation for innovation. According to the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown “perhaps more so than any other GI in Australia, [McLaren Vale] has made huge strides towards clearly defining and differentiating itself in recent years with remarkable results that can be tasted in the wines.” (Australia’s McLaren Vale: Geological Wines by Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate 28 February 2014)
One of the leaders in a McLaren Vale trend towards specialisation is Yangarra Estate, a single-vineyard estate devoted solely to producing wines from the best grape varieties of the southern Rhone, which lies on the north-west Mediterranean coast. Like many other McLaren Vale wineries Yangarra believes that McLaren Vale has the “the best Mediterranean climate on Earth.”
Purchased by Jackson Family Wines in 2000, an international wine group that also owns the renowned Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard, Yangarra now spans 420 acres with 250 acres of certified biodynamically-farmed vineyards. The rest of the land is preserved as native vegetation, creeks and natural corridors.
Veteran winemaker Peter Fraser, who assisted the Jackson Family with its acquisition of Yangarra, was appointed Head Winemaker in 2001. Last year he received one of Australias most prestigious winemaking awards, the 2016 James Halliday Winemaker of the Year.
Working closely for many years with vineyard manager Michael Lane, the pair have been evaluating the potential of lesser known or rare Rhone red varieties including cinsaut, carignan, graciano, counoise and muscardin, picpoul noir, terret noir and vaccarese, and for the whites, grenache blanc, bourboulenc and picpoul blanc.
Yangarra’s reputation has been firmly built on the classic Rhone red varieties of shiraz and grenache and the white varieties of viognier and roussanne. First planted at Yangarra in 1946, the unirrigated bushvine grenache is the winery’s keystone variety. In recent years the wines produced from the reinvigorated grenache vineyards have received top scores and high praise from the world’s top wine critics.
Halliday described the 2013 Yangarra Estate Vineyard High Sands Grenache ($130 per bottle) as in “another league altogether”, remarking that “there is a total fusion between the fruit and tannins” and “a bright display of a blaze of red fruits, so vivid that the structural components are relegated to the back of the stage, where they will remain for the life of the wine.” Perrotti-Brown was equally as enthusiastic about the wine: “Yangarra hits a whole other level with this vintage of High Sands! It’s delicious now, but should greatly reward another 3-5 years of patience and drink a further 20+ years. Wow.”
Just as Fraser and Lane have adopted an experimental approach to new varieties, Fraser has not been afraid to try new winemaking techniques to lower alcohol levels and enhance the freshness and and fruit characters of the wines. As Halliday notes, Fraser has embraced partial or total whole-bunch and/or whole-berry fermentation of shiraz and grenache, including at times cold-soak pre-fermentation in small open fermenters, an approach more frequently encountered in cooler regions. Recently he has also started using 675-litre ceramic eggs for red wine fermentation. Together with the emphasis on bringing out the best in the biodynamic vineyards, the quality of these excellent wines just keeps improving!
by Merrill Witt, Editor
Photo Credit: The Wine Idealist, courtesy Yangarra Estate