When a fine winemaker decides to designate a wine as ‘single vineyard,’ the vineyard typically has at least one attribute that makes it truly exceptional. For Elderton Winery in the Barossa Valley, an eight acre parcel of shiraz, planted in 1894 by Samuel Elderton Tolley, is their jewel in the crown. Since 1984 fruit from this low yielding block has been used to make the highly acclaimed Elderton Command Shiraz.

To have such a large tract of 100+ year old wines on one estate is quite remarkable, as very old vines are, in fact, quite a rare commodity. South Australia was one of the few areas in the world to be spared the full force of the Pylloxera louse, which wiped out a significant portion of the world’s grapes at the turn of the last century. But while South Australia’s old vines were spared the Phylloxera wrath, most unfortunately didn’t survive the onslaught of bulldozers in the 1960s and 1970s, which ripped up most of these undervalued crops.

The Ashmead Family acquired the 72 acre Elderton estate in the late 1970s, and set about bringing the old vines back to health. They joined pioneers like Robert O’Callaghan at Rockford and Dave Powell at Torbreck, who recognised that old vines have the potential to make rich, complex wines of exceptional quality. (See Australia’s Old Vine Wines by Merrill Witt, Cellarit Wine Blog 29 December 2010)

Fruit on old vines tend to ripen more consistently than their younger counterparts and also fare better when dry-farmed. Their mature roots have learned how to dig deep for the necessary moisture and nutrients, a characteristic that also helps to imbue a sense of place or what the French call ‘terroir” in the wine.

“Tremendously aromatic”, “expressive with uncommon depth”, and “seductively rich in texture” are just a few of the descriptors critics have assigned to the Elderton Command Shiraz. Both the 1992 and 2000 vintage were included in the Wine Spectator’s prestigious Top 100 list, and the wine consistently scores 95 points or more in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Aged for 34 months in new American and French oak, The Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman described the 2005 vintage as the best Command yet:

It has sensational depth, warmth and spice over layers of ripe plum fruit, great breadth without weight, and tremendous freshness and purity of fruit. I can’t wait to see what this one becomes in the bottle. I consider it a potential classic. (Command Performance at Elderton by Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator 14 May 2007)

Merrill Witt, Editor