Category Archives: Australian Old Vine Wines

Feb 02 2012

Elderton Command Shiraz: A Classic Example of a Single Vineyard Expression

Posted on February 02, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

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” … Read the rest

Feb 02 2012

What makes ‘single vineyard’ wine so special?

Posted on February 02, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In a recent article on the Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz, the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown gives a great deal of thought to the definition of a ‘single vineyard’. She asks “Is there a limit on how big it can be? Is there an implied uniformity of terroir and vine in these words, and to what extent is that even possible?” She argues that “when taken to its ultimate extreme, the words ‘single vineyard’ should conjure images of miniscule parcels of near mono-geological turfs that have long been married to a single varietal soul-mate, perhaps Romanee-Conti (1.8 ha), Le Montrachet (8 ha) or Clos Sainte Hune (1.67 ha).” (Henschke Hill of Grace: Australia’s Greatest Single Vineyard Wine? by Lisa Perrotti-Brown, eRobertParker.com, 6 February 2012)

But whatever the size of the vineyard or the number of distinct blocks of varying soils, vine ages and varieties (the Hill of Grace Vineyard consists of 8 blocks between a half and one hectare in size), Perrotti-Brown argues that a wine should only be classified as a ‘single vineyard’ wine if it represents a “thoughtfully delineated example of elevated quality that stands apart from that which surrounding vineyards can achieve and expresses something, well, singular.”

The custodians of world’s greatest single vineyard wines certainly devote a great deal of time and attention to yielding the best results from their single vineyards no matter their size.  Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), for example, converted his vineyards to organic in 1986 and more recently biodynamic, because he believes that making wine as naturally as possible is the best way to express the nuances of his fabled terroir. (see Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: The Quintessential Expression of Terroir by Merrill Witt, Cellarit Wine Blog, 12 May 2011)

Perrotti-Brown notes that fifth … Read the rest

Dec 12 2010

Australia’s Old Vine Wines

Posted on December 12, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The list of acclaimed wines made from old vines in Australia are many and would include, to name a few, such renowned names as Henschke Hill of Grace, Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Torbreck RunRig, Wendouree Shiraz, Chris Ringland Shiraz, Clarendon Hill AstralisD’Arengberg The Dead Arm and Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Old Vine Shiraz.

So what makes old vine wine so special? Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator addressed this very question in his article If it Says “Old Vine,” Will You Buy?: The benefits of old vines are debatable, particularly to those who don’t have them, 15 June 2010.  “Of all the many ambiguities of wine”, Kramer said, ” ‘old vines’ seems to be one of the more troublesome. Every grower I’ve met, everywhere in the world, who has old vines insists that older vines are better. Yet I’ve met a fair number of growers who suggest that “old-vine admiration” is, if not bunk, then certainly overstated and overrated. Not coincidentally, these same scoffers are not in possession of old vines.”

Before launching into a discussion about the merits of older vines over their younger counterparts, here’s a few points about old vines that are beyond dispute.

Old Vines are Fairly Unique

Wine-making is thousands of years old but surprisingly old vines, or at least the really old vines of 60 to 100+ years, are in fact not that common. Their scarcity is due to a number of factors, but most importantly is a consequence of the damage caused by the vine destroying Phylloxera louse, which at the turn of the 20th century wiped out vine stocks throughout Europe and especially in the wine-making centre of France.

Fortunately, Australia was spared the full force of the Phylloxera curse. Phylloxera hit Victoria and New South … Read the rest