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Willespie Vineyard, Margaret River

The Road to Margaret river and beyond………into the wilderness of the Great Southern wine region.

I walked to Willespie vineyard on a quiet afternoon in late summer, well April it was, so Autumn, 2000. Actually that’s not true, I remember a lovely old lady picked me up and drove me the last two miles to the end of the drive leading to the vineyard. This was the start of something special. I remember tasting their 1996 Cabernet and loving it. So much so that I transported a bottle all the way back to the UK through April, May and June 2000, via Ayers rock, Cape Tribulation and New Zealand. In October 2000 I tasted this wine and thought yes, these guys are special.

The winemaker’s and owner’s are Marian and Kevin Squance. It is family owned and the grapes are Estate grown. This vineyard is tucked in between Cullens and Mosswood, two very high profile wineries. Vasse felix also finishes off the quartet of wineries and this was the first vineyard to plant grapes here in Margaret River in 1979. Willespie followed a few years later. The terroir is perfect for producing some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Australia.

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Western Australia

I first travelled to Perth and Western Australians wine country at the end of my five month tour in May 2000. I had sold my trusty Ford Falcon with the bench “ bed” front seat back in Sydney since my trust in it did not go as far as crossing the Nullarbor. I was now on foot, or thumb as the case may be, hitching south from Perth to Margaret river and then south-east to relatively new Great Southern wine regions. Its great wine country down here, really great! Of all the wine country in Australia this, I was to discover, is the most captivating. They produce only 2% of total production of Australia in this vast region, but what you taste in Margaret River, Manjimup, Pemberton, The Porongurups, Denmark and Albany are top notch. The vines are dotted around amidst a stretched landscape of massive gum trees, Kari and Mari trees, intermingled with lots of Eucalyptus, and these tree’s play an important part in the make up of the wines here; they shade the vines, keeping them cooler and they add a little extra special flavours to the finished product, especially in the red wines where the terroir of gum and eucalyptus really shows through. However its not all big tree country down here: in the Porongurups the country reverts to hills and massive granite boulders and around Mount Barker, just to the west, there are rolling hills of real beauty. I recommend anyone to hire a car or motorhome and spend some time down here. It really is the most individual and uninhabited wine country to be found in this land.

Willespie Vineyards, Margaret River

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Brick Kiln, McLaren Vale

Brick Kiln represents my first venture into McLaren Vale, a wine area just south of Adelaide and I am really excited since I have at last found a straight Shiraz to really yell about! After my experience here in February 2000 when I picked grapes during vintage at a dollar a bucket for two days (that’s all I could handle, it was a real scrum) I had a slightly tarnished view that this wine region did not care for its grapes and land very much. This wide valley that is the vale is not far from the area that I have just written about, the Adelaide Hills, but the climate here could not be more different: they grow Shiraz, they grow a lot of Shiraz, therefore its hot here, as simple as that. It’s also a lovely place to spend a few days wine tasting since they love their food down here, there is a strong Italian influence and many of the wineries have lovely restaurants too. Do check out the Salopian Inn if you are ever down here.

Malcolm and Alison McKinnon, Garry and Nancy Watson and Ian and Pene Davey rescued the site for this wonderful wine when in January 2001 they bought it since the Nine Gums Vineyard, just over the Brick Kiln Bridge, was in a state of disrepair and needed some serious TLC. Eight years on the vineyard produces soft, ripe, luscious fruit and this 2004 Shiraz is now sold out in Australia, which is not surprising. It is Shiraz how it should be and I have been searching for such a wine for well over 2 years and over the last 3 years its created quite an impression.

www.brickiln.com.au

2004 Shiraz

The climate in 2004 was cold from January through to March then it warmed up. There was little rain. Fruit was picked over a two week period from the end of March onwards at beaume readings of 14.8 and 15. The wine was matured in Oak (20% French, 80% American) and bottled on the 10th May 2005.

“ The 2004 Brick Kiln Shiraz is already showing signs of being an exceptional wine, with a high degree of elegance and balance, a peppery finish to the palate and the full body one has come to expect from Brick kiln Shiraz”

Malcolm Mckinnon, co-owner

“ A voluptuous, rich array of dark chocolate and bright red plum and blackberry fruit; fruit driven, minimal oak, carries 15% alcohol easily”

James Halliday

New 2011 vintage here in early 2014

Alcohol: 15.0%

Mr Whirly says

“ Brick Kiln has indeed turned out to be the Shiraz I desired as my first example of this varietal ( on its own that is), that has in many ways put Australia on the map in terms of quality mid to top end price range wines. It is softer than some Shiraz’s further north and not so sweet and sometimes “overheated”. It has a sublime richness with lingering perfumes of vanilla pods and rice pudding! Yet it is fresh and robust with delicate blackberry, cassis and redcurrant intermingled with cocoa, almond and five spice. The wine deserves a decanter as well as a deep, large glass and it also possesses a deep crust at its bottom, so please be careful when pouring the last few drops into your decanter.”

www.brickiln.com.au

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The Barossa Valley and Kabminye Vineyard

The Barossa Valley and roads to it….

I have fond memories of the Barossa valley. I arrived here in March 2000, slightly bedraggled after a five week tour of New South Wales and Victoria vineyards and then a drive up the gorgeous coast highway past the Twelve Apostles and into South Australia. I was keen to get involved in the ensuing vintage that was about to envelope this region and also running out of cash fast.

After driving north from Adelaide I arrived in the valley at the Southern most point and started asking for work, by literally going from door to door. It did not take me long to find it since it was early March and  picking is about to start so there should be much need for quick hands. I met a lovely man, looking in my journal back from 2000, his name was Ross Koch and he owned a number of vineyards just south of Grant Burge that were contracted grapes for vineyards like Grant Burge. He was of German heritage ( Silesia to be exact) as are many here in the Barossa, when in the mid 1850’s they fled their homeland ”en masse” protesting against certain new religious formalities.

Ross allowed me to put my little one man tent right in the middle of his vineyard: it was close to a lake which I bathed in at night time after 10 hours picking and I had a lovely three weeks living out there. The truck would pass at dawn, or very soon after, and pick me up and off we would go to meet up with the gang. I shall recite a few words from my journal:

“….worked all week picking grapes. Hard work, back killing me. A week of sirens waking you up and rounding off your day, quite surreal in some ways, SMOKO (this basically means cigarette break in Australian wine pickers lingo), sirens for lunch and sirens telling us we can go home. Hard work but great fun: fellow workers are incredibly odd but lovely, laughing at the same things every day whether it’s the tractor, siren, buckets or grape clippers. All seem to grow grass, in the hope that they might make $20,000 and then live a life of luxury for a few months.”

After a few weeks here, I must admit I needed a change, but it was a wonderful experience and Ross Koch’s kindness and trust in me showed me that the people in this region are kind and good. I then landed on my feet, came up smelling of roses, when I traveled north through the valley to the north and to Truro. Here I found a little café called Zilm’s and a winery called Craneford, owned by John and Bev Zilm. I then spent the next two weeks working with John in the winery, pressing and mixing grapes and also spent some time in the café with Bev re-designing their service strategy. With this came a lovely bed, a double, and a bath which was most welcome!!

We spent the next three weeks rising with the sun, to avoid the intense heat that would kick in after ten in the morning, picking grapes in little nooks and crannies dotted around the Barossa valley before returning home in the early afternoon, tired and bedraggled, like a tuk-tuk driver in the far off city of Varanesi in India and then beginning the crushing and pressing of the grapes we had picked. We would generally finish at twilight. It’s a long day in the vineyard during vintage. One eat’s, washes and collapses watching Australian rules, which in this part of the world means the Crows from north Adelaide. I found it difficult to get into this game despite John Zilm’s urgings. Much more of interest was tuning into world service on short wave on my battered yet faithful Sony radio, trying to find out what was going on in the outside world and in the world of sport too. I remember one night soon after this as I toured the impressive Flinders ranges which is north of Barossa heading up into the outback, where I walked around Flinders Ridge which was a good days hike and listening to Liverpool, my team, beat Newcastle 2-1 at 2 am by the light of my campfire out in the wilderness. Shouts of joy from inside the tent lit up by a candle in the middle of this vast red soiled landscape, could be heard for miles around!. These were fun times. By the way if you ever get up to the Flinders do try to visit the wonderful Prairie hotel at Parachilna where there’s a great menu and wine list. I ate Emu pate and a burger and then remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable by the looks from the local’s when I ordered a Ricard! Stick to beer up here Simon! From here I ventured up the Oonadatta track as far as the falcon would take me and until the smell of sulphur and loneliness propelled me back south. Also, rain from Queensland were on the way, gushing west along old creeks now flooded with water and this was no place to get stuck!

I enjoyed most of all, picking grapes one morning in an old Grenache bush vineyard which I seem to remember was almost one hundred years old, at least they are now, ten years later. The grapes were few and far but the quality was gorgeous and it stuck home that this wine area has some history and stature behind it. I also remember one morning, driving over to Ardrossan ( of Ayrshire heritage I presume) on the Spencer gulf, on a road which heads west to the Nullarbor. John Zilm had promised me a day of crabbing, for large angular blue crabs on the beaches. Fun I thought and indeed it was. Funny for John that is. He had only bought one pair of Wellington boots and the water was up to one’s knee’s which made it very difficult to move at speed. The hook that we used to catch the blue crab, by hooking it round one of the legs and putting it in the bucket, was harder than I thought it was going to be, and the problem was if you were unsuccessful first time the crab didn’t like you disturbing him and he therefore swung into attack mode with his large pincers spread wide in front of his body. The sight for John was wonderful I am sure, as I tried to flee the crab every few minutes whilst unable to move very fast in the water. I am sure John purposely forgot the Wellington boots. I caught two crabs in about an hour, spending most of my time splashing around in the water and John caught the remaining one hundred or so! We returned home, delighted and full of verve and cooked all the crabs up in a large pot and ate them with a homemade Thai chilli sauce washed down with some aged Semillon. It was a wonderful day. I have lost touch with John and Bev Zilm which is a pity. I know that he is no longer involved in Craneford wines, which is sad. If you out there or if anyone knows where they are please let me know.

Mr Whirly says:

“The southern Rhone experience and in particular Hermitage, yet this wine is from the famous Barossa valley in South Australia. Hand picked Syrah, Mataro (Mourvedre to us Northern Hemisphere’s), Grenache and the final “ Coup de Grace”, 10% Marsanne and Roussanne ( white varietals) with six years bottle age make this soft, alluring and spectacular for Autumn and winter drinking.”

Alcohol: 15.0%

Kabminye Vineyard, Barrossa valley

Kabminye is an aboriginal word meaning “Leading star”. This wine jumped out at me in February 2006 on my last day in South Australia before flying home via Perth to London. It’s a unique blend of Southern Rhone red varietals with a touch of the Hermitage influence, with the 10% addition of white varietals with some Marsanne, Roussanne and Ugni Blanc.

Irma Adeline 2003

This wine honours a unique woman: Irma Adeline Dallwitz.

Irma is descended from one of the first Silesian families to settle in the Krondorf area. The piece of land in which the winery nestles has been in her family since their settlement in the mid 1800’s. In upholding traditional Barossa valley family values while embracing modernity with enthusiasm she truly embodies Kabminye’s philosophy of celebrating the past, present and future of the Barossa valley.

This wine combines the Rhone philosophy of blending Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre with the Hermitage style of adding Marsanne and Roussanne.  Balanced flavours of plum, black cherry, marzipan and mocha.

This unique wine is made with 60% hand picked and pruned premium Shiraz from Tanunda with 20% Mataro ( Mourvedre) and 10% Grenache from Lyndoch, and the balance of white wine varieties including Marsanne, Roussanne, all from the Barossa valley. Each parcel of wine was matured in seasoned French Oak barriques for fifteen months. The result is a very complex fruit driven wine. Drink now or cellar for seven to ten years.

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Pinot Noir, “ The Bonython” 2007

Mr Whirly says:

“ A single vineyard Pinot Noir from one of the most intriguing cool climate Australian wine regions that is indeed a great area for this fickle grape. I love that this wine has a little bottle age and also that the intensity of the fruit on this wine combines with some really soft, subtle characters.  A little “farmyardy” on the nose but not oppressive. Only available, as are all wines from this vineyard in very small quantities. I expect this wine to be quite a long lasting wine that will only get better in the coming 2-4 years.”

Winemakers notes:

“ The Bonython is produced predominantly from the fruit of ten year old vines grown on our Bonython vineyard in the Piccadilly valley. A truly handcrafted wine from vineyard to bottle, it shows strawberry and cherry fruit characters with early complexity which will develop progressively with time. Unfined and unfiltered.”

Alcohol: 14.0%

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Merlot 2005

Mr Whirly says;

“ Mr Whirly’s first straight Merlot, moulded in Saint Emilion over centuries this wine is up there with some of the lovely wines from the right bank of the Gironde. Its a big wine mind.  It need’s a decanter!  I love the fact that it’s now almost 6 years old and when I tasted it recently it was still quite young in its makeup, surely a positive thing for a top quality Merlot from this great winery. Lovely intense autumnal berry fruit.”

Winemakers notes:

“ Grapes were sourced solely from the estate’s Bonython Vineyard planted in 1997. The wine was matured predominantly in French oak barriques prior to blending and bottling.”

Alcohol: 14.5%

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Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Voted second best Sauvignon Blanc by James Halliday in his wine companion for 2007.

Sadly this wine is now sold out, and a new vintage will I hope arrive in 2014

2009 Sauvignon Blanc ( arrived November 2010)

Mr Whirly says;

“This is probably the most beautiful compact wine region in Australia and possibly the most exquisite homestead to match. Benchmark, grassy and Bramley apple Sauvignon Blanc. Wonderful exuberant, mineral Sauvignon that impresses with its vitality from the single vineyard Bonython vineyard. I am not normally a massive fan of this varietal but this wine really does knock me sideways with its length and energy. Gooseberries on the palate big style!! This fruit is now so difficult to find in the UK it seems the only way I can get a smell of  it is to stick my nose in a bottle of this wine: it has  some Elderflower too with an added tropical pineapple depth. Gorgeous with a dozen Colchester or Belon natives down at my old haunt Bibendum Oyster Bar, which I managed for 4 years from 1994 to 1997.”

Winemakers notes:

“ A complex spectrum of aroma’s and flavours from grassy, herbaceous and citrus through to ripe tropical fruits will delight you. The Palate is fresh, dry and crisp. Grapes were hand-harvested from three small blocks on Stony rise, a south facing hillside at the Northern end of the Piccadilly valley.”

Price: (Sold out)

Alcohol: 14.o%

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Barratt Vineyards, The Adelaide Hills

The Adelaide Hills

I drove from Barossa and cut south and across country on Valentines day 2006 and then up into the stunning Adelaide Hills at over 400 metres. This was my second visit, having already delved into the hills for a few days in April 2000 on my mammoth 5 month tour. I was slightly more concerned about time on this Valentines day, being that I was on flight 357 at 19.45 on the 16th February and I needed still to find a great Shiraz ( please see Brick Kiln page)  and Sauvignon Blanc. Sometimes your life is blessed and in these next two days I did indeed manage this feat, indeed completely triumphed and added a wonderful Hermitage blend to make up a trio! This region reminds me a little of California and the drive into the hills overlooking Santa Barbara to the wonderful artistic and wine lovers hamlet called Los Olivos where the restaurant scene from “ Sideways” was filmed. It’s a bit greener up here though, a little windier and the roads are a little more European and small and cute, to clone a California saying. There is also a difference in temperature with the hills of the central coast of California. This is cool climate hill country. Nestled high above Adelaide in their wonderfully cool hills there wines show themselves off impressively against rivals from around the world: I would say that the Sauvignon Blanc bucks the trend of some thoughts that this grape cannot be grown very well on the Australian mainland and its best to venture down south to Tasmania or even New Zealand. I would put this up with a top Chavignol Sancerre  (head past Sancerre on your left down a very narrow road and up a windy valley. There’s a wonderful little Auberge on your left that serve goats cheese omelette and large plates of Charcuterie!) and Hubert Brochard, who has a little tasting room in town. The Rose, now sold out, is made purposely from Pinot noir, and is also of supreme quality.

“ Although the Adelaide Hills is viewed by many as a relatively recent grape growing area, it was, in fact, the first region in South Australia that planted wine vines. However with falling consumer interest in dry table wines and great difficulties in controlling fungal disease, grape growing was abandoned in the early 20th century but it revived again in the 1970’s.”

Lindsay Barratt, Owner of Barratt wines

Lindsay Barratt owns two vineyards in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, the Uley and Bonython, and after my visit here in February 2006 I have to say this homestead and vineyard is probably the most beautiful and picturesque that I have visited throughout Australia and that’s some compliment. Cool climate wines of epic proportions.

Please click on the links below to see the vineyard website as well as individual tasting notes and bottle shots for each wine:

*TBC*

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South Australia

I have a strong affiliation with this state since it is where I spent a great deal of time during the vintage of 2000, picking, pressing, pumping over and even blending Shiraz and Grenache grapes as well as many other Barossa varietals, at Craneford vineyard in Truro. To me its not the most picturesque of states but it is very important in terms of wine for Australia. It contains 42% of the nations  vineyards, is responsible for 46 per cent of the annual crush and makes more than 50% of the annual wine output. I love the varied regions, Barossa valley the home of great Shiraz, Clare valley, great Rieslings and then the Adelaide hills further south, great cool climate Pinot and Sauvignon country, McLaren Vale, hot Shiraz country and then the up and coming southerly region of Langhorne Creek.

I work with three vineyards presently. Please click on the links below.

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Lillypilly Shiraz 2007

Mr Whirly says:

“Like the tactful 2003 Shiraz this wine does not suggest it’s in any way Aussie Shiraz at almost 10 pounds a bottle. Not as much toffee as the very popular 2003 vintage yet a wonderful example of a lighter, fresh Shiraz from Australia which is a welcome relief from the majority of bigger styles of this grape that we are normally use to. This is quite a feminine Shiraz from Australia, not at all “ big and brash and manly.”  Still holds some lovely sticky toffee pudding and caramel essences and more proof of how clever the winemaker is here at Lillypilly.”

Alcohol: 14.5 %