TORB’s Tenth SA Tour Diary (The May 2008 South Australian Tour Diary)


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Chapter Five– Monday – The Barossa to Coonawarra


My cold, at long last, is getting better. I was happy but the same could not be said about Brian, or for that matter, his attitude towards me. The cold that he maintains I gave him is worse. Despite his casting aspersions on my good character, in a fit of magnanimous generosity, I gave him the balance of the cold medication that had worked so well for me. The way the guy is moping around, anyone would think he has got Dengue Fever. He should be strong like me. My cold was much worse; it was as bad as Ebola and I never complained, even when I thought I was going to die. Yet he has a few little sneezes and anyone would think he was going to die the way he carried on. Boy; what a bloody wimp. (Brian: Censored, censored, censored!)  Anyway, at least he was strong enough to drive most of the way to Coonawarra.


When John arrived, I could not believe the state he was in. Despite having been out the night before, with lots of terrific wine to drink, John showed up this morning looking really good. (Brian: I don’t think Ric is over the cold yet, it’s affecting his eyesight and/or judgement now.)  We were in mixed company, so he must have been behaving himself. I didn't notice, because I wasn't! John said, "It's a novel idea waking up in the morning after not having had too much to drink the night before. It's quite unusual and I don't think I want to get used to it.”


On too many occasions I have experienced the “breakfast,” if that’s what you can call it, available on the way to Coonawarra. The insipid, dishwater they call coffee in the service stations is undrinkable and the food is close to inedible. Therefore, it's an excellent idea to avoid breakfast on the road if possible. That's why we decided to have breakfast in the Barossa before we left. We were waiting outside the Tanunda Bakery when it opened at 8 a.m. Toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches all round; naturally two for John, and last the medicinal injection of poppy seed streusel bun for me. After a couple of quick belts of espresso coffee we were on our way.


We stopped for a quick bite of lunch at Naracoorte. Civilisation has finally come to this sleepy little hollow. About three doors up from John's favourite pie shop, a Subway sandwich shop has gone in. We split up for lunch and I had a healthy, wholemeal Sub whilst the boys pigged out on pies. We dropped John at the Prince of Wales pub in Penola and Brian and I checked into the Alexander Cameron Motel. For $100 a night, this place is very good value. It's only a couple of years old, the rooms are a good size, and are well laid out.


Our first appointment wasn't until three o'clock so we decided to call in at Parker Coonawarra Estate first. Every time I have been to this winery, to some extent I have been disappointed. No matter what I have done; no matter what I have said, I have never managed to taste the First Growth at cellar door. I think I could have turned handstands, foamed at the mouth, begged pleaded and crawled, and it would make no difference; the cork would have stayed in the bottle. The wine was much too precious to squander on the likes of the Bigot Bros and the Pie King. I thought on this occasion, there is no point of even asking, we would just go in and taste the rest of their wines.


Parker 2005 Favourite Son Cabernet is a blend of Coonawarra (20%) and Wrattonbully (80%) grapes. It's a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Merlot that sells for $23 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet showed slightly oxidised/varnished note and ripe, plummy fruit. Abundant powdery tannins combined with lively acid and pure, deep fruit to form an ample-weight very firm, solid wine that has an agreeable complexity. Loads of sweet fruit hits the palate with intense plum and milk chocolate; it then flows into a sappy mid-palate and through to a sour cherry finish. There is nothing subtle about it, but its approachable now. It would be better if the tannins were softer and there was less sappiness, but it still holds interest. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.


Parker 2005 Favourite Son Coonawarra Shiraz sells the $23 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows spice, pepper and plum. Smooth, unobtrusive tannins back the distinct fruit in this ample-weight wine that has a supple consistency and an agreeable level of complexity. Coffee, almost sour cherry like flavours, chocolate and pepper complete the package. The flavour profile seems disjointed on the finish. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value. There are much better wines around at this price point.


Parker 2004 Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $34.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is tight and shows dusty, varietal notes. Abundant, silky, drying tannins are beautifully balanced to the pure, deeply-seated, strong fruit in this ample-weight, solid wine that has a soft consistency. Delightful red cherry fruit, milk chocolate and loads of dried oregano complete the package. The wine needs time to integrate and is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window from 2012 to 2019. A typical, high quality, mid range, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon; what this area does so well.


Parker 2004 First Growth sells $79.95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet was completely closed down, but it was deadly serious. The wine showed great balance and the juicy fruit, although almost lean in weight, produced an elegant feel. Loads of tight, dusty tannins finish long and dry. Black cherry, blackcurrant, dark chocolate, oregano and tobacco leaf flavours are moreish. A tight, ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and solid structure, the wine needs time to show its best. It's a classy drop with loads of potential. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, the rating will improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2013 and 2021.


I don't believe it. We got to try the first growth. And I didn't even have the bleed profusely all over the floor to get it. The elderly lady who normally served us was not there, and the lady who did serve us actually volunteered to open it without us having to beg (Brian: Well, not too much anyway, John and I worked on the case while Ric was off writing his TN near the flash new spittoon a fair way from the tasting counter.). That was a very pleasant change. Their new Favourite Son range didn’t impress. The Rathbone family who owns Parkers (and Mt Langi and Yering Station to name just two) don't often get it wrong, but on this occasion, they have missed the mark. In this competitive environment, these wines are not up to standard for the price. Given that the wines are made by Peter Bissell (Balnaves and Punters Corner), one suspects that the viticulture, or the quality of the grapes provided, or both are the root cause of the problem.


Our next appointment was it Wynns Coonawarra Estate. For as long as I can remember, up until about 10 years ago, this winery was The Coonawarra Benchmark against which all others were judged. Unfortunately somewhere along the way, Southcorp lost the viticultural plot and for many years the vineyards were not properly maintained. The poor viticultural practices finally caught up with them, and the quality of the wines had suffered accordingly. Finally, someone in Southcorp woke up and realised you can't produce benchmark wines from poorly maintained vines, and introduced a vineyard regeneration programme. This programme was outlined in a previous Feature Story.


The way large corporations like Southcorp and Fosters work and act, to the outsider, it sometimes looks like it lacks consistency. I certainly can't make much sense about a lot of it. Take Penfolds for example, from everything I can see, the parent company has always kept a fairly tight rein on the operation. By comparison, a winery like Seppelt in Victoria, to the outsider at least, it seems as though they were pretty much left to do their own thing. In the case of Wynns, the control seemed to be more in line with the Penfolds model. When I made this appointment, I just expected to taste the wines and nothing more. However, I was told they had something new to show me. Something about some new fermenters; it didn't sound particularly exciting but as they were our hosts, we could not be rude and had to go with the flow.


...Forman Brian! Looks the part. And John looks like he needs a shovel to lean on.


Every time I have been to Coonawarra, I have tried to make an appointment to see the winemaker, Sue Hodder. After all those trips, it's never happened. Something has always come between us. On this occasion, it was a road show. Wynns were releasing the new wines the following month and Sue was interstate at some trade tastings. She arranged for Julian Langworthy, her assistant winemaker to look after us.


Julian has been in Coonawarra for five years. The first half was spent at the Jamieson Run winery and the second at Wynns.


We arrived at the winery and asked for Julian. What happened next surprised me. I had expected we would probably go to the lab/tasting room, but they had a different agenda. Firstly, we had to sign in. As part of the sign in process I was issued with an A5 sheet of paper outlining the “Rules of Visitors.” The rules mention what you must do our arrival, where you may park your car, where you may eat, drink, smoke, and chew gum (chewing gum is not permitted except in the designated lunch rooms.) Naturally it also covers health and safety, what to do with your rubbish, the use of personal protective equipment, and the emergency evacuation procedures. On the back of the rules is a map of the site that can be used if you either get lost, or if there is an emergency. Unfortunately they don't provide a magnifying glass, or a Seeing Eye dog, so if there was an emergency, some of us may have to resort to common sense and follow the signs. (As an aside, when I dictated the last sentence, my Dragon Voice Recognition software typed, “Seeing Eye” (dog,) as “hi John.” I kid you not. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.) We were also issued with hard hats and fluorescent jackets. I never realised tasting wine was so dangerous. I must get a set of this equipment for when I tasted wine at home. One has to be properly equipped and prepared if they are going to be a good wine taster.


Julian then took us out of the administration building and into the working part of the winery. What the hell, if you have seen one industrial sized working winery, you have pretty much seen them all. Or so I thought.


We walked past an older winery building and were told that was where they used to make all the red wine. There used to be 24 fermenters there, somewhat 12 tonne, and some were 23 tonne. The process was very labour intensive. The stainless-steel fermenters had been there so long, by the time they were removed last year, they were paper-thin. For a company that goes to the trouble of issuing written rules to their visitors, an occupational health and safety exposure like this was completely unacceptable. So the fermenters were decommissioned and their twins were built and re-commissioned in a different area of the winery. Whilst they were building these, they also built some open fermenters, something that had not been available to them since the 1950s.


According to Julian, Rota fermenters are perfectly suited to Coonawarra Cabernet. He said, "They are often maligned. With the lower alcohol that we have in the Coonawarra, the Rota fermenters retain a lot of the floral aromatics. One of the problems with Rota fermenters is sulphide production. They can often produce stinky wines. The wines are we make in Coonawarra are quite clean, and Cabernet is cleaner than Shiraz, so when you don't have that sulphide production problem, Rota fermenters can be very good.


A roto fermenter and some of the new tanks....................................


The new fermenters are a mirror image of the original fermenters and range in size from 12 to 23 tonne capacity. The decision to keep the fermenters the same was done deliberately in order to maintain winemaking consistency. However, they have been updated with modern technology which reduces manual handling and enables far better refrigeration than was available 50 years ago when the original fermenters were commissioned. They have also built some 50 tonne fermenters as well.


To give you an idea about the size of this operation, it has the capacity to do 30,000 tonnes of grapes, but due to staging requirements, they normally shoot for around about 25,000. That's about eighteen million bottles of wine. It’s not all Wynns wine. They are the primary Coonawarra and Limestone Coast winemaking facility for the Fosters group.


We walked from reception which is almost at one end of the winery, right to the other end and then we got to what “the something new we want to show you” was all about. It was a brand new, five million-dollar open fermentation shed. The engineers sat down with the winemakers and asked them what they wanted. The result was a Premium Winery within a winery. Between four percent and eight percent of their production goes through the Premium Winery. This is where the John Riddoch, Michael, and the single vineyard wines, as well as the highest quality components of the Black Label, are made.


The twenty-four open fermenters can hold between 2 tonnes and 10 tonnes of fruit each, and the whole operation is highly automated. It also runs completely independently from the main winery. It has its own heating, cooling, crusher etc.


Once they are loaded, three cellar hands per shift can quite happily run the whole operation. Once the grapes have been through the slow crusher, the cellar hand pushes a button; moves the stainless-steel arm into position and the fermenter is filled. Cover them with a cap and gas them up. Go over to the control panel, plug in the fermenter number, tell it how many days are required, push a few more buttons and come back when the cake is finished baking. It's a little more complicated than that, but not much more. Once it's done, the crane picks up the fermenter and places it in to the cradle; it’s tipped out into the press and Bob's your uncle (or these days he could be your aunt.) It's pressed out in one go. The wine spends between six and fourteen days in here then it’s off to the barrel storage shed.


Whole bunch fermentation is possible, and the fermenters have the ability to either pump over or plunge. The plungers are also controlled by pushbutton electronics and are operated by using the crane. The mobile pump units are on wheels and just clip on and clip off the valves. It's also all electronically controlled. This equipment provides an enormous level of flexibility.


............................Some of the new fermenters in the "Winery within a winery"


I can understand why Wynns are both happy and proud of this new fermentation shed. It certainly is state-of-the-art and manual handling has virtually been eliminated.


From there, we headed back to the main building. Under the main building is a barrel storage room. It's just one of many on the premises. However, this room is a little different. It's used exclusively for barrel trials. There are about 150 barrels in here. That’s a $200,000 oak trial. So why do they need such a big trial? Take the Black Label for example. It is normally matured in somewhere between 25% and 35% new oak, so oak selection is critical. Even more so when you consider that at any one time, they have about 5,000 barrels of Black Label alone.


Wynns 2007 Shiraz will sell for approximately $18 when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. The wine had just been bottled so was not showing its best. The bouquet was slightly stinky but there was some pleasant, ripe, sweet peppery fruit below. It's driven by loads of fresh fruit which are adequately supported by silky tannins, and come together to form a medium-weight wine with a soft consistency, and agreeable level of complexity. Chocolate, hints of pepper and creamy tannins finish dry and long with a touch of tar. This wine will be hugely popular but needs time to settle down. The rating of Agreeable with **** for value does not do it justice and it will increase once it gets over its bottle shock; drink from 2009 to 2015.


Wynns 2006 Cabernet Shiraz Merlot sells for approximately $18 and is sealed under screwcap. The wine is a blend of 50% cabernet, 40% Shiraz and 10% Merlot. It is affectionately known as the “red stripe” Wynns. The bouquet is black showing tar, blackberry, plum and light, leafy notes with lifted menthol aromatics. The juicy-fruit driving the wine is beautifully framed by abundant, silky, chewy, dusty tannins which form a medium-weight, supple wine with a solid structure and an agreeable complexity. Plums, violets, blackcurrant, and chocolate flavours are contrasted by a slightly sappy mid-palate and a long, drying finish. The wine is approachable now but will improve. Rated as Recommended with **** for value (based on a street price of $15) it will comfortably last till 2015.


Wynns 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $30 when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows tight varietal characters underpinned by clean and bright fruit. The abundant, silky tannins fully coat the mouth and provide solid support to the deeply-seated, pure fruit. It's a muscular-weight, supple wine that is very tight and has a well-developed level of complexity. Blackcurrant, rich chocolate, and leafy, minty characters provide all the flavour that should be found in a good Coonawarra Cabernet. It shows a little warmth on the palate but that's nothing to be concerned about. At last, after 12 years this wine is back to its former glory. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as it reaches its peak drinking window between 2016 and 2026.


This wine is made from the top 20% to 25% of the Cabernet fruit available (after the John Riddoch has been selected.) The emphasis has come back to being on quality. The wines sells out every year, well in advance of the next release, so they could certainly sell more, but it won't be at the cost of a quality. They are looking to grapes with ripe, dark rich fruit flavours and also with good Cabernet structure. The wine is matured in a combination of both French and American oak. According to a Wine Ark survey, this is the fourth most commonly sold wine in Australia today. According to a Wine Ark survey, this is the fourth most cellared wine in Australia.


Wynns 2005 Messenger Block Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $35 when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is a wonderful combination of floral aromatics and dirty earthy characters. The ripe fruit is delightful and together with the smooth, drying tannins provide a lovely, harmonious balance to the wine. Juicy-fruit delivers off-sweet blackberry; the vanillin oak provides milk chocolate and it has hints of dried herbs. A muscular-weight wine with a supple consistency, the structure is solid, tight and shows some elegance. This is a slight step up in quality over the previous single vineyard releases, and is a more complete wine. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should increase as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2020.


Wynns 2005 Michael Shiraz will sell for approximately $70 when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. The wine is now matured in almost all French oak. The bouquet shows blackberry, plum, hints of black pepper, and spice. It's a well-balanced wine and the deeply-seated, strong fruit delivers plum, pepper, blackberry and hints of oregano which are offset by prominent coffee oak. The acid is fresh and the tannins silky. A muscular-weight, supple wine with a solid structure and well-developed complexity, it's a good wine but from a personal perspective I don't like the oregano component, although many will. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2022.


Wynns 2005 John Riddoch will sell for approximately $80 when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is broody but fresh and clean. This is a seriously good wine with masses of pure, fresh, ripe fruit that is almost seamlessly meshed with smooth, fine tannins and crisp acid. Dark chocolate, blackcurrant, coffee, hints of cigar box, tobacco leaf, plum and cherry flavours together with all sorts of other good things finish on very long, drying tannins. It's a full-bodied wine with a supple consistency and a tight, solid structure. It's more approachable than previous versions and is rated Excellent with *** for value, but the rating may improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2015 and 2030. The work that Wynns have done in their vineyards is starting to pay big dividends.


When tasting these wines, it's easy to see the commitment to the vineyard regeneration programme is paying dividends. The wines are right back to the level that made their name synonymous with quality, and established them as the Coonawarra benchmark. It's also good to see that the commitment goes beyond the vineyard. The new premium fermentation facility is impressive. Five million dollars may be a drop in the ocean to a company like Fosters, but if you look at the investment from the bottom-up, rather than the top down, the perspective is completely different. The $5 million has been spent on one small component of the entire Wynns operation. An important component no doubt, but it is just one component in this fairly large operation. Hopefully Fosters will let Wynns continue to do what they do so well, and will keep providing them with the necessary funds to ensure that they can continue to pump out excellent quality wine.


Finally, it’s interesting to note that although this facility does the crushing (and presumably makes all the Fosters wines for this region including Jamiesons Run and Lindemans,) not one single mention was made of these brands during our whole visit!  The other two brands do their own separate cellar door facility, by the focus seems to be fairly and squarely on the Wynns label.


Although it was a long day, from a wine tasting perspective it was an easy one and this was the last wineries of the day. Along the way, with asked people where the best spots for dinner were but unfortunately the best ones were closed on Monday and Tuesday nights. The Bushman’s Inn is fairly new but the recommendations were reasonably positive, so we decided to eat there. Its part of the Coonawarra Motor Lodge complex.


For a starter we decided to share freshly-baked garlic ciabatta bread and some potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.


The first bottle of wine opened was a Leasingham 1996 Classic Clare Shiraz. It was horribly oxidised. Such a shame as it is a magnificent wine. The next wine opened was a Le Testa 1999 Shiraz. It was singing. Unfortunately the glasses provided were not exactly great and nosing the wine was next to impossible. A silky-smooth wine, it fills the mouth completely, both length and breadth, and finishes with fantastic intensity. The fruit is pristine and fresh. Tannins are unobtrusive but back the wine solidly. Flavours of plum, cherry, blueberry and chocolate finish clean; it’s an excellent wine in every respect.


The Bushman is a lovely restaurant from aesthetic viewpoint. It's very rustic. However it has bare wooden floors, solid walls and absolutely nothing to deaden the sound. It was only half full when we were there, and even then it was very noisy, even with people speaking quietly. If it was full, it would be painful on the ears. I sometimes really wonder about the “smarts” of people setting up restaurants. In a wine region, perish the thought, but some of your potential customers may actually like drinking wine. Even worse, some of them may actually work in the wine business and like to sniff the stuff occasionally. The odd, and they must be very odd customers indeed, may also like to do this from time to time too. Given that many of the potential restaurant customers are wine tourists, it may, just may, be possibly safe to assume the diners may have some interest in enjoying a glass of the stuff. That being the case, then when you are setting up a new restaurant, why would you put in crap wine glasses? These are one step up from the old fashioned bistro, A cup boob holders that were oh so fashionable restaurants in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  


The garlic ciabatta was delicious. It was crispy and the garlic butter was soaking into the bread. I pity anyone who has to be within six feet of me tomorrow.


Half the menu was dedicated to gourmet pizzas, and that was fine by me as I love a really good pizza. It's just a crying shame that they didn’t make ours properly. Not by a long shot. Brian and I ordered the same pizzas yet Brian's had a significantly more topping than mine. We also both ordered anchovies. Brian’s had a reasonable quantity of them; mine was devoid of hairy fish. The biggest problem however, was that the pizzas were not cooked properly. The bottoms were completely soft and underdone, except for the outside which was crispy. Soggy! Yuk! My dogs love pizza. It’s their favourite food in the whole world, but I'm not sure they would have eaten this soggy mess.


Mine on the left - Brian's on the right ..............


Let's face it, you don't need to be a Cordon Bleu Chef to cook a pizza. If you can't cook a pizza in a restaurant that specialises in them, you don't deserve to be in business.


John ordered lamb shanks. Unfortunately he didn't get lamb shanks, it was lamb shank, singular. A single lamb shank is not enough for a growing lad like his Pieship, so he decided he would help us eat our pizzas. There was certainly more than enough left over on our plates that we would not eat. He took one mouthful of Brian’s (which was better than mine) and said, "I shouldn't have had that pizza. I used to like pizza."


When the waitress came and asked us if everything was all right and we told her that it wasn't, and the pizzas were undercooked, she went back into the kitchen to gain advice. She came back and asked us if we would "like the pizzas cooked up." Not a good response. By this stage, the base was so soggy that "cooking up" would have been about as effective in creating an enjoyable pizza as trying to bring a corpse back to life by sticking two AA batteries into its fundamental orifice and then expecting them to rise from the dead and walk. Nice idea, but it ain't gunna happen. Needless to say, we won't be going back there again.


The upside was that we had very little to drink, which my liver thanked me for, and an early night.


Tuesday – Coonawarra continued


I was fighting fit this morning and was hungry enough to eat horse. Brian woke up this morning and his cold is not getting better, it's slowly getting worse, and I am even less popular with him than I was yesterday morning. (Brian: Censored!)


We scouted out all the possible places from breakfast in the main street and were spoilt for choice. There was the Wingara Bakery or the Wingara Bakery. That was a better choice than one previous trip where, on a Sunday morning, we had to have snack bars from the local service station.


We had toasted ham and cheese and tomato sandwiches all round, and whilst they were okay, they certainly weren't anywhere near as good as those served in other places on the trip. And to make matters worse, there were no poppy seed streusel buns. One thin, toasted sandwich was not enough so I decided I would get a Blueberry Danish too. Bad move. Not great. In fact decidedly ordinary! I think they may have been made by the same fellow who made our pizzas last night. The poor lass that served us was on her own. Between having to make the sandwiches and coffee, as well serving all the tradies coming in for take away pies and sausage rolls for breakfast, she was run off her tootsies. Brian ordered the coffee. He ordered a flat white John, a short, short espresso for himself, and a normal short black espresso from me. John's coffee arrived and it was fine, but have a look at the short black (left cup) that I got. No problem, she changed it over. Unfortunately the short black coffees were ice-cold.


Our first appointment was meant to be at nine o'clock at Balnaves. The thing I like about wineries in Coonawarra is that a number of them don't work bankers’ hours and open at 9 a.m. during the week. Unfortunately Kirsty had more pressing business than looking after The Bigot Bros and His Pieship, and asked us to reschedule later in the morning. So that gave us about 45 minutes to spare and we went to Hollick. The cellar door used to be located in a very cute little cottage. Wow! This place has changed. The cottage is still there but they have built a brand-new, very swish cellar door and restaurant.


Over the last 20 years I have enjoyed some of the wines from this winery but had found it to be a little more inconsistent than many of the other wineries in the region. There have been some terrific wines but some real disappointments. However, the last few times I have tried their wines they have been heading in the right direction.


They have a new Avant Garde Range and we started there. The name pretty well sums up what this is all about. It includes a Super Tuscan blend, a Tempranillo and a Barbera.


Hollick 2005 Hollaia sells for $23 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. It is a blend of Sangiovese (65%) and Cabernet sourced from Wrattonbully fruit. The bouquet is earthy and shows cherry/plum, menthol and meaty notes. The unobtrusive but chewy tannins solidly support this medium-weight wine with a supple consistency and a harmonious construction. The pure fruit is juicy and has both sweet and off-sweet characters inextricably intermingling together and delivering cherry, milk chocolate, dried herbs and liquorice. A damn good food wine, it would be perfect in a bistro situation. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next five years.


Hollick 2004 Wrattonbully Shiraz sells for $23 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is unusual; it’s sweet and shows honeysuckle and cherry. A well-constructed wine sitting comfortably in the mouth, its medium weight, solid, and the complexity is agreeable. Cherry and plum flavours have a slight amount of bitterness on the back palate, and it finished with respectable length and persistence. A food-friendly drop, it's rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next five years.


Hollick 2005 Coonawarra is a typical Bordeaux blend that is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (44%), sells for $26 and is sealed under cork. It's only available at cellar door. The bouquet shows subtle spice, cherry, leafy characters and earthy notes. A lovely, varietal wine; the pure fruit delivers blackcurrant, blackberry, chocolate, and tomato leaf characters that lead into a slightly bitter flavour on the back palate; the package finishes with good length and persistence. The smooth, powdery tannins provide solid backing for this harmonious wine that will become completely seamless in time. It's approachable now but will improve in the short term. It's very drinkable. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window.


Hollick 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $26 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is very leafy. The pure, deeply-seated fruit is fleshy and delivers tomato leaf, milk chocolate, blackcurrant, earthy mushrooms and red cherry/current flavours that finish with very good length and persistence. Just-muscular in weight, the supple consistency and solid structure are backed by smooth, chewy tannins. It's drinkable now but will be better with a couple of more years in the bottle. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve in the short term and the wine will happily last for about seven years.


Hollick 2001 Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $60 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The attractive bouquet shows ripe, red cherry, is leafy, earthy and has leathery, aged notes starting to develop. This is right up there amongst the top wines from Coonawarra. It still has loads of drying tannins, the acid is still fresh and crisp and the pure, deeply-seated fruit is juicy. With a huge amount of flavour intensity for its medium-weight, it delivers red fruits, chocolate, loads of leafy, characters, cherry, a hint of leather, cigar box, and a touch of spice, all of which finish very long. A solid drop with some elegance, its rated as Excellent with *** for value, and I wouldn't be surprised if the rating improved as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2013 and 2021. A top wine, and given the age, reasonably priced.


There is nothing wrong with the wine at Hollick. Indeed, everything we tried was good. The old cellar door was cute, but the new facility looks a damn site more serious. The new premises are impressive. The entry-level wines were also, in many ways, better than expected. There wasn't a bad one amongst them. They were also pretty good value. This winery is moving in the right direction and their wines are worth trying, especially if you haven't tried them recently. There are a number of other wines available for sale; unfortunately they are normally not available for tasting. The Ravenswood is normally not available for tasting but they were kind enough to open it for us.


From there, it was a short drive for our 9.45 appointment at Balnaves. This is a winery that just keeps going from strength to strength. Their focus on quality and delivering value is superb. If it ain't good enough, it ain't going out with the Balnaves label. Even if that means they have to miss an entire vintage. The Balnaves family takes their reputation seriously. Very seriously! We lucked out with our timing; they had just released a couple of new wines, and were kind enough to also open up all the wines that are going to be released in the next few months.


Balnaves 2006 The Blend has just been released, is sealed under screwcap and sells for $19 at cellar door. The bouquet is soft and creamy and shows plum and vanillin oak. Smooth but chewy, powdery tannins combine with fresh acid and pure, deeply-seated, strong, juicy fruit to form a wine that is just ample in weight, has a supple consistency, and a solid structure. The palate profile is both sweet and off sweet with dark chocolate, vanilla, blackberry, black current and cigar box. It finishes with acceptable persistence but there is not much on the back palate. Still, it's very quaffable, has tonnes of fruit flavour and will be hugely popular. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value, drink over the next five years.


.....Even the rubbish bin is well dressed for visitors


Balnaves 2006 Shiraz sells the $24 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows plum, vanilla, earthy hints and coffee. The unobtrusive, silky tannins combine with fresh acid and pure, juicy-fruit to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, and a solid, almost seamless, reasonably tight structure. The wine exhibits a good mouth feel. Plum, lots of chocolate and French oak characters including mocha, and earthy flavours are rich and linger very nicely. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it's a very approachable now but the rating will improve in the short term; drink between 2008 and 2014.


Balnaves 2006 Cabernet Merlot sells the $24 at cellar door and is sealed under Procork. The bouquet shows floral notes, blueberry and vanilla. It's sweet on the uptake with off-sweet notes intermingling right through the wine. Herbs, chocolate, mocha, plum and blueberry flavours finish with a reasonable punch of flavour for its medium-weight. It's well-backed by smooth, powdery, drying tannins and has a supple consistency. The flavour profile seems almost disjointed but it may come together. An inoffensive, food friendly wine it's rated as Agreeable with *** for value.


Balnaves 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $35, has just been released, and is sealed under Procork. The wine was matured in French oak, about two thirds of which was new. The bouquet is very sweet showing ripe morello cherry fruit, cigar box/spicy oak and sweet vanillin characters. Loads of fine, drying tannins perfectly frame the package. This is a serious wine that needs time to soften further and come together. The quality, pure fruit is driving the wine and delivers blueberry, milk chocolate, plum and herb flavours which finish with very good length and crisp acidity. Just ample in weight, it has a supple consistency and a solid structure; it’s rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value. Another good result for Balnaves, but that's to be expected.


Balnaves 2006 The Tally will sell for $90 when it is released and is sealed under Procork. The wine had just been bottled. The bouquet was tight; the spicy coffee oak dominated proceedings but there is some serious, quality, plummy fruit buried below. If ever a wine had said “piss off, leave me alone and come back in ten years time,” this was it. This is a very serious wine. The deeply-seated fruit is currently buried by the ultrafine, smooth, drying tannins. The palate is varietal with blueberry, plum, vanilla, mocha and all sorts of other good things that are just waiting to surface. It's locked up tight, yet it still manages to flash some elegance through its solid structure and refined complexity. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2018 and 2032.


After the tasting, the winemaker, Peter Bissell, took us for a tour of the winery. Doug Balnaves had previously taken us right through it, so there weren’t a whole lot of new things to show us, but the conversation we had with Pete was interesting. His comments were insightful.


He said, "As you might have guessed from watching the wine industry for the past two years, it's very dynamic. There are lots of things happening all over the world. One of the biggest factors that will affect us in Australia is the amount of water that falls in the Murray Valley basin. There is almost a state of indecision by a lot of wine companies with regard to what they should be doing. Three years ago they were saying plant Chardonnay, we need more Chardonnay. This year they are saying no more Chardonnay. We have too much. That makes it very hard to work out what you should be doing from a business point of view.

The iced tanks are Rose. They are being cold stabilised.............................


There has been a lot of research done on climate change and its effect on viticulture. The end of vintage keeps coming earlier. That means a shorter hang time for the grapes, and that means the tannin maturation is not ideal, because you want longer hang time. You don't want a rapid sugar rise. You want a slow and gradual increase so that it can build up flavour. 2005 had big tannins, but 06, 07, and 08 not as big.


The Murray River is a big issue but politicians were staying away from it with great long poles. Nobody wanted to buy into it. For the last 15 years the Murray Darling Commission has been saying we have got a big problem and have to do something about it. Finally, John Howard recognised that they could no longer avoid it. And now, at least all politicians on both side of the spectrum have come together and agreed that we have a major issue that is by beyond politics and needs to be resolved. (TORB’s Comment: True except that the Victorian Premier’s recalcitrance stopped an agreement being signed a year ago.)


It's much the same scenario with climate change. A lot of people say it doesn't exist. It's just a blip in the weather. Australia has got one of the best scientific research institutes in the world in the CSIRO and there is absolutely unanimous agreement there, and now the public has seen three vintages in a row with the effects of climate change, so the climate change sceptics are now starting to look like the tobacco/smoking sceptics who were/still are firing from behind their bunkers.


I was recently talking to Peter Dawson about capacity. If this last vintage is a road map for future vintages, then wineries are going to have to be twice the size to handle all the fruit coming in during such a small, compressed period. You work out the amount of capital involved there, and the effect that will have on the cost of a bottle of wine! One of the good things about the Australian winemaking system versus say, the European appellation system, is that we can build a big winery in the middle of Australia and transport fruit from many different regions, and many different micro-climates. We can have five winemakers that have the same idea of winemaking, the same vision, and can make 50,000 tonnes of wine into the wine they want to fashion. In an appellation system you would need 10 wineries, one for each of different appellation, each doing 5000 tonnes, so you would need 30 to 50 winemakers that all had the same view to achieve the same end. It's a lot harder to do.


The work that Leanne Webb has done at the CSIRO on climate change and the effect on vineyards in Australia shows the vineyards moving south and out to the coast. Interestingly enough, her prediction is that Coonawarra is one of the places that will be least affected by climate change. Yet, on the ground, we are already seeing marked changes due to climate change. I think that goes to show how subtle grapevines are; wine shows you the minute changes in both climate and soil.


From a winemaking point of view, it’s a lot easier (than making the strategic business decisions.) You just try and make the best wine you possibly can produce. We try and micromanage what happens in the vineyard so that we get the best possible grapes. When we won the Qantas Gourmet Wine Traveller Winemaker of the Year Award, one of the reasons stated for giving us the award was that when you looked across Parker, Murdock, Punters and Balnaves, there was a consistency of style for each producer, but they didn't all look the same. (Pete Bissell/Balnaves is the winemaker for these four wineries and they either completely, or partially, manage the vineyards too.) The judges thought this was a good example of terroir. You could see the vineyards talking. All four wineries have different sites, soil profiles, and vine age.”


As an aside, the subject of selecting oak barrels for the four wineries came up and Peter told us that he selected the oak in consultation with the individual wineries. He continued on with these comments. "In 1996/97, I was involved in the trial tastings for Russian oak. Twenty wineries in Australia were given a barrique of French oak and a barrique of Russian oak and they filled each of their own barrels with the same wine. The wines were assessed at six months and again at twelve months. From my perspective, the Russian oak did better in cool climates, whereas the French oak did better in the warmer climates. This was especially the case where fruit had a slight chocolate/peppermint taste to it. The Russian oak worked really well. It has a coffee, mocha, milk chocolate flavour component to it. The Russian oak looked like it would work well with some of the wines from this area. We have been using a component of Russian oak in the Punters and Murdock wines.”


Peter's comments are food thought. Climate change will have a massive effect on the wine industry. Regions that were marginal will suddenly become hot properties. Bad pun intended. Many of the most prized regions, like the Barossa for example, may become too hot to grow quality grapes. The availability of water will also be critical. In many ways, water will be the most critical factor for the industry.


The one thing I find fascinating, which didn't become completely apparent until after we had been to Punters Corner, was how you can have one winery looking after four different properties, and making four different wine labels, and yet have such diverse levels of quality. More on this at the end of the Punters Corner reviews.


In James Halliday's 2008 edition of the Wine Companion, his winery of the year was Balnaves. Frankly, I'm not surprised. From what I have seen in my dealings with them, they are consummate professionals at every level. Naturally that shows in the finished product. They may not make the largest number of best wines in Australia, but what they do, they do well. On this trip, from memory, this is the first time they have put a red table wine down in front of me that did not over-deliver.



The next appointment was at Penley Estate. This winery holds the unique distinction of having made the last case of Chardonnay I ever purchased, so I have been a fan of their wine for some time. In fact, it was one of the first vintages they made. The winery is a reasonable size, and yet it manages to fly below the radar. Why you don't see their wines reviewed on winery websites and hear people talking about them, I don't know. Their wines are well-made and they generally over-deliver on price. It seems like they are a well-kept secret amongst smart wine lovers.


In 2008, the winery processed almost a thousand tonnes of fruit. That's about 750,000 bottles of wine. Approximately 78% of the fruit crushed was from their own vineyards. The balance was made under contract. The grapes that don't make the grade, or are surplus to their requirements, are processed and sold off as bulk. As they keep growing, they are using more and more of their own grapes.


Again, our timing was good. The winery was due to release a batch of new wines before the Coonawarra Roadshow in a couple of months time. We were looked after by Greg Foster, the Winemaker/Winery Manager.


Penley Estate 2006 Hyland Coonawarra Shiraz will sell for less than $20 when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. Anyone who doesn't like Coonawarra Shiraz needs to buy a bottle of this wine; it will change your mind about the category. It opened up a little stinky but that quickly blew off to reveal attractive spices, vanilla and blackberry fruit. The tannins are fine, smooth and silky, and provide a soft consistency and solid structure for this ample-weight, harmonious wine. It's splendidly balanced and driven by massive amounts of pure, deep, strong, ripe fruit that delivers off-sweet flavours of black cherry, dark chocolate, spice, vanilla, mint and tar flavours that finish with terrific persistence. It's great value and has an attractive flavour profile. Rated as Recommended with **** for value drink over the next five years.


Penley Estate 2006 Phoenix Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon will retail for the less than $20 when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. The attractive, floral, perfumed aromatics are very diverse. Silky, powdery tannins currently dominate the deeply-seated, ripe fruit but the wine is in balance and well constructed. Blackberry, plum, loads of chocolate, mocha and herb flavours finish with respectable length. A medium-weight, supple wine that sits well in the mouth, the structure is tight and the complexity very agreeable. It can be found for as low as $17 which makes it sensational value, and at that price it would be rated as Recommended with ***** for value. A few years in the cellar will be amply rewarded. This wine (approximately 20,000 cases) represents approximately 50% of Penley's production. That's no surprise as it a stunningly good wine for the price.


Penley Estate 2006 Condor is a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet; it will retail for approximately $20 when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. It was matured in approximately 40% new American oak. The bouquet shows loads of spice and noticeable coffee and vanillin oak influence. An ample-weight, tight and solid wine, the fruit is deeply-seated but it needs time to surface from below the smooth, drying tannins. It's off-sweet with a hint of fruit sweetness below; blue and black fruits, mocha, milk chocolate and dried herbs finish long and fresh. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it's approachable now but the rating should improve as the wine matures. Drink between now and 2016.


Penley Estate 2005 Chertsey is a Bordeaux blend that will sell for $50 from cellar door when it is released, and is sealed under cork. Four hundred cases have been produced. The bouquet shows ripe black cherry, spice and floral notes; it's very complex and attractive. The wine maintains a lovely, harmonious structure and balance, and the silky tannins, which creep up on you, have a slinky mouth feel. The pure fruit delivers blackcurrant, mocha, black chocolate, spice, and leafy notes which finish very long and with terrific intensity. An impeccable wine of ample-weight, it has a supple consistency, a tight structure and should become seamless in time. It certainly has some class. Rated as Excellent with *** for value; it should enter its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2019.


Penley Estate 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $50 at cellar door when it is released, and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is classy and attractive with violets, blackcurrant and blueberry notes together with noticeable spicy oak. A wine of flawless construction and perfect balance, the ultra-fine and tight tannins are very smooth; the fruit is deeply-seated and of great purity, and the acid fresh. Blueberry, blackberry, mocha, dark chocolate, a hint of herbs together with spicy oak flavours, finishes broad on the palate. The complexity is intricate, the construction harmonious, and the structure tight, in this ample-weight, supple wine.  It’s seriously good quality and slightly more forward and blousy than the 2004, but is most enjoyable; rated as Excellent with *** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2013 and 2020.


Penley Estate 2004 Reserve Shiraz is the current release and sells for $50 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is attractive. It is an elegant, classy wine that is well-backed by abundant, fine tannins that currently dominate the deeply-seated fruit. The flavour profile is off-sweet with red and black berry fruits and loads of smoky oak characters. It's rated as Excellent, but needs a lot of time for the tannins to resolve and for the fruit to surface.


Penley Estate 2005 Special Select Shiraz will sell for $50 at cellar door when it is released, and is sealed under cork. This is a very good quality Coonawarra Shiraz.  The bouquet shows liqueur blackberry, spice and liquorice. A respectable balance has been achieved between the fine, silky tannins, the unobtrusive acid and the pure, deeply-seated fruit. It's a muscular-weight wine with a solid structure, supple consistency and harmonious construction. Cassis, blackberry, dark chocolate, mocha, and loads of spicy/smoky coffee oak flavours finish very long and with incredible persistence. It's approachable now but needs time to show its best and will be in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2019. Rated as Excellent with *** for value.


In terms of Cabernet, they have got ten different blocks to choose from, and three different clones. That gives them an enormous variety of fruit. The fermenters range in size from eight to thirty tonnes. All the parcels are kept separate until somewhere between 12 and 16 months when the final blends are put together. They also use about seven different Coopers, and rack and return to the same type of oak so that this can be monitored too.


Penley just keeps plugging away slowly fine tuning the wines. Probably the biggest change in recent years is that all the fruit used in their wines is now estate grown. That’s as a result of more of their vineyards coming on line.


When you hear wine lovers discussing the best wineries in Coonawarra, names like Majella, Balnaves and Wynns are usually mentioned, but you rarely hear the name Penley Estate mentioned. Why that is the case, I can't work out. Over the many years I have been trying and drinking their wines, I don't think I've ever had a bad one. Just some that are better than others. Their Hyland Range, which can frequently be found for as low as $16.99, is sensational value. Value doesn’t get better! The Reserves are very credible wines and fairly priced. Now for a big call. Overall, Penley Estate currently offers the best value reds in Coonawarra. I hope Kym Tolley doesn’t read this; he may put his prices up. If you haven't had any Penley wines, go out and buy a mixed case.



By this stage, it was Pie O’clock and the boys were champing at the bit. They wanted to get back to the Wingara Bakery. I had already suffered the indignity of eating there once today, no way it was going to happen twice! I would rather go to the servo and get some lollies! Or remain hungry; perish the thought. Luckily there was an option and a good one. For the second day in a row, we split up and ate lunch at separate places. The boys headed off and got their pies and I went to the Devine Café, which is almost next door to the bakery. They make great, and I do mean great baguettes. I walked out of there well satisfied and happy, ready for the afternoons tasting.


That’s it for this Chapter, even though it is ending at lunchtime rather than after dinner. It’s shorter than usual, but the alternative would be a Coonawarra Chapter that was so big it would be a small book. So stay tuned for the next segment of our vinous ramblings through Coonawarra.



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From: Andrew Shipway, Nuriootpa,SA - Sunday 27 July

Been reading your latest SA tour diaries and finding them as entertaining and informative as ever. Just finished reading the Coonawarra edition and interested to read your comments about Wynn's and Penley Estate in particular.

The new fermenter area sounds almost identical to the red fermentation building that exists at Wolf Blass in Nuriootpa. Interesting that Wynn's advocate the use of rotary fermenters. Obviously temperature is a big factor here because at one of their sister wineries, Penfolds in Nuriootpa, the fruit fermented in rotary fermenters has to be constantly monitored as off odours can develop very quickly due to the warmer temperatures that the fruit comes in at. For that reason the rotary fermenters at Penfolds only tend to be used for the lowest grade fruit.

The rigmarole you had to go through, just to visit the place, I suppose is a sign of the times and the big corporate machine at work. It reminds me of a quote that one of the "Grumpy Old Men" on ABC TV lifted from one of the English newspapers. It went "they tell us its all for our own good, but that's a load of old bollocks, the truth is they do it all so we can't sue the bastards!

On your story about Penley Estate. Interesting that they use the "Hyland" name on one of their labels as Penfolds also have a Hyland label, don't know the legalities of that one (I think Penley used it first). But the name of the winery and the use of the Hyland name hints at a family connection that I seem to remember exists. I think Kym Tolley is one of the last remnants of the family associated with the foundation of the Penfolds label and also the Tolley family, well known in SA for their association with wine and brandy. Just a bit of useless trivia your article reminded me of.

Being a resident of the Barossa and a former resident of the Southern Vales I am always interested to read your impressions of the various eateries and am usually in agreeance with what you find. In both areas we have some of the best dining experiences you can find but then there are some places which just don't get it.

One of the things that astounds me is you often find wineries in the Barossa that I've never been to and in some of cases never heard of. I suppose its a bit like living near the beach, you never fully appreciate what's on your own doorstep. Its crazy,the only time we over go wine tasting is when we want to show visitors around the area ,and I find myself buying wine from the local Sip'n'Save or Dan Murphys. Mind you some of the prices you can get at Dan Murphys are cheaper than even some of the staff prices I can get through winery contacts.

Anyway,keep up the good work


TORB Responds:

Thanks for the comments. You are 100% correct in relation to Hyland/Penfolds/Tolley. Kym did use it first.


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