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

 

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Chapter Six– Tuesday – Coonawarra continued

 

It seems strange starting a Chapter in the middle of the day but it was necessary as the Coonawarra section is way too big for one Chapter. After a satisfying lunch, we decided to check out the “Fosters” cellar door to see what they had on offer. This establishment showcases a range of wines made by Fosters in the Coonawarra area, that don't have a Wynns label. Those brands are, Mildara, Robertson’s Well, Lindemans and Jamiesons Run.

 

                          There are pumpkins everywhere in Coonawarra

            This one is at Balnaves and they have become the home of local pumpkin.

                    Strays are left on their fence post overnight - no kidding!

As soon as I walked in, I realised this used to be the old Lindemans cellar door. When it had the Lindemans name above the lintel, it was one of the best cellar doors in Coonawarra. They used to have a fantastic array of wine on offer, including back vintages. It was a sad day for wine lovers when it closed. They now have a reasonable range of commercial wine available to tasting, but in all honesty, it is pedestrian. There is nothing there to excite. There were only a couple of wines I figured were worth trying.

 

Mildara 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $25 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The wine was a little oxidised but showed ripe fruit. We were informed, for some unknown reason, once this particular wine is opened, it tends to oxidise quickly. The negligible tannins are silky, the acid lively, and the wine is fruit driven, and easy-drinking, but lacks structure. The palate shows bright and vibrant fruit with coffee, rich chocolate, and the ripe juicy-fruit lingers pleasantly. A medium-weight wine with nothing on the back palate, it has lots of fruit flavour and will be popular. Both Brian and John thought it was disjointed; I didn't argue. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.

 

Lindemans 2004 Limestone Ridge sells at $53.90 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows sweet, stewed fruit characters. An ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, it’s a solid wine that has been built in an elegant style; the tannins are silky, and the acid fresh. Cherry, coffee, chocolate, plum, blackberry and leafy characters linger well. The fruit seems too ripe but is lean on the palate. It's approachable now and rated Recommended with * for value, but the rating may improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window. I wonder if Dr Lindeman is turning over in his grave.

 

The Fosters cellar door is decidedly uninspiring. No wonder when we were at Wynns, we heard nothing about the other Foster's brands in Coonawarra. The quality and the consistency of the Lindemans Coonawarra Trio are the stuff legends are made from. The sort of legends that are passed around the Harvard Business School as case studies on how to completely bugger up a Premium brand. If Southcorp kicked an own goal with Rosemount, they lost the game by default with the Lindemans Coonawarra Trio. No wonder Fosters is marketing mass-produced wine from all around the world under the Lindemans label.

 

Fosters used to have a big presence in Coonawarra with the Jamieson Run winery and cellar door. The brands other than Wynns, in the Fosters Coonawarra portfolio, now seem like an afterthought.   

 

The next port of call was Leconfield winery. In days gone by, I had found their wines to be a too lean and green for my liking. However in recent times, they appear to have improved.

 

Leconfield 2006 McLaren Vale Shiraz sells for $30.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows spice, mushroom and plum; the fruit is bright and varietal but is very earthy. The pure, strong fruit driving this wine is lovely and delivers loads of plum flavour, black chocolate, liquorice and mocha. The fresh acid gives it a clean finish, and the smooth, fine tannins provide a firm, solid and tight structure. A well-developed, muscular-weight wine, it's bloody nice. It's approachable now but will improve. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2018.

 

Leconfield 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $30.95 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The wine was from a freshly opened bottle and was a bit stinky, but it blew off quickly to reveal very earthy, dusty spectrum notes. The deeply-seated fruit is nice and ripe with sweet fruit that contrasts with the abundant leafy characters. Prominent chocolate and mocha flavours are supported by lots of dusty tannins and underpin a good, long finish. An ample-weight, firm, solid wine with crisp acid, the complexity is well developed. It's a good wine that is approachable now but will improve. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating will increase as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2020.

 

Unfortunately they didn't have a huge amount available to tasting. Like many of the wineries in this region, the new releases were due out fairly soon and we were at the tail end of what was available. However, the two wines we tried were both credible.

 

One of the hot wineries in Coonawarra is undoubtedly Majella. There are a number of very good reasons the popularity. Firstly, they consistently make honest, good value wine and most consumers probably look for that more than anything else. Secondly, this can best be described as a no bullshit winery. They don't believe in basket presses, hand picking, hand pruning, and a lot of the other "mystery" surrounding wine. Likewise, they don't believe in using trickery to make wine either. Their attitude is that wine is just a drink that should be enjoyed. Finally, their mouthpiece, Brian Lynn a.k.a. The Prof could talk for Australia if it was an Olympic event. And win gold. Multiple times! And all at once!! It's a winning formula.

 

We worked our way through the wines available at cellar door and then asked to see the Prof. Luckily he had the upcoming releases handy, so we were lucky enough to be able to try those too.

 

Majella 2005 Sparkling Shiraz sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under crown seal. A bright, fizzy wine with loads of raspberry/strawberry fruit, milk chocolate and mocha; it also has some noticeable oak characters on the palate. A medium-weight, supple wine that is worth buying and cellaring for a few years, it’s rated as Recommended with *** for value, but the rating will improve once the wine enters its peak drinking window around 2010 and beyond. It's good, it just needs a few years to come together and settle down.

 

Majella 2007 The Musician sells for $17 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet showed varnished characters over sweet, ripe, leafy fruit. Loads of bright fruit drives the wine which is sweet on the uptake, has leafy characters and milk chocolate on the mid-palate which tail off to dried herbs on the finish. A medium-weight, supple wine with a solid structure and an agreeable complexity, the wine is rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Majella 2005 Shiraz sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. It was a freshly opened bottle and showing very little on the bouquet. The wine maintains a good balance and mouth feel. Smooth tannins combine with crisp acid and distinct fruit to form an ample-weight, supple wine with an agreeable complexity. Savoury cherry, milk chocolate and mocha flavours complete the package. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, but it's a grey suit wine that gets lost in the crowd. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Majella 2006 Shiraz will sell for $28 at cellar door when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet showed spicy earthy notes with a hint of VA/EA. The charming, juicy-fruit delivers plum, chocolate, mint and liquorice flavours, which combine to create an enchanting, flavour profile, which finishes with good persistence. An ample-weight, supple wine; the pure-fruit has been perfectly matched to the fine, dusty tannins, and fresh acid. It's very young and fresh but approachable now; rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2011 and 2017.

 

Majella 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $28 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows creamy, ripe red fruit with loads of varietal, leafy characters and earthy notes. The velvety tannins enable the wine to sit in the mouth beautifully and provide a solid backing and supple consistency. The pure fruit delivers leafy notes, rich chocolate, blackcurrant and a hint of char/tar that come together in a delightful, complimentary flavour profile. It's approachable now but very primary. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating will probably improve as the wine matures and it should hang in there until 2020.

 

Majella 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $28 when it is released and is sealed under screwcap. The bottle had just been opened and the bouquet was varietal, dusty, clean but broody. The bright and juicy fruit delivers blackcurrant, mocha, chocolate, mint, and mushroom flavours that finish with a hint of bitterness, which is frequently a good sign in a young wine. The tannins are fine, soft, silky and drying and are unerringly matched to the pure, deeply-seated fruit. The wine is ample-weight, very tight, has a well-developed complexity, and whilst it's approachable now it will improve over the next couple of years. Rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value, the rating should improve as the wine reaches its peak sometime between now and 2020. The only question remaining is, is this wine as good as the superb 2004? It going to be close. Very close.

 

Majella 2004 Malleea sells for $66 and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows liqueur cherry, milk chocolate, and varnished oak characters. Silky, slightly dusty tannins combine with deeply-seated, pure fruit and fresh acid to form an ample-weight, supple, solid wine that has a well-developed complexity. Rich chocolate, leafy characters and mocha dominate the palate. It's a good wine, but I preferred the 2005. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window between 2011 and 2020.

 

Majella 2005 Malleea will sell for $66 when it is released and is sealed under cork. The wine spent three years in new French oak. The bouquet shows loads of primary, ripe fruit including blueberry, vanillin oak, spice, cedar and mushroom; it's creamy and has excellent complexity. The fruit is deeply-seated, bright and very pure delivering blackberry, loads of rich chocolate, some leafy characters, aniseed, etc etc. It finishes very long. An ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, the tannins are ultrafine and velvety and perfectly in sync with the fresh acid and fruit. There is a noticeable level of quality oak on the palate, but there is more than enough fruit to sop it all up. The complexity is sophisticated and the construction harmonious. The wine has a better flavour profile than its predecessor. Rated as Excellent with **** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2015 and 2025.

 

There is one thing about meeting with The Prof; he is never short of an opinion and usually what he says makes sense. They don't call him The Prof for nothing. We started off discussing Australian wine in the US market place. Brian said, "The Americans are moving away from highly priced, raucous Australian wines. They are looking for value for money. They also don't want the cheap shit any more, so sales of critter wines are suffering. We find the sales of our wine increasing in the US because people say, Hey this is good stuff and it's not costing us an arm and a leg. However, America is not a market we rely on and only about 30% of our wine is exported.

 

My version of wine marketing 101 says that every successful export market is underpinned by a thriving, domestic market. We have spread our risk in the export markets, and Canada is now doing very well for us.

 

Asia's doing well for us too. Since they dropped the tax in Hong Kong that has become a hot market. I was over there recently and a sommelier told me that he was receiving five invitations a day to tastings, launches etc. He said he accepted one invitation a week.

 

I am not a China fan. It's a big market, but a dangerous one. They want Grange quality at $30 a case. They are quite happy to try and screw you with long payment terms, and what worries me is that if they disappear, how are we going to go on find them and get the money back. They like our technology, they like our know-how, and they like our wine, but they want our technology and our know-how.”

 

The winery produces between 15,000 and 25,000 cases a year. That sounds like a fairly dynamic quantity range, but as they don't buy grapes, they are governed by what they can pick and what is good enough to display the Majella label. According to The Prof, "What we have to do is to try and run out before the next release. At the moment, a lot of producers are not doing that before they change over to the next vintage. Luckily, we are down to the last few cases of the Shiraz, Cabernet and Malleea. The 06 Musician was sold out before the changeover.”

 

Brian asked Brian how the 2008 vintage was for Majella. Brian responded, “We were pretty rapt with the result. It was compressed. It was a lovely year and we've got some good stuff. We picked slightly above our average quantity; just! Average is 460 tonnes for us, this year we got 474. We didn't have the problems with the massive heat wave that the Barossa and McLaren Vale received. We also have a couple of advantage. Firstly, even though it was compressed, we have room in the winery to be able to handle it. Secondly, we have water. We were able to see the hot spell coming, and we started to trickle on small amounts of water; just enough to hold things together. A grapevine doesn't want to die, so if it doesn't have enough water, it sucks it out of the grapes and you get berry shrivel. We were able to avoid that problem.”

 

Whilst The Prof was pouring us another sample, he espoused another one of his philosophical statements. “Majella may not be the greatest wines in the world but they are consistently around the mark. The one thing I always say to my customers when I'm out doing business is, ‘what you will get from Majella is the best wines that we can make, from the best grapes that we can grow’.  We have a good patch of Coonawarra; it's as good as anything else, and better than most. We have mature grape vines and we have the knowledge, and we have the experience too. We have also had the same winemaker since we started.

 

When we stopped making our wine at the Brand’s winery and started making it here, we replicated what was at Brand’s. We may have upgraded some things, but it's basically the same. We use the same techniques, the same fermentation style, the same oak, and the same winemaking style as we have always done. And that's a bit rare. Often, new wine makers come in and want to stand the world on its head, which is fantastic as long as they don't **** up.”

 

I don't think I need to say anything else, The Prof has said it all for me.

 

Brian wanted to go to Brand’s of Coonawarra. My last few visits there have failed to impress, so I wasn't expecting a lot, but to keep our driver happy, and stop him getting into an even bigger snit, because I was in his bad books for theoretically giving him a cold, I thought I had better cooperate. (Brian: I wanted to see if the 2004 Patrons Reserve Cabernet was out yet.)

 

Brand’s is owned by McWilliams. The Brand name goes back a long way in Coonawarra. Jim Brand, was the grandson of Bill Redman, the legendary Coonawarra winemaker. In 1965 Jim's parents founded the Brands winery. At the age of 17, Jim joined the family business. In 1994, the winery was sold to McWilliams and Jim became the group winemaker, a position he held until he passed away in 2005.

 

Thinking back to past visits, I found the quality patchy and in some cases the fruit was not as ripe as it should be, but from my perspective more importantly, many of the wines had suffered grievous bodily harm at the hands of Mr Charry Oak. They had been beaten within an inch of their life, and many of them were not pretty.

 

Brand’s 2004 Laira Cabernet Sauvignon sells the $23 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet showed dusty varietal notes. This is clever winemaking. The abundant, fresh, bright, juicy-fruit is ripe and delivers blackcurrant/cherry, aniseed, mint and some leafy characters. The crisp acid provides a clean finish, and the silky, chewy tannins are unobtrusive but do a good job in backing this medium-weight wine. It is approachable now, easy drinking and whilst it's rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating will improve in the short term, and it should last until 2012.

 

Brand’s 2004 Laira Shiraz sells the $23 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is very earthy and shows mushroom, red cherry and milk chocolate. Fine, dusty tannins combine with fresh acid and pure, deeply-seated fruit to form a medium-weight, supple wine with a well-developed complexity that is approaching elegant. The fruit is ripe, rich and fleshy and delivers plum, spice, milk chocolate and mint flavours that finish with good persistence and punch for its weight. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve in the short term.

 

Brands 2000 Eric’s Blend sells for $70.50 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. It's a back vintage that has been brought out to carry them over until a new release takes place. The bouquet shows bright, red and blue fruits together with milk chocolate. The fruit is deliciously sweet with contrasting off sweet flavours; strawberry, pepper, chocolate, violets/blackcurrant, and a hint of dried herbs finish very long and with fantastic intensity for its medium-weight. The wine has a soft consistency; the structure is still tight, and it's both seamless and elegant. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, this is a good drop.

 

For the first time, I actually walked out of Brand’s feeling that I had tried some worthwhile wines. We had a discussion with the person who was serving us about the wines. The improvements I had noticed were not my imagination. There has been an intentional push to try and pick the grapes with more flavour ripeness, as well as a conscious decision to reduce the amount of charred oak used. All I can say is, it’s about time and I'm glad the winery has finally woken up. It has taken them and inordinate amount of time to do so.

 

The only reason I visited the next winery was because we had loads of spare time. In the past, most of what I have written about Punters Corner has been very positive, so in theory, there was no reason for them to avoid my visit. However, I must admit that looking back on it, the Punters wines I tried at Wine Australia in July 2006 weren't as good as I would have expected. I sent an e-mail requesting an appointment. When that wasn't answered I sent another one. I then sent a fax personally addressed to the General Manager. That was ignored too. I normally work on the principle that if people ignore three requests I don't bother visiting, but as I said, we had plenty of time so we decided to visit anyway.

 

Punters Corner 2005 Shiraz sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows earthy, plummy notes with lots of menthol. The fine, dusty tannins combine with very lively acid and opulent fruit to form a muscular-weight wine with a supple consistency, and an agreeable complexity, but it is short on the palate. Intense blackberry, and mint, spice, aniseed and plum flavours complete the package. It's approachable now but will last until 2014. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Punters Corner 2004 Triple Crown sells the $24 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Shiraz (15%), and Merlot. The bouquet is weird and shows loads of dusty notes and meaty undertones. Ripe fruit combines with lively acid and fine, dusty tannins to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency, and a solid structure. Blackberry, dark chocolate and mocha flavours are found together with some sappy notes on the mid-palate. The wine seems slightly disjointed and it may be as a result of a combination of both ripe and unripe fruit. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Punters Corner 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $30 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows sweet liqueur fruit with dusty characters, followed by menthol and mint; it tails off to leathery aspects. The fine, dusty, drying tannins combine with crisp acid to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and solid structure. The fruit is soft and ripe with blackcurrant, milk chocolate, dried herbs and mint. Apparently Peter Bissell described the wine as sinewy. I doubt the fruit will last as long as the acid and the tannins. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

There is a very interesting difference in philosophy between Balnaves and Punters Corner. Why did I pick these two wineries to compare? It's because Punters Corner uses Balnaves to manage their vineyard and make their wines. From what I can gather, Punters Corner is owned by two husband-and-wife couples as an investment. Balnaves on the other hand is owned by a family that works in the business. Balnaves is always more than happy to host a visit, and responds very quickly to any communication. Punters don’t bother, and isn't even polite enough to acknowledge requests with a ‘thank you but no thank you’ response.

 

When Kirsty Balnaves met us, she was genuinely pleased to see us and did everything possible to make our visit a good one. Kirsty opened up all the unreleased wines for us to try. We then went into the winery and tried a number barrel samples, and had a long conversation with Peter Bissell. When we walked into Punters, we had to wait for someone to come and serve us, and then she quickly disappeared to do something more important. Although I gave her my business card, for the amount of interest it generated, I may as well not have bothered. Brian also told her about all the unreleased wines we had tried and the private tastings that we had experienced over the last day and a half, but he may as well have been talking to a brick wall. There was absolutely zero interest in opening up anything new, or any of their top shelf wines for us.

 

Balnaves and Punters Corner are almost next door to each other. The vineyards are managed by the same people, and the wine is made by the same winemaker. In theory, the quality of the wines, at the least, should be similar. Unfortunately that is not the case. There are a number of possible reasons for that situation. Although Balnaves are managing the vineyard, one could be excused for thinking that Balnaves would be doing so under instruction, and that these instructions are different to those used by Balnaves in their own vineyard.  For example, Balnaves may decide to crop their cabernet at say “X” tonnes to the acre. That does not mean that Punters crop at the same level. They could be cropping at say, 1.3 “X” and those differences goes right through from pruning to the oak treatment. However, interestingly enough, when I chatted with Kirsty Balnaves, I found out that was not the case. They do much the same thing in both vineyards.

 

This just shows how important the differences are between vineyards, even when they are close together. (You will see more on this topic later in the chapter, during out tour of Katnook.)   This difference is one of the main reasons why the Punters Corner wines are not as good as those of Balnaves. The second major reason is that an attitude. From what I have seen, the attitude of the two wineries is poles apart. This may also go some way to explain why Balnaves has just released the 2006 Cabernet, and yet Punters is still on their 2003 Cabernet, and they are much the same price. Punters wines generally cost less than Balnaves so one expects they may not be the same level of quality, but Punters does not perform comparably, even allowing for the pricing differential.

 

It looks like Punters Corner just doesn't give a damn. I guess the owners are making too much money in their other ventures to worry about it.

 

The last time we were in Coonawarra, we received a few recommendations to visit Koonara Wines. After that first visit, I never understood why local wineries were recommending the place, because I found the whole thing underwhelming.

 

That was some years ago, and as recently I had heard some reasonable reports about their wines, I decided to check them out again. The boys had other ideas, and decided to bunk off and have an early mark (without asking my permission,) and went back to their accommodation.

 

The name Reschke is well known in Coonawarra. The family has been there for generations; over a hundred years. Koonara Wines is owned by Dru Reschke and his parents, Trevor and Vivian. About twenty years ago they planted vines. In 1991, they made thirty cases of wine for family and friends; this tradition continued until 1999 when they decided to make the wine available to the public.

 

They don't have a traditional winery cellar door. Their wine tasting bar is located in a gift shop, in the main street of Penola.

 

They have two ranges. All of the wines are named after angels.

 

Koonara 2004 Cupra’s Gift sells for $18 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The nose is subtle but there are some pleasant fruity aromatics there. Tight tannins combine with fresh acid and deep fruit to form a medium-weight, supple wine that is easy-drinking and food friendly. Blackcurrant, mint, milk chocolate, and mocha flavours present an attractive flavour profile. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next five plus years.

 

Koonara 2000 Ambrial’s Gift sells for $27 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. Not a good look; this medium-weight wine with a supple consistency and solid structure was reductive. A second bottle was checked, and it was similar. Rated as buy something else instead! No wonder this is still available at cellar door.

 

Koonara 2003 Ezra's Gift Shiraz Viognier sells for $24 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is subtle but shows Band-Aid notes. The silky tannins provide a soft consistency and an elegant, almost seamless structure in this is a medium-weight, uncomplicated wine. Blackberry, hints of sweet apricots, liquorice, and dark chocolate flavours will probably be very popular with the masses. The slight metallic finish, together with the Band-Aid on the bouquet, indicates the probable presence of Brett. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Koonara 2005 Angel’s Peak Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $15.95 and is sealed under screwcap. The wine contains a component of non-estate fruit. It has an attractive flavour profile. Blackcurrant, pepper, mocha, and liquorice flavours finish on long tannins and with excellent persistence. Almost silky, drying tannins combine with fresh acid and deeply-seated, strong fruit to form an ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and an agreeable complexity. There seems to be the slightest hint of a metallic finish, so this wine may have a Brett component as well. Rated as (just) Recommended with **** for value.

 

Koonara 2005 Shiraz will sell for $15.95 at cellar door when it is released; it is sealed under screwcap. A medium-weight wine with a soft consistency that is backed by unobtrusive tannins, it's uncomplicated and unfortunately lacks richness and fruit generosity. The fruit is sweet but offset by dried oregano. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Koonara 2004 Ezra's Gift Shiraz Viognier will not be released until next year; it's sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows pleasantly, perfumed fruit. On the palate, the abundant, bright fruit delivers good flavour intensity and shows blackberry, current, mint and mocha. The dusty tannins produce a drying finish; too dry. This is another wine with a slight amount of Brett. It's ample-weight with a supple consistency and solid structure. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

I don't know what's going on here. For the life of me, I can't understand why people would be recommending this winery. Of the six wines I tried, three probably had Brett, one was badly reductive, and one lacked fruit generosity. If they do actually make any good wines, I didn’t get to try them. My advice, visit somewhere else!

 

It was time to call it a day so I headed back to the motel. We were still potentially going to have the same problem tonight as we had last night; finding somewhere good to eat. The best restaurants are closed in Penola/Coonawarra on Monday and Tuesday nights. During the day we asked a number of locals where we should eat, and the unanimous opinion was the pub. His Pieship, being an expert on the workings of public houses was left with the task of making the arrangements. We also gave him the difficult mission of getting permission to BYO.

 

At seven o'clock we walked into the Heyward’s Royal Oak Hotel. The dining room was humming; it was over half full, mainly with families having dinner, so given the popularity of the place, the chances are the food would be reasonable. No matter what, it would have to be better than last night. The Pie King had arranged for us to BYO, at $10 a bottle.

  

In the middle of the dining room, there was a bain marie that was filled with vegetables; they had probably only been there since about five o'clock. Whatever I was having for dinner, it was not going to include veggies from it.

 

The first (and only) bottle of wine opened was an Orlando 1996 Jacaranda Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. An Orlando wine that wasn't corked, it couldn't have come from John's cellar. A fitting wine to drink when you are having dinner in Coonawarra, the bouquet exhibited beautiful, bright juicy-fruit. This wine still has a big future in front. The acid is as fresh as a daisy, the fruit pristine and youthful, and the dusty tannins are a long way from resolving. This is everything a good Coonawarra Cabernet should be. It's slinky on the palate and shows blueberry, mocha, cedar, subtle chocolate and a little mint. John said, "This bottle will be dead in minutes.” He was right. It disappeared in double quick time. Rated as Outstanding, I'm glad I still have four bottles this left in the cellar.

 

We didn't bother with starters tonight. I ordered a porterhouse steak. It was ‘thick cut’ and a soft as butter. It was one of the best steaks I've had in an awful long time. Being a pub, it came with the traditional gravy option. And of course, the mandatory chips which come with everything.

 

Brian had a pot pie. He certainly wasn't complaining. It was filled with lots of chunky, tender meat and rich sauce that was filled with flavour.

 

Surprisingly enough, although there was a pie on the menu, the Pie King didn't order it. He undoubtedly avoided it because it was a real pie served in a ramekin, and not filled with junk that I would be reluctant to feed my dog. He ordered the seafood basket instead. The scallops were huge.

 

Dinner worked out at $21 a head, which was great value. Unfortunately for us, they couldn't work out a computer code for corkage, so they were unable to charge us the agreed $10 a bottle. Damn! If you find yourself in Coonawarra and want some simple, well-cooked tucker, that is good value, this is the place.

 

Whilst we are on the subject of pies, for those who may wonder why I not exactly enthralled with the idea of eating commercially made pies, this list of ingredients from the back of an "upmarket" commercial pie maker, may explain why.

Wheat flour,  beef (26%), water, margarine [contains tallow and palm oil, emulsifiers (322, soy, 471), acidity regulator (331), antioxidants (306, 320, 310), colours (168a, 160b, 100), flavours, reconstituted onion, thickener (1422 -- maize), tomato paste, soy protein, salt, hydrolysed vegetable protein, herbs and spices, sugar, colour (150c, 160b), raising agents (500, 341), emulsifier (481), rice flour, mineral salt (451), maltodextrin, flavours, anti-caking agent (554), vegetable gums (412, 415).

 

The above list looks like it has more in common with a high school student’s chemistry experiment where they attempt to emulate being a mad scientist, rather than a list of food ingredients.

 

And that is not to mention the 2120kj and 27.7g of fat in each one.  (Brian: Yum, Herbert Adams Pepper Steak Pie, had one for lunch today. Ric told me he prefers these to the King Island Chunky Steak version. TORB: Busted! I don’t mind one of these occasionally, and by coincidence, I had one of these for lunch on the same day as Brian. )

 

After dinner, the guys decided to have one for the road and went into the bar. (Brian:  I needed a medicinal single malt.) As we had only had one bottle of wine between the three of us, and John was inhaling it quickly, I decided to call this an alcohol free day, and did not partake in a nightcap.

 

The Pie King has been known to come out with wonderful bits of philosophy from time to time, and some very witty expressions. Tonight was not one of those occasions. Whilst he was sitting there sipping on his beer, he said, “When my mother-in-law wasn't impressed with something she always used to say, the tears were running up her forehead in dry, hard pistils.” The lad definitely needs more alcohol; either that or he forgot to take his medication this morning.

 

Wednesday – Coonawarra continued and back to McLaren Vale

 

Oh oh! Brian's cold continues to get worse. Every time he looked at me, I could feel the daggers going in. He is getting grumpy. I will have to watch my p’s and q’s again today.  (Brian: Censored.  I signed on to do the driving, not share germs!)

 

Breakfast was a repeat of yesterday, only today I had two toasted sandwiches instead of one. That will keep me going until lunchtime. Brian also suggested to the young lady that she warm up the coffee cups with hot water before filling them with espresso coffee, and whilst they were warmer than yesterday, they were still too cool.

 

I ended the day with a Reschke family members wine yesterday, and this morning we were starting off the day with an appointment to see the other brother’s wines. We drove up towards the northern end of the terra rossa strip and turned right. And kept going, and going and going. This looked more like grazing country than vineyard land, and that's exactly what it is; the majority of the properties here are beef cattle farms. We eventually got to the spot. The sign out the front says Koonara Management. It looks like that name runs in the family.

 

We were met by Sam Holmes, the sales manager for Reschke Wines.

 

The property is normally not open to the public, but they have an office on the property where they can conduct tastings if necessary. Sam told us that the total family’s landholding in the area is very substantial. We are not talking about a few hundred here!  Approximately 420 acres are under vines. The property has been in the family for just over a hundred years. Up until very recently, Trevor Reschke ran the cattle side of the business. Unfortunately since my visit, Trevor has passed away. Trevor's son, Dru has the Koonara range of wines. Dru’s brother Burke, has Reschke wines.

 

In essence, there’s Reschke, Reschke and Reschke, or if you would rather, Koonara, Koonara, Reschke, and Reschke. Sounds confusing? It's all very incestuous. And in the family too.

 

Let’s see if we can sort some of us out and find out who is actually paying the rent. Koonara Management is the Reschke family company. The grapes for Reschke Wine come from this property. Trevor Reschke, had some vineyards of his own, which are outside of the Koonara Management holdings, and the fruit from these vines go into the Koonara label that is run by Dru. There: simple! It should now be clear as mud.

 

Most of the fruit that Reschke produce is sold. A small percentage is kept for their own production. Naturally all their fruit used in their wines is estate grown. The highly respected winemaker, Peter Douglas is their winemaker, and he makes it at DiGiorgio.

 

The Reschke logo is a bull and I guess that's fair enough given they are large cattle producers. They have a new range of wines called Bull Trader. So why Bull Trader? The answer is obvious once you are aware of Burke's background. He completed a postgraduate degree in Advanced Agribusiness Management at the Royal Agricultural College in England. From there, Burke started trading futures at both the London, and then Sydney Futures exchanges. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Burke went on to run a trading booth in the pit at the Chicago Mercantile Futures Exchange, before returning home. So he's done a lot of trading in his time.

 

This range of wine is aimed fair and square at the cafe, by-the-glass market, but with a recommended price of $18 a bottle, they should hold mass appeal to the average consumer. The packaging for this wine is quite clever. Supermarkets want everything in six-packs, but the distributors want boxes in dozens to save on freight. To get around this problem they have placed two six-packs into a one dozen box. That keeps everybody happy. Rip off the outer layer and you have two six-packs.

 

 During our conversation, Sam made a very telling statement. "For a Coonawarra winery like us, which is family owned, we will never be the biggest, or the best, so we have to you try and come up with better ‘stuff’ all the time.”

 

Another excellent example of this philosophy being taken to the market is their Sauvignon Blanc packaging. They are using Vino-Lok glass sealed bottles, and whilst that may not sound terribly unique as a number of other wineries are starting to use them too, they have taken the process one step further. Once the cats pee has been consumed, the label can be easily ripped off in one piece, and the attractive bottle with an etched logo can be reused. They make perfect water bottles for either home use or restaurants, with bonus free advertising. This is better than recycling; they can be reused over and over again.

 

Presentation is very important to this organisation, from the entry-level product right through to their top-of-the-line Empyrean, which can be packaged in gift tins.

 

Naturally with a new range the volumes have increased. They produced approximately three thousand cases of the Cabernet Merlot and two thousand cases of the Shiraz. The Vitulus is around five thousand cases, and the Bos is around 2500 cases. The Empyrean is only made in the best years, in small quantities, and has been released in 1998 and 2002. As only a couple of hundred cases of the 2002 are left, and the next release, the 2004, won’t occur for another couple of years. They are also thinking about releasing a 2006.

 

They crush far more than they can use themselves. The objective is to get everything to the level of the Vitulus quality and sell what they don't need off as bulk. The excess is sold as appellation Coonawarra, either Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Merlot. The reason for having the excess is intentional. They don't want to run out of wine! If they were to receive an order today, for a fairly substantial amount of say 04 Viuilus from the US, the order could be fulfilled from the wine held in the winery. If it's not needed, it's sold off. The final decision hasn't been made yet but the chances are they won't release any wine under their own label from the 2007 vintage. Although the wines are acceptable, the vintages on either side are better. Therefore they will probably go long on 2006 and 2008 and avoid 2007 completely. By now, hopefully you have worked out these guys must have incredibly good financial backing. You don't make the commitment these guys have made to the wine industry without it. I can't think of too many other wineries that intentionally make far more wine than they need, just in case they may need it.

 

Reschke 2004 Bull Trader Shiraz sells for $18 direct from the winery and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is lifted and bright showing ripe plum, loads of spice and chocolate. The wine is well-balanced and sits comfortably in the mouth, and is easy drinking. It is fruit forward but well backed by silky tannins that enables the wine to linger nicely. Plum, spice and mint flavours are found on the palate. Just ample-weight, with a soft consistency and solid structure, the complexity is very agreeable. A “bulltearer” at the price, it's bang on target and is rated as Recommended with **** for value.

 

Reschke 2004 Bull Trader Cabernet Merlot sells for $18 direct from the winery and is sealed under screwcap. The wine is 76% - 24% blend. The bouquet shows attractive, perfumed floral aromatics which leads to a palate showing blackcurrant and milk chocolate flavours that finishes clean and dry. The juicy-fruit is deep and well-backed by fine, smooth tannins that provide a supple consistency and a solid, (leaning towards) elegant structure. An uncomplicated wine, it's credible, well-balanced and a fruit-forward, easy drinking style. Rated as (just) Recommended with **** for value. This is good, but surprisingly enough the Shiraz is better.

 

Reschke 2004 Vitulus sells for $25 from the winery and is sealed under cork. The bouquet was brooding and not showing much except a little spice. The fruit lacked brightness and it’s possible the wine is in a hole. Flavours of black cherry/currant, blackberry, chocolate and mint are found. A medium-weight wine with a solid structure and a supple consistency, it's Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.

 

Reschke 2003 Bos sells for $35 from the winery and is sealed under cork. The bouquet was broody, deep, spicy and earthy. What a great result for the vintage. Loads of dusty tannins combine with crisp acid and pure fruit to form a medium-weight, well developed wine that shows some elegance. The palate exudes bright fruit that is rich and ripe with cherry, milk chocolate, brambly fruit, dried herbs, aniseed and milk chocolate. They wanted this wine to be food-friendly and they hit the mark. It should develop nicely. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink from 2012 to 2018.

 

Reschke 2002 Empyrean sells for $115 from the winery and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows a hint of VA; there is loads of good stuff here, it's very complex with earthy notes but shows a hint of Band-Aid. The pure, strong, deeply-seated fruit is currently buried by the abundant, fine and tight tannins. A medium-weight wine with a supple consistency and a solid, elegant structure, the complexity is well developed and whilst it is a nice wine, it finishes with a metallic edge. Undoubtedly Brett! Rated as Recommended with * for value

 

It's interesting to note that when I mentioned the low-level Brett in the Empyrean, the managment had no idea it was in the wine until very recently. That’s quite surprising. Brian was particularly interested in looking at this wine because he had noted the judges at the National Wine Show had commented on low-level Brett on the submitted sample (in both 2006 and 2007 NWS). Admittedly I was looking to see if it was there, but even if I hadn't, it would easily have been noticed by me.

 

Whilst I was drafting the story, I checked both Halliday and Oliver's sites to see if they had tried the 04 Vitulus. Given my reaction to it, I wanted to see their thoughts on it. Neither one of them had reviewed it, but I did notice something else on Halliday site. Halliday had tasting notes for the 1999 and 2000 Empyrean, as well as the released vintages of the 1998 and 2002. Considering that Halliday gave the 1999 wine 87 points and said, “To put it mildly, fully priced” I am not surprised they didn't release it. The 2000 vintage was awarded 89 points and that the wine wasn't released either.

 

These guys are trying to do everything correctly and not afraid to spend money doing it. However, when you are charging a $115 for a bottle of wine in Australia, there is no excuse for having Brett in your wine, and what’s worse is not knowing its there. Hopefully they have a tighter rein on the winemaking operation now, because if they don’t they won’t make it in the long term, no matter how much financial backing is available.

 

The names of the wines are related to the bull business. Vitulus is Latin for bull calf, but I guess you knew that already. Bos is Latin for bull. Sounds like a load of bos excreta to me. Speaking of which, when Reschke launched their logo, the Red Bull company got very upset and took them to court for a trademark infringement. Red Bull lost the case because the Reschke logo looks nothing like Red Bull. However, like an enraged bovine in a crockery shop, the Red Bull corporation was not to be deterred or stopped for that matter. When Reschke launched the Bull Trader label, the Red Bull company launched another court case. Red Bull's take is that they own the word bull, no matter what comes before it, or after it, in any category, in any country in the world. Sounds like Red Bull is fuller than an outhouse dunny with a serious blockage.

 

According to Sam, the objective of these court cases is to suck them dry so that it becomes easier for Reschke to change the names and logos, rather than fight the cases. If the bullies at Red Bull had to pick on anyone, I am glad that on this occasion, it was Reschke, because Red Bull has underestimated the determination, and the backing behind this winery. Remember, Burke managed a pit full of traders on the floor of the S&P futures exchange in Chicago. Anyone who does that job has to have balls the size of a bull, and the tenacity of a Pit Bull Terrier. Every once in a while a school yard bully gets a bloody nose when someone whacks them back, but this bully is not only a bully, but a stupid one. After having their nose bloodied, they have come back for more punishment. Hopefully this time they will get a couple of black eyes to go with the bloody nose. 

 

It's still fairly early days of this winery and they have shown they are capable of doing good things, however they need to become more consistent.

 

We had limited time before our next appointment so we headed off to DiGiorgio Family Wines for a flying visit.

 

DiGiorgio 2004 Lucindale Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $20 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet shows blackberry, blackcurrant and milk chocolate. The fruit is to the fore but it is well backed by fine, powdery tannins. An ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and solid structure, it's slightly chunky but holds appeal. It's sweet on the uptake; the palate follows the bouquet with the addition of leafy, herbal notes. It's very drinkable and would be perfect in bistros situations. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next five plus years.

 

                                           The Original Hollick Cellar Door

 

DiGiorgio 2004 Coonawarra Emporio sells for $23 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. It's a blend of 66% Merlot and the balance is Cabernet Sauvignon. The bouquet is plummy, with leafy notes and blackberry. It's sweet on the uptake with plum, chocolate, and some leafy characters. A simple, medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, it is fruit forward and has enough powdery tannins to hold the wine together. An easy-drinking, food-friendly wine that will be popular, it doesn't rock my boat. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.

 

DiGiorgio 2004 Shiraz sells for $23 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. Loads of coffee oak dominates the milk chocolate, menthol and black notes on the bouquet. The palate is unusual with loads of ripe, green spectrum flavours (mainly spearmint) through the whole palate, together with milk chocolate, plum and blackcurrant. An ample-weight wine with a soft consistency, it's uncomplicated and will be appealing to some, but the unexpected strong spearmint on the palate doesn't hold appeal. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

DiGiorgio 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $23 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet is leafy, earthy, tannic, and shows menthol. A well-made wine; it needs time for the pure, deeply-seated fruit, which is currently buried by the smooth, dusty tannins, to surface. The sweet, juicy fruit is ripe and delivers chocolate, mocha, blackcurrant and mint. A medium-weight wine with a supple consistency and some elegance, it's very credible. Rated as Recommended with *** for value, the rating should improve as the wine enters its peak drinking window.

 

The first time I tried the wines here some years ago, I thought they left a lot to be desired. Each time I have tried them since that initial visit, they are a little more appealing. Good to see them heading in the right direction.

 

Every time I go to Katnook Estate, I managed to miss Wayne Stehbens; mind you I haven't made an appointment I had just called in hoping he was there. This time, I was determined to try and see him so I emailed him to make an appointment. He said he would be very happy to see me, but there was only one slight problem, if the meeting had to take place at the requested time, the location would have to change. He would out of the country. Again!

 

Katnook is a winery I have struggled with for many years. I have adored some of their output, and absolutely hated some of it too. A real love - hate relationship. I keep going back looking for more love and less of a battering. I am a sucker for punishment. However, I have seen glimpses of the good side and I have both hope and confidence they are capable of, and will eventually change for the better. The two main complaints I have about this relationship are simple. The first is assault and battery by overly toasted/charry oak, and the second is fruit that has taken too much of a black beating by the sun.

 

On this trip, I hoped that I would find that peer pressure was starting to have an impact, and that we had turned the corner. Even though Wayne wasn't available, he set up a visit for us. We were to be taken on another (bloody) vineyard tour and then taste the current releases. He did offer to do some mini verticals for us, but we had to leave by lunchtime, so we would not have a chance to do everything.

 

Vineyard tours are normally one of two things. Incredibly boring, either because there is nothing new to show you and it's just another vineyard, or the person taking you through it is doing it because they think it is necessary as part of your visit. Alternatively, believe it or not, it can actually be interesting, educational and if presented well, even exciting. The problem is before you do it you never know if it's going to be the former or the latter. We met Chris Brodie, the vineyard manager at cellar door. He was the one taking us for a tour of the vineyards. He was an ex-Kiwi, so it was looking like it was going to be the former, rather than the latter. Chris looks after approximately four hundred acres under vine for the group.

 

Everyone lover of Oz wines know about the famed red terra rossa soils in Coonawarra. This soil is highly prized in the regions and many a court case has been fought over it. Mainly on where it starts and ends, but that is not germane to this story. However its value is undisputable; how it impacts the vines and what it contributes, was what Chris was going to show us.

 

Some readers will remember the very clever series of successful Castrol TV adverts, “Oils ain’t Oils.” Well in Coonawarra, soils ain’t soils and that’s what we were going to learn about from Chris. He started off by providing us with a macro perspective. He showed us an aerial map of the area. The differences in the shades of green from the vines on that map were incredible. They say that Ireland has forty different shades of green; Katnook may not have that many shades but the map was a riot of different green.

 

Chris started off by saying, "The better soils tend to be on the higher ridges." Bloody hell. What's this guy been smoking? Or is it just that he's an average New Zealander? "Higher ridges" in Coonawarra! I've seen pimples that are bigger than the ridges in Coonawarra. Then Chris explained, “I come from New Zealand where..” That was as far as he got because the three of us were interjecting with comments like “you think!” And gee, we wouldn’t have been able to tell!” Not to mention the raucous laughing taking place. After we had picked ourselves up off the floor and stopped laughing, the conversation got serious.

 

"Even five feet can make a hell of a difference. Generally where you have the highest ridges and hence the best soil, you get the best fruit.” He then pointed to another part of the map and continued, “This part here is a low part, but only by a couple of feet. Even then, it is interestingly good. On this part over here, it's not so good, even though the soil is a bit deeper.” Basically what he was trying to explain was that the deeper the red soil, the better the vigour. What I had not even begun to think about up until that point in time, was the incredible variance in depth of the terra rossa soil, even in a very small area. Hence the fact that “soils ain't soils” even in the middle of the Coonawarra region. To make matters even more confusing, there are some areas where there is very heavy, nasty clay. Surprisingly, there is very little consistency in the terra rossa soil in Coonawarra.

 

Lindemans has a wine called Limestone Ridge. They didn't throw a dart into a board to come up with this name. There is literally a limestone ridge running through Coonawarra. There is a hell of a lot of limestone rock right throughout this region, and that also has a big impact on the viticultural. Frequently it is found under shallow red loam. The soil tends to be well-drained and have good fertility. At the other extreme, you have black crackling clay. One of the biggest problems here is drainage. When it rains, it takes a long time to dry out. The fertility is very high, and although it may sound strange, that's not necessarily a good thing.

 

We headed out for a drive (thank God) through the vineyard. Chris might be one of those rare individuals, a smart Kiwi, because he didn't make us walk for miles. He may actually be a regular human being after all.

 

The first vines, Cabernet Sauvignon, were planted in 1972. According to Chris, "Like many of the older vines planted in this area, they were planted on the better soils. Our oldest vines produce our best Cabernet grapes and they go into the Odyssey. But the quality is a function of soil, not vine age.” By this stage, we had arrived at our first location, the vines that Chris was talking about.

 

He continued, "As you can see, this area has got altitude.”

 

The area Chris was talking about was directly next to the road. It did have altitude, a massive, whopping five foot of it! That's a mountain range in Coonawarra.

 

Chris said, "The thing that makes these vines so interesting is that they are on this beautiful red soil; but it's very shallow; 20 cm at its deepest, and it drops off to nothing over there.”

 

What, I am thinking to myself; am I hearing right, or is this guy using Kiwi logic on me. Twenty centimetres, that's only about as big as the average male …. Scratch that thought, this is a family show. Twenty centimetres, that's only about eight inches in the old money. (Most guys have delusions of adequacy in that department.) How can good soil, being only a maximum of 8 inches deep, and going down to nothing, be the best?

 

Chris continued, "These vines have to be irrigated, otherwise they would defoliate. (The good drainage comes into play here.) The shoots naturally terminate at approximately a metre in length. The area crops at between two and three tonnes to the acre, but the important thing here is that the vines tend to balance out all by themselves. Generally speaking, the best grapes come from vines that balance themselves, without a lot of human intervention. The vines look a bit untidy and unmanaged, that's because basically they are exactly that; they are machine pruned with a box- hedged (and cleaned up a little by hand.) Later on, you will see this in another area where this practice hasn't worked, and that's because it's on different soil.”

 

I'm beginning to wonder if Chris is just using New Zealand logic, or if he has been smoking some vine leaves.

 

"Essentially what we have to do is manage our vineyard practices to the individual soil profiles, and their variants.

 

With this pruning technique, dead wood can be an issue, but we don't have a problem. The vines on this terra rossa soil are very open. There is stuff all disease in here because there is no build-up of humidity, it has dappled sunlight and lots of air movement. Eventually, we'll have to cut them right back to the top of the cordon. In this case it will probably be another two to three years. That will take them totally of production for a year, and totally out of high-quality production for a further two to three years.”

 

We then moved into an area that had recently been renovated. This was major stuff. Not a lick of paint job; more like a renovator's delight. The vines were cut right back in August last year and left to their own devices. Early in June, they were going to come back and re-trellis the section. That means new posts and new wires. And then the cordon would have to be redeveloped and trained.

 

This vineyard regeneration programme did not come about by accident, or without an enormous amount of research. It all started in 1996 when they went crazy in the vineyard, and trialled every single trellising system known to mankind, and probably a few that weren’t. They also trialled minimal pruning, various levels of hedging, as well as a few other things, but the one that really work was a wild card. Every year, for the next five or six years the wine that was made from each one of these trial areas, was kept separate. Blind tastings were carried out to assess the effectiveness of the different treatments. Year in and year out, one trial, the wild card, was picked as the best wine in the blind tastings.

 

In essence, it was like the French Revolution, they went through and chopped, or guillotined the crowns of the vine off just below the wire. What surprised them was that about half the time, the grapes that were coming from these vines were going into Odyssey.

 

We then moved on to another section of the vineyard, which had vines that were widely spaced. Surprisingly enough, the canopy on these vines looked very tidy in comparison to the best vines that we saw at the start of the tour. Chris said, "We go through and machine pruned them. And then we go through and intensively hand spur trim them, so there are about 30 to 40 canes per metre. The fruit coming from these vines is good, but not as good as the vines alongside the road.”

 

Flat as a Pancake

 

I asked Chris why, with all this extra work in this part of the vineyard, the grapes were not as good as the ones next to the road, he answered in two words. “The soil!” He then went on to explain, "There is bugger all red soil here. It's a much greyer soil, and a much deeper soil. There is still a huge amount of limestone in it, (which is good) but it is in the form of rubble (big rocks - and that’s not good.) The red soil has a hard sheet of limestone under it. These two areas were planted at the same time from the same cuttings. It just shows what a huge difference the soil makes, not only to the way we manage the vineyard, but the resulting output.

 

Sometimes, ignorance can be bliss. Around about the late 1980s, we planted one section of the vineyard with three different clones, one of which was G9V3 as an experiment. After they had been planted, we found out this particular clone was not highly regarded in Coonawarra because of vigour issues. It's just as well no one told the vines that they weren’t meant to be there. They are on an area a very shallow soil, and as a result they don't have a vigour problem. We now rate this clone very highly for this sort of position in our vineyard.

 

Working out what works best is a combination of good luck and good management.

 

We moved onto a patch of Shiraz vines; yes they do grow them here. Chris told us from a viticultural perspective, these wines required intensive maintenance. This particular patch of vines is growing on clay over limestone. Chris said, "Anything we can do from a viticultural perspective, we do. The first crop of vines from here, which were produced in 1997, won the 1998 Jimmy Watson Trophy. (The wine was the 97 Prodigy Shiraz.) The vines at that stage were low vigour; there was bugger all crop on the vines. Our real challenge has been to try and maintain that quality, and in most years we have been able to do it. About 40% of the time, we are not able to do so, and that's normally in cooler vintages. Coonawarra is a cool climate to begin with, and in most cooler vintages it's just too cold to produce high-quality Shiraz. So in those years, we don't.

 

The soil has got a lot as similar physical properties as redzina (which is a rich black soil over limestone and normally located to the west of the terra rossa strip) and we don't understand why that is the case. It’s similar to terra rosssa except for the colour. Not long after I came down here, there was a soil scientist in the area who I knew pretty well. The two of us were standing in a soil pit that I had dug and he was waxing on about how good the soil was and how good the grapes would be from this vineyard. I asked him why. He pointed to the roots and said, “See that; the root density is four to five times denser than you'll find in any other soil.” Interestingly enough, although he was a scientist, he couldn't explain why it was so. He told me that when people insisted on knowing why, he would say the soil was full of undefinable qualities. And then he made a very interesting statement, nearly all the Jimmy Watson Trophy winners that had come out Coonawarra, had been grown in the type of soil. Two weeks later I rang him to tell him that he could add another one to his list.

 

This sort of soil lends itself to growing things, and not just grapes.”

 

Up until Chris started rabbiting on about how great this rich black soil was to grow grapes (and other things,) I though I had an understanding of what he was trying to tell us. Frankly, I know that I am just a simple Australian, but now I was not so sure I had it right and had been beaten by Chris’s Kiwi logic, assuming there is such a thing.

 

Around about this point, we got to the meaning of viticultural life. Chris continues, “On your website you mentioned that viticulture is the start of high-quality wine. My view of the world takes it one step further. Good viticulture starts with high quality, very good soils; the terrior, and the right climate. The soil you get here is as good as you'll get anywhere."

 

Scratching my head, I said to Chris, "What about poor quality soils? If you speak to somebody like David Jones at the Dalwhinnie, he will take you he has some of the worst, hungriest soils in the world, and that's why he produces such wonderful grapes from it.”

 

Chris said, "What a pastoralist would define as poor quality soil does not mean it is poor quality soil for grape vines. I did some lectures in a few years ago and the subject I had been given was Irrigating for Quality. I rang up a lot of grape growers who had produced iconic wines, and Trophy winners etc. Every one of them talked about the soil, and how there was some form of limiting factor in the soil. What makes that Shiraz soil beautiful is that there is stuff all of it. It's very shallow, and has a sheet of rock limestone underneath it. If I planted an olive tree there, it would be a runt. It was an enjoyable exercise to compare the various limiting factors that make the vines more manageable.

 

If you go through the Medoc, it's all on gravel and they have high density planting. The soils are so poor, they can't grow prolifically. It's the perfect soil for high-quality grape vines, but it would be poor soil to try and grow high-quality pasture. My perception of a high quality soil could be quite different to most other peoples.”

 

The penny has now dropped! When Chris was talking in Kiwi and with Kiwi logic about the Shiraz soil, he neglected to mention that there was stuff all of it, and that it was underpinned by a slab of limestone. Finally, I get it. Soils ain’t soils. To grow good grapes, you need high-quality, poor soils. And if you have high quality, rich soils, they aren't good for vines because you get too much vigour. However, you can high quality rich soil and produce good grapes as long as you have a “limiting factor” like bugger all of the stuff. It’s now as clear as redzina mud. Next time I go out with a New Zealander, I really do need to take an interpreter.

 

Limestone sheet that was ripped up when planting a small part of the vineyard

 

 

We arrived at our next destination. As we got out of the car, we noticed a huge pile of white rocks. This place could keep a convict gang going for ages. Chris pointed to that pile of rocks and said, "Those rocks are our limiting factor. Below the soil, there is a hard sheet of that stuff. That's what makes these vineyards as good as they are.

 

When visitors come we tell them of there are four characteristics that make Coonawarra unique.

1.     It's flat. If you look at a lot of the great wine regions of the world, they are on the floor of a valley.

2.     The climate is ideal. We are only 80 km from the Southern Ocean and that provides a moderating, cooling effect.

3.     It is limited. It's never going to be a huge wine region. The soil resource is very finite and it's almost all planted already.

4.     It's a long way from anywhere.”

 It's hard to argue with those points, except for the last one. It's a bloody long way from everywhere.

 

The actual terra rossa soil is about 22 km long. In width, it's averages anything from a couple of hundred metres to about a kilometre. At its widest point it would be less than 2 km in width. The road runs down the centre of it, and many growers would like to rip that road up and move it out to the West. So here is the rub. A lot of hype around Coonawarra revolves around the mystical aspects of the terra rossa soil. Now let me tell you a secret. Only a small percentage of the grapes grown in this region are actually grown on terra rossa soil. However, if you take a look at the Prodigy block, although the soil is blacker and richer, it still has a sheet of limestone underneath it, and that sheet is very near the surface. Different viticultural techniques are required to produce the best fruit, but the quality of the fruit can be every bit as good as that grown on the terra rossa soil. However even that soil is very limited; the reality is that the rest of the region is very good at producing mid range quality grapes.

 

But if you think this is the end of the story, it's not. As you head east, the terra rossa soil runs out fairly quickly and changes into a sandy loam with some ironstone shot through it; they call it coffee rock. Apparently, if you speak to some of the very experienced local winemakers like Peter Douglas, they really like the grapes that this soil can produce. In essence, you get good patches all over the region.

 

Time to taste some wine; at last! We arrived at the barrel room and were joined by Ben Wurst, the Assistant Winemaker and he took us through the wines.

 

The original part of this building, which was built in the 1860s, has historical roots. The second vintage of wine made in Coonawarra was made here by John Riddoch. It was originally a shearing shed. It just goes to show you, that Chris is a real Kiwi after all; he is working in a location where there is some association with sheep, which is mandatory for Kiwi expats. 

 

Katnook 2005 Founders Block Merlot retails for $19 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is chalky and shows plummy notes and liqueur cherry. Velvety tannins combine with pure fruit to form a medium-weight, soft wine with an agreeable complexity. It's sweet with plum, chocolate and spice. An inoffensive, very easy-drinking wine that will be popular with the Merlot masses, its rated as Agreeable with *** for value.

 

Katnook 2005 Founders Block Shiraz sells for $19 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is tight but shows some spicy notes. A fruit driven wine that is sufficiently backed, it's sweet on the uptake with red berry fruit and loads of subtle spice. That leads through to a hint of chocolate, and a slight bitterness on a clean finish. A medium-weight, supple wine that is almost elegant, it's very drinkable and food friendly. A grey suit wine, it's Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Katnook 2005 Founders Block Sparkling Shiraz sells for $19 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. There is loads of fizz in this wine, which is especially noticeable on the front palate. The flavour profile is dominated by plum, chocolate and finishes dry. An uncomplicated wine, it's Rated as Recommended with *** for value.

 

Katnook 2006 Founders Block Cabernet Sauvignon sells the $19 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The wine had just been bottled and was going through bottle shock. There was a fair whack of oak characters noticeable above the brooding fruit. It's slightly leaner in style than many but the intensity of the fruit is good. The wine seems to be attempting elegance but doesn't quite make it. However, given that is going through bottle shock that may not be its final prognosis. It's off-sweet with sweet contrasting notes, and shows mint and red berry fruit. An uncomplicated, ample-weight, soft wine that is easy drinking, it's Rated as Agreeable with *** for value but the rating is likely to improve in the short term. Drink over the next five years.

 

Katnook Estate 2005 Merlot sells for $40 at cellar door and is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is floral and shows red fruits, cherry, plum, spice and milk chocolate. Unobtrusive, ultrafine tannins combine with pure, deeply-seated fruit to form a medium-weight, supple wine that is both tight and solid. The rich, ripe fruit sits beautifully in the mouth and delivers earthy characters, chocolate, plum, and blackcurrant. It's reasonably sweet, but not overly so, and finishes long and with good intensity. A serious Merlot, it's approachable now and is Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next seven plus years.

 

Dead and dried bat next to our tasting table - The wine wasn't that bad! ..... 

Katnook Estate 2005 Shiraz sells for $40 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. A trademark Katnook Shiraz bouquet; it exhibits noticeable charry oak and spicy fruit. Almost silky, very fine, dusty tannins combines with pure, deeply-seated fruit to form a medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, solid structure and a well-developed complexity. It's well-balanced; the tannins are attractive and the fruit is fresh and bright. Sour cherry, dark chocolate, black cherry, spices and liquorice flavours finish clean, long and dry. A very enjoyable and credible wine, I wanted to just keep sipping. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, drink over the next 10 plus years.

 

Katnook Estate 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $40 at cellar door is sealed under screwcap. The bouquet is restrained and tight and is showing blackcurrant, spicy oak and lots of earthy characters. The pure, deeply-seated, intense fruit is very ripe and black. It delivers strong blackcurrant, dark chocolate, prune spectrum like characters, vanilla, and mocha flavours that finish clean. The fine, silky tannins provide a soft consistency and solid structure for this ample-weight wine; it sits well in the mouth, and is approachable now, but will improve. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it should be in its peak drinking window between 2012 and 2018.

 

Katnook Estate 2004 Prodigy Shiraz sells for $95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet shows loads of vanilla and mocha oak, together with spice and menthol. A lovely-wine with a wonderful mouth-feel and supported by excellent building blocks; the velvety tannins are tight and the pure fruit is pristine. It's perfectly ripe with blackcurrant, liquorice, chocolate, mocha, blueberry, and spices that finish long and intense. Just muscular in weight, it has a supple consistency and a tight, solid structure. An intricate wine, it is approachable now but will improve. This qualifies as seriously good-quality and is Rated as Excellent with ** for value; drink between now and 2020. I didn't want to spit it or move onto the next wine.

 

Katnook Estate 2003 Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon sells the $95 at cellar door and is sealed under cork. The bouquet showed interesting complexity with lifted, leafy varietal characters and lots of black notes. Abundant, fine, powdery tannins combined with pure, sweet fruit to form a medium-weight, solid and harmonious wine. A respectable result for the vintage, and exhibiting a credible structure, the rich fruit delivers iodine spectrum characters, aniseed, intense blackcurrant, mocha, milk chocolate and mint. It's approachable now but needs a little more time to show its best and is Rated as Highly Recommended with * for value; it should be in its peak drinking window between 2011 and 2018. A nice wine, but there is far better value around.

 

They have to find a use for the limestone rock

So they built a new staff amenities building

 

I enjoyed the tasting. As I tasted each wine, although there were noticeable oak characteristics on the bouquet on quite a number of them, on the palate the oak was tolerable, and at long last, was becoming an adjunct to, rather than the dominating character of the wine. Likewise, although the flavour profile of some of the wines was still very black (ripe), they are not as black as in the past. All the signs point to Katnook heading in the right direction.

 

In terms of our vineyard tour, it was most interesting and I learnt heaps, in spite of the fact that our host was a Kiwi. By the end of the trip, I was not only convinced he was one of the smart ones, but that he was a regular human being as well. I thought he must just about be ready to be naturalised as an Australian, and later found out two years ago Chris was naturalised so now he is a certified regular human being. I noticed that when we walked past some sheep, they didn't appear to be nervous. No wonder! The reason he got into horticulture in the first place was a strong intolerance to sheep.

 

In all seriousness, besides learning loads, the tour provided a real appreciation for the dedication that Katnook has to its vineyards and subsequently to its wines.

 

Whilst we were making the original arrangements, we were invited to have lunch at the winery, but had to beg off as we had to be out of the place by lunchtime to get back to McLaren Vale. When Wayne kindly offered to provide some of “their famous baguettes” to take with us, I had assumed they made them at the winery themselves. When the platter of baguettes was presented to us as we were leaving, I thought they looked suspiciously like the one I had eaten yesterday, and commented on the similarities. It turns out they don't make them at Katnook, they came from the DiVine café in town. That was very generous of Wayne and his wife Michelle, but completely unnecessary.

  

Brian was feeling a bit wrung out from his cold, and asked me to drive the first shift. No problems. The best part was knowing I had avoided a pie shop or bakery, and we had some really good tucker to munch on. The baguettes were beautiful. Even Brian and John hoed into them. The trip back to McLaren Vale was uneventful and we arrived just in time to head out again for dinner at the Victory Hotel.

 

It's normally tradition to have our dinner at the Victory on the first night we are here, but on this trip it was on the last night. We were joined by Roger Pike, and Glen Green and his partner Vasiliki. These nights are always great fun and a lot of laughs. This year I had made a new rule, Glen is the undisputed world champion of wine options bastardry, but unfortunately in his quest to bring the most obscure wines that no one has ever heard of, on too many occasions the wines he had brought have not gone down well with the group. The new rule was simple; crap, ordinary, or mediocre wines will not be appreciated. If you want to play options, that's fine, but do it with good wine, not obscure cats piss from Outer Mongolia.

 

The first bottle of wine opened was Henschke in 1994 Cyril. The bouquet showed loads of liqueur cherry characters, chocolate, and some aged, leathery aspects were starting to emerge. The palate is silky smooth, the acid fresh; it's in its peak drinking window and is unlikely to improve further. The palate follows the bouquet with the leathery characters being dominant. It is medium-weigh and finished clean, and with acceptable persistence; rated as (just) Excellent. The bottle was finished fairly quickly, which is a good sign.

 

Dominus 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon which hails from the Napa Valley was the next wine opened. This wine was laden with Brett. It was in the undrinkable category.

 

Rockford 1996 Basket Press Shiraz showed very earthy chocolaty characters together with nose clearing menthol. The fruit was absolutely sensational. It's as clean as a whistle. Flavours of cherry/blueberry spectrum fruit, milk chocolate, aged leather, and mint finished with fantastic length. Abundant, fine tannins perfectly frame the fruit and the acid provides a clean finish. An intricate wine, it's rated as Excellent and should continue kick for another 10 years.

 

The next bottle of wine opened, Yalumba 1996 the Reserve, was mildly corked; just enough to strip out the flavour and enjoyment, turning it into a very ordinary wine that was not worth drinking.

 

For a starter I ordered salt and pepper squid. It looked very good, and tasted as good as it looked, but unfortunately the serving size was very small.

 

We were getting through the wines at a cracking pace. Next up was a Greenock Creek 1996 Seven Acres Shiraz. Badly corked!

 

Five bottles opened so far, and three of them were stuffed. Not impressive.

 

Wendouree 1991 Shiraz had a big nose that mainly exuded mint and menthol and some oaky characters, but was basically still closed. A big, intense wine with loads of everything, the fruit is still very youthful and the acid fresh. At 17 years of age, it is still very tight and completely vininfanticide. An Excellent wine, but far too young to drink.

 

Houghton's 1995 Jack Mann, as expected was singing. The bouquet shows fantastic complexity with the first signs of aged characters starting to emerge. The palate showed beautiful Cabernet fruit with blackcurrant, heaps of rich milk chocolate, and mint. It finished very long and fresh. A silky-smooth wine, the tannins have integrated beautifully and the wine is rated as Excellent.

 

For a main course I ordered a rare, Angus eye of fillet. It was served with potato rosti and onions, with a crown of bacon. My steak was terrific; it was a soft as butter.

 

Sue ordered kangaroo, and it was completely off. Rancid! (Brian: It was a cryovac portion that had either been left too long or had another problem, very stinky.)

 

Glen ordered his Angus medium rare. It was very rare, almost blue. Ladies and gentlemen; in the left corner we have Glen Green, and in the right corner we have the chef of the Victory Hotel. Glen sent his steak back to be cooked longer. When it returned, whilst it was no longer blue, it wasn't medium rare. It was still dead set rare. Dear reader, if you think I am bombastic, and don't suffer fools gladly, I am a pussycat in comparison to Glen. When his steak hadn't been cooked properly the second time, he decided to take matters into his own hands and visit the chef in person, to tell him exactly what he thought of the situation. I'm glad I wasn't the chef.

 

First attempt                                                                                                                          Second attempt

 

Whilst this was going on, we opened a Tatachilla 2001 Foundation Shiraz. In the past, this label has been known for its high level of oak. The bouquet on this 2001 had been murdered with it. And then it struck me. It was oxidised. Others initially thought it was corked. After we had let it breathe for a while, the wine proved us all wrong. The bouquet changed to reveal dominant earthy type characters. It was strange. The palate showed abundant liqueured blackcurrant, mint, eucalyptus, and loads of oak characters. The fruit was very ripe; Glen thought it'd probably suffered from berry shrivel. It was not a good look at all, especially when you consider that this is their icon wine. Rated as Recommended.

 

Out of eight bottles, three of them were stuffed and one was not a good wine. We were doing well. Not!

 

When Glen returned from the kitchen, he told us what happened. He asked the chef how he thought the steak was meant to be cooked when it came out the first time. The chef told Glen he thought it was ordered blue. Glen told the chef that even then, he had got it wrong, because if it was meant to be blue, it was slightly overdone. The chef offered to cook it again, but Glen, naturally enough, declined.

 

Two different views of the Pie King - Don't ask about the second one. You don't want to know.

  

I don't know what's going on the Victory, but the standard over the last few years has dropped to the point where it's no longer worth returning. Rancid kangaroo, tiny starters, not being able to cook a steak to order twice and very poor service, even though the restaurant was not particularly busy, is unacceptable. We had to go and collect the menus ourselves, and by the time the forks were delivered to the table, the main courses were half cold. Glen putted a little more strongly than that; and the second word was atrocious.

 

At the end of the evening, Glen came up with an absolute classic. He said, "John would chat up the hind leg of a rabid dog if he thought he was going to get a kick out of it.”

 

To finish off the evening, Glen was kind enough to bring along a Canadian Ice Wine. The Burchwood Estate 2001 was made from Cabernet Franc, which is pretty unusual. The bouquet was somewhat unusual in that it showed dominant Cabernet Franc floral characters. It was a pleasant wine, but not as fresh as it could have been, but then it was a 2001. The palate was very sweet with some rose petal aspects and honeysuckle. Unfortunately we were laughing so much that I never got to finish this tasting note.

 

Roger brought a Campbell's Grand Muscat. After John thanked him and complemented Roger on his choice of wines, Rogers smiled and said, "You look really sexy John.” As quickly as a bullet leaving a rifle, Glen said, "He is not the only one. John thinks so too.” A look of disgust crossed Vasiliki's face and she said, "And we have just eaten, I think I'm going to be sick.”

 

But Vasiliki's wasn't done with brilliant sayings yet. Sue mentioned to Vasiliki that John wanted to change his name to Mandingo and Vasiliki responded, "John Mandingo!” The mind boggles.

 

We had a great night, despite the wine disappointments and poor showing by the restaurant. Great company can overcome those obstacles. I don't know why the Victory is going off, but it has been slowly declining so some time. According to John, it's got something to do with somebody, groping, for trout and mysterious waters and a Shakespeare quotation.

 

That brings this Chapter to its logical conclusion. The final chapter should be a beauty. It is the second Book End in the series and covers an exclusive and unique interview with one of Australia's most interesting and controversial winemakers.

 

 

 

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From John Harrison: 17 August

Thank you for the tour notes - I look forward to reading about each expedition.

Last night I opened my second bottle from a case of 98 Brand's Shiraz - unfortunately, I found that instead of the fruit and wood being in partnership they had spend most of the last decade fighting and the battle had been won hands down by the wood. I had thought the first bottle might be corked but now after second bottle, and on reading your comments I suspect the balance of the case will be wood juice.

 

 

 

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