McLaren Vale: Highlights from the new generation
If I was in the mood for cliches, this article could be called ‘Mclaren Vale: The next vintage’ or ‘McLaren Vale’s new crop’ or such. But I’m ditching all of that today, for I simply want to talk about a few McLaren Vale makers crafting good wines. Most importantly, these are three producers that are largely winemakers, not vignerons, producing wines from trusted grower fruit and not afraid of travelling all over the countryside to find it.
|Dave ‘Vinteloper’ Bowley
Looking every one of his seven feet in this photo
More than that though, these are three winemakers that like to drink, who realise that to make great wines you’ve got to have tasted great wines. That might sound like a given, but it constantly surprises me how narrowly many winemakers drink, with a liquid diet that often rarely strays beyond Coopers (if you’re in South Australia at least) and some old favourites (or, worst still, just their own wines). The end result is winemakers who make the same old wines in the same old styles without even a whisper of innovation.
Want an example? One well known winemaker said to me, and I quote, ‘some of those organic wines are alright, but there aren’t many good ones’. Said winemaker also wore shiny leather pants to a function (so probably can’t be trusted). Regardless, it’s almost a constant that great winemakers drink great wines, and I’m never surprise to spot some famous empty bottles on his/her winery shelves (or help empty the bottles with the winemakers themselves).
Anyway, back to the Vale and these three new(ish) producers, all of whom present a whole new interesting face to McLaren Vale.
First up is a deep thinking, considered winemaker (and noted basketballer) whom has only really been making wines under his own label since 2009, even though he’s been a winemaker for a decade. Many of those years however were actually spent on the other side of the fence – working in compliance with Wine Australia, a job that he credits with making him a more considered – and ultimately artisanal – winemaker.
That man is David Bowley and his label is called Vinteloper wines.
The premise behind Vinteloper is a simple one – find good grapes, make good wine. What sets the operation apart is that Dave is part of the new vanguard that insists upon making minimal interventionist wines (crafted basically in his back shed) and it was Dave’s most ‘natural’ wine that effectively made his reputation.
Said wine was the 2010 Vinteloper ‘Odeon’, a Watervale Riesling that was, quite by accident, produced with wild yeasts; spent 2 months in oak, 2 months on less; made without temperature control and with only a spoonful of sulphur added. It is, in Clare Rizza terms, a delightfully textural, alive and complex wine that represents quite an intriguing departure from the norm.
|The Alpha Box & Dice ‘Laboratory’|
Sadly the Odeon is now sold out (and the ’11 is a few months off yet) but another new release from the big man to tickle my fancy is the 2010 Vinteloper ‘Adelo’, which is yet another thoroughly unconventional wine in the best possible fashion. Adelo is a blend of McLaren Vale Touriga, McLaren Vale Shiraz and Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, all coupled together in the perfect example of what can be done with some clever winemaking. It’s looking a little tight at present, with the oak needing some time to integrate, but what I like most about is how savoury and persistant it is, a dry, rich and full – yet not extractive – style, with the welcome savouriness of Touriga driving the party. I like it muchly, reflecting as it does the attraction of Dave’s winemaking Modus operandi.
Speaking of quirky blends though, another producer with a passion for the unusual cuvee is Justin Lane, a fast talking and intuitive winemaker whom has perhaps the most acute appreciation for the fine wines of the world than anyone.
Justin’s approach, exhibited under his ‘Alpha Box & Dice’ label, is to make interesting blends (for they’re almost ubiquitously blends, the man can’t seem to help himself) with no shortage of character. His wines mirror the man himself, a reflection of a restless man and a restless drinker, the ultimate wine tinkerer. In that fashion his blends don’t always work (and he’s often relying on quite young vine material, so the definition is not always spot on) but the wins are big ones (such as this one)
Of these, I tasted out of barrel some brilliant ’10 Barbera that even I thought had some Piedmont leanings, with Justin letting slip that he has Mascarello in mind when crafting this. From the current releases (and there’s plenty of them, with each wine represented by a letter of the alphabet) I like the impressive 2009 Alpha Box & Dice ‘A’ Apostle Shiraz Durif, which has a richness and tannins that felt much more European in it’s style, or the plain joyful 2010 Alpha Box & Dice ‘D’ Dead Winemakers Dolcetto.
|Justin Mcnamee – lunch break
(Source: Samuel’s Gorge website)
There are less successful wines of course, including the ‘Golden Mullet Fury’ Muscadet which doesn’t quite nail the rich, slightly phenolic Loire style, yet you can still see the intention, taste the attention. It’s a work in progress no doubt, redeemed just by how interesting it is, indicative again of a motivated and skillful winemaker on the up.
On a more conventional note, the final maker in this little McLaren Vale triumvirate makes perhaps the most traditional styles (in a way). I’m talking now about Samuel’s Gorge, led by the wild haired, wonderfully eccentric Justin Mcnamee (just have a read of my first experience with the man himself here). Again, like all of these gents, Justin and his crew drink widely (and proudly so, every time I’ve been in there they are hungover and spouting stories of great wines) and have a very fair understanding of what good vino tastes like.
Like the other Justin, Justin Mcnamee’s method is one of experimentation, with his cluttered winery full of different barrel sizes/formats and a big wooden fermenter sitting as a centerpiece. The desire for Justin again is for complexity, for a more rich expression of some McLaren Vale styles, with the reds given extended maceration, made with natural yeasts and left to their own devices to build more wildness and character.
Whilst it is the reds then that underpin Samuel’s Gorge (Shiraz, Grenache and Tempranillo), it is the whites where the skill is really on show. Justin chooses cool Tasmania for his white grapes, shipping them back across the water as juice (though for how much longer he’ll venture to Tassie is up for contention) and finishing the wines off in the Vale. Of particular note amongst these Tasmanian interlopers is the stunning 2010 Samuel’s Gorge Tamar Valley Gewurtztraminer, sourced from some seriously old vines on the Western side of the Tamar Valley (that belong to the Pipers Brook operation and were recently pulled out). It’s a stunningly floral, evocatively fragrant wine with weight, acidity and proper phenolics, making a lovely counterpoint to the rest of the rather full and rich McLaren Vale red range. I’m a massive fan of this (and it’s Relbia Riesling brother).
|Samuel’s Gorge Gewurtztraminer
Perhaps even more intriguing though is the new, unreleased 2010 Samuel’s Gorge Mourvedre/Mataro (whatever you want to call it) which I also tried from barrel. Suffice to say I was excited. It was exciting, with the component to come from the Gillet barrel being particularly stunning, showing everything you’d want in a Australian Mataro – meaty, minerally, densely savoury dark fruited red fruit character with so much latent power, tannins and depth, yet without any excesses of sweetness or edifice. Deep and savoury Mataro to the max.
There remains only one challenge with the wines of these three producers: Finding them. Cellar door/mailing list/online seems to be the key, for none of them have widespread distribution and volumes are low.
If you can deal with this however, and you’re after wines with character, made by characters, then I can’t recommend these wines enough – they’re wines that I personally would want to buy and drink.