Thursday, 9 April 2015


A rather overcast start to a Monday morning but I was certainly looking forward to the visit at Penfolds iconic Magill Estate, now situated on the east side of the city of Adelaide. The historic estate has now been engulfed into the eastern suburbs and sits alone like a stronghold of times passed. 

It was here that the now-infamous Grange was born and some of the parcels that go to the blend are still made here today. 

The estate is old and charming and the 170yr old winery still does around a 200-ton crush. The estate is undergoing a number of refurbishments and wasn't looking its best for my visit.

Although Penfolds is now owned by the giant Treasury Wine Estates I still love the blends that Penfolds continue to make. It has been a while since I have tasted a Penfolds line up in one go and was not disappointed this time either, here are a few of the standouts:

  • Pinot Gris 2014 Adelaide Hills: fragrant yellow melon hint of fresh green herbs, zesty palate and long lime finish, good weight. 
  • Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2012 Reserve Bin 12A: reductive hints, lots of peach, full palate, creamy oak, vanilla, nutty, lovely acidity, long, long finish! A really good wine, top of their game here.
  • Pinot Noir Adelaide Hills 2013: lots of Pinot character, fresh cherries, light green herbs, nice weight and ripeness, blackberry and forest fruit on palate. It's nice to see a weightiefuller style of Pinot Noir. 
  • Kalima Bin 28 Shiraz 2008: great herbal and blackcurrant nose, full bodied, lovely fruit. So fresh with a long blackcurrant finish. Very together and more to go. Great value for money and has aged beautifully. This blend has been used since 1959 and I can see why it continues to delight. 
  • Magill Estate 2011 Shiraz: very peppery, herbal green tea, peppermint, lavender, good acidity, blue berry and cherry, followed by dark plum and some raisin. Lovely wine from the 2.4ha city vineyard!
  • Cellar Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: only available at the Magill cellar door at $200, made from the Penfolds Block 42 in the Barossa Valley. An explosive nose of sweet Creme de Casis, super charged herbs and tight searing green pepper undertones. Beautiful structure and velvet tannins, long and luscious finish.

It is always nice to taste Grange I have been fortunate to enjoy a number of vintages but it is always better in Australia and of course at its spiritual home Magill Estate a first for me. 

A bottle of the 2009 Grange – a blend of four regions comprising McLaren Vale, Barossa, Clare Valley and Magill Estate – was opened in front of me and cork I might add (first time I have seen an Australian use a corkscrew since I have been here!) was popped. A quick swirl and intense blackberry, ripe plum, rum and raisin, dark chocolate, green herbs, garrigue and peppermint aromas opened up. On the palate more liquorice, fennel, dense blackcurrant, violets, barrel spice, big but lovely tannins, black fig, white pepper with a lovely freshness. A very nice wine but $785 :(

I finished the tasting with some fortified, the Father Grand Tawny 10yr showed almonds, coffee, caramel, dried apricots and a lemon lift. The Grandfather 20yr had wafts of iodine, caramel and a nice alcohol heat, coffee with a rum and raisin finish. 

I had a great time at Penfolds. I enjoyed the wines and I hope that the blends and winemaking continue to be so good for the future. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Philbo: a Wine Legend

Phil(bo) Christiansen, owner of Longwood Wines, is a living legend in McLaren Vale.
As a born and bred child of the Vale, he remembers the place being very different indeed before all the investment and wine hype.  Phil started work as a trainee cellar hand at Hardy’s local Tintara winery but it wasn’t until Hardy’s appointed Steve Pannell as head winemaker back in the 90’s that things would change for him.  

Through Pannell’s inspiration and great cellar communications, Phil learnt how to make wine commercially and how to develop exciting wines for himself. Philbo was a big part of Tony Laithwaite’s highly successful RedHeads movement and today he has his own winery nestled high in the hills above McLaren Vale where he makes his own range of exquisite wines alongside contract winemaking for other talented growers. 

I have known Phil for many years from his frequent visits to Bordeaux to help with the harvest. I now find myself here in his home town and working for his mentor Steve Pannell who has returned to this part of the world to set up his own winery.
Phil in his winery
Phil and his wife Lauren have kindly put me up at their place for a few days after the madness of harvest. Now I can get to see a bit of the Vale before heading off. And I can taste some of Phil’s exciting wines like his Adelaide Pinot Noir, a superb Cabernet Sauvignon and old-vine Grenache.
However, first things first in true Australian fashion: “let’s go and see a mate for a beer”. That ‘mate’ was Philbo’s school mate Drew Noon … another living legend in the Vale. 

Drew is a quiet, interesting and charming character. A winemaker of great experience, he is also one of the very few in Australia to pass the Master of Wine and now runs his small Noon Winery just down the road from Phil’s place. Drew has quite a following and all his wine is sells out pre-release … he even has a waiting list!  The cellar door opens on only a couple of weekends in November where wines are available to buy in limited quantities … these usually sell out within the first Saturday!
Drew and Phil ... living legends of the Vale

Therefore it was great to have a little look around, meet Drew personally to chat about his winemaking and how the 2015 went.  Drew unscrewed an old-vine Noon Eclipse Grenache for us to taste which was really lovely and superbly balanced. We also tasted/drank a bottle of his limited 150 bottle 2014 rose instead of a beer!
Tasting Drew's old-vine Grenache

Sunday, 5 April 2015

A Visitor in the Cellar

The winery was hugely busy throughout harvest but amongst the organised chaos this little bearded dragon was spotted in the winery. We took him back to the safety of the vineyard but not until he had a full tour of the cellars and met everyone!

Friday, 3 April 2015

A Battle of Grenache

One of the reasons I am out here is that South Australia is home to some of the world’s oldest Grenache vines and I wanted to see and learn how they do things out here. I have already seen similarities between Grenache here and at home in Maury but new methods, ideas and techniques can only enhance the perfection in my Grenache wine that I aim for.

I have been working with Stephen Pannell for the last 4 weeks solid, absorbing all his energy, ability and passion for wine. Stephen Pannell is a winemaker of enormous reputation and has worked at the highest level for some of the best wineries, making some of Australia’s most iconic and most expensive wines. Steve is also twice winner and current holder of the prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy.
S.C. Pannell Cellar Door
However Steve has returned to the Vale to set up his own winery, driven by his love for certain varietals including his beloved Grenache! 

We had a great night with Steve and co at his S.C. Pannell cellar door and restaurant and were seated out on the ‘deck’ as they say down under!
On the deck

I knew Steve’s love of Grenache so I sneaked in my own 2012 Vent de Folie I had brought in my suitcase from home alongside his highly rated Grenache. 
Two Grenaches

Steve loved the Vent de Folie and it was talk of the winemakers’ table. I am thrilled about this and after many years working with old-vine Grenache it is always a pleasure to have great compliments and enjoyment from one of the most respected winemakers in the world.  Honestly, the Vent de Folie stood up to Steve’s Grenache, shoulder to shoulder. It may not have won hands down, but don’t tell Steve. My Vent de Folie does however win hands down with the price,a complete steal at only £14.99!!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Compressed Harvest

My word, what a vintage it has been here in McLaren Vale! 2015 has seen remarkable weather here in South Australia starting with a mild winter, a cool spring and start to the growing season and a good dry, warm summer.  However there have been some extraordinary heat waves or heat blasts as they are saying over here with 2-3 days of intense 40+°C heat, comparable to a microwave being turned on full for three minutes at a time. This has accelerated the ripening in bursts and along with the near perfect growing season has created a phenomenon rarely, if not ever seen here in South Australia. 2015 is being labelled as ‘a compressed harvest’.

Normally the harvest here in the Vale starts in March and runs for 7-8 weeks starting logically with whites on the lower slopes, then the reds on the flats followed by the whites then reds in the hills. This ‘normal’ cycle has been turned upside down and almost everything, regardless of grape varietal, has ripened at the same time!! We have picked Cabernet before Chardonnay, Shiraz the same day as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling whilst harvesting old vine Grenache … just crazy.  Added to this the harvest was 2 weeks early and the earliest on record!  

The result?  Complete mayhem and a logistical nightmare in the field and in the winery.  The early date caught cellars by surprise and they lacked the extra vintage help that would mostly be arriving (including myself) from overseas for the start of harvest. But the most incredible thing was that an 8-week harvest was completed in just 4 weeks with the same volume of grapes, the same man hours in both the cellar and vineyard, hence ‘A Compressed Harvest’!  The risk however was that grapes at optimum ripeness and ready to pick couldn’t be harvested, no harvesters available and even if they were the wineries were full to the brim!
Full tanks

Extra vats were being rented and old vats being cleaned up for ferment use, it seemed every vessel in McLaren Vale that could hold liquid was being used!! Unfortunately, some of the grapes on the vine started to shrivel into over ripeness and many winemakers struggled and sadly, some potentially high-quality grapes were lost. 

I landed after a 25hr non-stop journey from France at 2pm on the Friday and hurled myself into the thick of harvest the following morning at 6am. I was soon at the ferment tasting bench where we had to get through over a hundred ferments to decide the next 12 hours’ work schedule. This was then repeated 12 hours later to organise the nightshift jobs.
At the tasting bench

I have never experienced anything quite like it, but after 30-odd days straight and 20hrs a day of ‘organised chaos’ it was over. Quite a blur, but I do think the simple sandwich is vastly underrated!

Overall the harvest was a triumph and quality was superb from vine to wine. 2015 is certainly an exceptional vintage and one to ear-mark for its release in 2016.