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Article – Old Vines in the Barossa

June 13th, 2010

Free Rosé @ Red Nose

Lately, a few people have been suggesting that I am always on the road, and not in a Jack Kerouac kind of way. The truth is I am stretching the travels I do embark on (in the interests of wine) to the maximum, and usually get a number of articles and blogs from a very quick trip. So, alas, I don’t spend vast amounts of time globetrotting and drinking wine on a veranda in the sunshine. Anyway, I have very nice decking out the back garden and recently the sunshine has been cooperating. I don’t think that I am alone, as the current offer of free Rosé in the shop has been hugely popular. But I am not going to talk about Rosé, even if it is free, today I am going to transcend over 16,500 kilometres and visit the famous Barossa Valley in southern Australia. Brian O Driscoll sent a message on Twitter this morning (or tweeted to use the proper terminology) saying that he was really struggling with jet lag. Whilst I would love to send him a good Shiraz recommendation, I don’t think it would be answering Ireland’s Call in the correct manner. Brian will have to suffer on, but we can “line out” for an article about very old vines.

Australian Wine in Croker

Wine Australia (Ireland), under the very steady guidance of John McDonnell put on a great day recently in Croke Park where the best of Australia was on show. As well as the chance to meet and taste with importers and winemakers, there was also an opportunity to learn. I am always looking to learn more about wine, and the seminars on show that day ranged from the independent wine merchants take on the state of the industry, and included a very vocal opinion on big brand wines, supermarkets and their “use” of low price wine strategies.

The crowd at Croke Park

The crowd at Croke Park

It was interesting to see the wines on show for tasting, as there was very few that retailed for under €10 Euros. There seems to be a move away from that bottom end, and not before time. Considering the distance the wines have to travel and the quality of fruit at that price point, it is asking a lot to find a wine that has minimal sulphites and is not as natural as it might be. It is having a terrible effect on the independents, winemakers and I have witnessed a few dodgy post function hangovers to suggest the customer is not being best served either. The point was made that they won’t build up a brand with their customers, only for the supermarkets to sweep in and take it over and destroy the margin. Going on this theory we can hope to see more and more smaller vineyards making their way to the marketplace ( much as is the case with France today ). This offers the customer quality and real value, and can protect the importer and retailers who invest so much time and money in finding these wines. It was a very opinionated speech on the day, so we will see if the threat will transpire.

Alternative varietals with Chester Osborn

Alternative varietals with Chester Osborn

Very Old Vines indeed

One of the seminars I attended was about the old vines charter from the Barossa Valley, which is north of Adelaide. I have a lot of old vine wines from France, as I believe they offer characteristics that transcend the fruit and climactic conditions. If it is possible to taste history, it will be with an old vine wine. However, due to the ravages of phylloxera, which began in the mid 19th century, the French wine industry was more or less wiped out. You don’t see a lot of really old vines about. The insect came from North America (possibly on the newly launched steam ships – there is no recorded proof of ticket purchase) and caused havoc. No remedy could be found and the only solution was to rebuild the vineyards by grafting the European vines to the resistant North American rootstock. But this is all for another article. Australian vines were not affected and many people think of their wines as new world, which they are, but at this tasting I had a wine that came from vines that were planted in 1843. You read it correctly, 1843 – which makes them 167 years old. A German settler fleeing persecution in Prussia decided to plant a few vines. That same year, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. The following had not yet happened – the Crimean War, Franco Prussian War, World War 1 or World War 2. The Irish famine was just about to start, and in 36 years, a baby boy named Padraig Pearce would be born in Dublin. After that quick jaunt through history, what did the wine actually taste like? Ironically, it needed more time. It was a Shiraz and from the 2006 vintage, and while typical Shiraz characteristics (big black fruits and spice) shone through, there was an earthiness and a denseness to it with surprising acidity. I would love to retaste it in about 10 years. It is made by a direct descendent of the man who planted the vines in 1843. Unfortunately, it is made in tiny amounts and as far as I know, it is sold out in Ireland.

Sam Holmes, CEO of the Barossa Grape & Wine Association

Sam Holmes, CEO of the Barossa Grape & Wine Association

How Old is Old?

The wine was presented as part of a tasting with the Barossa Old Vine Charter. It was presented by Sam Holmes, CEO of the Barossa Grape & Wine Association. The charter protects wines like the Langmeil Freedom Shiraz (with its 167 year old vines) among others. We tasted wines that fall into the following categories; Barossa Old Vine (35 years or over); Barossa Survivor Vine (70 years or over); Barossa Centurion Vine (100 years or over) or the very rare Barossa Ancestor Vine (125 years or over). The older a vine gets, the lower the yield tends to be, but the lower the yield on a vine, normally increases concentration in the fruit. I don’t need to tell you that the wine on show, all eight of them were very impressive.

The Barossa

The Barossa

To quote Robert Hill Smith of Shaw & Smith vineyards, “The Old Vine Charter is dedicated to the recognition, preservation and promotion of these old vines”. The 1980s saw a lot of very old vines pulled up, and they are very eager for this not to happen again. I would love to see a similar charter started in the Languedoc in France, where lots of old Carignan vines are being ripped up in order to plant more fashionable vines. That is a battle for another day, and it could be argued that I talk about French wine way too much. I would be one of Australia’s greatest critics as I believe their campaign of very cheap commodity wines over the last 20 years has had a very bad effect on wine across Europe and nowhere more than Australia itself. The truly great wines are pushed into the background as the race to the bottom engulfs them. However, it was great to taste such fun, serious but for the most part interesting wines in Croke Park.

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For anyone who would like more information and can’t make it into the shop, please feel free to contact me at info@rednosewine.com

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist June 10 2010

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist June 10 2010

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