Our grapes are sourced from just five vineyards
We manage our estate vineyards by hand, with as few sprays as possible. The vines are picked and pruned by hand; just copper and sulphur are used if required for fungal disease control, and soil tillage is kept to a minimum.
As a consequence you may notice, if you visit the winery, that the surrounding old vines look a little wild, but proud! There are no trellis wires or irrigation pipes. There is some grass on the vineyard floor and the vines all look slightly different to each other; all individuals. They are not uniform like the surrounding vineyards which were designed for mechanisation.
In the 1930′s, when these vines were planted, machine harvesters were not invented (nor was television!) and there were many vineyards in the area which looked a little “free range” like ours. This method of growing (known as bush training or bush vines) has largely disappeared now because it requires all of the vineyard operations to be carried out by hand. It’s slower, more labour intensive work but it means all of our vines get the individual attention they deserve.
We appreciate the importance of producing our wines in a way which is sustainable and we are members of the Sustainable Australia Winegrowing program.
We source our grapes from just 5 vineyard blocks:
1) The 2.4 hectare Winery Block at McLaren Vale (planted 1934) which produces Grenache for Eclipse and Rosé from unirrigated bush vines.
2) The 1.6 hectare Almond Block at McLaren Vale (planted 1999) which produces Graciano and Shiraz for Eclipse.
3) BJ’s Block at McLaren Vale (1.6 hectares planted 1943) which produces Grenache for Eclipse and Rosé from unirrigated bush vines.
4) The 20 Rows Block at Langhorne Creek (1.6 hectares planted in the early 1960s) which produces Shiraz for Reserve Shiraz
5) The Fruit Trees Block (1.2ha planted in the early 1970s) along with more recently a little from the adjacent Main Road Block, at Langhorne Creek which produce Cabernet Sauvignon for Reserve Cabernet.
The Langhorne Creek vineyards are owned by our friends the Borrett family and are situated about 50 minutes south east of McLaren Vale.
CLIMATE and WATER
We live in a warm climate (which seems to be getting warmer!). Luckily for us Grenache and Graciano are natives of Spain and love a warm climate and McLaren Vale is perfect for them to thrive. Our estate vines are not irrigated, relying on natural rainfall to survive by having their roots through the sandy loam topsoil, deep into the cool red clay below with its life-sustaining water holding capacity. We believe this maximises the quality but unfortunately if it doesn’t rain through the winter, it also means a very small crop (as happened recently with the 2003, 2007 and 2009 seasons for instance).
Shiraz loves the sun too and the 20 Rows block at Langhorne Creek (which produces our Reserve Shiraz) is well located, with a higher clay content in the soil again being important for water holding and quality. Both the 20 Rows Shiraz vineyard and the Fruit Trees Cabernet vineyard (which provides the grapes for our Reserve Cabernet) are situated in the area of the original plantings at Langhorne Creek known as the flood plain. Here, in late winter and spring, heavy showers of rain on the eastern slopes of the nearby ranges often bring the Bremer River, which runs through Langhorne Creek, up to overflowing. Growers employ a series of weirs and levy banks to channel these flood waters to the vineyards, providing a deep watering and nutrient revival just at the start of the next growing season. It’s a unique system with a long history.
Langhorne Creek is in many respects an ideal grape growing region. Disease pressure is low because of low summer rainfall and temperatures are moderated due to a large body of water, Lake Alexandrina, located just a few kilometres away. It deserves to be better known.
We do not set out with the aim of producing high (or low) alcohol wines. We do like our grapes to be fully flavour and tannin ripe at harvest and having old, low yielding vines in a warm climate means that the resulting wines are going to be higher in alcohol. There is a trend to light wines in the mass market but we can’t supply it. Our vineyards don’t allow it. That’s ok. We don’t seek to do everything. We aspire to do what we can do as well as we possibly can.
Soils and wine - a mysterious relationship!
We can easily see that the flavour of wine is influenced by the terroir in which it is grown. For example Riesling from Germany tastes very different from Riesling grown in the Clare Valley. The topography of the landscape, the weather, the soil, the vineyard management, local cultures and traditions all have the ability to influence how foods and wines from different places taste. But as we refine our search to identify the most important factors responsible for these differences, we run early on into the problem of trying to understand and quantify the relative importance of soil. This is made even more interesting by the traditional promotion of soil as the basis of vineyard terroir by the French and the appeal of the notion to wine consumers. It’s tempting to associate the stony/mineral flavours of Mosel Riesling with the slate soils the vines grow in. Or the pithy dryness of Chablis with the chalk-rich soil in which it grows. But we cannot explain this relationship yet in scientific terms. There is no known mechanism for how soil could directly influence wine flavour (we can demonstrate an indirect effect via soil physical differences influencing moisture retention which impacts on vine growth but no direct flavour effect).
So soil and wine flavour…is there really a link? And what about the impact of rootstocks?
McLaren Vale has an exciting project underway to determine districts within the region based on flavour and early indications suggest that soil/geology has a role to play. However this study will require many more years of tasting experience and investigation to be certain.
We have several advantages in conducting this research. One is the diversity of soils/geologies we have within our small region, minimising the effect that other influences such as climate play. Another is the absence of phylloxera (an insect which kills grapevines by attacking their roots, now spread to most wine regions of the world) which allows us to grow our vines here on their own roots, giving the most direct connection possible with the vineyard soil/geology.
This could be more important than is generally recognised, perhaps allowing our vines to more readily reflect their terroir and produce wines with a ‘sense of place’, without the confounding effect of rootstocks. Australian wines (generally) have been described as bright in fruit character or ‘bottled sunshine’. Perhaps the absence of rootstocks impacts on the clarity and purity of wines produced here? There is much about the influence of rootstocks which is not known but our feeling is that if you really wish to see the influence of soil on wine then they are a confounding factor which is best avoided. For clarity of site expression, you can’t beat the root system that nature provided.
This is not discussed in recent books about the subject, even from authors who are passionate about exploring the soil/wine relationship. We're not sure if they have never considered the potential impact of rootstocks or if it's simply not worth discussing because the presence of Phylloxera in France, Europe and most of the world necessitates the use of them.
The population of soil microbes may also be unique to a site and explain some of the apparent soil effects on wine. This is an area of new research which is quite exciting. We use compost/compost tea more and more in the vineyard to encourage a high population of microbes and a healthy, living soil.
SOIL 1 - typical of the Winery Block:
Sandy loam (0-25cm) over heavy orange clay is found on 80%+ of the Winery Block. The clay is perfect for providing the vine roots with the moisture they need to get through our long, hot summers. The vines growing on this soil are long lived and of modest vigour and yield. The wines produced from the clay soil are dense and concentrated. Interestingly, there is a gravel fan at the top of this block where the vines grow quite differently. This patch of soil is not as cold and the vines do not sleep as deeply in winter, being the first to break bud in the spring. They are consequently showing their age more than the rest. The wines from the gravel soil are lighter and earlier maturing.
SOIL 2 - throughout BJ's Block:
BJ’s block has a light coloured, sandy loam topsoil which contains small pieces of white quartz, over a clay subsoil which provides moisture retention. The gentle slope ensures good drainage. This block is quite exposed to the sun and wind. The wines are somewhat brighter and more refined than the Winery Block produces. Both make Eclipse.
SOIL 3 - the Langhorne Creek Blocks:
The alluvial soils of the Langhorne Creek ’20 Rows’ Shiraz and ‘Fruit Trees’ Cabernet blocks. Here on the flood plain of Langhorne Creek, elevation differences of less than 1 metre can make a big difference. Our blocks are low enough to receive a winter flood but high enough and with sufficient clay content to avoid excess vigour, which can trouble the low lying areas. It’s a fine line. The right combination results in big vines growing in perfect balance, producing deep, full flavoured wines.
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