The lead up to the 2016 harvest has been quite warm, with several heat waves ensuring that the vines are well prepared for the summer heat. We have also had a very dry spring, with only one significant rainfall event early in November giving the vines a much needed drink. We continue to use moisture probes throughout the vineyard to measure soil moisture at depths of up to 1.2m below the surface. This ensures that we can utilise the small allocation of water that we have available to supplement the rainfall that we have missed out on. With help from Dad (Martin) and Uncle Chris, we have been able to maintain a healthy canopy of leaves on the vines, which will help ripen the fruit for the 2016 harvest.
It’s a conversation that eventually takes place around the kitchen table in most winemaking families. The older generation has done things a certain way for years; the younger generation wants to try something new and radical.
Things can develop in many different directions from here: sometimes the older generation resists — nup, that’s that; sometimes dad indulges his kids’ experiment; and sometimes the family embraces change with gusto.
I’ve imagined these scenarios as I tasted my way through some excellent new releases from wineries in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
The Wilson family has sold wines under the Linfield Road label since the 2000s, but they have grown grapes at their home in Williamstown, in the southern Barossa, over five generations and more than 150 years. Linfield wines in the past have been solid, straightforward, conservatively labelled Barossans — their inky, bold shiraz The Stubborn Patriarch ($28) says it all, really.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I tried their new, 2014 chardonnay ($26). Obscurely dubbed There Will be Stars, the wine was wild-fermented on skins and is a terrific example of the style that’s so in vogue, with a glowing pale bronze colour, tangy complexity and lovely creamy, nutty texture. It’s about as far from “standard” Barossa chardonnay as possible, and has been received very favourably.
The Pfeiffer family has many generations of grape-growing history behind it, first in the Riverland, and from the early 1990s in the Barossa, at Whistler Wines in Marananga. Again, the main Whistler range consists of good, conventional, plainly labelled Barossa wines. For the last couple of vintages, fourth generation winemaker Josh Pfeiffer has played with some small batches produced in a drink-now, modern idiom using (for example) wild ferments and whole bunches: my pick of these colourfully labelled wines is the 2015 Get in My Belly Grenache ($35), a juicy, spicy, thoroughly gluggable expression of grape and place.
Another family company undergoing generational change is Jericho Wines. I’ve known Neil Jericho for years at companies including Brown Brothers and Taylors. A couple of years ago, Neil and wife Kaye, marketer daughter Sally, graphic designer son Kim and winemaker son Andrew formed their own business, sourcing grapes from McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. The Jericho wines are excellent: of the recent releases I particularly like the 2015 fiano ($25), a gorgeously perfumed, exotically flavoured white wine, and the slurpy, medium-bodied 2015 tempranillo ($25).
The kitchen table conversations that resulted in these exciting new wines must have been fascinating.