First stop was Turkey Flat Winery for lunch with owner/winemaker Peter Schulz. The finishing touches were being applied to his new winery building, and Peter -- like every proud winery owner -- wanted to take me on a tour. Now for those of you who actually read my reports (and don't just look at the pretty pictures) you know my stance on tours: don't do 'em, won't do 'em. There's nothing in a winery that anyone, anywhere, can show me that I haven't already seen. Trust me. So I, being an ambassador of the very proper U.S. wine writing community, told 'im "No fucking way." Okay, not in those exact words, but... We volleyed back and forth for a set, then compromised on barrel tasting some of the new vintage. I don't take notes when I barrel taste because the wines will change so much after being bottled. Thus, notes are essentially worthless. But don't let that discourage you from buying futures that Robert Parker recommends from barrel samples. I'm sure in all his great wisdom Bob can accurately predict what a wine'll be like in five years. Anyway, the barrel samples were good. I do remember that. Least I think they were...
Anyway, we decided to grab a few bottles and head to lunch. On the way to the restaurant we stopped at Mengler Hill Lookout, a great spot in the Barossa Ranges, to scope the entire Barossa Valley. It's off Menglers Hill Road Scenic Drive and worth a few tics of your time.
The restaurant, Seasons of the Valley Cafe & Gallery , is exactly what the name states: an eatery and art galley in one. Photography, ceramics, crafts and gourmet homewares from local artisans fill the space while the incredible food fills your mouth. Try the sushi and sashimi with dipping sauce, seared tuna with rocket and white bean salad, or the warm squid and Asian coleslaw salad. It's enough to make you wet.
THE TURKEY FLAT WINES:
Turkey Flat 2000 Semillon
Smooth, rich, honeyed citrus and fig fruit with a floral perfume thing goin' on. Some pears, apples and nectarines slackin' in the back.
Turkey Flat 2000 Rose
Whether it was the heat or my longing for a rose that doesn't taste like Kool-Aid, this wine's cherry... and some strawberry and other red fruit stuff. Like George Dubya, it ain't overly complex but does the job.
Turkey Flat 1999 Grenache Noir
1999 in Australia is kinda like 1998 in California: hit or miss, depending, with an emphasis on miss. But this was a hit. Rich, spicy and smoky, like slow dancin' with Penelope Cruz in an underground nightclub.
Turkey Flat 1998 Shiraz
Another deep, rich wine that's, thank God, not over-oaked. Typical blue and red fruits, chunks of chocolate and a splash of coffee to round it out. Still a bit tight, it could use a little time in the bottle, though I'd drink it now with a little air.
Now. Had I known what I was in for next, I'd have brought my video camera.
Dean Kraehenbuhl, fortified winemaker for Seppelt Winery . For those familiar with Animal Planet or the Crocodile Hunter (of TV fame), Dean's the wine industry counterpart. The man has more passion and energy than's permissible by law.
First, we took a quick look around the property (I know, I know, but it's an historical landmark, so...). The grounds are spectacular and make a great stop for wine and a picnic lunch. Then we got down to business. As Dean talked about each port and sherry, he circled it like the Croc Hunter around a venomous snake. I kept waiting for "Crykie. Isn't she a beauty?" but...
(Just so you understand, my knowledge of sherry is about as deep as Dan Quayle, so keep that in mind.)
Seppelt Show Fino Sherry D.P. 117 (7 years old) $18
Aside from being dry and crisp, it reminded me of fresh apples and trail mix. Dean recommended serving this with prusciutto, olives and sardines. Okay.
Seppelt Show Amontillado D.P. 116 (18 years old) $18
Another crisp, dry wine with more prunes, raisins and hazelnuts. Recommended food: gazpacho or pumpkin soup.
Seppelt Show Oloroso D.P. 38 (25 years old) $18
With 2.8 percent residual sugar, its walnutiness and dried fruit flavors will fit perfectly with cheese, particularly stilton, camembert and brie.
As we circled the Ports, trying not to upset them for fear of losing a limb, Dean recommended that Port be served at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature brings out all the nuances while keeping the high alcohol in check. (Alcohol becomes more pronounced the warmer wine gets. As does Dean.)
Penfolds Club Port (4 years old) $6.50
Yes, that's a four-year-old Port for $6.50... Australian. This is one easy-drinkin' wine. I can't say it's overly complex, but for the price, I'd buy it by the case.
Penfolds Club Reserve Port (8 years old) $12
Another easy quaffer. A bit more complex, with Goobers & Raisinetes as the main attraction, followed by walnuts and more nutty things.
Penfolds Magil Bluestone Tawny (12 years old) $18
Very smooth, soft and feminine, eliciting images of Nicole Kidman sliding into a silk teddy.
Penfolds Grandfather Fine Old Liqueur Tawny (25 years old) $90
Beautiful. Smooth. Rich. Worth every Australian penny, especially since it's two-for-one with $U.S. right now!
Penfolds Great Grandfather Fine Old Liqueur Tawny (50 to 60 years old) $380
So rich, smooth and seductive I almost had an embarrassing moment.
I highly recommend you stop at Seppelt, not only for its wonderful Ports and sherries (they serve table wines, too), but for the history and the grounds. And if Dean's around, see if he'll round up some of his special wines for you.
Well, I was now wired and ready for my next stop: Charles Melton Winery . I stopped here on my last trip through and thought Charlie produced some of the best wines I'd tasted in the Barossa. Not that there was any pressure now, but my expectations were high.
I'm probably one of the biggest sparkling shiraz fans/advocates around. When made well, this answer to the mucky duck blows away any sparkling wine made. And I mean ANY. And Charlie's sparkling shiraz is a killer. Big, rich, smoky and packed with fruit, I'd serve it with a dessert of berries and whipped cream (in the bedroom of course!). That way spilling's mandatory. His 1998 Grenache is tasty, offering nice strawberry and cherry flavors and a warm, pepper-spice finish. What's become a signature wine for Melton is Nine Popes . A Rhone-style blend of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre, the 1998 rocks, with deep, rich fruit, smoke and spice that fits like an Armani smoking jacket. The killer of the group, though, is the 1998 Shiraz . Without getting too caught up in winegeek descriptors, let's just say this wine is like liquid sex without all the mess. Another wine worth mentioning is the 1997 Command Shiraz . At this point it's still tight and chewy, but beneath all the tannin is a concentrated wine that just needs some time to mature. Say five years.
One of my goals on this trip was to gather some young winemakers for a roundtable discussion on wine and the future of the Australian wine industry. I figured I could make a lot of calls and spend hours trying to track a few of them down, or I could just call Southcorp and have them do it. Hell, with 60 winemakers in their house, it'd be like shooting yeast in a fermenting barrel.
So we assembled at Vintners Bar & Grill . Hell, if you're gonna have a serious discussion you need serious food. Joining me was Andrew Marks, 26, winemaker for Penfolds; Oliver Crawford, 26, winemaker for Southcorp Wines; and Andrew Baldwin, 36, also winemaker for Southcorp. Two Andrews and an Oliver: a 66 percent chance that I'd remember who was who.
Darryl: Why don't we get a quick bio on everyone before we start. Andrew?
Andrew Marks: Well, I graduated from Roseworthy College in 1997 and have been with Southcorp Wines since 1998, when I joined the company's graduate program. Since then I've worked vintages at Rouge Homme in Coonawarra, Seppelts here in the Barossa and Great Western in central Victoria. And this is my second vintage with Penfolds in their premium white winery.
Oliver Crawford: I started as an assistant winemaker in the Barossa at a place called Barossa Vintners. I moved to Pennies about two years ago. During university I did vintages in the Hunter Valley and the Barossa, as well as worked on my parents' vineyard, in Orange, whenever possible. This is my eighth vintage with Southcorp.
Andrew Baldwin: I just worked my way up through the ranks like everyone else. Not a terribly exciting story.
Darryl: Okay. Take your word for it. How'd you end up as winemakers?
Andrew Marks: I've always found the idea of not having to wear a suit and tie very appealing. The wonderful thing about winemaking is that it can be as simple or as sophisticated as you like. And this applies to both the lifestyle and the discipline. Your approach to the job is reflected in how you balance this.
Oliver Crawford: My parents had an interest in wine (ironically a cellar full of 389!). Then my father purchased a block of land and planted grapes when I was in year seven (seven years old). At that stage I wasn't interested because of all the hard labor. I really thought about being a winemaker when I was studying for my final year history exam (go figure!). So I decided to apply at Roseworthy and was accepted. But... I deferred a year, packed my bags and went to Europe (visiting more pubs than vineyards!). It was in Europe that I really developed a passion for the vineyards and the lifestyle. So I came back and started studying.
Darryl: What exactly is it that you do?
Andrew Baldwin: General day-to-day duties are tasting, blending, prepping wine for packaging, vineyard assessment, grape intake during harvest...
Andrew Marks: Yeah, it's pretty much the same for all of us. The production, maintenance and packaging of wine. With me it's the range of whites for Penfolds.
Darryl: Give us the glamour, the romance.
Oliver Crawford: Well, we arrive every morning in our Ferraris. Just kidding. Every morning and afternoon we do tasting rounds with the rest of the winemaking team. By tasting we can make decisions on potential blends or different fermentation practices we should apply or the kinds of oak we should/shouldn't use. And then, as managers, we implement those decisions in the cellar by writing out the work orders for the day- and night-shift cellar workers. Near harvest we visit our vineyards two to three times a week to taste fruit and look at the overall vine health. By tasting the fruit we can work out what blocks can go with each other. We also get an idea of the potential quality of the fruit so we know what to expect in the winery. Then, after harvest, we simply see the wine through fermentation, aging and maintaining it until it's bottled and shipped.
Darryl: Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?
Andrew Marks: Lost on a yacht in some Indonesian archipelago with my surfboard and a few good friends.
Oliver Crawford: I'm not sure, as long as I'm happy, it wouldn't matter where.
Darryl: Your boss is gonna read this.
Andrew Marks & Oliver Crawford: Making wine for Southcorp, of course.
Andrew Baldwin: In the same industry, with the same company with more experience and knowledge, of course.
Darryl: Good answer. Where do you see the Australian wine industry in 10 years?
Oliver Crawford: I think, more than likely, Australia will be a key player in the global wine industry.
Darryl: Don't you think it already is?
Oliver Crawford: I think we've developed the Australian style, but now we need to continue to be innovative and open-minded when looking at different styles and winemaking techniques so we continue to evolve and grow.
Andrew Marks: Yeah, I think Australian wines will definitely be at the forefront of exciting and innovative wines and wine styles.
Andrew Baldwin: Much bigger and better.
Darryl: I can see the marketing memos: 'Get out there and make us bigger and better. And don't come back until you do!' Hey, whatever works. If you could make changes to the image of wine, what would they be?
Andrew Baldwin: Make it simple and easy for the masses to understand.
Andrew Marks: Yeah, give up the wine wank. Wine needs to be made accessible to everyone.
Oliver Crawford: As a winemaker we see a limited side to "the image of wine." To me wine is about good friends, good food and good fun. That's what I'd like to see the image of wine be, regardless of quality or price. If it tastes good, then enjoy it!
Darryl: On that subject, what do you guys drink when not drinking wine?
Andrew Marks: Farmer's Union Iced Coffee.
Andrew Baldwin: Same.
Darryl: That's it?
Andrew Baldwin: Beer.
Oliver Crawford: Alcoholic: Beer, Pimms and lemonade, gin and tonic, the occasional margarita. Non alcoholic: Seppelts Raspberry Cordial, juice, water, lime cordial.
Darryl: You Andrews might want to hang around Oliver more. Sounds like he's got it going. All right. If you had only one wine to drink for the rest of your life, what would it be? And why?
Andrew Marks: A good pinot. They're moody and always give you something to think about.
Oliver Crawford: Hard question. Hopefully this would never happen because I'd get bored. I guess I'd have to say '97 Tignanello. It's just damn good.
Andrew Baldwin: Grange & Yattarna. Because usually I can't afford it.
Darryl: Both Southcorp wines. Guy's catchin' on. You're familiar with Wine X and what we're trying to do. There's an advantage down here to reaching young adult consumers because the legal drinking age is 18. So you have a three-year head start over us in the States in getting them to try and accept your product. Do you think 18-year-olds are ready for wine?
Andrew Marks: Australia's become far more cosmopolitan over the last decade. There's a greater emphasis on good food and wine. Many young adults either experience wine from an early age around the family dinner table or they're eager to experiment with food and wine at a younger age. A few recent pushes into the younger market have proved reasonably successful, so wine's beginning to lose that old boffin or yuppie image.
Darryl: You might have to translate boffin for us yanks.
Andrew Marks: Old researchers, academics.
Oliver Crawford: Yeah, if they're ready for beer and spirits, then why not wine. Look at the French and Italians, the kids drink wine with their meals.
Darryl: What mark do you want to leave in your profession?
Andrew Baldwin: Known for being a nice person and having views and opinions that make a difference.
Andrew Marks: A few good bottles.
Oliver Crawford: As I said before, wine is about enjoying life and friends. If anything I'd like to leave that imprint on the wine industry.
Darryl: Ditto. Thanks, guys. And you're pickin' up dinner, right?
|Favorite music? All sorts depending on my mood
Favorite band? Soundgarden, Shihad and 28 Days have been the popular choice during vintage. Air has been great for chilling out
Favorite movie? Betty Blue
Favorite beer? Coopers Pale Ale is always a pretty good start
Favorite spirit? TttttttTequila!
|Favorite music? As long as it's not rap or techno I don't care
Favorite band? At the moment DIDO. Long term favorites: U2, Saw Doctors
Favorite movie? Shawshank Redemption
Favorite beer? Stella Artois
Favorite spirit? Laguavilin
|Favorite music? Anything loud and heavy
Favorite band? Shihad, 28 Days, Soundgarden
Favorite movie? Caddyshack
Favorite beer? As long as it's cold, any!
Favorite spirit? Rum, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels