Grapevine Archive for Australia

How a desire to ‘do the right thing’ and ‘look out for your mates’ resulted in one of the Australian wine industry’s great success stories…

One of the things I love about my job is finding out about the stories behind our wines. Despite the fact that this member favourite has been on our List for several years now, for some reason the story behind its name had passed me by.

88 Growers is a label exclusive to us and is made for us by the Peter Lehmann winery in the Barossa, South Australia. The name is a reference to how this winery came into being when its founder, Peter Lehmann put his neck on the line to save the independent grape growers of the Barossa Valley.

Affectionately known as ‘the Baron of the Barossa’, the late Peter Lehmann is credited for virtually single-handedly preserving the tradition of grape growing in the valley and thereby rescuing many of its old vineyards from destruction.

Peter Lehmann (far right) and Barossa growers in the 1970s.

Peter Lehmann (right) and Barossa growers in the 1970s.

Going beyond the Barossa, the story is tied in with the history of Australian winemaking itself.

Back in the 1970s when overproduction and a change in consumer tastes away from reds to fruity whites led to something of a wine glut, Peter Lehmann, chief winemaker and manager at Saltram at the time, was instructed by his directors, to renege on agreements to purchase grapes from the network of small family grape growers with whom he had built up close ties over many years.

Peter refused to carry out this instruction, believing that a man’s word should be his bond and recognising that the livelihood of so many of his neighbours depended on the grape harvest. Instead, at great personal risk to his own livelihood, Peter put together a rescue package for the growers, raising funds to buy the fruit and then processing it at Saltram before selling on to other wineries.

Peter was of the view that wine is made in the vineyards and that without growers you have no wine industry. ‘Wine is not made in the boardroom,’ he famously said. With the government offering incentives to the growers to grub up their vines, the wonderful legacy of this region of old vines was also under threat. Peter had the foresight to understand the ‘pendulum’ nature of agriculture and was sure that the trend for red wine would come back again in time.

Saltram allowed this side-project to continue, officially managed by Peter’s wife Margaret. The project was named ‘Masterson’ (after famous gambler Sky Masterson from Guys and Dolls), but unfortunately in 1979, Saltram was sold and the new owners put a halt to the operation.

Taking another massive gamble, Peter decided to resign from Saltram, taking a breakaway team with him that included talented winemakers Andrew Wigan, Charles Melton and Leonie Lange. They were up against a tight deadline with little time to find a new venue to process the estimated 10,000 tonnes of fruit soon coming their way!

They rallied around friends and business contacts to raise funds yet again and by a piece of good luck, a local winery on the outskirts of Tanunda came up for sale just at the right time. Peter and his wife bought the adjoining plot and built a house there where Margaret still lives.

The plan was to process the fruit as before and sell it on to other wineries and this worked well for the first two vintages. However, in the 1980s the industry took another nose dive and the market for bulk wine collapsed.

88 Growers

Peter and the team were forced into the market of selling bottled wines. They also had to come up with a name under which to market their wines – Peter Lehmann Wines made sense to most people, though Peter wasn’t initially that enthusiastic about the name as it didn’t reflect the team effort required to make the whole thing work.

Suffice to say, in 1982 the name was made official and the next stage in the adventure began. Because of the great relationship that Peter had with growers across the Barossa region and his in-depth knowledge of the different sites and micro-climates, he was able to start isolating different plots to bottle separately.

So when in the late 1980s when shiraz started to see a resurgence in popularity both at home and abroad, the old unirrigated vines of the Barossa were particularly valued and Peter and his team had access to some of the best.

Just as Peter had predicted, the pendulum nature of the agricultural industry has indeed been manifest again, with the demand for dry whites in ascendency. Once again, Peter Lehmann wines found themselves in a good position to have access to interesting parcels of grapes from mature vines.

Semillon in particular has become one of their signature grapes and in the early 1990s, Peter and chief winemaker Andrew Wigan went against the current trends for vinifying the it, eschewing oak and picking early to retain freshness and acidity which would allow it to age.

Peter Lehmann wines now have a network of more than 140 families of growers supplying them with grapes, but the label developed exclusively for The Wine Society, is named after the original 88 growers whom Peter Lehmann stood by back in the 1970s.

And when it came to choosing grapes to tell the story, of course, it had to be shiraz for the red and semillon for the white.

Next time you order a bottle, think about the story behind the wine and the bravery, loyalty and commitment of the winery’s founder.

Joanna Goodman
Communications Editor

Browse for more wines on our website from Peter Lehmann Wines

Categories : Australia
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Today’s Australian wine scene boasts an eclectic and even esoteric array of styles; but, when done well, the spot-hitting bargain Aussie red remains an unparalleled joy!

Step forward Joe Barrington from our Member Services Team, whose recommendation here echoes that of many fellow members and staff – not least buyer Sarah Knowles MW, who gives this wine pride of place in her selection of current Australian favourites

HMS Buffalo Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

HMS Buffalo Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

I love wines that that offer great drinking pleasure on their own as well as with a meal; a fridge door white, a fireside red, a quintessential quaffer! The key thing with this style of wine is to be smooth and easy drinking (and not too heavy on the pocket!) but have enough complexity and interest to keep you drinking it with a smile on your face.

Joe Barrington

This classic cab-shiraz blend ticks all these boxes for me. Upfront, ripe dark fruits entice you in; with a lovely hint of spice and black olives on the nose to keep you swirling and sipping. On the palate the ripe (but not jammy) fruit continues, with a good finish for an under-£7 wine.

The easy-drinking nature of this wine means you can have a glass with any dish that calls for a juicy full-bodied red (bangers and mash is one of my favourites) and then enjoy a glass afterwards whilst winding down.

Joe Barrington
Member Services Adviser

£6.95 – Bottle
£83 – Case of 12
View Wine Details

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Categories : Australia
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Wed 03 Aug 2016

Staff Choice: A Fresh Look at Aussie Chardonnay

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Evidently, it is as dangerous to dismiss as it is to assume: over the past few years, a number of wine regions and styles written off by some of us have sprung back into wine lists and affections. Australian chardonnay – the subject of this month’s Staff Choice – is certainly one such example.

Pemberley Western Australia Chardonnay 2014: 'simply stunning on every occasion that I have opened a bottle.'

Pemberley Western Australia Chardonnay 2014: ‘simply stunning on every occasion that I have opened a bottle.’

As my colleague Stephanie Searle writes below, we know that some members have been turned off trying Aussie chardonnay over the years, feeling that its initial success led to a decline in quality. Wines like Pemberley’s Margaret River Chardonnay, a new addition to our range, make a compelling case for a fresh look. Here Stephanie explains why.

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Pemberley Western Australian Chardonnay 2014

Stephanie SearleOne of the many joys of working in the Tastings & Events Team is the opportunity to try so many different wines: choosing just one was far from easy! I have settled on a real gem that has proved to be simply stunning on every occasion that I have opened a bottle.

From just south of Western Australia’s Margaret River, this rich ripe wine delivers wonderful texture and freshness. It pleases on so many levels as notes of citrus, green apple and ripe fruit blend perfectly with subtle hints of toast and butterscotch.

If you gave up drinking Australian chardonnay back in the day when it was mass-produced, over-oaked and of poor quality, I would urge you to give this a try. It couldn’t be more different. This is new-style Australian chardonnay at its very best.

Stephanie Searle
Tastings & Events Team

£15.50 – Bottle
£186 – Case of 12
View Wine Details

Categories : Australia
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Wed 04 May 2016

Staff Choice: A Sure Bet from Australia

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Members know a good thing when they taste it, and judging from the highly enthusiastic response to our current offering of Australian wines (available until Sunday 8th May while stocks last), the Aussie buzz is truly back.

How fitting then that Alex Vooght has chosen to feature a favourite Australian red for his Staff Choice – courtesy of a producer who are no strangers to this blog, Wirra Wirra.

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Alex Vooght Wirra Wirra McLaren Vale Church Block 2013

I love reds packed full of fruit with silky tannins and which are punchy enough to hold up to a nice steak meal. It’s also important for me to have a wine where I can enjoy a glass (or two) just as it is.

Church Block from Wirra Wirra fits the bill nicely. I’ve been lucky enough to taste a fair few vintages of it at a vertical tasting and it ages surprisingly well for a wine under £12.

Cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot are blended perfectly giving this wine its jammy black-fruit style with enough peppery spice to keep me coming back for more. The stylish bottle only adds to its appeal. A sure bet with all my friends and family. Enjoy!

Alex Vooght
Inventory Management

£11.50 – Bottle
£69 – Case of six
View Wine Details

Categories : Australia
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Our exclusive Blind Spot range can sound too good to be true. A little like The Wine Society… however, both really are transparent!

How does it work?
Mac Forbes, one of the hottest winemaking talents in Australia at the moment, collects samples of wines from winemaker friends and sends them to me each year to try.

I sample up to 20 wines, and cherry-pick the range.

The wines are usually surplus wines made by sought-after names, who have to limit their own-label production due to demand, and so sell to us at a huge discount, which we pass on to Society members.

This means our members have access to an ever-evolving line-up of delicious, authentic expressions of Australia’s best regions at everyday prices.

Mac took some time to explain the process himself in this short video below:

What’s new for 2016?
The Blind Spot range is dynamic by nature, thanks to the opportunities afforded by each different vintage and Mac’s clever detective work. I only select the very best samples to be bottled, and this year’s selection includes four new additions.

They are available by the bottle or in a 12-bottle mixed case with a saving of £11.70.

New reds
Blind Spot Old-Vine Clare Valley Mataro 2014 (£9.95) is a truly serendipitous find, and Mac was thrilled when he came across this tiny-production gem made in tiny quantities from very old vines. Mataro may be better known to many members under its French name of mourvèdre or Spanish, monastrell, and it’s the archetypal winter warmer for bangers and mash and hearty stews.
Blind Spot Frankland River Cabernet Franc-Merlot 2013 (£9.95) is a blend whose elegance, we feel, belies its price tag. It’s a perfect Sunday-roast wine. Indicative of the value that can be found in this range, this under-£10 wine will also repay cellaring (though it may prove difficult to resist now!).

New whites
• The garganega grape is more commonly associated with the production of Soave in northern Italy, but the King Valley in Victoria is starting to produce some very good examples. Blind Spot King Valley Garganega 2015 (£7.50) is crisp, dry and thoroughly refreshing, with a pleasant mineral quality and plenty of fresh-lemon flavours.
• Australian riesling is capable of world-class quality, and our Clare Valley bottling is joined this year by a new Blind Spot Frankland River Riesling 2015 (£9.50), an area that’s quickly gaining a stunning reputation for its flinty dry interpretation of this noble white grape.

I’m really excited about these wines, and hope members enjoy them.

Sarah Knowles MW
Society Buyer

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Fri 12 Feb 2016

Wirra Wirra & The Battle Of The Bells

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It is some years now since McLaren Vale producer Wirra Wirra was forced to rename its flagship cabernet sauvignon when the ‘international naming police’ ruled that it was too similar to that of a leading Bordeaux château.

The 3/4-tonne Angelus bell that sits atop Wirra Wirra’s cellars had been retrieved from a wreckers’ yard after its former life calling the faithful to prayer at the Jesuit church in Norwood, South Australia. Traditionally rung at the start and end of each vintage and to mark special occasions, it seemed fitting that its name be used for the property’s top cuvée of cabernet.

The Angelus Bell at Wirra Wirra

The Angelus Bell at Wirra Wirra

When forced to change the label, the late Greg Trott, with typical wry humour, chose to call the wine ‘Dead Ringer’. In case there was any doubt, the back label of the first wine to be sold under the new nomenclature read:

Dead Ringer: Colloquial for “resemble exactly.”

…the wine formerly known as The Angelus is now The Dead Ringer. It is indeed a dead ringer for The Angelus – being a blend of 80% McLaren Vale and 20% Coonawarra cabernet, and matured in French oak barriques for 20 months. Whatever the name, this wine is quite simply the best cabernet sauvignon we can make from each vintage.

Members can now try the wine for themselves in the form of the 2013 and 2012 vintages, and a mixed case including the 2005, 2009 and 2012, in the ‘Wirra Wirra: The Name Rings A Bell’ section of our current Fine Wine List.

Joanna Goodman
Communications Editor

Categories : Australia
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Wed 28 Oct 2015

Penfolds: Tasting & Ageing

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So my second week as a part of the buying department came to a rather spectacular end the Friday before last, as I was lucky enough to taste the new-vintage Penfolds wines with buyer Sarah Knowles MW.

Penfolds ambassador Sam Stephens brought all of the new releases with him (mostly 2013 reds, and 2014 whites) along with a number of older examples of similar vintages so we could see how ageing changed the wine.

The cover of our current Penfolds wines offering.

The cover of our current Penfolds wines offering.

A standout for me was the £20-per-bottle Bin 28, which was shown in both the 2013 and 2001 vintages. The opportunity to show the two side by side really highlighted how unbelievably well this wine can age. The 2013 was packed with intense cassis and was as fruit-forward as you would expect a young wine to be. The 2001, however was just stunning, still with incredibly fresh blackberry fruit but now showing hints of leather and a touch of pepper. The ability to age this well at the £20 mark is something so rarely seen in the modern wine world.

A little further on and equally stunning, was the Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, from both 2013 and 1999. The herbaceous, fresh and spicy 2013 was good but the 1999 was better. Still surprisingly fresh for the age, it had the most luscious nose of milk chocolate, spice and red fruit and a super smooth texture to match.

What does this all mean?
Well, for me, it just goes to show how much you can get from these wines if you invest a bit of time. If you aren’t patient enough though, you can browse our Penfolds offer, which is now available online. Here you can find the wines that I have written about (although not quite the same vintages), plus a number of others. This is selling well and some wines have sold out already, but do have a look and see if there are wines which take your fancy.

Perhaps it was a ‘fruit day’ or simply a Friday, but I honestly couldn’t pick a disappointing one out of the bunch.

Sam kindly talked to camera for a minute or two about the wines so please have a look at the video here:

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Wine Buyer

Categories : Australia
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You may have noticed that it’s been a number of years since The Wine Society sold any top wines from Austraila’s iconic Penfolds.

Around eight years ago, when I had the pleasure of buying these wines for members, I realised we had a problem: as worldwide demand soared, allocations were being cut, and we risked frustrating more members than we could satisfy. After much thought, we decided to turn this challenge into an advantage.

The results will be live on our website on Monday 5th October: an offering of rare and delicious Penfolds wines from vintages going back to 2000 and spanning Grange, St Henri, RWT, Yattarna and many more.

Penfolds tasting

Find the Penfolds offer here and read tasting notes from Jancis Robinson MW & Anthony Rose.

An accountant’s nightmare; a wine lover’s dream
The Wine Society is unique in the world of wine: we are able to ship wines, store them in our cellars to age, then release them many years later when they are ready to drink. With this in mind, I bought our allocations throughout the past eight years and held them in our cellars until we had enough bottles to put together several mixed cases across a number of styles and vintages.

Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago in Stevenage, tasting the wines from our forthcoming offering.

Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago in Stevenage, tasting the wines from our forthcoming offering.

Taking the long view
By keeping the wines and offering them in this way, we can share them out to a bigger audience, meaning we can be fairer to members an important element of our co-operative ethos.

Tasting notes from Penfolds’s winemaker, Jancis Robinson and more
Such is the quality and rarity of some of these wines that Penfolds’ head winemaker Peter Gago made the trip to Stevenage for our final assessment tasting earlier this year. His comments, as well as those of Jancis Robinson MW and Anthony Rose (who also joined us), and of current Australia buyer Sarah Knowles MW, will be included in the offer.

Jancis Robinson MW tasting the wines.

Jancis Robinson MW tasting the wines.

Our offer of Penfolds’ wines will be published online on Monday 5th October and a printed offer will be mailed to those that have bought fine Australian wines from The Wine Society in the past two years.

If you don’t believe you fall in to this category but wish to receive the printed offer, please contact Member Services on 01438 741177 or by e-mail, remembering to include your share number.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

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Fri 11 Sep 2015

Sniff, swirl, slurp, spit … tweet!

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twstasteOur third virtual #TWStaste event, where members sit in the comfort of their own homes communing with one another online over a glass of liquid, happened at the end of August. (Details of the next one can be found at the bottom of this post).

This time it involved tasting two wines from our Blind Spot range, Australian wines with a ‘sense of place’, made / selected / bottled for us by Mac Forbes –  Blind Spot King Valley Pinot Gris 2014 and Blind Spot McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013.

Present in the virtual tasting room (or rather in their respective studies in London and Hitchin) were our buyer for Australia Sarah Knowles MW (@SarahKnowles) with yours truly (@Ewbz) taking charge of The Society’s feed. This time we had singles, couples and even groups taking part from all over the country, juggling glass, bottle and device!

For the hour between 7.30 & 8.30 (as well as before and after) tweets flew around filled with …

… anticipation …

… congregation …

… information …

… orientation …

… sensation …

… imagination …

… evaluation …

… computation …

… satisfaction …

… and valediction.

The next #TWStaste will be happening on Thursday 15th October from 7.30pm to 8.30pm. Buyer Marcel Orford Williams (@owmarcel) will be there and he,  together with Martin Brown (@iamagrapeman), yours truly (@Ewbz) but chiefly … yourselves, will be tasting two wines from the Languedoc – Bourboulenc Domaine de Simonet 2014 and Syrah-Mourvèdre Côtes de Thongue Domaine Condamine L’Evêque 2014. Both wines are currently available individually and will also be in the Everyday Languedoc Mixed Dozen Case as part of our Languedoc offer which begins on 25th September.

We look forward to seeing you, tasting and tweeting with you then.

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

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Some members may remember that in November last year we produced an infographic all about Rioja.

At the time there was lots of positive feedback with members keen to see more.

So why not move from a relatively well-defined winemaking region like Rioja to one of the largest wine producing countries in the world, Australia?!


Click the image to enlarge

The sheer quantity of information available about Australian wine is mind blowing: everything from exact grape tonnage by year to daily temperatures and pretty much anything else imaginable. Trying to cram it in all this into one simple infographic would be a like trying to define wine in a single word, so I happily admit this is not an attempt to do so but more of starting point when delving into Aussie wines or as an aide-mémoire for those already familiar.

The list of sub regions, grapes and producers featured is far from exhaustive but hopefully members will find it of some use and as always your suggestions on improvements or other regions to represent in this way are more than welcome.

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

Our current offer of Australian wines, featuring the fruits of buyer Sarah Knowles’ most recent trip to the region, can be found here.

Categories : Australia
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