Meet the winemaker

Making great grenache

By Halliday Promotion

6 Oct, 2020

Single-varietal grenache wines are having a moment. Find out more from three South Australian producers who are making excellent examples.

Grenache – or garnacha – is a variety that thrives in hot, dry conditions. While it has a long history as a blending component, Australian single-variety grenache is well and truly having a moment. These food-friendly, medium-bodied red wines are a lighter alternative to shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, but with more body and intensity than your average pinot noir. 

South Australia's McLaren Vale and Barossa regions are home to some of the oldest grenache vines in the country and continue to produce award-winning examples. Four winemakers from these regions tell us how they came across the variety – and why they fell in love with it. 

Pictured: Rosie (left) & Elena (right) of Heirloom Vineyards. 

Elena Brooks & Rosie Signer, Heirloom Vineyards, Mclaren Vale
H. How would you describe grenache?
R. Grenache is a hearty variety that soaks up the flavours of soils it is grown on. Therefore, time and place are extremely important to making a good grenache. At Heirloom, we love the vibrant fruit spectrum of the variety and to preserve this, we feel it’s important to treat the wine very gently and bottle without fining or filtering.

H. What is unique about Heirloom Vineyards grenache?
E. During my early years of winemaking, I travelled across Europe and worked in Campania, Italy and Manchuela, Spain. Our Alcala Grenache is a style inspired by the garnacha wines of Priorat and Aragon – Alcala, means fortification in Spanish. The 2019 Alcala McLaren Vale Grenache is definitely a bolder style than the first vintage we produced. We grow the variety on deep soils in McLaren Vale, making it generous, fruit forward and complex. We make use of whole bunch (50 per cent) and French oak puncheons to add savouriness to our style. This creates balance between fruit purity, natural acidity and tannin structure.

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Pictured: Craig (left) and marketing manager Mark Slade (right) of Purple Hands Wines. 

Craig Stansborough, Purple Hands Wines, Barossa Valley
H. What do you love about grenache as a variety?
C. Grenache produces lovely aromatic, medium-bodied wines. The variety copes with any heatwaves that mother nature throws at it and from a winemaking perspective it maintains good pH. A fantastic and informative trip to the Southern Rhone early in my career opened my eyes to how great the variety can be – you don’t need new oak or extract to make this variety shine. The direction the industry has taken over the last 10—15 years has certainly showcased this variety for the better.

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
C. Like all wines, harvest decisions are critical. Grenache sugar levels tend to race, so finding the balance between good phenolic ripeness without too much sugar (and hence alcohol) is the key. Given tannin is not abundant in this variety we generally use around 25-30 per cent of whole bunches, this adds some needed structure and aromatics to the wine. We also use open fermenters with header boards, which allow gentle extraction towards the back end of the ferment. The wine is matured in older, large format French oak and left on lees until racking to bottle. We feel this helps retain brightness, another key ingredient in our style.

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Pictured: Ben Riggs of  Mr. Riggs.

Ben Riggs, Mr. Riggs, McLaren Vale
H. What makes grenache from McLaren Vale special?
B.  Grenache is spicy, savoury and full of succulent red berries. It is a delicious wine that is quite soft and lower in tannins than other red wines, with great structure and longevity. To me it is akin to the biggest, richest, softest, juiciest pinot noir you will ever taste. The variety has the potential to be a beautiful glass of wine with an outstanding flavour profile – and McLaren Vale makes the best! Trellised grenache makes a more consistent quality and style than bush vines, as every bunch is fully exposed to the sun from the day it blooms to the day you pick it.

H. How has your winemaking approach evolved?
B. When I first started making grenache in 1991, I treated it a lot more like the way I would make shiraz. I would often put a small percentage of shiraz skins in the ferment to try and make darker colour and firmer tannin. These days, I make it like pinot noir – 10-15 per cent whole bunches, open ferment, pump over, press off skins with some of the sugar still in them, then straight into barrel with minimal new oak, ideally no more than 18 months in barrel and then to the bottling line!

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This article was produced in partnership with the featured wineries.

Top image credit: Wine Australia