Meet the winemaker

Winemakers on standout shiraz styles

By Halliday Promotion

16 Mar, 2021

Six winemakers discuss what goes into making some of the country's most elevated examples.

    Shiraz is the most widely grown grape variety in Australia. Versatile and malleable, it can be shaped into a myriad of styles and often takes on unique characteristics its terroir. The following six winemakers are responsible for some of the most sought-after and cellarworthy examples in the country and credit their success to a mix of experience, vineyard practices and the gradual evolution of techniques. Here, they talk about what makes their products regionally distinct and forecast the future of shiraz in Australia. 

    Geoff Alexander – Brown Brothers, VIC
    H. Why do you like to work with this variety?
    G. Shiraz is one of the most delicious, versatile and easy-drinking red wine varieties. It is generally medium to full bodied, flavoursome with approachable tannins and can be consumed as a young, fresh and vibrant wine or aged to gain complexity. I particularly love the way shiraz reflects the climate and site where it was grown. At Brown Brothers I have been fortunate to work with Shiraz from different sites across Victoria, each bringing their own characteristics to the blend.

    H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
    G. Our winemaking begins in the vineyard with small, premium parcels of fruit from key regions. I like to see the fruit characteristics of each parcel shine through and not be dominated by oak or other winemaking techniques. My preferred style is full-bodied with elements of spice and pepper, with careful attention to avoid over-extraction of tannin. The Patricia Shiraz is a Victorian blend, with parcels of fruit from warm and cool regions across the state.

    Kevin Glastonbury – Yalumba, SA
    H. What's so unique about Barossa shiraz?
    K. The Barossa is known for producing world-class shiraz wines that are bold, noteworthy and powerful with intense characters. Today, we are seeing a shift towards medium-bodied shiraz wines that are harvested earlier, showcasing restraint and using new winemaking techniques – making way for a modern and exciting interpretation. My focus has always been to capture our regional character, ensuring the wine has a balance of fruit-depth, natural acid profile, tannin structure and alcohol richness.

    H. How has your approach changed over the years?
    K. We pick earlier and use a lot less new oak than we did in previous years. Many of our wines use oak from our very own Yalumba cooperage which provides us with a unique flexibility to tailor it specifically for our wines. The Yalumba styles are focused, refined and definitely more savoury in style than some. There is certainly still a call for wines to be generous-yet-approachable and immediately drinkable when released. All vintages give us different characters and styles, so we need to adapt our winemaking accordingly.

    John Duval – John Duval Wines, SA
    H. What is special about shiraz from your region?
    J. Shiraz is a wonderfully versatile variety. It is grown in every major Australian wine region and can produce anything from cooler peppery and savoury styles to richer, plusher and more dark fruited examples. In the Barossa, it is fantastic at reflecting its terroir and produces examples capable of evolving and building complexity over several decades. Our Eligo style reflects the most exceptional parcels of shiraz from across the Barossa.

    H. What are your winemaking practices?
    J. Winemaking starts in the vineyard and there is no substitute for walking rows, tasting berries and developing an intimate understanding of each of our sites. We are looking to produce a more elegant expression of old vineyards, so we don’t look to work our wines excessively during ferment – sometimes less is more. We like to use some submerged cap fermentation in our winemaking to promote fine, integrated tannins.

    Alex Head – Head Wines, SA
    H. What do you love about the variety?
    A.  Shiraz is a thoroughbred and a ten-trick pony all at once. It’s highly perfumed and the stems add wonderful aromatics, but there is a sweetness to the fruit that makes the wines accessible too. We’re incredibly lucky in the Barossa to have very old soils with low acidity – perfect for balance and ripeness. On top of that, the average age of our shiraz vines is higher than most regions around the world, which means our examples tend to have greater texture, length and complexity.

    H. What is unique about your product and how it is made?
    A. 'The Brunette' is from higher altitude vineyards on ironstone and clay, ideal for acid retention. Most of the attention is paid in the vineyard with lovingly tended vines and restricted yields. We use 20% whole-bunch during fermentation and mature the wine in the finest French barriques. This style is a 'vin de garde' – a wine that improves with age. It’s best enjoyed on its own or matched with protein dishes, lightly chilled and aerated and, as always, with a friend or more.

    Sarah Crowe – Yarra Yering, VIC
    H. What do you love about making shiraz?
    S. Yarra Valley shiraz is the reason I moved to here – I loved drinking it and I thought it would be fun to make too. Shiraz is a bit like putty in a winemaker’s hands, you can shape it into whatever style you desire to make. It can be a wonderful standalone varietal, like the Yarra Yering Underhill Shiraz, but also makes a great blending companion to loads of other varietals such as our Light Dry Red Pinot Shiraz or our New Territories Shiraz Touriga.

    H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
    S. Each vintage is unique and while you have a style and process in mind, you need to be flexible and respond to what you are seeing and tasting. The Underhill Shiraz is made from a single block on our vineyard and is the result of the combination of thousands of decisions made since it was planted in 1973. I am searching for purity of fruit that best represents the traits of that single block – it can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.

    Mark Pearce – Kellermeister, SA
    H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
    M. I am very much a 'produce first' winemaker – sourcing the best shiraz plots from growers that intimately know and nurture their vineyards is the first and most critical starting point. Then, it is up me to try and create something true to the strength of each parcel through each step of the winemaking process, which is a very tactile and instinctive craft. For me, the art of blending is magical in elevating a wine to a more joyful, compelling synergy than the sum of its parts.

    H. Has your winemaking processed evolved/changed in any way?
    M. Every year, I visit the Rhone Valley in the south of France where the same varieties we grow in the Barossa have been grown for over 1000 years. So much of my inspiration is derived from the people, the vines, and the place (both the Barossa and the Rhone) – especially Châteauneuf du Pape which is very famous for another Barossa variety: grenache. I like to craft wines that are powerful, long, and that have a moreish savoury edge, while having generous underlying fruit structure.

    This article was produced in partnership with the featured wineries.

    Top image credit: Wine Australia | Andre Castellucci