Torbreck's road to success, by James Halliday for the Weekend Australian Magazine
Torbreck founder David Powell intended to follow in his chartered accountant father’s footsteps until an uncle introduced him to the world of wine and he abandoned a career in bean-counting. Casual summer jobs in the Barossa Valley were punctuated by winter trips to the best wine regions of Europe (with a detour to Scotland to work as a lumberjack), and vintage employment in Italy and California. Returning to the Barossa, he had the great good fortune to secure a job at Rockford and tutelage from Rocky O’Callaghan.
The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle began to fall into place. His overseas travel and O’Callaghan’s abiding commitment to the multi- generational Barossa grape growers made Powell keenly aware of the priceless resource of the Valley’s very old vines. Ironically, this coincided with the South Australian government Vine Pull Scheme, designed to address a decade-long surplus of red grapes in the Barossa. In some instances growers had abandoned part or all of their vineyards rather than remove the vines. Powell picked the blocks with the greatest potential (often the oldest vines) and began the slow process of nursing them back to health via share farming arrangements.
This process began in 1992, and in 1994 he purchased a 12ha property at Marananga which he called Torbreck, the name of the Scottish forest he had worked in. In 1995 he crushed three tonnes of old vine shiraz and planted the white Rhône varieties (viognier, marsanne, roussanne) that he knew he would not be able to buy. Torbreck was on the way to becoming the phenomenon it is today, and in 2002 he purchased the historic Hillside property on which today’s modern winery is built.
The bluff-faced Powell is gregarious, generous and inspires loyalty. His wines reflect his personality and could hardly be more different to those of Rockford, given the common heritage of very old vines. Which is exactly as it should be.
2009 Torbreck Vintners The Factor
Deep purple-crimson; this shiraz achieves its full-bodied weight with ease; its bouquet heralds the blackberry and dark chocolate fruit to come on the textured palate, ripe tannin and oak in immaculate balance, the viognier wine added shortly prior to bottling not obvious.
14.5% alc; cork; 96 points; drink to 2034; $125
2009 Torbreck Vintners Descendant
Deep purple-red; here the lower alcohol does speak, along with more light and shade into the bouquet and the medium- to full-bodied palate; there are notes of spice and savoury licorice coupled with some red fruit nuances, even though blackberry and satsuma plum provide the mainframe for a distinguished wine.
14.5% alc; cork. 96 points; drink to 2035; $125
2009 Torbreck Vintners The Steading
The 60/20/20% blend of grenache, shiraz and mataro is unchanged from year to year. (David Powell prefers the ’09 to the more vaunted ’10 because it was a perfect year for grenache.) Bright, deep purple-red, the wine has excellent structure, yet keeps the display of red and black fruits within a mediumbodied frame, and has no hint of confection.
15% alc; screwcap. 94 points; drink to 2024; $37.50
Read more of James Halliday's articles in the Weekend Australian archive