James shares how Barossa Valley winery Yelland & Papps are defying convention and making their mark.
Michael Papps and wife Susan (nee Yelland) have succeeded in turning the Barossa Valley upside down and inside out. Moreover, they've achieved this from a standing start in 2005 with no prior winemaking experience. But read my lips, because Michael had lived and worked in the Barossa Valley for more than a decade, running the laboratories of numerous winemakers – some well known, others not – sharing a custom crush facility with all sorts of philosophies and practises.
Conversation and observation had led to the radical practises of Yelland & Papps – some wines conforming to the mantra of natural winemakers, all sharing freshness, modest alcohol and whole-bunch fermentation.
The wet 2011 vintage was a disaster for many in the Barossa, but for Yelland & Papps it was seminal. Up to 2010 their wines were traditional Barossa in style, the alcohol around 15%. Forced to pick early and with alcohol levels of 13%–13.5%, their wines were bright and refreshing. Moving to the present, Yelland & Papps have gained the trust of leading grape growers who are happy to pick earlier than they do for other winemakers, shiraz and grenache the foundation varieties.
In the winery, some of the barrels have far larger bungholes (apertures) than normal, allowing whole bunches to be fed in, left alone for upwards of a year, emptied and pressed, and then the wine returned to a conventional barrel for another year. Other shiraz and grenache wines with whole bunch inclusion are conventionally fermented in tank.
Michael Papps' sense of humour comes to the fore when he says his children, 10-year-old Peyton and seven-year-old Campbell, are now trained cellar hands. At the no-less tender age of 39, Michael has been included in the Young Gun of Wine Top 50 Australian Winemakers.
Some old Barossa lags suggested he should go to the Yarra Valley. He's not about to, but if he took their advice, Yelland & Papps would be welcomed with open arms.
2015 Yelland & Papps Devote Greenock Barossa Valley Shiraz
Wild yeast open-fermented, 17 days on skins, matured in new and used French oak for 21 months. Elegant, juicy and full of cherry and blackberry fruit on the long, perfectly balanced palate. Have a glass of this and don’t feel ashamed.
RRP $40 | 2029
2016 Yelland & Papps Second Take Barossa Valley Shiraz
Hand-picked, 65% whole bunches, wild-fermented, matured for nine months in French oak (29% new). Yelland & Papps have this marvellous ability to combine low alcohol with all the fully ripe fruit flavour you could wish for. Here black cherry and satsuma plum have just the right amount of support from classy French oak and fine tannins.
RRP $40 | 2030
2016 Yelland & Papps Second Take Barossa Valley Grenache
Hand-picked, 61% whole bunches, 17 days on skins, matured for eight-and-a-half months in French oak (26% new). Yelland & Papps are intent on breaking the laws of accepted wisdom. The colour is a clear, full crimson, the bouquet of plums and cherries, and the palate is fresh, not hot.
RRP $40 | 2028
A version of this article first appeared in The Australian in July 2017.
Next article: James on "one of the greatest Australian red wines, with a character all of its own".