Coonawarra Roadtrip

5.12pm, Thursday 12th April, Menzies Retreat, near Penola, Coonawarra wine region, South Australia

Afternoon folks, our winemaker Pete Gambetta and I are on a flying roadtrip to the Menzies vineyard down here in the Coonawarra wine growing region – 5 hours driving time south of the Barossa. We’re staying at the Menzies retreat tonight, which is part of the Yalumba Wine Room surrounded by big old red gums and a proper native vegetation block left in the middle of the vineyard.

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We start the Rare & Fine Roadshow next Monday across in Perth, featuring The Menzies and The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet wines, so the best way to catch up on how the 2012 vintage is traveling is to get down here and look at it from the ground up. That’s why my tour guides today are our prize viticulturalist Dan Newsom and the winemaker for all grapes from down this way Pete Gambetta. (that’s Dan on the left)

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OK. Coonawarra. Before we go any further, it’s all about the dirt. ‘Terra Rossa’ red dirt over a ‘cigar’ shaped limestone ridge running north / south about 18 miles long and up to a mile wide in places – and when you plant Cabernet Sauvignon on top, you get this fabulous combination of cassis blackcurrant, mint eucalypt, mushroomy earth, choc and long lean tannins that hang on forever from the best vintage years.

This is why they call it ‘terra rossa’ – from the old east side section of the Menzies vineyard

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And as far as the vintage 2012 is concerned, you never want to say too much too early…….but there’s every indication that this one might be one of the memorable ones! So far, so great…….we’ve taken all our fruit off and it’s bubbling away in the fermenters back up at the winery, with some ferments having finished – been pressed and put into oak to settle down.

Why do we think there’s every chance 2012 might be a bit special? Because the season was always going to start well on the back of the 2011 rains down in Coonawarra. The season opened with a tiny heatwave followed by a couple of small rainy moments, so the buds burst well and the shoots took off straight away. Flowering came early along with some southerly chilly winds, so set wasn’t high and there was a bit of ‘shatter’ – which essentially means not a lot of berries, and some looseness in the bunch. Then the berries stayed small because it stayed reasonably dry. This is all good stuff, as you end up with small berries and loose bunches – perfect for high intensity flavors and less chance of disease respectively.

The fruit ripened through to around 12.5 baume fairly evenly, then a series of cool nights with those chilly southerly breezes around 9 degrees Celsius kicked in and slowed everything down. A couple of 6 mm rain showers freshened the vines up, and that green flesh around the seeds ripened up, the season almost went Autumnal, base leaves started to drop, and a long consistent section of flavor and aroma accumulation rolled on through to around 14.5 baume. There was even a touch of ‘bagging up’ with the berries, where the skin softens due to ripeness, and Dan tells me that you could eat the Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes and they tasted like table grapes there was so much fruit flavor going on.

Maybe that’s why at our ferment tasting last week – the colours, aromas and flavors were so intense. Have a look at these:

From the vines on the terra rossa in the photo above

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The winemaking crew involved with Coonawarra –

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Left to right – Kerby (doing vintage with us from the Finger Lakes district in New York state, USA), Matt Zadow, Nat Cleghorn & Pete.

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So, it looks like this great fermenting stuff above off this particular Menzies block of terra rossa stuff below……..could very well make into the bottle in the same shape and with any luck prove 2012 as a memorable Coonawarra vintage. Watch this space, and we’ll keep you up to date as the wine progresses through it’s time in oak to blending, and finally to bottle.

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Now we’re off to the Prince of Wales Hotel in Penola to have dinner with another Coonawarra winemaking superstar……Sue Hodder from Wynns. See ya tomorrow.

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