Tag Archives: Barossa

Celebrating the 120th birthday of Elderton’s Command vineyard

It’s not every day that you get invited to celebrate the birthday of a vineyard. But then, this wasn’t just any birthday, or indeed, any vineyard.

2014 marked the 120th birthday of Elderton’s Command vineyard in the Barossa Valley. To celebrate I was invited to a masterclass of Command Shiraz led by Elderton’s co-Managing Director, Cameron Ashmead. Leaving aside the fact that this particular party was really a belated birthday (happening a week ago – firmly in 2015), it made a fantastic hook for a tasting of these old vine wines.

Elderton Command Shiraz

Elderton Command Shiraz

When the Command vineyard was planted in 1894 it was in quite a different world. Queen Victoria was still on the throne here in the UK. Aeroplanes, world wars and the civil rights movement were all still yet to happen. And we three monkeys were not even a twinkle in our grandparents’ eyes. So much has changed in the world in those intervening 120 years, and yet that vineyard is still there and still producing wine from its gnarly old vines. Impressive stuff.

The story of the Command Vineyard begins rather unusually in a country not known for its love of alcohol: Saudi Arabia. There Cameron’s father Neil made a living selling tractors, whilst also making his own ‘wine’ for home consumption from grape concentrate. The family returned to the Barossa in the late 1970s and started looking for a home to buy. Eventually Neil found a suitable house he liked in Nuriootpa and was told by the agent “If you buy the house I will give you the surrounding 72 acres of old vines for nothing”. Of course, he bought the house – and that vineyard is now known as the Command Vineyard and has gone from being worthless to being considered as one of the top single vineyards in the Barossa. I wonder if it was really the house that attracted Neil – or, after time making ‘wine’ in Saudi Arabia, it was the vineyard that did it.

After a few years of selling the grapes to local wineries, Neil decided to try his hand at making his own wine in the early 80’s – and in 1984 produced the very first vintage of Command Shiraz from those old vines: then labelled as Command Hermitage. Since then there have only been three vintages where Command Shiraz has not been made: in 1989 and 2011 due to very wet years, and in 1991 due to the recession. In typical Aussie tell-it-like-it-is style, Cameron explained that his parents needed cashflow that year and so downgraded the Command fruit into the standard Estate Shiraz blend. With less time ageing in oak and bottle, it could be released for sale much earlier than the Command Shiraz could have been.

To celebrate the 120th birthday of the vineayrd, Cameron presented us with seven vintages of Command, spanning 2010 to 1992. As well as allowing us some insight into the wine’s capacity for bottle ageing, this also highlighted the difference closures can make. Both the 1998 and 1992 were under cork and Cameron had brought along three bottles of each. Of these, 1 bottle of 1992 and 2 bottles of 1998 were corked. As Cameron put it: “soul-destroying”. He also told us that last year he had overseen the recorking of all of the wines from the 1980s and up to 50% of each vintage was either corked or oxidised. No surprise then that the wine has been 100% under screwcap since 2006.

Onto the wines:

2010 – This was my favourite of all of the vintages, showing a lovely freshness and real elegance. Vanilla and coconut aromas from the American oak were obvious on the nose, but on the palate these softened into more savoury brown spice notes. Driven by juicy, red fruit with fine, taut tannin and bright acidity – clearly made for the long haul.

Cameron said this new, fresher style was something they were aiming for and a slight departure from the more intense styles of previous vintages. He thinks it is the best they’ve ever made.

Winemaking – the grapes were handpicked in four different picks, each at a different level of ripeness in order to give more complexity as well as retaining acidity. Fermented in open tanks at 20-24C: a surprisingly low temperature for reds. This was explained by Cameron as a method of stopping too much overextraction and preventing any baked character in the wine. After ferment the wine was aged in new oak for 18 months – 65% American and 35% French – and then a further 12 months in old oak. It was then stored in bottle for one year before release.

2008 – Softer fruit, plums and blackberries. Concentrated and layered with hints of herbaceousness. Not quite as fine as the ’10, somehow a little blurry around the edges.

2007 – A hot year with only 20% of their normal yield, showing in the slightly paler colour and more baked nose. This showed more herbal, minty notes than the 2008 did and lacked the fruit concentration both the 2008 and 2010 had. One to drink sooner rather than later.

2006 – Served in magnum. Incredibly deep, inky colour: indicating the intensity of the wine to come. Despite being nearly 9 years old this was still full of primary dark fruit flavours with notes of mocha, pepper and spice giving complexity and depth. Dense and concentrated with lots of fine tannins: this has a very long life ahead and I’d love to try it again in another 5-10 years.

2004 – At 10 years old this was just beginning to show some evolution with a core of lingering juicy fruit surrounded by more savoury, complex aromas. Still that concentration of flavour, but here the tannins were softening and allowing the layers of complexity to shine through. Very long and at a lovely stage in its development – unlike the 2006 I could happily drink this now.

1998 – Just a hint of oxidative character around the edges. Much more delicate texture than the younger wines, although that core of dark fruit was still there along with a real exotic spice mix: caraway and fenugreek.

1992 – Somehow fresher than the 1998. Delicate with brown spice notes along with that savoury mocha character that was present in many of the other vintages. Tannins have softened and integrated, with just a whisper of grip on the finish to keep everything together. Complex and really quite pretty.

All in all this was a fascinating tasting. Happy birthday Command vineyard.

Emma


Sing-a-long Barossa

As you might remember from previous posts, two of the monkeys are rather partial to singing along to Disney on long journeys and know many of the songs word perfect. Well, after their hugely successful performance of ‘Amarillo’ in Hunter Valley with the rest of their group (“this is our evening in the Hunter…”) they were given the task of composing a new song to sing in the Barossa. There was only one choice really – the brilliant ‘Part of their World’ song from the Little Mermaid that had previously featured on the monkeys’ Bordeaux tour. So, after much thought and consideration the words were changed and they were very pleased with the result. Only to then sing it to the rest of the group who all had somewhat bemused faces. “Whats that song?” “I dont know the tune” and “Disney? Really?” were just some of the comments received. So after discussion the monkeys were overruled and instead Bon Jovi’s Summer of ’69 was used instead (to much less success in our opinion).

But, we can’t be the only Disney fans out there – so for posterity here is our rather fabulous re-working of the Little Mermaid.
Enjoy!
Emma and Alex
Look at this wine
Isnt it neat?
Wouldn’t you think our collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think we’re the group
The group who has everything?
Look at this trove
Treasures untold
How many bottles can one cellar hold?
Looking around here you’d think
Sure, they’ve got everything
 
We’ve got Bordeaux and Burgundy aplenty
We’ve got Champagne and Sherry galore
You want Vintage Port?
We’ve got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal
We want more
We wanna drink wanna drink some Shiraz
We wanna see wanna see Barossa
Walking around through these, what do you call ’em?
Oh – vines!
Drinking European wine doesn’t make us happy 
Barossa Shiraz is what we want 
A great big glass and a steak on the barbie
Up the valley, in the hot sun
Oh we will have so-oh much fun
Drinking Shiraz wish we could stay
In Barossa
What would we give if we could live in Australia?
What would do to live here in the hot sun?
Betcha back home it’s snowing
Hailing, raining, chilly, windy
Its miserable, sick of winter
Ready to tan
And ready to learn what the winemakers know 
Ask ’em our questions and get some answers 
What is yeast and why does it – what’s the word 
Ferment?
When’s it our turn?
Wouldn’t we love, love to buy lots of Shiraz 
Having lots of fun 
In the hot sun 
Barossa Valley

Barossa – the winds of change are blowing

Barossa Shiraz has a reputation for being the hairy armed Neanderthal of the wine world.  Driving into the parched valley; yellow grasses paying testament to the heat of the summer, it is easy to understand how it got this reputation.  However 3 days in this beautiful valley opened my eyes to the unique patch of dirt that these farmers have the fortune of working with.

There is a timelessness to this valley, a feeling of ancient power that radiates from those red soils that makes one acutely aware of how brief our history on this land has been.  It has highlighted our role of caretaker rather than owner in such a way that it has seen a distinct movement among the producers of the region.  Gone are the days of high volume fruit bombs reflecting nothing but a kowtow to profit, they have been replaced by a commitment to the earth and the history of the soil.  It has seen both the establishment of the Barossa Grounds Project, a vast undertaking not only mapping the huge diversity of the soils, but analyzing the impact of these soil types on the wine aromatics and structure.  This goes hand in hand with the Barossa Old Vine Charter, a record and protection for the old un-grafted vines of the region which range from the original vines brought from the Hill of Hermitage in the Rhone to 35 year old vines which are cuttings of these historic monuments and grown on their own roots.
The wines we tasted were a mirror providing a unique window into the soil through the gnarled roots of the hallowed old vines which have spent 165 years stretching deep into the world’s most ancient soil.  The ethereal perfume emanating from the ruby and garnet depths intrigued and excited the senses while the palate was a textural master piece of dark smoky perfume and intense minerality.  Fresh yet powerful, supple yet structured these wines showed soul and personality and the promise of longevity.  Shiraz is of course what we all associate with the Barossa and it is indeed something they do with aplomb, but overlook Grenache at your peril.  The Grenache and Grenache based blends were for me some of the most exciting and perfumed wines of the many that we tasted.  The fine boned Rieslings from the high hills of the Eden Valley were another beautiful encounter as they danced along the tongue and sent goosebumps up the spine. Perched up in the Steingarten Riesling vineyards with breath taking views down into the Barossa Valley, the cool breeze lifting your hair and the slopes in shadow, protected from the afternoon sun it was clear how the wines retained such beautiful aromatics and fresh acidity.
Though there are still a handful of bruisers clinging on to their Parkeresque past, the fact that these movements are still in their infancy promises the dawn of a bright new era for the Barossa Valley.  Pioneered by a dedicated group of intelligent and passionate men and women who are working to make a future that both protects their past and gives birth to a new style of fresh and perfumed wines.  The winds of change have started to blow.
Alex