by PHILIP WHITE - This was published in The Independent Weekly on 21 NOV 08
There’s nothing new about vineyards being subdivided for villa rash. South Australian winemakers have been at it since the colony began.
John Barton Hack’s North Adelaide vineyards were barely two years old when he subdivided the land in 1839, took his money to Echunga and started again: 500 vines to begin; 3000 more in 1842.
There’s nothing new about South Australian developers and speculators going broke, either. Hack had barely got his first vintage fermented when debt swallowed him in 1843; by 1844 Walter Duffield had the vineyard and became the State’s first wine exporter when he sent a case of his Echunga Springs to Queen Victoria. He was then prosecuted for selling wine without a license.
But Duffield had 14 acres of vines and orchard at Para Inga, on the river north of Gawler, by 1862, where he soon learned about the fickle nature of irrigation. “We are sure a considerable quantity of very tolerable raisins might be gathered” wine writer Ebenezer Ward scratched drily upon his visit in the drought of February 1862.
At least Duffield got his vineyard mix right that time: while Echunga was all white grapes, the Gawler vineyard included shiraz and mataro alongside the verdelho and muscats.
Back to Echunga. Enter Hylton McLean and Jane Bromley, quite a few years later. Their brave little Honey Moon Vineyard rides the ridge east of the village, above a gully laced with springs. They planted reds there in tough podsolic soils shot with ironstone in 2004; their first wines are stunning.
“Our climate’s half way between Burgundy and the Rhone”, says Hylton, “so we reckon shiraz and pinot noir can co-exist here”. And co-exist they do, just as they work perfectly, given the right soils, at Romney Park, on a similar ridge the other side of Hahndorf. And again on the piedmont of Mount Barker, at Ngeringa.
We stood nudging the barrels on the apron of the neat Honey Moon cellar last week, a warm breeze stirring the leaves. If the air was not so sweet and acrid from eucalyptus and very Australian grass pollens, and the kelpie not so persistent in troubling us with sticks, we could indeed have been in Burgundy in the summer.
The barrels certainly smelt of Burgundy: a range of oaks, of differing ages, from the better forests of France, wrangled, toasted and wrought by the coopering world’s equivalents of Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy. Their contents were Burgundian too: pinots that evoked cellar after cellar from that amazing slope of gold; but sinister gunblue shiraz that glinted with as much Australian depth as earthy Rhonish elegance.
As Beaujolais is between France’s pinot and shiraz vignobles, I couldn’t help wondering what bright games its gamay grape might play in these Hills. Somebody will try it. That would be fun, and an earlier-drinking, cheekier red that would see some winery income a year or two quicker than the more serious models.
Hylton McLean taught wine science for may years; he now works on experimental oenology at Pernod Ricard’s Rowland Flat winery. He’s certainly not a sub-divider. One can’t tread too much of the Honey Moon property without being aware of how painstakingly it was sought and selected.
“We’re at 420 metres here, so at night it’s more continental”, Hylton said. “This last vintage, it’d be 41 degrees in the day, but we’d be quickly back to twelve at night.”
The 2008 Honey Moon Vineyard Rosé ($19; 13% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points) is a bright and cheeky young thing made from pinot and shiraz. It’s all saucy raspberry, strawberry and cranberry, with, as Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks observed, “a maraschino cherry sitting on the top”. But as the seduction continues, stone fruits and kernels become apparent further down the drink, while an acrid edge of those mean weathered soils adds a sexy, husky dry note. The flavours are pretty much what those aromas prophesied, but better. It’s deep and delicious stuff, bone dry, with the texture of a good chardonnay.
While that rosé was pretty much along the lines of your Folies Bergere, the 2007 pinot noir was straight to a modern Burgundian cellar. The oak had squirted a streak of gingery lemon through a precise cordial of raspberry, wild cherries and juniper berries. It’s nutty, like a cheeky Dujac, and finishes very very deep, juicy and long. $33; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points.
Honey Moon Vineyard Shiraz 2007 ($27; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points) is a triumph in the inevitable march towards lower alcohols. It’s almost like malbec: as much gun blue as shiitake and blueberry; as much British Racing Green in mood as your pinus full of black cockatoos. Black tea; black pepper; black fruits ... Glory be.
If you feel like sending some to the Queen, Hylton, I'll frock up right away.