02 December 2013
CLUMSY START FOR HESKETH'S WD
Woolworth's newest exclusives
Parker, St John's and Hesketh
Hungry Dan's eats new brands
by PHILIP WHITE
Parker Coonawarra Estate has history many wineries would envy. Planted by John and Faye Parker in 1985, with the assistance of neighbour Doug Balnaves, it occupied some of the very last of the famous terra rossa dirt, just north of Penola.
They used the revered Reynella Selection of Cabernet, the time-proven strain of that noble variety which was found in John Reynell’s original vineyard at Reynella – the same historical McLaren Vale vineyard Constellation Wines pulled up for a yuppie ghetto before that hamfisted monolith finished losing its $1.6 billion, sold up, and went back to the US, but that’s another story.
The Parkers built a bold new winery from local stone and went to work, to great critical acclaim. They won big shiny show bling from the start, and were soon gathering rave endorsements from the likes of Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer, who called the glamour outfit: “One of the top estates in Australia, let alone Coonawarra, and the gloss and depth of fruit … are simply breathtaking.” Of course James Halliday doshed them up five stars, and Langtons, the Woolworths wine auctioneer, gave them a V for excellence.
When I first read on their website that V now stands for excellence, I was willing to overlook this. More interesting was the winery’s recent history. It became part of the Rathbone family’s vast suite of posh wineries, but when “patriarch” Doug Rathbone, the Nufarm man, did his dough and the bank got tetchy, the whole bang lot of them, from the Yarra Valley to Margaret River, hit the market at bargain rates.
Remembering the magnificent presumption which had the Rathbones selling Cabernet at $110 per bottle, I was fascinated to receive a couple of bottles of the 2012 reds, with a stylish letter heralding the “restoration of Parker Coonawarra Estate’s focus and unwavering dedication to Coonawarra”. Signed by “Jennifer Lynch and the team at Parker Coonawarra Estate”, the letter advised that these new releases were in “total contrast to the long established Terra Rossa” and were indeed from a different part of Coonawarra where the vines ripen earlier, giving a “softer and riper tannin structure … that is more approachable in its youth”.
The wines, a Cabernet and a Shiraz, were $24 each. At first, I found them raw and green, much like the wines they were touted as contrasting. I felt somewhere along the lines of 70-80 points would be fair, but I’d wait. After a few days of air, they began to taste more approachable, and settled in more authoritatively at the upper end of that score.
Then I noticed the small print on the “SAMPLE ONLY – NOT FOR RESALE” sticker on the side of the bottles. “Winemaker: Phil Lehamnn [sic].”
Philip Lehmann is the younger of the two sons of the late Peter Lehmann and his wife Margaret. I have long considered him one of the Barossa’s brightest winemaking lights – the wines he made from Oxford Landing River fruit for Yalumba a few years back still hang brilliantly on my memory. Since then he has wrought similar wonders for Kym Teusner, for whom he worked until recently. His name alone led my curious proboscis back into the bottles. But nope, no sign of the sensitive Lehmann hand arose.
Just as V now stands for excellence, and these wines are 2012 vintage, Philip commenced working at Parker in July this year. Stranger things have happened, I thoughtfully told myself. Then I opened the newspaper to discover the same wines selling at Woolworth's subsidiary Dan Murphy’s for $18.90. They’d dropped $5 each after being posted but before I’d got a third of the way down the bottle. I blamed it all on Dan Murphy’s and moved on to more interesting subjects, like the package that came in the day after those Parkers.
This contained a 2013 Eden Valley Riesling ($18) and a Barossa Shiraz ($22) from 2012, and came from St John’s Road, a virtual winery business with a boutique image, set up by Peter Schell and Kim Jackson in 2005. The Shiraz back label had that fluff and blustery ruddy cheeked sort of stuff you find on virtual winery products – it’s all about football – while the Riesling talked in contrast about the “tranquility” of Eden Valley.
A piece of Eden? Uh-huh. This is a piece of the Flinders Ranges. But, for education purposes only, some folks have a tendency to exaggerate the height and scale of their modest old hills to give them a more Himalayan look ... it's a kind of altitude envy:
The accompanying letter looked familiar: apart from the St John’s Road letterhead, it was pretty much along the lines of the Parker epistle, and sho nuff, it was signed by Jennifer Lynch “and the team at St John’s Road”. This time the winemaker, Philip Lehmann, made the second paragraph, along with the promise that “a new A grade 20 hectare vineyard at Ebenezer” had been purchased, “with up to 96 year old Shiraz vines”.
Once again, the wines were sound, slightly above average schlücks, but nothing to write home about – the pattern was obvious.
Then came another parcel, with five wines, called The Protagonist, Thirsty Dog, Usual Suspects, Bright Young Things and Scissor Hands. All $23 (three reds from 2012; two whites from 2013), with another letter from “Jennifer Lynch and the team”, this time “at Hesketh Wines”. The provenance was made a little clearer. "Hesketh Wines is now part of WD Wines Pty Ltd, which includes Parker Coonawarra Estate and St John’s Road, Barossa … Phil Lehmann has now taken the winemaking reigns [sic]".
To use the great Lehmann name to promote discount bin stuff like this for Dan Murphy’s is not the best start.
It turns out all these wines are exclusively made for Woolworth’s for sale through Dan Murphy’s, so I expect them all to be four or five bucks cheaper than the given prices. $18-$19 is more realistic and fair, given their average quality. Had I more enthusiastically recommended the wine at the prices initially given, readers would have been delighted to discover them so much cheaper at Dan Murphy's, and I'd look like an ill-informed dork.
Then, the simple fact is none of them could possibly have been “made” by Philip Lehmann. Wines are made in the vineyard and then the winery at vintage, and both the 2012 and 2013 vintages were well and truly done before Philip was even hired. I suggest his role was more along the lines of what we call “cleaning up for bottling”.
When Robert Hesketh, the “patriarch” of this outfit, was chairman of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation (now Wine Australia, for the minute), he invented, with grey market broker Mark Swann, the critter label, for export. Their early ’80s Koala Court and Roo’s Leap wines were slightly less whelming than these offerings. Whelm, for the record, starts with a W and means “engulf, surge or bury”.
This outfit should know that to use the great Lehmann name to promote discount bin stuff like this for Hungry Dan’s is not the best start. These wines all come from a mob set up earlier this year, and here they are, presented as the products of three separate wineries, each with its own provenance. Of sorts. Even if the respected Brian Walsh, formerly boss winemaker at Yalumba, is a director and the “patriarch” Hesketh did indeed help establish Peter Lehmann Wines all those long troubled years ago.
If you want wines of real quality, soul, style and heart, stick to the brilliant works of Dominic Torzi, whom I recommended here last week. They’re mostly about the same price, of vastly better quality, and nothing to do with Woolworths or Hungry Dan’s.
I wish WD Wines the very best, and look forward to the day when their wines are actually made by Philip Lehmann, a good friend and great sensitive winemaker whom I deeply respect.