“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





30 June 2017


Mike Farmilo with Sue Trott in her Grenache at the top of the Blewett Springs ridge 

Taking the pick of the top country

My interest and enthusiasm in Grenache has been reawakened in the last five  years, since I started consulting to Willunga 100, the label owned by David Gleave (Liberty Wines) and John Ratcliffe (Accolade Wines).

I have been helping Sue Trott with her Five Geese label for many years and part of that was the Ganders Blend, a Grenache/Shiraz. The Grenache was so good as an individual wine that I was often only blending in 10% Shiraz, just for the label purposes.

While Sue’s eighty-year-old dry-grown bush vines are consistently very good, I explored a bit more around Blewett Springs and there is a lot of old, dry grown, bush vine Grenache on those deep sandy soils. 

In fact, Russell Mobsby told me that the Southern Vales Winery took over 8,000 tonnes of McLaren Vale Grenache in the early 'eighties, much of it from Blewett Springs.

Later on, a lot of this would have been used by Steve Maglieri in the golden days of his Lambrusco. However, a lot of it has been pulled out now and there is nowhere near as much as there used to be.

In contrast to the more masculine central McLaren Vale Grenache - more suited in a GSM in my opinion - Blewett Springs Grenache has a floral prettiness with rose petals, dried herb complexity, spice, and even cinnamon and wormwood. In some years, it does have some of the ripe, rich raspberry character of central McLaren Vale, but generally it shows an elegance and restrained ripeness.

In cooler years you can see spice and white pepper.

It has been inspiring to see some of the young winemakers championing Grenache and introducing techniques such as whole bunch fermentation and carbonic maceration. Blewett Springs Grenache, because of the more elegant and distinctive fruit character, responds so well to these techniques, adding more weight and complexity to fruit which is already interesting and producing intriguing wines that you love to sniff, finding more characters all the time as they open up.

It’s never going to be Burgundy, but it’s the closest McLaren Vale is going to get to the ethereal complexity that you can find in a great Pinot Noir - James Irvine might have been on the right track in the late 70’s when he coined "McLaren Vale Grenache: Pinot d’Fleurieu!" I'll bet there was a lot of Grenache in those Tatachilla 'Burgundies' shipped to the UK in the 1960’s.

Grenache men who understood the value of some whole bunches and berries in the ferment: James Irvine (then at Saltram), Andrew Wigan (Peter Lehmann Wines), Greg Trott (Wirra Wirra) and Stephen John who was just starting his own operation in Clare ... at The Barn, McLaren Vale, 1983 ... all photos by Philip White

The 2014 Five Geese Indian File Grenache was my first attempt at introducing a bit of whole bunch complexity to Blewett Springs Grenache. 

I’ve never thought that Grenache needed much oak but now I am often not even putting it in barrel. Much better to leave it on yeast lees in stainless steel tank to protect that pretty fruit lift and bottle it before the next harvest.

Blewett Springs Grenache does not have high acid, but it does have a low pH.

Another recent benefit to Grenache production has been sorting, whether by machine or by hand, and this has helped with Grenache’s two problems: First, it is prone to raisining in the really hot years and if these get through to the ferment, you get the high alcohol which we don’t want.

Second, with big bunches, quite often tight, there is always a bit of mould inside the Grenache bunch, sometimes active, sometimes dried up. All Grenache ferments start off a bit musty but generally this will blow off as the fermentation continues.

The Vaucher Beguet sorting machine will take good-looking hand-picked fruit like this, and find grooblies and greeblies like these within the bunches:

This stuff would normally go into the fermenter ... but a sorting machine removes it, giving the winemaker the vinous equivalent of caviar:

The 2015 Clandestine Vineyards #1 McLaren Vale Grenache has been sorted on the expensive Yangarra machine, given a pre-fermentation soak and 10% whole berry fermentation, and is the most complex and intriguing Grenache I have made to date. 

I also take Grenache from Bernard Smart’s Clarendon vineyard: again old dry-grown bush vines, some older than Bernard himself!

Wayne and Bernard Smart in Bernard's 1921 Grenache
This is different again to Blewett Springs and central McLaren Vale. Bernard's vineyard gives much more refined fruit with blueberry characters. It's even austere on the palate.

Willunga 100 has chosen to release two single-vineyard Grenaches from 2015: a Blewett Springs from Sue Trott and another from Bernard at Clarendon. While both are pretty wines they are very different in character and style and make an interesting comparison. 

di Fabio Grenache at the top of Blewett Springs ... below that deep, but recent wind-blown (æolian) sand you'll hit a layer of clay and ironstone, below which lies another hundred metres or so of loose riverine Maslin Sand. 

I often wonder whether that ancient weathered escarpment along the Willunga Fault line on the horizon looked anything like this young scarp in Banff ... 

for previous articles in DRINKSTER's Grenache series click these

1 Intro: McLaren Vale Grenache: A Study 
2 Out my back door: picking the High Sands 
3 Grenache: Drew Noon's love story 
4 Grenache: the Italian Connection 
5 Out my back door: finishing High Sands
6 Grenache and upland geology: top of the bottom 
7  Thistledown for the Spanish: Grenache from Tres Hombres

Sue and Mike with another of her upland vineyards behind them ... Bernard's vineyard is a couple of ridges further north, beyond that horizon

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