The 2019 Vintage begins at Rockford Wines in the Barossa Valley, South Australia.
The life of a wine lover is punctuated with memories that stick so freshly in your memory you can taste them, like the first time I tried Penfolds Grange (standing in a fountain in Blenheim at 2am, drinking it out of the bottle, but that’s a story for another time).
I have just got back from South Australia, where, after a few nights merrily chugging up and down the Murray River on a paddle steamer, we got down to the serious business of trying some of the great Barossa Valley wines.
At the almost fairy-tale like Rockford, our warm and charming host David Kalleske just happened to have a bottle of 1996 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz lurking around.
This was one of the first wines I sent my late father as a present, so it was quite emotional to be offered a taste of it some 20 years later.
It was holding its own remarkably for a wine of that age, and stacked up very well against both current vintage, and one dating from the early 2000s.
The romance of making wine is very much in evidence at Rockford, from pitchforking huge piles of grapes directly off the back of an elderly truck, through an open window, and into the tiny and ancient crusher de-stemmer – powered by an equally tiny and ancient motor, through to their insistence on using both very old basket presses and replica modern ones, through to their tiny cellar door.
If you ever get to the Barossa (and I hope you do), it is an absolute must-see, and their wines are uniformly excellent.
Another of those moments was meeting raconteur-in-chief Stuart Blackwell at St Hallett Wines, just down the road from Rockford.
I am no longer a young man, I’m just past the dreaded mid-40s. Stuart started with St Hallett at almost exactly the same time as I was born.
While Stuart may not get his hands quite as dirty as he used to, he is still heavily involved in the day-to-day operation of this historic producer, and the excellent St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz is both testament and tribute.
Dark and brooding with persistent berry and spice, an essential introduction to this style.
More used to urban Australia than rural, we were keen to see some critters in the wild.
While we were kept entertained (and awake) by huge flocks of noisy Corellas and cheeky Galahs, we had a hankering to see a kangaroo going about its daily business.
Head winemaker for Grant Burge Wines, Craig Stansborough, took us for a leisurely, meandering tour of the dirt roads of the area, showing us plantings both ancient and new, including the historic Meshach vineyard with gnarled vines well over a century old.
When we mentioned kangaroos, he happily drove us around his own vineyard to try to spot the family of them that had recently taken up residence.
Row by row we looked, until eventually we spotted them. By the time we got out of his suitably dusty and much-loved ute they had hopped off, but seeing them briefly in their natural habitat, pinching his grapes, was yet another of those moments.
While the Barossa is legendary globally for its wines, it is also home to an excellent craft brew pub and restaurant – Barossa Valley Brewing.
Denham D’Silva, founder and driving force, took us for a tour of the tiny brewery and offered us tastings of their full range – all were excellent, particularly the ridiculous hop-bomb of Canis Major and the absurd but phenomenal “I can’t believe it’s not bacon”, which, genuinely, tastes like smoky bacon and went well with the brilliant lamb pizza.
Denham is so obsessed with Australian rugby, as well as his doppelganger George Gregan, that he named his son Gregan, and is currently working on a joint Australian/New Zealand Rugby World Cup brew with Kiwi gypsy brewer Ben Miller, potentially named “Four More Years”.
I can’t wait to try it! Special mention must also go to Denham for his involvement with a local charity Barossa Enterprises, which employs disabled members of the community in labelling his products.
In my next column I will dig deeper into the Barossa Valley. In the meantime, try your local fine wine retailer or some supermarkets for wines by St Hallett, Grant Burge and Rockford. Sadly, and no matter how much I tried, Denham doesn’t sell his beers into New Zealand (yet).
First published in the Waikato Times 11.04.19