As Published 2013 on The International Fine Wine Investment Community website based in Hong Kong.
www.ifwic.org

“Old Vines aren’t good because their old, their old because their good.”

Rob Gibson -Gibson Wines & Ex-Penfolds Growers Liaison Officer (Barossa Valley)

What are classified as old vines?
Incredibly Barossa Valley has 500-plus growers and more Old Vines than any other wine region in the world. These designations are now part of the Barossa Valley Old Vine Charter; set up to recognise the heritage of these National treasures, that represent a piece of Australian living history.

  • (35YRS+) Old Vines
  • (70YRS+) Survivor Vines
  • (100YRS+) Centenarian Vines
  • (125YRS+) Ancestor Vines

Australia largely missed the ravages of Phylloxera, resulting in surviving vines that date back to the 1840’s, most descending from the original rootstocks, that were first brought from Europe (Rhone Valley) as cuttings.

These vineyards ‘Old Gardens’ as they are affectionately known by the growers, are predominately planted too Rhone varietals (Shiraz/Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre/Mataro, Cinsault), and were largely used in the making of Fortified wine until the early 1980’s.

With the trend in the 1980’s toward drinking the noble varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon & especially Chardonnay) the Australian Government initiated a ‘Vine-Pull Scheme’ which paid growers to scrub up these uneconomic and out of fashion old vines, and replant new Noble varieties. The thinking being that old vines from the age of (30-35YRS) produce lesser yields, which meant less money for grapes that were usually paid for by the tonne.

Many acres were lost, with some growers stepping of the land, and leaving the vines to abandon, others scrubbed-up the old-vines without replanting.

The 1980’s witnessed the emergence of three pivotal wineries, (Peter Lehmann, St.Hallett & Rockford that shaped the resurgence in Barossa’s fortunes. Owner/Winemakers Peter Lehmann & Robert O’Callaghan, borrowed heavily to invest in new start-up wineries, and assured local old vine growers there was a market for their grapes. The Lindner Family (generational Grape Growers) & Bob McLean of St.Hallett’s marketed the now famous St.Hallett ‘Old-Block’ Shiraz which debuted in 1982, and promoted the old vine Shiraz of the region.

Why old Shiraz vineyards are highly sought after?

“At 50-60-Yrs of age a vine knows how much fruit to carry, and this is what provides the balance in old vines.”
Paul Lindner – Langmeil Winery (Barossa Valley)

As vines get old yield decreases, their root mass many metres deep, often means these vines are grown unirrigated, and are able to withstand the extremes of heat and drought better than younger vines.

Many winemakers believe you get more of a Wow factor from old vines! As smaller yields & berries lead to more balanced tannins. The structure of old vine Shiraz is often more comparable to European reds (than the regular Barossa bottling) with the resulting wines being more layered in texture, flavours, complexity & length. And most importantly a restrained richness and concentration can be achieved without over extraction.

Australian Old Vines – Part Two

Why the additional cost?

Well the ‘Old Blocks’ (vineyards) require hand-tending of the vines, hand-picking, & are hand-crafted as natural & traditional as possible. Many of these top Shiraz are produced in small quantities, are ‘more collectable’ being hard to purchase off the shelf, they also offer an option for extended cellaring.

How is old vine Shiraz showcased?

“Power should be hidden in a wine, not obvious! The hard thing is to take powerfully flavoured grapes and make complex, discreet wine”

Robert O’Callaghan -Rockford Winery (Barossa Valley)

Old Vine Shiraz is traditionally showcased by most Australian producers as a multi-vineyard blend,
Eg: Penfolds ‘Grange’ Shiraz, where each parcel of Shiraz is fermented separately and blending happens only after maturation. Most winemakers believe this gives them a more complete ‘layered’ wine, and more options for consistency & complexity.

Some producers prefer to express the old vines, soil & exposures of site, as a single vineyard wine, the most famous Australian example being Henschke’s ‘Hill Of Grace’ Shiraz.

Which quality old vine Shiraz is worth collecting?

“The winemaking approach at Penfolds is the stamp that distinguishes its wines”
Robert Parker (The Wine Advocate)

I have hand-picked a selection of twelve old vine Shiraz that I strongly feel are worth collecting.
Most are from small-production, family-owned Australian wineries, they also represent historical importance, Some still fly under the radar, wine heritage/pedigree. & produce world-class wines.

Established all represent the essence of old vine Shiraz, excluding the crop of Shiraz that already have International fame. ‘Cult’ Australian Shiraz like Torbreck ‘The Laird’, Clarendon Hills ‘Astralis’, Chris Ringland Shiraz & the Iconic Penfolds ‘Grange’ & Henschke ‘Hill Of Grace’ need no introduction.

The reward of drinking, the term collectible excites the wine lover/collector & in Part 3 I’ll focus on the up-and-coming stars.

In Alphabetical Order

My Top 12 Most Collectible Old Vine Shiraz

  1. Ben Glaetzer ‘Amon-Ra’ Shiraz  (Barossa Valley)
  2. Elderton ‘Command’ Shiraz  (Barossa Valley)
  3. Henschke ‘Mount Edelstone’ Shiraz  (Eden Valley)
  4. Jasper Hill ‘Georgia’s Paddock’ Shiraz  (Heathcote)
  5. Kalleske ‘Johann-Georg 1875 Vines’ Shiraz  (Barossa Valley)
  6. Kay Brothers ‘Block 6′ Shiraz  (McLaren Vale)
  7. Langmeil ‘Freedom 1843 Block’ Shiraz  (Barossa Valley)
  8. Penfolds ‘St.Henri’  Shiraz   (South Australia)
  9. Peter Lehmann ‘Stonewell’ Shiraz  (Barossa Valley)
  10. Rockford ‘Basket Press’ Shiraz   (Barossa Valley)
  11. Torbreck Vintners ‘Runrig’ Shiraz  (Barossa Valley)
  12. Wendouree Shiraz  (Clare Valley)