South Australia: Smells Like Teen Spirit
Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW
The Wine Advocate, Issue #205
And I forget just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it was hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind
I usually leave the music allusions to colleague and consummate music buff Neal Martin, but I couldn’t resist this title. There was definitely something different in the air during my most recent visit to South Australia in November 2012. Tanunda – a rural, work-a-day town in the heart of the Barossa that I have I trudged through somewhat begrudgingly a number of times now over the years – was charged with new energy. The little farming town of Clare, a good two-hour drive from the urban sprawl of Adelaide, prickled with tension at the end of a long, overgrown Riesling trail. I sensed this same edgy impatience and atmosphere of challenge in ordinarily sleepy backwaters of McLaren Vale last year. The emerging defiance of youth, you can almost smell this revolution erupting in South Australia.
Being the empire state of Australian wine and home to some of its oldest wineries, the patriarchs of these estates have nurtured their sons and daughters well, both in the literal and metaphorical senses, in their ways and means, though they have remained reluctant to actually hand over the scepters. Perhaps overly so. During the last difficult decade, when in hindsight it was clear that winemaking visions were somewhat muddied by unsustainable market demands and that what was required was fresh insight and creative revision or in some cases simply renewed appreciation for what remained of the old styles, these patriarchs sat on their scepters. But the kids were restless and headed to the disused corners of their fathers’ wineries or made wine in tin sheds and renovated barns – anywhere they could. And thank God they did.
The prodigal sons and daughters are coming good with exciting and often preconception-challenging interpretations of what some of the greatest viticultural areas of the world can offer. Rapidly emerging boutique wineries such as Samuel’s Gorge, Alpha, Box & Dice, Brash Higgins, Oliver’s Taranga, Glaetzer, David Franz, Dan Standish, Massena, Spinifex, First Drop, Ruggabellus, Ochota Barrels, Kaesler, Teusner, Izway, Dandelion Vineyards and Sons of Eden are making noise in export markets around the world. They’re mixing it up with new grapes: Fiano, Saperavi, Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Zinfandel to name a few. They’re experimenting with insanely different styles ranging from a multi-vintage super-blend a la Vega Sicilia (David Franz’s Larrikin) to a Nero d’Avola made in Amphoras (Brash Higgins). And whether producing elegant, softly spoken expressions of the classic grapes of the regions (Spinifex) or bolder irrefutable statements that finish with a virtual exclamation point in your mouth (Standish), they’re finding their own voices. But what is for me perhaps the most compelling aspect of this emerging younger generation scene is their sense of community. I see these guys sharing ideas, sharing wines and sharing information. They applaud each other’s successes; share each other’s failures. They have groups. This makes them strong and ultimately shapes the spirits of their regions. The effects are apparent in the continual improvement of their provocative wines.
Now all this isn’t to say that the South Australian Gen-Ys and Millennials have sold the birth-rights of their fathers and in some cases forefathers. On the contrary. The exciting consequence of this Teen Spirit is the contrast it creates. Readers will note from the accompanying wine reviews that many of the pinnacles of greatness are still among the flagship wines of grand estates rich in patriarchal history, including: Jim Barry, Yalumba, Seppeltsfield, Henschke, Taylors, d’Arenberg, Penfolds, Wynns, Kay Bros., Burge Family and Greenock Creek plus newer stalwarts such as Torbreck, Mollydooker, Noon, Dutschke, Pikes, Two Hands, Grosset, Ashton Hills, Grant Burge, Eldridge Estate, Shaw & Smith and Clarendon Hills â€“ to name but a few. But it is no coincidence that there is a fresh spring in the step of those with seniority, thanks in part to showing the kids they still know a thing or two and not forgetting that a lot of the hard graft performed in the vineyards and wineries is carried out by their ambitious young sons and daughters. If this lot have anything to do with it, South Australia is well set to break out of the doldrums with their fresh-approach fighting wines.
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