2014 Yangarra Roussanne, 5 Stars.
A lovely green/gold colour with delicious savoury slatey, minerally undertones to the honeysuckle and herbal fruit flavours, the palate nicely balanced, supple and with a beautifully crisp, dry finish.
2013 Yangarra Estate Vineyard Old Vine Grenache - 95 points.
From bush vines planted ’46 in Blewitt Springs’ sandy soils; hand-picked, mechanically sorted, 50% whole berries, cold soak, open-fermented, wild yeast, on lees in used French oak for 9 months. Bright crimson; a grenache with serious intent, its tightly focused and structured palate way above the norm, the pure core of bright red fruits precisely delineated and very long. For the long haul. 14.5% alc; screwcap – 95 points; drink to 2038; $32 – James Halliday, The Weekend Australian, June 2015
Walk into the cavernous Yangarra winery shed in McLaren Vale during the middle of vintage and the first thing you will be shown by winemaker Peter Fraser is his huge, gleaming Vaucher Beguet grape-sorting machine in action.
It is quite a sight: bins full of whole bunches go in one end and a mechanised array of pluckers, shakers and blowers gets to work pulling out all the stalks and leaves and shriveled bits until a waterfall of perfect grapes comes tumbling out the other end.
This machine is one of the reasons why the quality of Yangarra’s wines has improved so markedly over the last few years - most notably in the terrible, disease-ridden 2011 harvest when, thanks to the Vaucher Beguet’s ruthless rejection of any less-than-perfect fruit, Yangarra produced outstanding wines such as the 2011 Old Vine Grenache: one of the best examples of this variety I have ever tasted from McLaren Vale.
Once you’re done marvelling at the hi-tech, though, the second thing Peter Fraser will show you is his collection of six large white ceramic egg-shaped fermenters, each with a capacity of 675 litres, the equivalent of three barriques. The winemaker is so enamoured of these vessels since first trialing them in 2013 - fermenting and macerating his best whole bunches of Grenache and white Roussanne grapes on skins for months at a time - that he’s just put in an order for six more.
The juxtaposition of these two bits of winemaking kit - the ultra-modern computerised grape sorter and the ancient-amphora-inspired ceramic eggs - illustrates why Yangarra is one of the most exciting wineries in Australia right now: here, old and new methods are comfortably being used together to extract the truest flavours from the vineyard.
Indeed, this old/new approach started in the vineyard. In 2008 Peter Fraser and viticulturist Michael Lane began converting Yangarra to biodynamics. The whole estate became certified-i--conversion in time for the 2012 vintage. Now the team are busily establishing new blocks using the same bush-vine techniques that were employed when the oldest sections of the 100-hectare vineyard were planted in the mid 1940s.
Since 2001 Yangarra has been owned by California-based Jackson Family Wines. In 2012 the group also purchased David Hickinbotham’s 80-hectare vineyard at Clarendon, a few kilometres away in the hills above McLaren Vale. This vineyard was planted in 1971 by David’s father, Alan Hickinbotham Jr, scion of a famous Australian wine family, and over the years has supplied grapes to wines as diverse as Penfolds Grange and Clarendon Hills Shiraz.
Since the 2012 vintage the Yangarra team have produced wines from this second property under a separate label, Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard, in collaboration with well-known Jackson Family winemaker Chris Carpenter, who travels to McLaren Vale from Napa several times a year.
There’s some rich history here, and with the Yangarra team at the helm the Clarendon vineyard will go from strength to strength. But unfortunately there’s some rankle, too.
The Hickinbotham name is a very important one in Australian wine history: Alan Hickinbotham Snr founded the Roseworthy oenology course in the 1930s and his other son Ian was the first winemaker at Wynns Coonawarra Estate in the 1950s (Ian was also the bloke who first employed a young German migrant winemaker called Wolf Blass in the early 1960s).
Ian’s son, Andrew, has run a winery called Hickinbotham of Dromana on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula since 1988. And the Victorian Hickinbothams are very upset by what’s happening in McLaren Vale – not just because cousin David sold the South Australian Hickinbotham vineyard at Clarendon to the Americans, but also because the new wines from that property have the Hickinbotham family’s name so prominently displayed on the labels when the business has nothing to do with the family any more.
I can see both sides: I understand the Hickinbothams’ resentment, but I also understand why the Yangarra crew and the Jackson family want to promote the heritage of the special site they are now working with. It’s a difficult, slightly sour note to an otherwise wholly delicious wine story that deserves to be better known.
For once I am moved to append tasting notes:
Yangarra, PF Shiraz 2015 McLaren Vale
Peter Fraser bottled his first preservative-free Shiraz in 2013. Because he was nervous about sending such a naked wine into the wilds of the marketplace without any preservatives, he sterile-filtered it. After tasting it in late 2013 I asked whether he’d bottled some of the batch unfiltered, as a comparison out of interest. He hadn’t, but the following year he did - and he and I both prefer the way the unfiltered version is ageing: unlike the round, sweet, softness of its filtered counterpart, the raw, completely unadulterated 2014 PF Shiraz (certified biodynamic viticulture, wild yeast, no added acid, no fining, nada, zip) has a lovely earthy complexity and sense of place. Despite the success of that trial, though, Fraser did filter his 2015 - partly because the success of the first two vintages has led to greater demand from more distant markets such as the US, and he isn’t confident that a totally unprotected wine will always be stored with appropriate care. Nevertheless, this young, vivid wine is beautiful: essence of purple fruit, lively, juicy, spicy. AU$25 RRP
Yangarra, Roux Beauté Roussanne 2013 McLaren Vale
Yangarra is home to more than 15 grape varieties traditionally associated with the southern Rhône, including Grenache, Carignan, Bourboulenc and - notably - Roussanne. This small-scale bottling is a blend of two batches of Roussanne fermented in Peter Fraser’s ceramic eggs - one on skins for 120 days, one just juice. At this early stage you can see both, slightly out of registration - fragrant and honeysuckly to smell, rich and savoury on the tongue - but a couple of years more in bottle should see the components merge. AU$65 RRP
Yangarra, High Sands Grenache 2012 McLaren Vale
At the high point and at the heart of the 100-hectare Yangarra estate is a block of Grenache bush vines planted in the 1940s: gnarly old plants basking in the sun in their bleached sandy home. Sourced from the lowest-yielding vines within this sprawling garden, the High Sands is a stunning example of why I think Grenache is a more eloquent teller of terroir tales than Shiraz in McLaren Vale: there’s a translucence to the wine, despite its power and intensity, an open, grainy, dusty quality to the tannin, an unmistakable sandy spiciness that takes me straight to that high point on the Yangarra hill. AU$125 RRP
MAX ALLEN, June 2015
"I could write six columns about Yangarra Estate and winemaker Peter Fraser and still have more to say, so please forgive apparent non-sequiturs. In my 2015 Wine Companion seven 2012 Yangarra Estate wines received between 94 and 97 points, all made conventionally.
The other day I tasted another eight wines, mainly from 2013, some also made conventionally, some not, involving the ceramic egg beloved of natural winemakers. The results were fascinating, so we communicated with each other by phone and email, and inevitably the eggs were the focus.
Says Fraser 'My initial interest was driven by sourcing a vessel that would not impart barrel character but would not have the “plainness” of a stainless steel vessel. I looked into concrete, but I feel the chemicals used in making concrete are not very friendly, and if you have to wax or epoxy them, you are taking a step backwards and not forward. The ceramic eggs are not porous, but have similar thermal properties to concrete or clay vessels. A staunch Biodynamic advocate would say the shape of the egg is very important, and say that the shape causes constant thermal movement. I understand the logic, but I have not seen evidence that the lees in fact move within the wine as some of the promotional literature suggests. Disregarding any of the hocus pocus of Eggs, we have been extremely happy with the results'.
This has special relevance for Rhone Valley red and white styles, and the Yangarra vineyards are also in play. Grenache, mourvedre and tempranillo are household red wines, but what about cinsaut, carignan, graciano, counoise and muscardin? All these are (or will be) planted at Yangarra by the end of the year. picpoul noir, terret noir and vaccarese are around the corner.
The white varieties open with roussanne, but what about grenache blanc, bourbelenc and picpoul blanc? All these will likewise be planted, although most (like the red varieties) on a trial basis. Watch this space.
2013 YANGARRA GSM – 95 POINTS
”A blend of 49% grenache, 29% shiraz and 22% mourvedre. Hand-picked, mechanically sorted, 50% whole berries, cold soak, open fermenters, plunged, wild yeast-fermented, kept on lees in 100% used French oak for 9 months. Brilliant hue; the wine effortlessly communicates its distinguished breeding, the medium-bodied palate with a silken line of fruit, then a thin coat of fine, savoury tannins. 1511 dozen made.”
2013 ROUX BEAUTE ROUSSANNE – 96 POINTS
“50% fills a 675l ceramic egg, foot-trodden and fermented on skins, remaining there for 120 days before pressing; the other 50% is pressed into a second ceramic egg and fermented off skins. The fresh varietal fruit is held in a distinct chalky/pithy embrace, the length and balance faultless. The fascinating question is how long it will live. 68 dozen made.”
2013 SMALL POT CERAMIC EGG GRENACHE – 96 POINTS
“Destemmed and mechanically berry sorted, 50% crushed, tipped into two 675l ceramic eggs. Fermentation occurs in the eggs; remains on skins for 120 days post-fermentation, the pressings not used. The colour is clear and bright; a perfumed bouquet, then a palate brimming with bright red fruits supported by a spider web of ultra-fine tannins. It is the perfume that is so extraordinary. Due for release June '15; 94 dozen made.”
This is an unedited version of the article "Yangarra yell" written by James Halliday for the Weekend Australian magazine."
James Halliday | www.winecompanion.com.au | 21st March 2015