The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

Among the le­gions of wine­mak­ers dot­ted around the coun­try there are a few who are con­sid­ered true lead­ers in their field. These men and women not only pro­tect the legacy of our his­toric gems but also craft ris­ing stars, over­see­ing both house­hold names as well as tiny bou­tique op­er­a­tions. It is this se­lect group who not only have helped to de­fine Aus­tralian wine for decades but also con­tinue to drive its future.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, those who have filled the role of Pen­folds chief wine­maker, one of the most cov­eted po­si­tions for an Aus­tralian in in­ter­na­tional wine, have been such stars. Since the creation of Pen­folds Grange only four wine­mak­ers have held that hal­lowed ti­tle: Grange vi­sion­ary Max Schu­bert, Don Dit­ter, John Duval and Peter Gago, all cus­to­di­ans over a sig­nif­i­cant part of Aus­tralian wine his­tory.

For many the Pen­folds job would be the re­al­i­sa­tion of a life­long dream, an achieve­ment that could not be bet­tered and a job for life, as it was for Schu­bert and Dit­ter. But for Duval, his long time at Pen­folds has be­come a spring­board into the wider world of wine, un­der his own la­bel and fur­ther afield with projects in Aus­tralia, Europe, South Amer­ica and the US.

The Duval fam­ily con­nec­tion with Pen­folds started well be­fore John be­gan his wine­mak­ing ca­reer. In the 1940s the Duval fam­ily sheep stud was a sup­plier of grapes to Pen­folds, with the famed Mag­ill Es­tate planted in part with cut­tings from the fam­ily farm.

Duval landed a job at Pen­folds fresh out of the Uni­ver­sity of Ade­laide in 1974 and by 1986 had risen through the ranks to chief wine­maker, a job he held un­til 2002, when he passed the reins to Gago. It was an ex­cit­ing time in the win­ery’s evo­lu­tion – Grange was in­creas­ingly seen as one of the world’s finest wines and this was re­flected in the wide ar­ray of awards Duval gained dur­ing his ten­ure.

Duval was wine­maker of the year at the In­ter­na­tional Wine and Spirit Com­pe­ti­tion in 1989 and the 1990 Pen­folds Grange was named wine of the year by Wine Spec­ta­tor in 1995. Duval was also in­volved in a broad­en­ing of Pen­folds’ range with the de­vel­op­ment of the RWT shi­raz, Yat­tarna chardon­nay and Spe­cial Bin Block 42 Kal­imna caber­net. His legacy is well in keep­ing with the pre­vi­ous chief wine­mak­ers at Pen­folds. But af­ter 29 years with Pen­folds and 16 as chief wine­maker, Duval de­cided to move on, and left the cor­po­rate world be­hind to cre­ate a new Barossa fam­ily legacy with John Duval wines.

No doubt it was a dif­fi­cult move to leave be­hind the safety of Pen­folds, with its well drilled viti­cul­tural, wine­mak­ing, sales and mar­ket­ing teams. Yet John made the leap and stepped out essen­tially as a one-man band in an at­tempt to craft his very own style of new Barossa icons.

While depart­ing Pen­folds was very much a leap of faith it also opened up new op­por­tu­ni­ties both in Aus­tralia and abroad across a whole range of wine styles. Duval was no longer wed­ded to the Pen­folds wine­mak­ing style – much of which has re­mained fairly con­sis­tent over time – par­tic­u­larly for the icons and much-loved bin wines. He could now fully re­move the shack­les and make wine in his own spe­cial way.

John Duval wines, how­ever, is not a huge step away from what Duval knows best. It is a Barossa Val­ley spe­cial­ist, sourc­ing largely old vine fruit to cre­ate tra­di­tion­ally pow­er­ful and weighty wine styles with great gen­eros­ity of fruit. But there are also plenty of sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences to his wines made un­der the Pen­folds la­bel. Oak is very much more re­served with a lower pro­por­tion of new French oak. And the wines are more savoury with less of the lush Barossa black­berry nu­ances and more of the re­gion’s baked earth and tarry char­ac­ters.

At a va­ri­etal level is where the largest changes have been made. While the back­bone of John Duval wines is old vine Barossa shi­raz, there is also sig­nif­i­cant em­pha­sis on the other Rhone Val­ley va­ri­etals – par­tic­u­larly gre­nache, but also mourve­dre, marsanne, rous­sanne and viog­nier. Al­though Duval is known glob­ally as a shi­raz spe­cial­ist, his re­cent straight gre­nache and gre­nache blends have show­cased ex­cep­tional skill in craft­ing wines from this un­der­rated grape va­ri­ety.

While the Plexus shi­raz-gre­nache blend and An­nexus gre­nache are out­stand­ing, all the John Duval wines show sig­nif­i­cant sub­tlety com­bined with un­der­ly­ing power, which has be­come their sig­na­ture. They are also great ex­am­ples of what can be done in the Barossa with the fruits of long ex­pe­ri­ence and a lighter touch.

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