Max Allen on wine families.
It’s a conversation that eventually takes place around the kitchen table in most winemaking families. The older generation has done things a certain way for years; the younger generation wants to try something new and radical. Things can develop in many different directions from here: sometimes the older generation resists — nup, that’s that; sometimes dad indulges his kids’ experiment; and sometimes the family embraces change with gusto.
I’ve imagined these scenarios as I tasted my way through some excellent new releases from wineries in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
The Wilson family has sold wines under the Linfield Road label since the 2000s, but they have grown grapes at their home in Williamstown, in the southern Barossa, over five generations and more than 150 years. Linfield wines in the past have been solid, straightforward, conservatively labelled Barossans — their inky, bold shiraz The Stubborn Patriarch ($28) says it all, really.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I tried their new, 2014 chardonnay ($26). Obscurely dubbed There Will be Stars, the wine was wild-fermented on skins and is a terrific example of the style that’s so in vogue, with a glowing pale bronze colour, tangy complexity and lovely creamy, nutty texture. It’s about as far from “standard” Barossa chardonnay as possible, and has been received very favourably.
The Pfeiffer family has many generations of grapegrowing history behind it, first in the Riverland, and from the early 1990s in the Barossa, at Whistler Wines in Marananga. Again, the main Whistler range consists of good, conventional, plainly labelled Barossa wines. For the last couple of vintages, fourth generation winemaker Josh Pfeiffer has played with some small batches produced in a drink-now, modern idiom using (for example) wild ferments and whole bunches: my pick of these colourfully labelled wines is the 2015 Get in My Belly Grenache ($35), a juicy, spicy, thoroughly gluggable expression of grape and place.
Another family company undergoing generational change is Jericho Wines. I’ve known Neil Jericho for years at companies including Brown Brothers and Taylors. A couple of years ago, Neil and wife Kaye, marketer daughter Sally, graphic designer son Kim and winemaker son Andrew formed their own business, sourcing grapes from McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. The Jericho wines are excellent: of the recent releases I particularly like the 2015 fiano ($25), a gorgeously perfumed, exotically flavoured white wine, and the slurpy, medium-bodied 2015 tempranillo ($25).
The kitchen table conversations that resulted in these exciting new wines must have been fascinating.