Australian Grenache

Cirillo Estate Wines, ancient Grenache bush vine, Barossa Valley (1)

Wine Australia’s Variety Focus Series recently gave wine fans a look at what Grenache can do in Australia.  In this enlightening presentation Mark Davidson, Wine Australia’s head of education, poses a few questions to Peter Fraser, Winemaker and General Manager at Yangarra Estate Vineyard.  Their bios can be found below.  We are going to look at the history of Grenache in Australia, the regions it is primarily planted in, blending, and the evolution of the style of Grenache there.

McLaren Vale bush vines (2)

The essence of Peter’s message is that when winemakers exercise astuteness and perception to the needs of the Grenache grape throughout its tenure at a wine estate, in the vineyard, during the winemaking process, and throughout élevage, only then will Grenache discard its shyness about exhibiting its full range of character and began to expose its full and exciting personality to us.

Bush vines in Barossa (2)

Mark reminds us that Grenache has been in Australia since 1832 as a significant red grape variety found in warm areas where early settlements were located.  Although previously employed in fortified wines, today Grenache does not just occupy a role in support, but it has moved more to center stage especially as a single varietal.  Mark’s advice is to keep this dark horse on your radar for potential stardom.  Think elegance, power, and perfume.  This may be the perfect time to seek a sip.

Bush training, also called head or goblet, was used in the early days of Grenache in Australia and employs no trellis system.  Although bush training is still prevalent, trellising systems such as the corkscrew are under experimentation.  If pruning is managed, the grape is copacetic with dry farming, the variety being draught tolerant.  Current hotbeds for Grenache vineyards and production are Barossa and McLaren Vale, largely due to the old vine history existing in those areas.  Several producers in Barossa were responsible for reshaping the image and trends of Grenache in Australia.  In McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, the full range of Grenache style along with many old vine vineyards can be found.

Cirillo Estate Wines, ancient bush vine (head or goblet trained), Barossa Valley (1)

Mark continued with background on Australian Grenache. Barossa Valley, north of Adelaide, is famous for its numerous old vines.  Some of the oldest Grenache vines in existence are planted in the Barossa, thriving and evolving in its Mediterranean climate and sandy soils.  Styles there range from medium bodied and fragrant through full bodied, rich, and spicy.  Ninth-generation winemaker Marco Cirillo’s vineyard planted in 1848 is believed to have the oldest Grenache vines anywhere.

Grenache is a constituant in the popular classic blend GSM along with Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The mix of the wines from these three grapes offers a beguiling, harmonius, complexity.  Grenache contributes spice, red fruit, and alcohol, along with moderate acid and tannins.  The Syrah provides richness and weight, while notes of perfume and anise with grippy tannins are added by the Mourvèdre.

Mark asked Peter to expound on Grenache.  Peter Began, “I think what makes it special is that it’s very special vineyards that can make it case itself as a single variety.  In Europe it’s been predominately blended.  The great vineyards in Europe are often as a single varietal.

Mark asked Peter to talk about his experience with Grenache, “Peter, do you enjoy making this variety?”

Peter replied, “It’s a Chameleon variety.  It shows the place, and it shows the touch of the winemaker.  So, as a winemaker it’s one of those Holy Grail; varieties.  You kind of have to be so sensitive in the way that you make it, and without showing your heavy hand to bring out all those side expressions.”

Mark, “I want to ask about growing it and getting it right in the vineyard. … Do you think old vines matter, for example?”

PF, “Like I said, it’s kind of showing it’s sense of place.  Site is an incredible thing!  Grenache is a very draught tolerant variety, so farmers back then … planted Grenache in areas that were actually tough-going  … didn’t grow very good grain crops, or other agricultural products.  So, when you see the kind of time we’re entering now, global warming, less reliable rainfall, Grenache is saying, ‘Hey, bring it on!

Yangarra Estate Vineyard, McLaren Vale. Grenache thrives in difficult terroir (3)

“We’ve got these old plants, and incredibly hard soils, they have this incredible concentration.  If they’re really looked after they might show some beautiful perfume and fragrance and elegance.  Then it’s kind of like the little things.  You know maybe it might be the biological farming, managing the soil so that it’s healthy and showcases the minerology.  And it’s managing the pruning so that the crop yields are right so that it is showing its best. … All those technical sorts of things are incredibly important.  To the top of the list is when you’re picking it.  Gone are those days of hanging out there getting big ripe tannins.  Coming with that is jamminess and big high alcohol.  You know there’s a revolution of these bright, vibrant wines, but having said that, there’s also a revolution of Grenache with robust tannins, and they give these wines incredible length!”

Mark noted that Grenache had previously been viewed as if its range fit into a small, compact box, so to speak, but that it has since been demonstrated to have a much broader span.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard, McLaren Vale (3)

Peter continued, “There’s bright, low tannin, early drinking Grenache that is wonderful bistro style wine.  Then there’s wines that have incredible length and structure, but still have this fragrance and elegance that have 10, to 20, to maybe even 30 years in the cellar potential. … The one thing they are all doing is that there really isn’t much new oak, and there isn’t much oxidative handling.  So, you’re looking to preserve the fragrance and beauty of the variety, and it’s the salt and pepper things, how much bunch you’re doing, the time on skins, and the type of vessel, large format to ceramic eggs. … But they all have relatively careful, sensitive winemaking, for example, lots of topping, making sure the wine isn’t aging for too long in barrel, and isn’t oxidative, and being bottled as a relatively young wine … I just feel that as a whole, in McLaren Vale and Barossa especially representing the majority of the plantings the winemakers are taking it very seriously with attention to detail … If you talk to those winemakers, it’s one of their favorite varieties to make, so they’re giving all this attention to detail which is making it shine!”

Mark concurred, saying that Grenache has moved from a workhorse variety that garnered very little discussion to be approaching center stage today.

    ………………………………………………………………

Peter Fraser, Guest, Winemaker and General Manager, Yangarra Estate Vineyard.
Peter Fraser has been the winemaker and driving force behind Yangarra Estate Vineyard since 2000. With a sensitive approach to winemaking, Peter believes attention to detail is essential at every step of farming and making wine. His near obsession with texture and purity drives decisions in the vineyard and innovation in the winery, evidenced by his experimentation with stone and ceramic vessels for fermentation and aging. Recognized for his leadership with Grenache and Shiraz, he has been nominated and awarded “Winemaker of the Year” by global wine publications, including Halliday Wine Companion (2015), Gourmet Traveller Wine (2017), and Wine Enthusiast (2018).

Moderator. Mark Davidson, Moderator.
Originally from London and raised in Sydney. Mark has over 35 years of experience in the hotel, restaurant and wine business. During his 15 years as a sommelier, he was named Sommelier of the Year at the Vancouver Wine Festival in 2001.  As a Department Head and Instructor with the International Sommelier Guild, he was instrumental in the on-going development of the curriculum. Mark joined Wine Australia in 2009 and he has been in the Education team since 2013.

  1. Credit Wine Australia, and Cirillo Estate Wines.
  2. Credit Tim Jones and Wine Australia.
  3. Credit Randy Larcombe and Wine Australia.

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