James Halliday - 'Quite a find at Hanging Rock Winery' - Heathcote Shiraz 2000- The Weekend Australian
The best-laid plans ...The idea was to take off at 9.30 am from Essendon Airport in a restored DC-3 (known as a Gooney Bird),fly over the newly defined Heathcote region and, on the way back, circle Hanging Rock (the place and the winery) before landing at Essendon at about 10.30am, then to travel by limousine back to Hanging Rock Winery.
Apart from a few bumps and one journalist turning a delicate shade of green, all went well on the way up :we duly flew over the Mt Camel range,with its vivid red Cambrian soil, at the centre of Heathcote and saw all the new vineyards, including those supplying Hanging Rock.
It was perhaps appropriate that the sunshine of Heathcote was replaced by low cloud and wind around Hanging Rock, so that what promised to be the most scenic part of the trip had to be abandoned. Hanging Rock is sparkling wine territory; seldom more than cool while Heathcote is the birthplace of some of Australia ’s best Shiraz.
The occasion was the release of Hanging Rock’s 2000 Shiraz, and the co-host (alongside John and Annie Ellis) was Athol Guy. The Seekers, it seems, not only produced great music, but some truly dedicated wine men. Across in the Margaret River is Keith Potger; here in Victoria it is Guy.
John Ellis made the first Heathcote Shiraz in 1987, sourced from a leased vineyard, and it met with immediate show success and critical acclaim. However, by 1992 increasing soil salinity made it clear the vineyard was no longer viable - it produced less than 100kg per hectare that year. Magically, Guy had decided to establish a vineyard in Heathcote, and had been referred to John Ellis as a consultant. In 1993 the first planting took place 20 km north of the original vineyard; in 1997 the plantings were increased to 10ha, and a joint venture was formed.Hanging Rock was to manage the vineyard, take all its grapes and make the wine.
It was also agreed that the intake from Athol’s Paddock (as it is called)would be supplemented by purchases from other vineyards in the Heathcote - Mt Camel region: thus in 2000 the wine came (in order of volume) from Athol’s Paddock, Colbinabbin Estate, the original leased vineyard, Joe Marton Vineyard,and a small amount from Merindoc.
As vineyards in the region came into full bearing, the mix changed somewhat in 2001 and this year, but the two principal contributors continue to be Athol’s Paddock and Colbinabbin Estate. There are 1600ha in the region and plans for a further 2400ha during the next three years.
Back at Hanging Rock a new winery has been built and equipped with the latest gadgetry, including four Defranchesci automated fermenters with built in plungers and a large locally made tank press, of which John Ellis is very proud and which has been the forerunner of export orders.
The main event was a vertical tasting of all the Hanging Rock Heathcote shirazes, 1987 to 1992, and 1997 to 2001 (the last a barrel sample).
The first vintage (1987) is still holding sweet fruit on the palate, but definitely needs drinking. The 1988 and 1989 (both from poor vintages) are past their best, but the 1990, 1991 and 1992 are still purring along, rating four, 41/2 and five stars respectively. There was so little of the 1992, it was all bottled in magnums 2000 in all.
The next generation, from 1997 onwards, is remarkably even in style and quality. They all rate 4, 4.5 or 5 stars, style and quality, the 1998 having developed very well since I first tasted it two years ago and the 1999 showing little sign of the rain that fell-at the last moment, turning a perfect vintage into a less than perfect one.
The 2000, as one would expect from a wine with a minimum 10-year life, is nowhere near ready. It has excellent colour; the first impression of the bouquet is of high toast barrel-ferment oak, with opulent Plum and black cherry following next; the palate is a logical follow-on,with Powerful berry fruit,equally Powerful oak and fine tannins (92 Points,41/2 stars;$55).
After the tasting we were treated to a recently treated to a recently disgorged Macedon 1 disgorged Macedon 1, the sparkling wine that took the Ellises to Hanging Rock in the fi rst Place. The base wines came from the 1987 to 1990 vintages, and it had spent 10 years on yeast lees before disgorgement.
Quite simply, I cannot remember tasting a better Australian sparkling wine: sheer Perfection.The good news is that mailing-list customers can ask that the current (or future) release be left at Hanging Rock undisgorged for as long as they wish.