James Halliday on 30 years of Heathcote Shiraz- Weekend Australian 10th March 2018
It’s fitting that my tasting notes from Hanging Rock’s 30th anniversary lunch disappeared from my desk (my Bermuda Triangle), but happily they reappeared without explanation.
John Ellis has worn many hats in his career, starting as chief winemaker at the fledgling Rosemount Estate, then flying winemaking stints in Burgundy (’81 and ’82), thereafter a rollercoaster ride at Tisdall Wines, established by Dr Peter Tisdall, who tried to fly too close to the sun.
In 1983 John and his wife Ann (née Tyrrell) decided to strike out on their own, buying and planting a vineyard in the Macedon Ranges, and leasing another in Heathcote. In 1987, the first wines were made: a Macedon Ranges sauvignon blanc, a base wine for Macedon Brut Cuvée, and a Heathcote Shiraz. In 1992 the shiraz vineyard expired due to salinity, but through a stroke of luck John Ellis had become a firm friend of Athol Guy (of The Seekers). Guy bought what became Athol’s Paddock, planted to 8ha of shiraz coming on stream between 1997 and 2000.
The sparkling wine and shiraz became the two pillars of the business, the shiraz commemorating its 30th anniversary in 2017. Son Rob, who’d returned in 2011 to take on the chief winemaker role from his father, clinically divided the 30 years into three periods for the lunch guests. First, 1987-99: simple winemaking, modest alcohol levels and American oak. Second, 2000-10: an era of growth, when Athol’s Paddock was in full production, now fully owned by the Ellis family, and steam-bent American oak was introduced.
Finally, 2011-18: Rob Ellis introduced open fermentation, carbonic maceration and partial barrel fermentation. Oak use is either American oak steam-bent in France or 100 per cent French oak. Sister Ruth Ellis runs marketing and sales and is driving the business to super-premium wines. It’s all looking good.
2010 Hanging Rock Heathcote Shiraz
Matured for 24 months in new, steam-bent American oak. Tasted three times since first bottled, every time a winner, but this time the best for this wine. Black fruits and licorice create a lovely fruit base, tannins finer than previously. A glimpse of the future. 14.3% alc, Diam 95 points, drink to 2030, N/A
2012 Hanging Rock Heathcote Shiraz
50% crushed, 50% destemmed, wild and cultured yeast, 30 days post-ferment maceration. Full to the brim of mouthfilling and succulent juicy cherry, blackberry and blueberry fruits. An exceptional bouquet, best of all the finely articulated and fresh finish. 14.3% alc, screwcap 95 points, drink to 2037, N/A
2015 Hanging Rock Heathcote Shiraz
It’s clear that Rob Ellis has the game sewn up: 50/50 crushed and whole berries; 50/50 new French and American oak; he uses “new techniques” for this wine. The bouquet is ultra-fragrant, the blackberry and licorice of the palate has lovely vinosity and flesh, and persistent, fine tannins. 15.3% alc, screwcap 96 points, drink to 2040, $75