Friday, May 18, 2012

Wroxton Riesling

Finding a place to stay in the Barossa isn't exactly difficult. Barossans have been capitalizing on wine tourism for a long time and, unlike many wine regions, there's quite the array of accommodation to choose from. When possible, I like to go for the B&B or boutique approach - and if there's a direct connection to wine, all the better.

We definitely hit the ball out of the park with Wroxton Grange - or perhaps I should say we hit that ball off the farm. For us, Wroxton Grange started off with our very spacious, self-contained suite in the 1870's built Victorian homestead. Our stay was so much more than a simple place to lay our heads though. Our hosts - Jo and Ian Zander - calling them "gracious" would really be doing them a disservice, they were so much more than simply "gracious" - offered intimate access to their 500 acres of sheep, cattle and vines. Rural beauty and relaxation are immediately abundant; yet, it's mere minutes away from Angaston - one of the primary towns in the Barossa.

Upon our return from the day's tastings, Ian offered to take us for a ride through the back part of the property - to show us the lay of the land and to go on a kangaroo hunt. As of this point, Boo and I had yet to see one of the creatures in the wild. Like the true Aussie he is, having lived with the reality of roos all his life - including a confrontation in the vineyard with one just the other week where the roo's claws scratched him up and ripped his shirt - he fully comprehended the allure that the kangaroo has for visitors like us. Even if the beast can be more of a nuisance than an icon for him.

I was a little concerned that we were getting some late afternoon rainfall. Maybe kangaroos don't like to feed so much in the rain, I wondered. Silly Bob. It took no time whatsoever to find the rascals. Turns out early morning and dusk feedings are about as common as it gets around here - rain or not - particularly since Wroxton Grange backs onto a regional conservation park.

Beyond the roos, I was fascinated with the Zanders' operations. They are third generation vignerons on the property (and it's looking like their son might carry on the tradition) and, in amongst the grazing lands, they have about 90 acres of vines - some of which are almost a century old. They grow primarily Riesling (40 acres) and Shiraz (28 acres) but also have some Chardonnay and Traminer planted.

It was very interesting to learn that their property straddles both the Barossa and Eden Valleys. I'd previously known that Eden Valley was close to the Barossa Valley and was considered a cooler climate region. What I didn't know is that both the Eden and Barossa Valleys make up the Barossa and that, while you'll regularly see wines labelled Eden Valley or Barossa Valley when the grapes are sourced solely from one of the valleys, winemakers will often blend grapes from both valleys and the wine is still labelled "Barossa." The label just won't include the word "Valley." I wonder how many times I've tried a Barossa wine and just assumed that it meant Barossa Valley. I could be far more familiar with Eden Valley grapes than I ever thought.

A marvellous dry stack fence portions off some of the Wroxton property. All of the rocks were by-products of preparing the lands for agricultural use during the years gone by. Traversing the lands, it doesn't take much imagination to see what the vines need to contend with beneath the surface soils.

That rock fence might also serve as a bit of metaphor for the rough go of it that farmers still face on a yearly basis. The Zanders have faced some definite highs and lows with the operation of Wroxton Grange - the latest low being the recent economic downturn and the lack of markets for grapes in the area. Although there has been a Wroxton Wines label for about 15 years, almost all the Wroxton grapes are sold to other producers in the Barossa - including some of the big names like Yalumba and Jacob's Creek. The last so many years have seen a glut of grapes in the market and the wineries that traditionally bought much of the year's harvest just haven't been doing so recently.

Both Jo and Ian pointed out that a critical part of their being able to survive the lean years was the fact that Ian was one of the first growers in the Barossa to invest in a machine harvester back in 1986. Ian became one of the local experts in the field and they've operated a side business of harvesting other vineyards ever since. Jo confirmed that she was skeptical of the proclaimed merits of a mechanical harvest over hand-picking but even she was surprised at the speed and efficiency of the picking while still maintaining the integrity and quality of the grapes. The lay of the land can't always accommodate the machines, but the efficiency of the process can be a big cost savings for growers facing marginal market values. We didn't have time to take a tour of the actual harvester and see how it works but I know that'd be an interesting topic all on its own.

While the tour and stories were a bonus of our stay, the real highlight was that Ian pulled out some of his own wine and enjoyed it with us before Boo and I headed out for dinner.

1115. 2006 Wroxton Riesling (Eden Valley - Australia)

On pouring us his Riesling, Ian told us how he and Jo started, in 1995, to keep about a half ton of their premium Riesling and Shiraz grapes to have wine made for their own label. When he took us on the tour past the Top Block section of the Riesling vineyards, he proudly pointed out that the bulk of that fruit is sold to Jacob's Creek to go into their Steingarten Riesling. If I hadn't realized there was something going on with the Zander's and Wroxton Grange before, I quickly determined these folks surely know what they're doing. Steingarten is one of the most iconic Aussie Rieslings out there. It's been touted at the Australian Wine Appreciation Society tastings back home on numerous occasions - and here we were sitting back with one of the men that plays a big role in producing that wine. Better yet, we were sipping a wine that is basically a sibling to that icon.

And, you know, Ian's wine is easily one of my favourite Aussie Rieslings. Regular readers will know that Riesling and I are darned good friends; however, on the whole, I often find Aussie Rieslings to be somewhat austere for my liking - with overbearing acid and citrus notes. While that hallmark acidity and brightness of lemon and lime were certainly present, there was a little more tropical fruit on the palate that helped balance the flavours out. The acidity wasn't quite so cutting either in that there was an underlying minerality that added a more complex note - almost like you could taste that dry stone wall in every sip.

Adding to the pedigree of Ian's wine, he told us that Stephen Henschke made the Riesling for him. Henschke is a neighbouring Barossan who only happens to be one of the most acclaimed winemakers in all of Australia. His Hill of Grace Shiraz is maybe second, only to Penfold's Grange, in garnering notice among Aussie red wines.

The sad news was that Ian and Jo have found it to be too much of a hassle to market such small quantities of wine in slow economic times. Accordingly, they haven't made any of their own wines for a few years. Without having a cellar door, it was difficult to market the wine to anyone except the B&B guests - and then you get folks like Boo and I who can't take a case of wine with us even if we wanted to. Since there are limits to how much wine Boo and I can drink on top of all the winery visits, we didn't even get to share the Wroxton Shiraz with Ian or Jo.

With any luck, we'll have another opportunity to do so. The next morning,
I took an early morning walk and re-traced some of the paths we took on our drive yesterday and the vistas were simply inspiring. I certainly know that, should we ever have an opportunity to visit the Barossa again, I wouldn't hesitate to stay with Jo and Ian and the incredible Wroxton Grange again.


  1. Fabulous write up.
    Jo and Ian truly are one of a kind.

    Kay Z

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. It would have been difficult NOT to wax eloquently when it comes to Wroxton, Jo and Ian though. Cheers, Bob