The Barossa Valley began gnawing away at the issue first, but over the past three or four years McLaren Vale has immersed itself – and its customers – in its Scarce Earth programme. At the most basic level it has succeeded in attracting attention to the idea, and produced a region-wide map showing the bewildering spread of geological formations underlying its vineyards.
There are three problems with the idea. First, do you map the surface soils created by the weathering of the basic rock types, or the base geological formations? The latter are stable, and tend to have clearly defined boundaries, the former can be and are dispersed by wind, rain and human activity. Soil scientists and geologists tend to dislike each other, it seems.
Second, two winemakers buying grapes from a single vineyard (let’s assume it’s homogenous) can, and most likely will, make very different wines. Picking dates are one major variable, choice of oak (new or old, French or American) another. In its early years the Scarce Earth programme specified that the oak influence should be deliberately muted, but some of the most recent wines I have tasted have had plenty of new oak.
Third, attempts to link a wine to its soil/geological origin in blind tastings have been spectacularly unsuccessful. Why? Well, the three problems are only half the story: aspect, altitude, site climate and site rainfall will be every bit as important.
So the Barossa Valley has added a different, and much more convincing, approach. It is the four maps of the Barossa Zone, within which is the Barossa Valley, Eden Valley and High Eden subregion. The first is elevation; the second is mean annual rainfall; the third is growing degree days; and the fourth is available water holding capacity, the last the closest to a soil or geology map. The maps strike an impressive balance between excessive detail and useless generalisation.
|Barossa Growing Region - Elevation|
|Barossa Growing Region - Annual rainfall|
|Barossa Growing Region - Degree days|
|Barossa Growing Region - Soil|
They were featured with the release of four entirely new red wines in the Wolf Blass red wine range, part of the 80th birthday celebrations of Wolf on August 27. They are all shiraz, and are called Estates of the Barossa Sapphire Label, each designated with a postcode. The wines come from the four sites: Lyndoch in the south, Dorrien in the centre, Moculta in the east, and St John’s Ebenezer Road in the north, and are all distinctly different from each other. Wolf Blass is at pains to say these are commercial wines with around 1000 cases of each made, and an RRP of $80.
Lyndoch (5351) has red fruit aromas and flavours on entry to the mouth, with bitter chococlate/savoury nuances on the finish. It has the lowest altitude of the Barossa Valley and the highest rainfall. The Dorrien (5352) is much fleshier, with plum and dark fruits to the fore. St John’s Ebenezer Road (5355) has currant flavours, almost cabernet-like, with great power and length; ripens three weeks later than Lyndoch. Moculta (5353) ripens another week later than St John’s Ebenezer Road, its border only one kilometre before the Eden Valley. It has an earthy/leathery/savoury bouquet and palate.