Grampians winemaker Adam Richardson evidently likes Tom Waits’s music, which is something we have in common. Life would have been poorer without Wait’s albums Swordfishtrombones, Blue Valentine and Small Change.
Now Richardson has declared his love by naming a wine after the Tom Waits album Mule Variations. It’s a little cryptic but bear with me.
Describing the origin of the album’s title, Waits once said in an interview:
“My wife said, ‘I didn’t marry a man, I married a mule.’ That’s what she said. You know, it’s like the Goldberg Variations. Only these are the mule variations… It’s just one of those titles that stuck. I don’t know what people are going to think Mule Variations are.” Etc, etc.
Apparently, the band played the song Get Behind The Mule, several times, as a raga, cha-cha, a capella and a Chinese version. They were nick-named the Mule Variations, and the name stuck.
Waits is a unique talent. There’s no-one that sounds like him. Is winesmith Adam Richardson trying to tell us he aspires to that uniqueness?
The wine, ATR Hard Hill Road Mule Variation 2018, is more beautiful than the song, and equally poetic. It’s a blend of what Richardson calls his most enigmatic red varieties: nebbiolo, tannat, petite sirah (durif) and shiraz, in roughly equal proportions.
“Like Waits’s music, our Mule Variation is an unexpected take on an otherwise regular theme, creating a surprisingly harmonious yet subtly powerful wine.”
It’s a glorious wine. I don’t usually use multitudes of adjectives to describe a wine, but this one had me waxing on about an array of herb, spice and fruit characteristics, including angelica, star anise, violet and fresh garden herbs, as well as berry aromas – blueberry uppermost. It’s a full-bodied, firmly structured wine, deep and generous, with a good solid backbone – but it can already be drunk and enjoyed, especially with food.
It’s also a typical Great Western red: it has that curious ferrous stoniness of Great Western red wines. An intriguing blend and a seriously smart wine, with a bright future, if you can bear to cellar it a while.
Otherwise, open the bottle and put the record on.
“Got to get behind the mule in the morning, and plow…”
Why we are making the distinction
When you think of Durif it might conjure up thoughts of big, deep, dark brooding wines filled with black fruits and robust tannins, more often than not, hailing from Rutherglen.
My Durif is not like that.
When in 2006 I "dared" to plant Durif in the cool climate of Great Western (still the only grower in the Grampians and Pyrenees regions, as far as we can tell), it was evident straight away how different our Hard Hill Road Durif was to many of the big robust Durif wines on the Australian market at the time.
Ever since my first release in 2012, I have spent years explaining how and why our version of Durif was different in approach and style to the “standard” Aussie Durif. So, I decided to separate it; by re-naming the wine as Petite Sirah from the 2018 vintage onwards.
Back in my US winemaking days I spent many years making countless versions of Petite Sirah in California; especially for Concannon Vineyard, who were the first to produce Petite Sirah in the US. My experience there taught me that it’s not just the pursuit of ‘big-ness’ that’s important, but finding balance by allowing the more subtle complexing elements to have a say in the final wine.
From the get-go I set out to craft a wine that was reminiscent of my ideals and experiences, regardless of the Australian “standard”. I wanted to create a Grampians version of the variety that although considers Durif’s boldness, is not dominated by it. Rather the tannins are complex and fine, the fruit is intense but not overly heavy or ripe.
One of the ways I achieve this, is by using 60-80% or more new American oak. This amount of oak is surprisingly easily absorbed into the structure of the wine, softening, and drawing out the floral and vibrant elements of the palate rather than adding a clunky layer of oak flavour.
If you’ve never tried a Petite Sirah, then now is the time to give it a go and do let me know what you think!
I recently spoke with Max Allen at The Australian Financial Review about my experiment into terroir and winegrower personalities with The Growers Series.
Check out the full article here.
Our 2018 Chockstone Shiraz was featured in this weeks The Real Review Cellar Talk. Here's an excerpt of the comments by Ralph Kyte Powell:
"Jammy blackberry and mulberry fruit mix it with more savoury notes of forest earth and a suggestion of mocha..."
Read more here.
You can experience it for yourself too and purchase a bottle (or two) here.
Our 2019 Chockstone Riesling was recently reviewed by Huon Hooke and featured on The Real Review as their Buy of the Week. You can read a small excerpt of the review above; the full tasting note is available here. You can experience it for yourself too and purchase a bottle (or two) here.
Not that long ago I hosted a lovely group of people out on a Unique Boutique Tour. One of the wine buffs on the tour; Peter Davy, sent us a review of his time at ATR Wines and some neighbouring wineries. I was so chuffed with what Peter wrote that we wanted to share it with you. It might just help plan your next Grampians visit:
We’ve all heard of the Grampians, and enjoyed wine from the Grampians many times, but like many others from Melbourne we’ve done most of our wine touring around the Melbourne “Dress Circle” – the Yarra, Gippsland, Mornington, Bellarine/Geelong & Macedon regions. We’re familiar with the well-known names, and their Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Shiraz, amongst others.
So a trip to the Grampians wine country was a bit of an adventure. It’s not that far though: only about 2 hours from the Westgate Bridge, on very good roads with a 110kph limit on a much of the Western Highway. We began our visit at Mountainside Wines, where we’d stay at their excellent B&B, the Blue House. Mountainside is about 15km off the Western Highway, near Mt Cole, and 8km past the famous Mt Langi Ghiran winery.
Mountainside is in a lovely bush setting, with vineyards and pastures surrounding the home, the winery, the cellar door and the Blue House, which is a comfy, secluded cottage with a separate bedroom, living room with fireplace, a fully equipped kitchen (with capsule coffee machine!), and a good quality kettle BBQ on the terrace. There’s a view up to Mt Cole on one side, and over to the Grampians range on the other side of the property. You can even take your dog who’ll have fun chasing the rabbits.
We decided to take the recommended “Blue House Limousine” tour in owner Shane’s excellent Stateman Caprice, to visit three other wineries with the benefit of local knowledge, and not having to limit our wine tastings in order to drive. We went to Dogrock, A.T. Richardson, and Miner’s Ridge, all relatively small wineries.
At Dogrock, the owners Andrea and Allen greeted us in the hilltop-perched cellar door, with expansive views over their vines and beyond. The vineyards have a fairly broad range of vines, with Riesling and Chardonnay whites, an excellent Rose, and Shiraz, Cabernet, Tempranillo and Grenache reds. There’s a Spanish and Portuguese feel to some of the reds as Allen and Andrea have spent some time tasting and studying the wines from the Iberian peninsula. The wines all show a level of purity which comes from a fully sustainable and enviro-friendly approach to grape growing and winemaking, as well as Allen & Andrea’s extensive experience around Australia and in Europe prior to starting Dogrock in the late 90’s. Our favourites? The Rose, really delicious, crisp and savoury, the award-winning Degraves Rd Riesling, and the Dogrock Grenache which has gained gold medal scores from several wine reviewers.
Then over to AT Richardson, where Adam Richardson gives us an extensive hosted tasting of his brilliant wines. Adam has been winemaker at a number of world-class wineries in Australia and the USA, but has established “ATR” in recent years and it’s now his family’s home, with the cellar door within the winery next to his Hard Hill Road vineyard. He chose the site specifically to grow and make Grampians Riesling and Shiraz, the two varietals for which the Grampians region is famous, and Adam is making these brilliantly, with several different styles of Shiraz. Don’t miss the Hard Hill Road Riesling or the Close-Planted Shiraz. But he’s also making an intriguing range of wines from Durif, Pinot Gris, Nebbiolo and Tannat, so there’s plenty of interest and Adam tells the story of each wine in a way that’s good for wine nerds like me, or those who just like to try a few new things.
Then on to Miners Ridge, another family owned winery, where Andrew and Katrina Toomey started their vineyards many years ago, whilst Andrew skills as a viticulturalist have been the foundation of many vineyards in the Grampians and beyond, so he knows more than a little about the region and it’s many characters. The cellar door sits on a ridge with a vista of the nearby hills and vineyards, and there’s a very cute B&B built from a refurbished railway carriage right on the vineyards. And then there’s the wines! The riesling is of course excellent, like most from the region, the chardonnay is a very high quality modern style, with lovely stonefruit flavours, and a really succulent viognier (a grape variety originally from Southern France) which has lovely floral tones. The reds are led by two Shiraz, the first with typical regional spice and white pepper and soft tannins, then the premium AT Shiraz that’s got real intensity of cherry and berry flavours, and a great deal of finesse. A lovely wine. Finally, the gold medal winning Cabernet Sauvignon, with rich cherry and berry fruits and just enough oak to deliver a very well-balanced wine that is great with red meats now, and will cellar well.
Sounds like a big day of tasting, but we are in pretty good shape, very happy to have Shane driving us back for dinner at the Blue House after a tasting of Mountainside’s wines.
Shane and Jane Goninon have owned Mountainside for five years, and have developed both the wines and the property over that time with expertise in viticulture and winemaking showing great results with their latest wines setting new benchmarks, especially with the use of French oak in their Shiraz. They produce an excellent Viognier, with the typical apricot and citrus flavours, and a lovely freshness that makes it great alternative to chardonnay. They also grow the Italian grape Nebbiolo, which in North Western Italy makes some of the world’s great (and expensive) reds. The Mountainside version is a much more affordable drop, with cherry and berry flavours and a soft long finish. It’s delicious. Then of course, shiraz, with four different vintages on tasting so there’s a terrific session to compare the results of varying weather conditions, and how the winemakers work to deliver regional characteristics across the years (we did this tasting the next day!) Our favourite? Probably the 2016, with the French oak rounding the wine out well, but the 2013 Reserve wine has aged beautifully, and after a decant, is a great sip by the fire in the Blue House!
In all, a great couple of days, trying excellent wines with great people telling us their stories. Just shows that it’s not always the headline-making brands with the big marketing budgets that provide the best wine experiences.
By Peter & Leone Davy
It’s always an exciting time each August waiting for the annual “Australian Wine Bible”, the Halliday Wine Companion to hit the shelves.
I’m pleased to say that this year, along with retaining our 5-red-star winery rating, we received a wonderful 96-point rating on 4 of our wines:
2017 Hard Hill Road Close-Planted Shiraz | 96 points Gold + Special Value Rating
“Ultra-close planting of 5000 vines per one-third/ha, and only a production of 250 dozen. Exceptionally deep and bright crimson-purple; it is no less strikingly intense, its mouthfeel supple, velvet and full of spices sewn through black fruits. Then, after all that, the tannins are so fine and soft they leave you wondering where they went.” James Halliday August 2019
2017 Hard Hill Road Mule Variation | 96 points Gold + Special Value Rating
“A blend of Nebbiolo, Tannat, Durif and shiraz, says Richardson ‘inspired by the Tom Wait's album', and is a blend of his most enigmatic red varieties. Like Wait's music, Mule Variation is an unexpected take on an otherwise regular theme. The wine is supremely intense, yet medium-bodied rather than full-bodied, and the red, purple and black fruit flavours are all in harmony.” James Halliday August 2019
2017 Chockstone Shiraz | 96 points Gold + Special Value Rating
“Vivid, deep crimson-purple - spectacular. Black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant don't intend to give red, blue or purple fruits permission to speak. Oak and tannins are allowed to suggest support roles, but that's as far as it gets. Yet it's not the winemaker who has shut the door - it's the fruit and the site climate that have become the guardians of the River of Styx.” James Halliday August 2019
2018 Chockstone Riesling | 96 points Gold + Special Value Rating
“Bone dry, yet intensely fruity. It's not an easy matter to achieve, and the Grampians can lay claim to be the most successful region in Victoria for Riesling other than Henty. Acidity is one of the keys, climate the driver.” James Halliday August 2019
We also received these other great scores:
2017 Hard Hill Road The Field | 94 points Silver + Special Vale Rating
“A complex wine utilising every variety in the estate vineyard, fermented in one large open fermenter, the varieties added as they ripened, a steady nerve required. It is a blend of 52% shiraz, 22% Riesling, 10% Nebbiolo, 9% Durif, 5% Tannat and 2% viognier. It has a foundation of small forest berry fruits with a savoury overtone.” James Halliday February 2019
2018 Chockstone Pinot Gris | 92 points Silver + Special Value Rating
“A very attractive texture and structure filled with nashi pear, Granny Smith apple, citrus and a carpet of soft acidity.” James Halliday August 2019
To celebrate these scores, we have put together a special pack, available for a limited time only:
2 x 2017 Chockstone Shiraz
2 x 2018 Chockstone Riesling
1 x 2017 Hard Hill Road Mule Variation
1 x 2017 Hard Hill Road Close-Planted Shiraz
$190 in value for just $169 with free freight
Members – if you would like to receive these wines in your allocation next month, just let us know.
“A completely gorgeous nose with dark cherry, pepper, spice, liquorice and clove. The palate is cool and composed with an excellent supple core of dark fruit and bold framing tannin. Beautifully medium-bodied with good savouriness on the close.”
Thanks to the delightful Toni Paterson for the lovely words on our Mule Variation on The Real Review.
#1 2018 Victorian Riesling by Huon Hooke, our 2018 Chockstone Riesling is in Huon’s words “gorgeous”.
95 Points – “Light yellow hue with a dried herb, creamy yeast and dried wildflower bouquet. It's a lovely nose. The palate is likewise attractive, not bone-dry but slightly juicy, with crisp acidity drying the after-palate, the follow-through satisfyingly fruity and harmonious. A gorgeous Riesling.”
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