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Meeting Powell & Son: top flight Barossa

I was mighty impressed with Powell & Son’s wines when I first tasted them with Dave Powell in 2016.  So it was good to catch up with the latest releases, which included some new-to-me wines.  Also to meet Powell’s son Callum, with whom I’d only previously exchanged emails.  There is a tender regard between father and son – a mutual respect.  For Powell senior, who was content to sit back and let Callum lead the tasting, this is about building a legacy; he is clearly delighted to be joined by his son on a full-time basis now Callum has graduated.

My 2016 post here provides an insight into Powell & Son’s background and approach, together with my tasting notes for the 2014 reds and 2015 Riesling.  In that post, I shared my email exchange with Callum about his vision for the range, which was inspired by a “very influential few months” in Hermitage in 2013 with acclaimed Rhone producer Jean-Louis Chave.  Since he began his oenology degree at Adelaide in 2014, he has not done another vintage in Europe.  Rather, he focused on other Shiraz hot spots closer to home, doing a vintage at Tyrrells in the Hunter Valley and spending time in Heathcote at Wild Duck Creek and with Emily Laughton at Jasper Hill, “because I wanted to learn about biodynamics.” 

All the vineyards which Powell & Son are managing are now run organically, though not certified. “We want to keep the right to spray if a vintage like 2011 comes along,” said Callum. The fruit they buy from Marcus Schulz (which makes the only single vineyard wine from a vineyard not managed by the Powells) is biodynamic.

Layering vines at Steinert – “seeing what’s now living with the vines. Definitely gives me a lot of motivation!” (Callum Powell on working organically)

In the winery, all reds are 100% de-stemmed and kept approximately 80% whole berry, fermented in open top concrete fermenters with low maceration. The different parcels are then basket pressed and go through malo in barrel.  Elevage is with minimal racking and wines are bottled with no fining or filtration.  All the regional wines (Riverside, Barossa Valley Shiraz, GSM and Barossa & Eden Shiraz) are aged in 4,500l and 2,500l French oak foudrés. The single vineyard wines are aged in French oak barriques. Confirming his dad’s sentiments, Callum took a long term view on removing the roof from 1880 ironstone winery to crane in the foudrés – “pain in the ass but they’re intended to be there for a century, so the next generations will be thankful.” 

Callum observed that 2016 will be the first vintage when Powell & Son have released all of the wines they set out to make. When we met in early February, the 2016 GSM and Barossa & Eden Shiraz had just been bottled and the Kraehe (Marananga Shiraz) was being bottled this month, so I did not taste these wines.  However, the entire range is being imported into the UK by leading importer, Raeburn Fine Wine, who have supplied indicative single bottle retail prices.  Stockists of Powell & Son wines include Fine+Rare Wines, Bordeaux Index, Chelsea Vintners, Berry Bros. & Rudd, Hedonism & The Good Wine Shop.

As for this vintage, which is currently in full swing, here’s the low down from Powell & Son: “Dad is comparing this vintage so far to 2009 (which is one of his favourites over the last thirty years), although early days yet. It’s fantastic for colour and intensity of flavour – we shall see! But looks like a stonker. We’ve had a very dry, cool-ish ripening period with lots of sunshine so great flavours with no disease pressure and low shrivelling. Crops are down a touch from a heatwave approx 2 months ago but it’s led to very intense flavours. It’ll be a very flamboyant, generous year the way it’s going so far – couldn’t be happier!”

Powell & Son Riesling 2017 (Eden Valley)

This hails from the five acres of Steinert vines that are 90 years old. The soils are heavy in quartz and grey loam. Given vine age, lean soils and being dry grown and rod and spur pruned, the vines are shy yielders with low canopies. Callum added, “we generally get a bit of sunburn and drop some fruit at harvest (we also had a bit of botrytis this year which is not common, so more fruit dropped), but it’s a necessary compromise to get the concentration of flavour.” Producing just 1t/acre and with the press cut at 400l/t, they made only 300 dozen.   It was quite a cool year and the 2017 is very floral on the nose, with nice depth of flavour.  Lovely intensity of florals and subtly textural chalky talc with a backdrop of lime.  A little tauter, more energetic, than the 2015 which appeals to me.  Very good. This vintage was made at Irvine Wines but, from this year, the Riesling will be made at Powell & Sons because they have just bought a membrane press.  12.5% From £25.50/bottle.

Powell & Son Roussanne/Marsanne 2017 (Barossa Valley)

The 2017 Roussanne Marsanne (60/40) – “Callum’s baby,” said Dave – is from Marcus Schulz’s biodynamically cultivated vineyard at Koonunga Hill. Callum admits “I was tempted to put Viognier in, but in Barossa, it’s a bit hotter than the Rhone; I like Marsanne for texture and phenolics….” As for the Roussanne, Powell wants sun exposure, because “I’m looking for russet on the grape skins for texture.”  Emphasising his approach, Powell jnr continues, “lots are making wines from these grapes in a classic Australian white style built on acid, but we want texture – we’re not building on acid, it’s not about the acid, it’s about the phenolics.”  The conversation reminded me of chatting with Caroline Mooney, whose terrific Bird on a Wire Marsanne is also very much about phenolics.   The approach follows through in the winemaking.  All the Marsanne and a quarter of the Roussanne is fermented and matured on lees (turbid juice) in French barriques (20% new), with regular batonnage for eight months. The balance of the Roussanne is kept in stainless, fermented cold and malo is inhibited to maintain acidity. The two components are blended and bottled under cork (because it’s made to age, observed Powell snr, with a nod to a blinding bottle of Chaves 1951 Hermitage Blanc – lucky him!)  As one would expect from the stated approach, this is a ripe but structured, textural Roussanne/Marsanne, a little pithy with heady hints of fresh ginger to its silky core of white peach and honey inflected waxy apricots on the finish.  Well balanced with the substance to age into the mid-term; 400 cases were produced in 2017.  14%  From £42.75/bottle.

Powell & Son Riverside GMS 2016 (Barossa Valley)

This 70/20/10 blend of Grenache Mataro Shiraz is predominantly sourced from 20 year old vines which Powell snr planted at the Riverside vineyard in Lyndoch. It’s not Powell’s usual hunting ground – he’s a big fan of the north western ridge, whose red clays, ironstone and calcareous subsoils produce among the Barossa Valley’s most powerful wines.  Lyndoch’s cooler southern location and Riverside’s deep grey sands and red clay produce a more perfumed, red-fruited wine which, of course, suits Grenache very well.   More plushness on the palate, adds Callum.  It’s a judicious blend, the Mataro’s (a.k.a. Mourvedre’s) spicy, meaty undertones and dried herbs providing the savoury foil to the Grenache’s expressive turkish delight florals and touch confected red cherry boiled sweet notes.  The Shiraz, meanwhile reliably brings the plusher fruit core – here, creamy/tangy yoghurty fruits of forest with Powell’s trademark suppleness.  Still, there’s a firmess with, perhaps on account of its southern sourcing, more acidity than one might expect.  It makes for decent persistence; I particularly liked the florals and spice inter-twined finish. Riverside GMS was fermented in 4000l concrete with lots of whole berries (and no whole bunch).  It matured for 15 months in 2,300 litre French oak foudres prior to blending and bottling.  3,000 cases were made in 2016.  From £18.50/bottle.

Powell & Son Brennecke Grenache 2016 (Barossa Valley)

Calcrete at Seppeltsfield

The Brennecke Vineyard is located on the North Western corner in the Seppeltsfield district of the Barossa Valley.  Sourced from 2 acres of dry grown bush vines in Seppeltsfield planted in 1901 on a steep South-Easterly slope, Dave describes it as “a beautiful beautiful vineyard.” It benefits from having a late 19th century small berried/thick skinned clone and a “huge amount of limestone under the [red clay] soils…big slabs of calcrete.”  Expanding on the latter, he added “the soils are alkaline so you get lots of natural acidity, so you can leave the grapes for a long time [hang time].”  My personal preference is for earlier picked, lighter aromatic styles of Grenache from sandy soils which, with their filigree tannins, are typically aged in seasoned oak, whilst this sees 100% new oak.  ‘Warm climate Pinot Noir’ it is not.  Nor ‘blue collar Pinot Noir’ at around £200 a pop!  Rather it is a bold vision of Grenache, with a density and weight to the palate, great concentration of black cherry and kirsch fruit and the supporting structure to hold it.  Mopping up the oak with ease, it is a baby.  Not for broaching now.  Which is just what the Powells want.  It will be interesting to see how it develops. Its power is plain enough and it is bold but balanced, ripe but not overly sweet.  I hope to get the chance to re-taste it some years down the track when it develops more nuance.  14.5% Just 150 cases made.  From £216.35/bottle.

Powell & Son Kleinig Greenock Mataro 2016 (Barossa Valley)

Kleinig is sourced from 50 year old vines in neighbouring Greenock to the north of Seppeltsfield, this vineyard on a higher ridge with more ironstone. It is named after the growers from whose Mataro vines the Greenock cuttings were taken and who gave their name to the so-called Kleinig clone.  According to the Powells, it is a superior clone and, apparently, the original Mataro clone (which was brought over from Europe two centuries ago).  It certainly packs a punch in this dry, sinewy, leathery red with pronounced iodine and prettier lavender notes – all the traits that I like to see in this grape, but which often mean it’s used as a seasoning rather than being allowed to fly solo.  Though firmer and more gravelly than another top Barossa Mataro – Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre – with its brooding dark fruit profile and long, long, tapering palate, it has the balance to strut its stuff without help from G or S thanks very much.  It brought a huge smile to my face.  Like the Grenache, it was aged in 100% new oak – tight grain, medium toast Troncais, which this intense Mataro absorbs effortlessly.   Wow!  Just two barrels/50 cases were made.  14.5%  From £224.75/bottle.

Powell & Son Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016 (Barossa Valley)

This Shiraz is sourced from four vineyards, around 20 years old.  From the north west, Marananga (Kraehe vineyard) is the principal player with elements from Seppeltsfield and Greenock and, from the south, a bit of Lyndoch for aromatics.  It’s a really heady but dark Shiraz, perfumed/lifted with more savoury, smoky, leathery undertows and textured tafetta tannins.  While the Powell’s top drops are beyond reach of most, the GSM and this Shiraz in particular offer more than a sprinkle of stardust – plenty of bang for buck here – this Barossa Valley Shiraz is priced from £28.35/bottle. 2,000 cases made. 14.5%

Powell & Son Schultz Barossa Valley 2016 (Barossa Valley)

The Schulz is from two plots on Marcus Schulz’s biodynamic vineyard in Koonunga Hill – a mix of old and young (c. 8 years old) vines.  Callum reckons the younger, high density vines have the better clone and rates them highly.  Indeed, father and son have taken cuttings.  The Schulz vineyard is located near the north-western boundary of the Barossa Valley on body-building rich red-yellow clays with a veneer of perfume-inducing white sand topsoil.  This is the only wine in the range where the oak felt it had yet to integrate.  It gave my first impression of the wine on the nose and clasped the finish.  Still, there’s a vibrant core of red fruits to be mined with time – cherry and currant, pomegranate even. I liked its freshness and energy going through.  Despite that clasp of oak to the finish, I found a vibrancy to the back palate – lots of red fruit resonance, with mocha oak hints.  14.5%  75 cases made.  From £101.95/bottle.

Powell & Son Loechel Shiraz Eden Valley 2016 (Eden Valley)

I keenly anticipated tasting the 2016 vintages of Powell & Son’s Eden Valley single vineyards Shirazes.  I was blown away by the 2014s.  The Loechel vineyard is at the southern tip of the Eden Valley township, on a steep, east-facing slope of dark schist loams with granite sub-soils. The nose is very Eden valley, tight but perfumed, with subtle riffs of pine needle/eucalpytus.  On the palate, it seems drier in profile, firmer – less earthy, more mineral – compared with the highly sensual 2014.  Iodine/sooty, powdery but punctuating, dynamic tannins deliciously make make their presence felt.  The fruit – fresh blackcurrant – has great purity and line.  A tensile, firm, mineral, black-fruited Shiraz –  très classique.  It put me in mind of Cornas, though it has a clear Australian/Eden Vally thumbprint.  Terrific.  400 cases made in 2016.  14.5%  From £98.55/bottle.

 

Powell & Son Steinert Shiraz Eden Valley 2016 (Eden Valley)

Steinert vineyard’s aged vines

Well, it’s not often Enya’s Orinico Flow springs to mind, but this is very much a sail away, sail away, sail away wine.  In a word, transporting.  Sublime white truffle notes seduce from the off.  Talcy, lavender riffs chime in on a perfumed, textural palate with a vivid seam of jewel-bright redcurrant.  Chiselled, mineral tannins – faceted and dimensional – seem to take their cue from the quarzitic vineyard, now just under 130 years old.  With seemingly more ruffled, tafetta-like tannins which build in the mouth, it remains tight, very poised, thanks to classy oak, which steers a long, long cedar-kissed, deliberative finish.   Where the 2014 tended towards the sensual, like the Loechel, in 2016 Steinert puts the emphasis on elegance.   Located at 480m, the Steinert vineyard is situated in Flaxman’s Valley, with an East to North-Easterly exposure and mean soils.  Its dark gravelly loam over clay sub-soils yielded just four tons of Shiraz from five acres in 2016, producing just 200 cases.  14.5% From £520/bottle.

 

 

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