Clare Valley: a visit with Adelina’s Col McBryde
It took me a while to realise that my chauffeur from Ochota Barrels in Adelaide Hills to Clare Valley was my host for the afternoon, Adelina’s Col McBryde. Perhaps I should have put two and two (elaborate tats and wine labels) together earlier! The unassuming New Zealander is a thoughtful guy in both senses of the word, so it was a great opportunity to find out more about where Adelina sits in the ever-expanding Australian wine offer.
McBryde founded Adelina with his other half, Jennie Gardner. Her family had acquired the Adelina vineyard in Clare Valley’s Springfield sub-region in the 1980s in the wake of the vine pull scheme. The now notorious scheme sought to reduce the surplus of Shiraz, Grenache and Palomino, all mainstays of the dwindling trade in fortified wines.
The acquisition not only secured the future of Adelina’s two acre block of 80 year old vines, but also “a great patch of dirt.” It may look “rustic,” observed McBryde, but Adelina’s sandy grey loam is propitiously located at at 450m bang slap next door to Wendouree. He is an avid collector of the iconic label and by no means the first lover of Chateau Rayas (the famous 100% Grenache Châteauneuf-du-Pape) whom I encounter this trip.
No fan of the “hedonistic obviousness” of the style of Australian Shiraz which took off in the 90s, McBryde’s aim is to produce wines in the model of Rayas or Wendouree, that is to say, “not immediately accessible, but seductive – where you want to look at the glass over and over again.” One might say wines which are the polar opposite of McBryde’s and Gardner’s other iconoclastic label, the more price-driven Some Young Punks. McBryde still seems a little taken aback that this “flippant foray” into the wine world took off big time. And a little frustrated that its success took their eye off the apple of his eye, Adelina’s site specific, “more soulful” premium range. Not that it shows in the quality of the Adelina range just, I suspect, in the scope of McBryde’s ambition for its profile.
While McBryde sees no connection between Burgundy’s soils and Adelina’s “dessicated, very old soils,” in the winery he draws on the French region’s techniques – natural ferments, foudres, longer macerations (3 weeks to 100 days) in his pursuit of textural, medium-bodied wines. Having worked in both New Zealand and in Oregon (Gardner in Oregon too), 60% of what they drink at home is Pinot Noir and, McBryde adds, “what we drink at home resonates towards making the kind of wine we like to drink.”
Returning to the Rayas (specifically Rayas Pignan, which he adores), McBryde reckons that the polymerisation of tannins which results from these long post-ferment macerations is the key to Rayas’ “immersive tannin profile – a tannin profile that sweeps…tannins which are softer, but still highly mouth-coating.” He much prefers this to whole bunch (stalk) tannins which he describes as “more aggressive and spicier” and believes can result in “grossly hard, angular acid.” And, where he is looking for bright red fruits, he cautions whole bunch’s “pea straw or hay notes can look bretty.”
We looked at the last three vintages of Grenache* followed by a couple of vintages of Shiraz. And finished up on a true to the property’s roots fortified surprise! [*No Grenache was produced in 2013 because, picked too early, the pH was way too low, while 2011’s abundant rainfall result in botrytis].
Adelina Grenache 2014 (Clare Valley)
Fermented in 3500l and 2000l concrete tanks, where it spent 60 days on skins before being pressed to barrel. The 2014 Grenache reveals a sweet core of red fruits with flashes of blackberry and sandy, textural tannins. Persistent acidity carries a long finish with earthy, woody raspberry and, I simply cannot better McBryde’s description, “Imperial Leather” spice notes. It captures very well the slightly soapy/glycerol buffer to the spices – for me an old vine signifier! 14.6%
Adelina Grenache 2012 (Clare Valley)
One of my February Wines of the Month and still in fine form with great acid line and lovely bright, tight but sweet red fruits – redcurrant, cherry and pomegranate – with an exotic, rounder tang of satsuma and blood plum. A fine swathe of tannins and juicy acidity tease out a long finish. 14.6%
Adelina Grenache 2010 (Clare Valley)
This has put on some babyfat but retains beautiful red berry and cherry fruit. A fine mesh of tannins slows down the flow of fruit and embeds the flavours. What a consistently lovely Grenache. 14.8%
Adelina Shiraz 2014 (Clare Valley)
The east-west-facing Shiraz vines were planted between 1908 & 1920 on a gently north-facing aspect. The fruit spent 3 weeks on skins and was aged in French oak (30% new). It’s a deep purple hue but, with a savoury, more vegetal than spicy character (bay leaf?) to its blackberry fruit, it’s certainly not fruit-driven. Though juicy and, in this sense animated, it has a round pebble stillness and gentle weight to the mid-palate – a quality which I also found to be quite striking in a purple patch of 2013 Blewitt Springs McLaren Vale Shiraz wines from Kay Brothers (Basket Pressed), S.C. Pannell (Koomilya DC Block) and Ministry of Clouds (from the Patritti family vineyard). It’s as if the pebble/wine is taking up space, yet biding its time. Not a fireworks wine, but a keeper to nurse and savour in bottle or glass. 14%
Adelina Shiraz 2006 (Clare Valley)
With nine years under its belt this is more pebble in a pond, with ripples of dutch liquorice, fenugreek, clove, curry leaf and cardomon – the spiciness has become more pronounced than the vegetality. There’s a sweetness to its mellow but concentrated plum fruit, a touch of balsamic even. The tannins are present – smooth and textural – in pencil speak B, not HB (as in soft, smudgy pencil). Once again the site specificity shines through. I’d say loud and clear, but these wines are far from loud in expression. They gentle probe rather than punch. A good thing.
Wendouree 2006 (Clare Valley)
Wendouree’s vines are older, a little more elevated and south-facing. The savouriness and dutch liquorice of the Adelina Shiraz is amplified across a deep but mellow plummy palate with the earthy terra cotta tannins I associate with Wendouree. There’s just a touch of volatility to its linseed/boot polish finish, which provides a bit of energy and pace. Long, complex and involving, with impressive resonance/timbre.
1980 Tawny (Clare Valley)
Tony Brady of Wendouree gifted McByrde and Gardner a 2500l barrel of vintage Tawny (the older, bigger barrel pictured above) – now that’s what I call generous, as is the palate, though a firm push of Clare Valley acidity keeps this glorious almond-fest/feast of a wine in check. Whole blanched almonds, frangipane and almond essence run riot over the palate together with Christmas cake, cocoa butter, panforte dried fruit, sweet dates and a fiery dash of rum and raisin. Lovely vigour and resonance. An unexpected and absolute treat! 18% abv