new Fine Grain American ready to receive fruit ex destemming

Roll out the barrels: Wakefield The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon & The Pioneer Shiraz 2012

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Handwritten notes seem to be the preferred method of communication of Clare Valley winemakers these days.  Wakefield loses points for no chocolate but, on the other hand, Adam Eggins did send two “luxury” about-to-be-released wines with his missive!

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As you would expect, flagship reds Wakefield The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon and Wakefield The Pioneer Shiraz are the product of best fruit parcels.  But they are also the product of the winemaking team’s exploration of barrel fermentation and extended skin contact.  Intrigued by the uncommon elegance of these wines, I exchanged emails with Eggins to find out more about the fruit sourcing and winemaking.  Here’s what he had to say.

Best parcels

new Fine Grain American ready to receive fruit ex destemming

Looking out to the vineyards, new fine grain American oak barrels ready to receive top notch Shiraz

All the fruit comes from the Auburn sub-region of Clare Valley.  According to Eggins, “[O]ur greatest blocks have several things in common:

  • They are often but not always our oldest vineyards
  • Minimum age of 20 years
  • They have no trouble ripening in fact they often ripen early in the season
  • They rank in the top quartile in colour concentration which is indicative of low yields
  • They have performed historically well
  • Their average yield is ~ 2-3 ton / hectare.”

The Shiraz blocks for The Pioneer are St Andrews A30, S50 (known as cut-offs), our Lodden Vineyard L11 & some fruit from a special grower, Ken Noack, who was Wakefield’s Vineyards Manager for 34 years and planted the majority of Wakefield Estate. Noack’s vineyard is just 2km from Wakefield estate and has exactly the same trellis.

The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from St Andrews blocks A10, A60 & A70 and is blended with some of the team’s favourite Cabernet from the Wakefield Blocks W10, W20 & W40. These vineyards are largely on shallow Terra rossa iron rich soils over decomposing slate & shale. The average depth of the soil is just 20 – 30 centimetres.

The grapes are picked when we see violets in the flavour windows and the stalks and seeds have begun to lignify. This usually occurs around 13.8 Baume.

Barrel fermenting

what it looks like in the barrel

Wakefield started barrel fermenting in 2006 which, says Eggins, “worked wonderfully well” with Shiraz and medium fine grain American oak.  When they adopted the same approach with a Cabernet and a Merlot “they both ended up tasting and feeling like Shiraz.”

In 2009, Wakefield tried barrel fermenting Cabernet again, this time successfully thanks to super fine grain French Oak to “protect the varietal essence and structure of Cabernet.”  For Eggins the benefits of barrel fermentation are “to envelope the fruit characters in layers of complexity…wines become richer, creamier more textural yet remarkably remain quite elegant and the core fruit is preserved.”

Skin contact

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The wines are protected by carbon dioxide (a by-product of fermentation) during fermentation, afterwards under cloth, which limits the effect oxidation and helps avoid elevated volatile acidity.  The 2012s which I tasted were pressed after 2 weeks on skins however, from 2014, Eggins has pushed the envelope with the help of food grade British silicon.  It replaces the cloth topping (see below).

under cloth coverage during fermentation – let CO2 out and keep insects out

The 2014 Shiraz was in contact with the skins in barrel for a further 4 weeks and the 2014 Cabernet for a further 8 weeks (through the malolactic fermentation in both cases).  While the wines were pressed the barrels were cleaned so that the wines could then be matured in them.  Though the 2014s are still “babies,” Eggins reports that “the purity of fruit and intensity of flavour is quite unique and above it all the wines are remarkably delicate.”  I look forward to tasting them.

The wines

Meantime, here are my notes on the yet to be released top end Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz from the excellent 2012 vintage.

Wakefield The Visionary  Cabernet Sauvignon Exceptional Parcel Release 2012 (Clare Valley)

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A translucent crimson hue suggests this is going to be an elegant Cabernet, as does a lifted nose with fresh blackcurrant, bay leaf, mint, liquorice and tobacco hints.  Quite right too.  This is an elegant medium bodied Cabernet with sweeping, very fresh damson, black and red currant and berry fruit. Like the arc of fruit which is teased out by juicy acidity, the tannins are long and fine.  Savoury – very spicy – too, without detracting from this accomplished Cabernet’s sense of purity, freshness and elegance.  Very persistent with a tapering finish, this is a polished yet characterful Cabernet.   Beautifully made.  RRP AUS $180 14%

Wakefield The Pioneer Shiraz 2012 (Clare Valley)

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A very creamy yet juicy palate of black currant and fleshier black berry, with highly distinctive smoked charcuterie and subtler mocha notes. On day two, focused but less tightly wound fruit asserts its presence more strongly (over the oak).  Ripe but present, gently grippy tannins anchor the slippery fruit (slippery in the sense it doesn’t dominate the palate).  The finish is long, savoury, very elegant and fluid with well-defined fresh fruit and cool, mineral acidity.  A finely honed Clare Valley Shiraz; impressive.  RRP AUS $200 14%

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