Tapanappa, line in the red earth tasting, May 2006

Brian Croser is the man who founded pioneering winery, Petaluma, the first in the Adelaide Hills.  He is known as Australia’s original “terroirist” for his unrelenting pursuit of his countryman, Dr AC Kelly’s vision of 1867 that “in the great diversity of soil and climate to be found in Australia, there is little doubt that every variety cultivated in Europe would somewhere find a suitable location.”

After selling Petaluma in 2002, Croser established a new label, Tapanappa, together with the Bollinger family of Champagne (former shareholders in Petaluma) and the Cazes family of Lynch Bages, Bordeaux.  Under the Tapanappa label he continues to produce a single vineyard Chardonnay from the Tiers vineyard in Adelaide Hills which belongs to his wife.  He also makes a Cabernet/Shiraz from the Whalebone Vineyard, Wrattonbully just north of Coonawarra on the Limestone Coast and, in the pipeline, will release a Pinot Noir from his Foggy Hill vineyard on the Fleurieu Peninsula planted with Burgundian clones.

In May 2006, he presented Tapanappa wines and older vintages of Petaluma’s Coonawarra Bordeaux blend alongside Chateau Lynch Bages.  I very happily tagged along for the ride to this tutored tasting for Plumpton College students.  Before the tasting, Brian questioned received wisdom about the Limestone Coast’s premier sub-region Coonawarra.

Wrattonbully -v- Coonawarra –v- Bordeaux

Often compared with Bordeaux, comparisons suggest a long-term average heat summation for Medoc of 1485 hours compared with 1396 for Coonawarra and 1472 for Wrattonbully.  However, Croser’s own heat summation data over the past three vintages for the 30 year old Whalebone vineyard in Wrattonbully, which he bought in 2002, suggests it is cooler than Coonawarra.

Located on the ridge of the West Naracoorte Range, which separates Coonawarra and Wrattonbully, Croser attributed this relative coolness to “Whalebone’s unique location on the lee side of the western edge of the escarpment,” adding “most of the Wrattonbully plateau is more open and warmer.”

Blowing hot and cold

Nonetheless, as the tasting demonstrated, Whalebone vineyard produces wines of greater palate weight and richness than Petaluma’s Coonawarra-based Evans vineyard.  How come, when the vines are more or less the same age and Croser made both labels using similar winemaking techniques?

For Croser, the answer lies in the detailed specifics of the climate and soils:

  • climate – growing season winds averaging 7km/hour against Coonawarra’s 15km/hour higher wind chill factor; and
  • soils – the Whalebone vineyard is located on 25 million year old Miocene limestone with a higher clay content than Coonawarra’s relatively youthful 1 million year old , hard and dense Lagunal limestone, the latter producing wines of lower pH.

Right bank –v- left bank

With its higher clay and rounder style, Croser reckons that Wrattonbully, or at least the Whalebone vineyard (which, until 2003, featured in promotional maps of Coonawarra), could be regarded as Coonawarra’s Right Bank.  Terroirist, you can see what they mean!

Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2005 (Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills) – the maiden vintage under the Tapanappa label which is made in a more restrained style than Petaluma (less new oak).  It shows pear, quince and lifted white peach on the nose with just a hint of roast hazelnut.  The palate is super-fresh and tightly coiled with cinnamon and butter edged pear, quince and apple wed to a tight spine of acidity.  Impressive structure and restraint. Slated for release in September – it’s a keeper.

Petaluma Cabernet Merlot 1995 (Coonawarra)
– still purple core, holding its colour well.  Very (posh) gentleman’s club nose with cigar box and leather chesterfield sofa plus a lick of boot polish to its plum and cassis fruit.  In the mouth, it shows its age more with open knit plum and liquorice/aniseed spice; quite fresh acidity.

Chateau Lynch Bages 1996 (Pauillac) – a plum core and wide garnet rim; the nose is savoury with toast and meat pan juices intermingled with violet and rose top notes.  The palate has plenty of stuffing with dense and dark toast and cedar-edged plum and cassis supported by ripe, fine-grained tannins.  Well-built.

Petaluma Cabernet Merlot 1998 (Coonawarra)
– again, good colour here and the nose is initially quite closed, showing cassis and plum with time in glass.  Impressively structured palate with a good concentration of cassis fruit and a hint of mint.  Long, firm finish, persistent with good acidity.  Excellent.

Petaluma Cabernet Merlot 2002 (Coonawarra)
– good colour, the rim still pinkish.  Has an exotic nose with blueberry, cassis and eucalyptus as well as our old friends, plum and cassis – perhaps a sign of the cool vintage.  These characteristics follow through on a well-defined palate with vanilla oak, powdery tannins and fresh acidity.  Very good.

Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard 2003 Cabernet/Shiraz (Wrattonbully)
– a slightly warmer than usual year produces a sweet, ripe red berry and cherry fruited nose, flavours which follow through on a ripe, round, generous and spicy palate with smudgy tannins.

Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard 2004 Merlot (Wrattonbully)
– a deeper colour and brighter nose with sappy, blackbbery and spice.  Quite European in the mouth with sappy, silky blackberry and blueberry fruit with a lick of vanilla; balanced though warm and generous with ripe supporting tannins.

Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard 2004 Cabernet/Shiraz (Wrattonbully) – warm earth and eucalyptus to the nose, this is a significant step up from the 2003 with its characterful dusty, warm earth character and satisfying core of raspberry, blackberry and cassis fruit.  Very long, with well integrated, firm tannins lending gravitas.

Chateau Lynch Bages 2004 (Pauillac)
– deep purple and quite stony-faced in comparison!  Shows raspberry, blackcurrant and an earthy, stony minerality but still youthful with quite grippy tannins – needs time.

Sarah Ahmed
The Wine Detective
10 May 2006

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