In many ways, this is Michael Downer's signature wine. It comes from a single parcel of vines at Murdoch Hill's Landau block in Oakbank. The vines here were planted in 1998 and sit on a predominately east-facing slope in shallow, red loam soils with varying levels of schist rock and ironstone.
Oakbank's warmer, sunny days allow for the Syrah vines to fully ripen their fruit whilst the afternoon breezes and cool nights help the fruit retain its natural acidity. Of course, any talk of warm weather should be put into context - this is still the Adelaide Hills and the Landau site sits at 400 metres above sea level. So we are well and truly in cool climate territory here.
Downer wild ferments this wine with 20% whole bunches and whole berries in small one tonne, open fermenters. Again, oak maturation is minimal, with the wine raised in older French oak puncheons (10% new) for roughly 9-10 months.
Adelaide Hills is buzzing with change and innovation and Murdoch Hill is a producer that is now at the forefront of this action. It’s worth pointing out that Murdoch Hills is not a new player in the Australian wine scene - the Estate vineyards were planted by the Downer family in 1998. But it has been the return of the family’s youngest member, Michael Downer, to take over the winemaking duties in 2012, that has created the excitement here. Pumped from stages at Vietti (Piedmont), Best's Great Western and Shaw+Smith, Downer has wasted little time in applying his experience and passion to his family vineyard practices and winemaking. The most obvious changes he has implemented have been bringing the winemaking in house (it was previously outsourced to a neighbouring winery) and the creation of the Artisan range of single-parcel, minimal intervention bottlings. Tapping into the freshness gifted by his high-altitude vines, while keeping winemaking artefact to a minimum, Downer’s approach has led to a range of juicy, vibrant wines that highlight the detail and freshness of each site. We are not the only ones who have been following this young winemaker’s progress with interest - Downer was a Young Guns of Wine finalist in 2014 and the joint winner of the ‘Winemaker’s Choice’ in 2015. His wines have also been getting great reviews and a number of gongs in recent times (including two wines in the top ten at the Adelaide Review Hot 100 last year). The winemaking specs include wild yeast ferments, various degrees of whole bunch, extended skin contact and more and more older wood in the aging. Bottling is without any fining or filtration. In terms of the vineyards, the original 1998 Estate plantings are situated around the winery, nestled in the undulating hills of Oakbank. The shallow red loam soils here are shot through with varying levels of schist and ironstone. Varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to the home vineyards, Downer also works with a range of nearby sites in Lobethal and Basket Range and the high altitude Uraidla vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley. These sources offer Downer a broad range of flavours, structures and textures with which to do his thing.
JAMES HALLIDAY - HALLIDAY'S WINE COMPANION
Hand-picked from a single block, 15% whole bunches, some new French oak. Bright crimson-purple hue; intense black and red berry fruits on the palate have a spicy/savoury/earthy nuance very likely ex the whole bunches. Striking wine.
Another cooler vintage which adds additional layers of white peppers and spices to the bright blackberries, plums and cherries. The palate delivers almost creamy and supple fruit flesh, as well as silky tannins with a string of vibrant acidity. It holds very long and fresh into the tangy raspberry and blackberry finish. An ethereal trail of fragrant spices on the back palate. Drink now or hold.
MIKE BENNIE - THE WINE FRONT
Savoury perfume of red currants/berries, briar and undergrowth, white pepper, faint rhubarb and graphite notes. Savoury and gamey to taste, pepper over red berry fruits, dusty and medium weight. Sheath of fine tannins finishing the wine very well. Lovely, lighter, fresher, drink younger style, with seriousness and elegance on its side.