Despite being a very young winemaker Michael Downer is setting the benchmark for Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. Consistently he delivers racy, mineral-driven and modern Chardonnay from a range of sites across the Hills and the Tilbury is the pinnacle of this style.
The fruit is sourced from site standing at a minimum of 450m above sea level, the altitude provides lean, crisp wines but very high-quality fruit. Downer balances the austerity of the wine with skilful winemaking and well considered use of oak to add complexity and texture.
The Tilbury Chardonnay is a very smart wine, mouthwatering acid and minerality, balanced out by a nutty savoury character and plenty of ripe fruit. It’s everything we want Chardonnay to be. Unfortunately there's only very limited amounts of this tasty wine, so don’t wait to get into it.
Drawn predominately from a vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley, the remaining fruit is sourced from mature vines in Lobethal and Kenton Valley. All the vineyards sit between 450-550-metres, planted to a wide range of clones, including Bernard C76, C95 and C96 and Mendoza. All the fruit is hand harvested and whole berry/whole bunch pressed into older French oak, including foudre, for natural fermentation. To balance the intense freshness of this high grown fruit, Downer allows part of the crop to finish its malolactic fermentation, while a little lees stirring brings further texture.
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.
This has all the power, richness and poise that is a hallmark of this style. The fresh-fruit aromas meld sliced peaches with nectarines, lemons and grapefruit, as well as attractive complexity. The palate has a zippy core of vibrant aciditiy and a supple, fleshy yet taut texture.
JAMES HALLIDAY - HALLIDAY'S WINE COMPANION
From the Piccadilly Valley and Lobethal, hand-picked, whole-bunch pressed, wild-fermented in three different vessels, partial mlf, 9 months maturation. Is fleshy, hovering on the edge of too much so. Certainly fills the mouth with stone fruit, oak in dutiful support.
MIKE BENNIE - THE WINE FRONT
Various barrels complete the picture of juice maturation, though an austere wine is the aim. It comes from both Lobethal and Piccadilly fruit sources. Winemaker Michael Downer with the support of family and a great viticulture team are doing many things right, it seems. Savoury bouquet, touch of struck flint, green apple, lime leaf, floral and general ‘minerally’ aromas. The palate is mouth-watering, acid driven, very flinty and slatey to taste, hints of green apple juice and lime the lingering feel. Licks of nutty savouriness find a slot too. Dart-shaped and flighty, delicate and very fine feeling. This is very nicely done.