The untapped potential of Pyrenees shiraz

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Following our recent RACV Club wine, beer and food tour of Western Victoria, it was reinforced that the Pyrenees has some of the most exciting shirazes in Victoria.

We are quick to reference Heathcote as the best region for Victorian shiraz production, and rightly so, but standing equally tall is another great wine region with untapped potential that is yet to gain wider recognition.

It might have been the early British explorer and surveyor Thomas Mitchell that gave the Victorian Pyrenees its name, as it apparently reminded him of the Pyrenees mountains in the South of France – well maybe a smaller version on a foggy day – but it was the French that helped recognise it as an outstanding wine-producing region.

In the 1960s, the French cognac house of Remy Martin was then committed to discover the best areas for sparkling wines production and poured a sizeable investment into what is now known as Blue Pyrenees winery and estate. More recently Michel Chapoutier, one of the most successful and acclaimed Rhone Valley wine producers, has recently acquired a couple of carefully chosen sites to express his love of shiraz under the label of Tournon and Terlato & Chapoutier. Michel is a very charismatic and passionate winegrower that pays a great deal of attention to the earth or ‘Terroir’ in order to express a sense of place and identity in a wine.

According to Michel, the Pyrenees has everything to suit his winegrowing philosophy and extend his Rhone traditions. Ample sunshine brings maturity to the grapes but it is the cool aspect of elevation and southerly ocean winds combined with distinctive soils types that helps retaining the elegance and vibrancy, giving the region that little edge over many others.

My focus has been on this region for a while now as there seems to be a stream of new talent gathering fresh acclaim, such as Jamsheed headed by the talented and charismatic Gary Mills. Mitchell Harris is another great performer. I recently tasted Chockstone and Hard Hill road from the Grampians made by Adam Richardson, a dynamic winemaker that has had many overseas roles. All this new blood mixed with an already solid foundation of established producers such as Taltarni, iconic Mount Langhi Ghiran, and the premium wines of Dalwhinnie have contributed to the region’s reputation.

With some of the oldest shiraz vines in the state, a cooler aspect of viticulture helped by a ranging altitude from 200m to almost 800m in some parts and a soil profile that often includes red sandstone and a mixture of quartz, all contribute to the ability to produce fragrant and perfumed wines that under the right guidance have longer and slower maturity and an expression of finesse associate with gentle power.

There is definitely a general renewed interest in this region albeit slow but it has my attention firmly set on this corner of the state. Should I ever be in the fortunate position to invest in a patch of land to grow shiraz wines, this is where it would be.  Oh! and did I mention that it is a beautiful, picture postcard place to visit?

Written by Christian Maier
December 05, 2017