Wine Heroes

February 8, 2020

Recently I read that one of my wine heroes, Randall Grahm, had sold his famous Bonny Doon Vineyard. Randall is one of my top wine heroes – although I have never met him and only had a few opportunities to taste his California icon wines, they have always been very impressive. He is a hero not only for making great wines, but for being “one out of left field” in a State fixated on Cabernet Sauvignon. Randall’s wines are centred around Rhône blends and in fact he was the original, “Rhône Ranger”. Being a full blown eccentric, not only does he still drive an ancient Citroen (the one that looks like a frog), but he also named his wines eccentrically too, such as “Le Cigare Volant”. He has planted a number of almost unknown oddball grape varieties which he turns into exceptional wines.

The saving grace is that he will be sticking around for a while still making his sensational, oddball wines.

Another one of my heroes is, Paul Draper, who retired last year from Ridge Vineyards which also in California. Paul is the world’s Zinfandel Master, with Ridge making 13 different Zin-based wines, usually named after the vineyard or district they come from. Only one or two are straight Zins as most of the others have just a trickle of two to four other varieties in there to help highlight the vineyard characters of the Zin. They are sublime wines and for good measure the, Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, is rated amongst the top Cabs of the US.

The good news is that Paul’s retirement was planned and the winemaking team are fully aware of his magic, so hopefully there should be no change in style or quality. I am looking forward to opening the magnum of Ridge Vineyards 1999 “Geyserville”, my last bottle of Ridge wine – Oh, if anybody knows where one can buy Ridge wines here in Australia can you please drop me a line and let me know. Thanks!

Another retiree last year was my dear friend, the incomparable, Jim Irvine – the man who almost single handedly dragged Merlot out of the morass and up the quality mountain. He was voted the “Best Merlot Maker in the World”, twice!! In 1992 and 1996 if my memory serves me. This man taught me everything I know about blending wines when we worked together at Yaldara Wines two decades ago. He was also the man who started lifting Cabernet Franc to its rightful place as a top quality wine, before finally retiring at a sprightly 86-years-old. Thanks for everything Jim!!

Sometimes the retirement/departure of a wine hero leads to the demise or severe downgrading of the winery. Yet other times, when well planned, the business doesn’t even skip a beat. That is not to say that the “hero” wasn’t a superstar, but rather that great planning has allowed the process and methods they used to continue. A great example of that was way back in 1993 when another one of my heroes, Mick Morris, retired.

By that stage having spent several years working with Mick (as I was at the time employed by Orlando Wyndham/Pernod Ricard and having tasted many older/ancient wines that Mick had made), I was delighted when his son David took over the mantle of chief winemaker.

The Morris of Rutherglen brand did not even skip a beat, and has gone on to win scores of trophies since. Late last year over a lunch in Adelaide to enjoy a bottle of 1969 Morris Durif, David told me that Mick still drops in to the winery to put in his, “two pennies worth”, when David is compiling blends for their world famous fortified wines. Incidentally, the 1969 Durif was Mick’s 15th vintage – having launched the world’s first varietal Durif wine on his first vintage in 1954.

Another hero/living legend still “pottering” along is, d’Arry Osborne, who at 93 still drops into the winery most days to “lend a hand”. I wonder what d’Arry thought when he saw the five to eight metre high mural of his face painted onto one of the outer walls at the Colonnades Shopping Centre recently.

These are just a few of my wine heroes. Who are yours and how are they tracking in these challenging times?

This topic makes one ask the question: Have you got a succession plan in place for your winery? Or will you sell up just before you run out of steam? Food for thought.

Cheers and enjoy some great wines this week – I will!!

This Week's Wine Review:

I have been a massive Durif fan since I first tried the Morris of Rutherglen Durif back in the late 1980s. Such a fan that I have a whole rack of Durif, in my cellar spanning back to the occasional bottle of 1970s. Most of these wines are from Rutherglen (mainly Morris), however, the more recent ones include some crackers from the Riverina: 3 Bridges Durif from Calabria Wines, the new Aldi Durif (a brilliant bargain) and the sensational Berton Vineyards Durif.

The Barossa is ably represented with the likes of Atze’s Corner and Kalleske. Other areas now making excellent Durif include the Riverland: Alejandro Wines and Spooks Hill. All of these are warm areas, where Durif thrives under the scorching sun.

However, most recently I have found some superb Durif from cooler areas, such as: Domaine Asmara from Heathcote, Gapsted from the Alpine Valley and now this week’s wine the brilliant, HAND CRAFTED by GEOFF HARDY 2018 ADELAIDE HILLS DURIF.

This is a cracking Durif truly worthy of joining the salubrious company mentioned above. It has a big, deep inky colour. A delightful, rich bouquet of ripe fruit with just a hint of Christmas pudding. On the palate it has masses of rich flavours and is more refined/elegant than the bigger, riper flavours of the warmer region wines. This wine has fabulous structure and balance, with a great, tighter, lingering finish. The wine will evolve over the next few years to become a classic, but more elegant style Durif.

So if you are a Durif fan like me, I suggest that you try this cool beauty as I am sure that you will be delighted by it.