Realizing What Rockford Is All About

Realizing What Rockford Is All About

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 8th, 2010

the press in Rockford "Basket Press" Shiraz

When I first began to promote boutique estates from Australia, I asked around to see which wines I just had to try: iconic wines that were rare and hard to find.

The name that came up repeatedly was the Rockford “Basket Press” Shiraz. At that point, it had never been sold in the US and only a few bottles had even been brought to our shores. It was almost ten years later when the Grateful Palate arranged to import the wines that I had the first chance to try a bottle. After all the hype and the decade-long wait, I tried some. And in my then-Aussie-wine-infancy, I didn’t get it.

one of those old pumps still in use

Rockford was founded by Robert O’Callaghan in 1984, during a dark period in the Barossa Valley, when century-old shiraz and grenache vines, which, due to lack of demand, were being ripped out and replaced with chardonnay under a government scheme. O’Callaghan had left the Barossa’s famed Seppelts winery to start a new project dedicated to preserving what was rapidly becoming the lost heritage of the valley–the traditions of winemaking and grape growing threatened by modernization.

His winery was founded in a rough-hewn building constructed by Johann Henschke almost a century ago. With no real money to start a new venture, he got by with old machines being discarded by other wineries as they purchased new equipment. The pumps, presses, and tanks might look like they belong in museums, but they are still in use today.


Welcome Home

Welcome Home!

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 1st, 2010

Over the past 15 years, I have probably visited Australia 25 times. The purpose of almost every trip has been to visit wineries or attend wine conferences or tastings. As things happen in the wine business, you get to know a few people over the years. Nowadays, visiting Australia is becoming less about the business of the wine industry and more about catching up with friends.

The wine business is very special due to its convivial nature. It provides folks with a unique window into a country’s culture. You learn about the politics and history. You essentially have your own tourist guide as the locals tell you where to find the best coffee or croissants. I can’t count the times where I have been invited to homes, some mornings eating eggs I gathered from the chicken coop after a brisk morning walk. So when planning my first day back to Oz, I thought nothing would be better than organizing a dinner with friends in the business and getting sucked into some good food and trying some new wines.


the infamous Ying Chow


And in Adelaide, the only place to have this feast is Ying Chow. More incredible wines from Australia, I dare say from anywhere in the world, have probably been poured at the tables of this venerable Chinese restaurant than at any other restaurant in the country. Located near the city’s produce market, it has seen numerous lunches and dinners hosted by winemakers, wine writers or average folks taking advantage of the restaurant’s BYOB/no corkage policy.  (more…)

Chuck Is Off to Oz!

My Upcoming Journey to Australia

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 26th, 2010

Just like JJ Buckley’s recent trip to Bordeaux, my upcoming journey to Australia is to gather more information about the wines there. Nothing beats traveling and talking firsthand with winemakers, sommeliers, and writers to learn more about the many facets of a country’s wine business. Previous trips have been instrumental in boosting my understanding of Australia’s wine regions and the industry’s history, along with discerning future trends. As a bonus, it’s also pretty fun.



Trips to a wine region often have contextual issues which frame a visit. Many visits are educational in scope (i.e. to learn more about soils or winemaking), and for the most part, information travels both directions. In many cases, meeting winery owners or government officials leads to conversations about wine trends in America and/or ideas about improving business. Given the current state of Australian wines in today’s American market, I imagine there will be a lot of talking and listening on this visit.

So, what is happening with Australian wine today and what can I expect to find? (more…)

Regional Spotlight: Margaret River Chardonnay

Regional Spotlight: Margaret River Chardonnay

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 14th, 2010

Margaret River has a reputation as one of Australia’s best chardonnay growing regions for a reason. Located on a small peninsula in the southwest corner of Western Australia, the cooling breezes coming off the Indian Ocean help maintain moderate temperatures and preserve necessary acidity. The proximity to water also limits the impact of droughts that plague other growing areas throughout the country.

Margaret River map

Map of Margaret River

A relatively new region when compared with the century-old vineyards of South Australia, the first plantings here occurred in the late 60s at Vasse Felix. Yet in less than 40 years, Margaret River has gained international prominence for producing world class chardonnay and cabernet whose styles bear a striking resemblance to those of Burgundy and Bordeaux, respectively. The region accounts for more than 20% of the nation’s premium wines, even though it only produces 3% of the grapes.

When it comes to chardonnay, Leeuwin Estate (2006 Art Series, $69.99) may be the most famous producer in the region, but there are many top quality wineries who have carved out a name for themselves over the years and at more affordable prices. These new arrivals showcase the recent trend towards chardonnay with more finesse and elegance. Interestingly, each of these well-known properties has recently hired new winemakers with incredible track records, poised to take these already renowned wineries to even greater heights.

So explore a few of the following wines to get a better understanding of the beauty of Margaret River:

2008 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay (Margaret River) $21.99

Cape Mentelle Chardonnay
Rob Mann comes from Western Australia’s most famous winemaking family but gained his fame as the head winemaker for Hardys in South Australia. He returns to his home state to take the reins of Cape Mentelle, founded by David Hohnen and Kevin Judd, who also set up Cloudy Bay at the same time.

2008 Hay Shed Hill Chardonnay (Margaret River) $18.99

Hay Shed Hill ChardonnayMichael Kerrigan’s background began as the winemaker at Howard Park but he is now the proud owner of Hay Shed Hill where he can now focus his efforts on a more intimate scale. He has a great understanding of Margaret River’s varying microclimates which allows him to craft multidimensional wines.

2007 Vasse Felix Chardonnay (Margaret River) $15.99

Vasse Felix ChardonnayVictoria Willcox is one of Margaret River’s legendary winemakers. Passionate and knowledgeable, she throws her considerable energy into her work as well as her post-work activities. She is now in charge of Margaret River’s oldest winery and is “stoked” to be a finalist for Qantas/Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year.

Penfolds’ Icon Releases 2010

Forget the Maypole, gimme some Grange!

Post by Chuck Hayward | May 1st, 2010

May 1st is an important day to the world’s working classes and neo-Pagans, but it is also an unofficial national holiday in Australia as the new

Penfolds place setting

release of Penfolds Grange and other “Luxury & Icon” wines enter the local and international markets. This is a major cultural event, with every major television and print outlet leading off with stories of the newly released Grange and the roads to Penfolds H.Q. in Adelaide clogged with everyday people and well-off collectors alike—many in line for over 48 hours, vying for the opportunity to purchase just one bottle of Grange.  Chief Winemaker Peter Gago spends May 1st besieged by the media, all seeking his assessment of the vintage while he signs autographs and meets with consumers. In many markets and especially within Australia, this is the only opportunity to get one’s desired Grange allocation, widely seen as the country’s most prestigious wine.

Aussie superstar chef, Curtis Stone with guests.

Because these wines now have a global demand, Penfolds has a new approach to marketing the release of their world class “Luxury & Icon” wines—and if there’s one thing Penfolds knows how to do, it’s throw a party. I was fortunate to be invited to the first Penfolds Icon release dinner ever held in the US, where I had the opportunity to taste all the top new releases accompanied by excellent cuisine prepared by Aussie superstar chef, Curtis Stone (whom you might recognize from Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice”.) This was a great evening to be sure, as Grange collectors mingled with members of the wine trade for a festive evening of food and wine while Matt Lane, Penfolds Ambassador for the Western Hemisphere, acted as our informative and entertaining emcee.

So what about the wines? Below are my tasting notes for each of the wines, but overall, the new releases showed

Penfolds schwag!

that Penfolds continues to assert its exalted position in the world of fine wine.  The latest Grange returns to a bold, rich style following the elegant interpretation released last year. St. Henri Shiraz celebrates its 50th anniversary by continuing to shed its oft-worn mantle “sleeper of the lineup”. This year’s release is a wine for the ages and destined to last years in the cellar. And in one of the most difficult vintages for South Australia in the past ten years (and a year when Penfolds could declassify a poor wine), the Bin 707 Cabernet is one of the most succulent, approachable releases in a long time.

Tasting Notes

2007 Penfolds Chardonnay “Yattarna”

A blend of fruit from Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, and Henty. Pale straw color. Moderately intense and open aromas of lemon zest, delicate hints of creamy oak and burgundy-styled mineral elements prevail. Rich yet zesty on the palate, the citrus infused flavors soften with air and fan out across the palate. The minerals emerge again at the end, subtle and elegant in their presence. More refined and elegant, yet more complex than the ’06. Each vintage of Yattarna has seen the Penfolds team head further south to source fruit from cooler sites. The 2007 release continues the trend towards a refined and elegant Yattarna style.

2006 Penfolds Shiraz “St Henri”

89% Shiraz, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. St. Henri continues to go from strength to strength as the Penfolds winemaking team tweaks its style. Now in its 50th vintage, the latest release has an opaque center with the barest hint of a rim. The nose is moderately powerful at this point with roasted notes and dark pepper spices lying underneath. With air, soft and rich chocolate infused fruit appears but the wine is a bit backwards. Still creamy and full-bodied on the palate, this is a more structured and ‘reined-in’ St Henri that finishes with spicy tannins and a touch of nicely integrated acid to lighten the palate. Where the voluptuous 2005 was juicy and thick, this vintage will clearly reward some time in the cellar or a vigorous decant if popping the cork today. 1976, 1986, and 1996 are some of the best St. Henri’s ever made. This release will continue the trend and add to that illustrious collection.

2007 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon “Bin 707”

A blend of fruit from Padthaway, Barossa and Coonawarra. The Penfolds 707 Cabernet is one of the winery’s most historic wines and exemplary of the Penfolds style. Recent years have seen a restrained, more tightly wound wine on release, however the 2007 is another wine entirely and a throwback to the more open and opulent years such as 1988 and 1990. Super attractive, cedar and mint infused aromas leap out of the glass, while kernels of sweet, currant-laced fruit lie underneath. The palate is round with spicy tannins and toffee laced flavors to complement the moderately weighted fruit. Easily one of the most immediately appealing 707s in a while, it’s hard to believe this juicy wine was matured in 100% new oak.

2007 Penfolds Shiraz “RWT”

Another winning vintage here. This RWT continues a string of successful releases that belie the wine’s full name “Red Wine Trial”. Clearly, the trial has been deemed successful quite awhile ago! Initially closed and restrained, the bouquet hints at roasted meats and a touch of coconut while the palate shows a purity of fruit and rich textures that seem almost weightless. Not a heavy style, it nevertheless has a pleasing, palate coating viscosity. The finish is youthfully short as the wine ends with subtle, talc-like tannins. An excellent wine in an open and approachable style from a vintage where many other South Australian shiraz are raisined and hard.

2005 Penfolds Shiraz “Grange”

96% Shiraz (88% Barossa); 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a more open, generous and immediately appealing vintage compared to the elegantly profiled 2004. The latest release has the classic, effusive Grange aromas and palate of previous vintages, but is maybe not as dense as some other years. This wine is no slouch, however, with savory flavors of cherry flambé and marinated mushrooms. Sage and rosemary notes add high-toned elements to the bouquet. Tangy acidity at the end adds a lift and elegance to the midpalate and lengthens the finish. As usual for Grange, the concentrated fruit masks the structure that guarantees this wine a long life. An excellent Grange that shows its class and pedigree in an unabashed manner.