(Due to the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, there is no live California Wine Country show on KSRO today. This podcast episode was recorded 4 weeks ago in the show that aired on October 2. Please consider making a donation to the Red Cross which has done so much to help Sonoma County again during the fires this year.)
Nigel Westblade is visiting from Australia, sharing some of the wines that he produces as the chief winemaker at Peter Lehmann Wines in Australia. Tom Simoneau and Barry Herbst from Bottle Barn are also in today.
Dan Berger has fond memories of the late Peter Lehmann, “Peter Lehmann was quite a character… Every day of the year was a party with Peter Lehmann.”
Dan Berger has been to Australia 23 times so he knows their wine scene very well. He describes Barossa Valley as a wine-making region north of Adelaide, Australia, capable of producing great reds, “…but if you are very careful you can also make fabulous white wines.” Peter Lehmann has enjoyed great distribution in the United States for a few decades so the wines are highly regarded here.
They taste a Pinot Noir which Nigel says has “bunchy” flavors, meaning it was made with whole berry fermentation. Nigel Westblade has also brought two bottles of Shiraz; first, a 2015 Barossa Shiraz with soft tannin structures that Dan calls “a strikingly together wine.”
Nigel Westblade describes how they work with the growers to get the canopy and the fruit levels right, and to get the winemakers out into the vineyard towards harvest, “to make sure we get the picking date absolutely spot on.”
The Barossa Valley is about an hour or two north of Adelaide. It is on the way to the Clare Valley wine region, where all the Rieslings are produced. In Australia they call their wine regions Geographical Indications or GIs, which are like the AVAs in the United States.
They taste the Peter Lehmann Barossian Shiraz. Barry Herbst says this will be available at Bottle Barn. It will retail for about $21, which they all agree is a bargain. Dan finds that this one is more elegant, more personality of fruit, more florals. He says that this wine has great fruit and beautiful structure and you don’t taste much barrel at all. Nigel explains that it does get put in barrels. He explains that they use barrels in the old English style called “hogshead” which is 300 liters, instead of the standard French-style barrel which Nigel calls a barrique, which has a capacity of 225 liters. The don’t get a strong oak impact but they do get a lovely softening of the tannin structure.
Tom Simoneau notes that when the cheap Syrah and Shiraz came in from Australia 10 years ago kind of ruined the varietal for the US. But now these new Shiraz wines that are coming in are going to redeem the varietal’s reputation.
Next they taste a 2014 Cabernet. Dan says it’s wonderful to have an aged Cabernet available. The 2017s out now are too young. Nigel says they are getting to a stage in the Barossa Valley where they are making nice Cabernet too. Tom Simoneau says it tastes like it could come from California. It is an older style, compared to the way Cabs are made now. Dan says Cabernets from Australia are under rated, only that the prices are so low that it’s not really worth it to import to the US.
Nigel remembers Peter Lehmann as a winemaker who thought about the relations with his growers so he managed to beg, borrow or steal enough equipment to be able to start a winery and promised the grape growers that he would take care of them in the future if they gave their grapes to him that year. They had a huge success and many of the relationships with growers that he started then are still in place, based on a handshake.
The Beverage People is Sonoma County’s fermentation headquarters since 1980. Tom Simoneau remembers that he used to buy a lot of equipment from them back when he was a home wine maker, before he turned pro.