Article in the Australian - 15/8/2009 - www.theaustralian.news.com.au
If you want to taste the youthful enthusiasm pulsing through McLaren Vale's wine community right now, visit Justin McNamee at Samuel's Gorge.
This wonderfully quirky cellar-door hideout is in a converted 1850s barn on a sheer ridgetop overlooking the Onkaparinga River. With a low-walled garden, stone floors, ancient olive presses and tiny rooms stuffed with barrels of red wine, it’s a cross between a remote Sardinian shepherd’s hut and a Burgundian cellar. Like a wild-haired alchemist-philosopher, McNamee dispenses shots of energy and wisdom from behind a huge, chunky espresso machine plonked on the tasting counter.
“In the last few years all we've read about and heard about is the doom and gloom of the wine industry," he says, knocking back another short black. But that's not what I see in McLaren Vale. Here, there’s an explosion of young people saying, ‘Times are tough, but what can we do to change things around?’ And then just doing it. It’s f..king brilliant, I reckon.”
“Doing it” means, first, drought-proofing the region: as with almost 50 per cent of the vineyards in the Vale, the grapes at Samuel’s Gorge are irrigated with reclaimed wastewater. “Doing it” means throwing away the chemicals: close to a quarter of all the region’s vineyards are now farmed using organic and biodynamic methods. “Doing it” means both embracing the region’s traditions (McNamee’s grenache and shiraz are fermented in big old slate vats rescued from an overgrown paddock) and exploring new grapes such as tempranillo.
“It’s all about getting good grainy texture in the wines to counter McLaren Vale’s natural juiciness,” he says. “There’s been a lot of apathetic winemaking here in the past, during the boom times, because we get the sunshine, we get the sweet fruit. But mid-palate opulence is easy. Complexity’s the hard part.”
McNamee is building that complexity by carefully blending grapes from the Vale’s many distinct terroirs – “tar flavours from the seaside vines, spice from our own south-facing hillside vines, chunky fruit from the black, black clays” – and building structure through extended skin and lees contact. “I take my time,” he says. “It’s the Slow Food philosophy applied to wine. No rush.”