Well… what a rollercoaster these last few years have been. I believe that it is probably the right time to let you all know what has been going on all this time, so I’d best start from the beginning…
By the end of 2013 the two of us were broke, homeless and had lost all that we had known for the last twenty years. To our good fortune some very close friends took us in and we lived on their property. For the next two years they provided us with a home, food, finances for ensuing legal battles and most importantly fueled the fire of our ambition to keep us moving forward. Though not to sound hard done by as the clouds certainly did have a silver lining. We believe we are onto far greater things here. But perhaps even more importantly we enjoy every day working side by side.
In those early days dad and I had a lot of time to think and talk about what we planned to do. We took inspiration from producers such as Clos des Papes from Chateauneuf du Pape, or Wendouree as an Australian example. We didn’t want to be as big as Ben Hur. We wanted to work with our original vineyards that my mum and dad brought back to life in the nineties and create single vineyard expressions of them for others to understand the greatness we see in them. We also wanted to do all of the work ourselves, from vine to bottle. From the get go I wanted to bring Eden Valley to the fore and help in giving it more global recognition, so we decided to produce a Riesling and two wines capturing Eden Valley’s unique expression of Shiraz.
All of these ideas sounded great, but at the time we still had no vineyard sources and no winery to make the wine. By pure chance two months later a very highly regarded vineyard became available and we jumped at the opportunity to work with it: the century old Steinert vineyard on the high slopes of Eden’s Flaxman’s Valley. Dad had worked with the Steinert vineyard decades ago at Rockford and already knew its potential. When the fruit arrived at the winery it was some of the best dad had ever seen and by the time we put it to barrel we already knew it would be one of our two flagship wines.
Dad and Paul – Steinert Vineyard 2014
One by one the other five vineyards became available to us and by 2016 we had produced all of the wines that we originally wanted to make. We have six single vineyard wines from sites spread throughout the Barossa and Eden to provide insight to our diversity of soil and climate. We only work with varieties that we believe suit the Barossa: Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro, Roussanne and Marsanne in the Barossa Valley and Riesling in Eden Valley. The release of our 2016’s will see two new wines: a second single vineyard Barossa Valley Shiraz in the same tier as the Loechel Shiraz and a single vineyard Mataro from the Barossa Valley.
Our single vineyard wines are named after the original farming family that planted the vineyard and the district of the Barossa that the vineyard is located. Our vineyards are worked sustainably, with either organic or biodynamic viticulture and dad and I believe that it is important we prune and maintain all of the vines ourselves. We spend three months of the year pruning together alongside my uncle Paul and Iggy who I had previously worked with in the vineyards and cellar of JL Chave in Hermitage, who now works with us full time.
Iggy pruning the Eden Valley Riesling
The winery that we make all of our wine in is located on the same property owned by the family that helped us out at the end of 2013. The Riverside property in the Central Barossa is one of the original Barossan settlements and the original buildings of the winery date back to late 1840’s. Dad had helped the owners to revitalise the buildings and convert them into a winery in 2001 and it was then one of the two original Torbreck wineries.
For the 2015 vintage we purchased a new basket press, de-stemmer and fermenting equipment as well as installing day in-day out refrigeration for our barrel hall. In the near future we plan on bottling on site so that we have an entirely holistic approach from vineyard to bottle. However there’s not much we can do about the old concrete fermenters, so it looks like we’ll be digging those 100 tonnes of grape skins overhead for a little while longer!
Digging out – vintage 2015
Vintage 2015 has recently been bottled and is no doubt the vintage that will put us on the map. The vintage conditions were ideal and the resulting wines are bright in fruit, vibrant and expressive. It was also the first year that we produced single vineyard wines from our Kraehe vineyard in Marananga and our Brennecke vineyard in Seppeltsfield which dad first worked with in 1994 and 1992 respectively and we are over the moon to have the opportunity to work with again.
1901 planted Brennecke Grenache in Seppeltsfield
On bottling of our 2015’s we headed overseas to introduce the wines to our new markets. The trip was a great success and we are proud to say that the wines are now available in Singapore, Hong Kong, five states of the USA, England and Denmark. We had a brilliant time over those five weeks and had a great reception from our new releases of wines. While in the States, we managed to catch up with Lisa Perotti-Brown MW of Wine Advocate who has recently reviewed our new releases. We have included some of the more highly appraising reviews below:
“…The overall result [of 2015] for the Powell & Son reds was spectacular, producing wines of extraordinary intensity, complexity and balance. And in case you’re thinking you need another high – octane, Aussie fruit bomb like a hole in the head, think again. These are bright, intense, polished wines crafted with elegance and great poise. The only downside is the small quantities.”
– Lisa Perotti – Brown MW
Our 2015 wines have also received some great reviews by Wine Spectator in the States and The Wine Front in Australia. Those reviews are available on the news & reviews page of our website.
Vintage 2017 is officially a wrap here at Riverside. All signs point to a great vintage. The heavy Winter rains pushed vintage further into a cooler time of the year and many old dogs (dad included) are referring to 2017 as ‘just like the old days’. For us this has been ideal as a cooler ripening period slowed sugar accumulation, allowed high retention of natural acidity and produced some very complex, refined flavours in the wines – and after all of this rain the vines look all the better for it. Our 2017 Eden Valley Riesling has just been bottled and will be hitting the shelves soon to give you all a taste of what the vintage has to offer.
So there is our story of the last eventful few years. We are certainly glad to put the worst of them behind us and finally be able to look ahead. As far as we’re concerned the future couldn’t look brighter. We have plenty of plans in store for the coming years and we’re happy for you all to come along for the ride with us. Onward and upward…
Red A lush, intriguing mix of wilted rose petal, gingerbread, dark chocolate and toasted caraway seed notes. Polished and velvety, with a core of black cherry and kirsch flavors, persisting on the long and complex finish. Drink now through 2030. From Australia.—M.W.
Shiraz Barossa Steinert Flaxman’s 2015
94 points | $625 | 200 cases made |
Red Rich and expressive, with a wild, fresh-turned earth aroma, mingling with smoke and sandalwood details and blackberry and white pepper flavors. Presents dense and fleshy tannins. The espresso-laced finish makes for a complex finale. Drink now through 2030.—M.W.
Shiraz Eden Valley Loechel 2015
95 points | $90 | 250 cases made |
Red Decadent, with date nut bread, dark chocolate and espresso flavors that are accented with sandalwood and mahogany aromas. The creamy and plush cherry and plum flavors are extremely generous and expressive on the epic finish. Drink now through 2030.—M.W.
In my mind’s eye, I see Jean Baldès, the late paterfamilias and owner of Clos Triguedina, one of the leading estates of Cahors. The women of the family have spent the morning eviscerating ducks and preparing their constituent parts for the winter: confit de canard, duck liver pâté, terrine and for all I know the feathers for pillows and duvets. We sit down for Sunday lunch. As ‘guest of honour’, I am given a duck leg while everyone else gets scraps. Presiding over the table like the godfather, Jean gets the head. His wife and children look on as Jean cracks the thin skull open like a boiled egg, scoops out the brains, and washes it down with a schluck of Clos Triguedina’s Prince Probus .
Like many fathers and sons, Jean and his son Jean-Luc never did see eye to eye. It wasn’t until the autocratic Jean passed away that Jean-Luc was able to emerge from under the thumb of the ogre to blossom as a fine (and happy) winemaker in his own right. Telmo Rodriguez has done very well for himself in Spain but he had to leave Remelluri to avoid the iron fist of his father. Such sad family stories abound but one of the saddest is that of the Mondavis. Robert Mondavi was a huge figure with an ego to match. His two sons Michael and Tim were crushed, the family split, the business was sold off to a corporation, and they were ejected from the prestigious Primum Familiae Vini, numbering, inter alia, Antinori and Torres (Pictured: Jean-Luc Baldès, Clos Triguedina).
In the small microcosm of the winery, it’s a problem if father and son or daughter don’t get on. Fortunately the stories of overbearing fathers and their cowed offspring are the exceptions that prove the rule. Piero Antinori and Miguel Torres are towering figures but the transition to the next generation is proceeding smoothly. In the case of the Catena family of Argentina, Nicolás Catena bestrides the 20th century Argentina like a colossus, yet he and his dynamic daughter Laura are managing the transition with aplomb. There are countless similar examples of positive co-operation, among them Alfred Tesseron and his niece Mélanie Tesseron in Bordeaux, Helmut Dönnhoff and his son Cornelius in Germany (Pictured: Robert Mondavi).
The best evidence for such familial co-operation is seeing the benefits of the two-way process: the older generation’s transfer of knowledge and experience and the young gun’s transmission back of youthful energy, experience of wine school and working overseas. Opportunities to observe this interaction first hand arose during a number of visits to London this summer, of Dave Powell to present the new wines of Powell and Son, of Johann Henschke who was here to present the Henschke range on behalf of the family and of one of Chile’s leading producers, Aurelio Montes SR. and Aurelio Montes Jr. (Pictured: Nicolás and Laura Catena).
The Montes tasting was billed as ‘Like Father, Like Son’ and in the presentation of the Montes wines, Aurelio talked of the influence of, ironically, Robert Mondavi, who encouraged him to examine Chilean terroir and go for quality at the expense of volume. He talked about blends and the synergy that improves the wines and in talking of ‘we’, it became clear that the synergy of father and son was an equally powerful influence in their innovative approach to wine: investing in Argentina with Kaiken, introducing a Cabernet Franc there, an Albariño in Chile, finding old vineyards, searching for new locations (Pictured: Montes Vineyards).
‘The role of the new generation is to bring some refreshment into the range and though I didn’t want to, he convinced me’, said Aurelio Snr. ‘The wine may not be easy to sell, but it’s part of our spirit of innovation. Sometimes you get pissed off but you now you need new blood, even if it’s initially against your will’. A similar process was evident when Dave Powell, at Torbreck for 20 years, came to London to show off the wines of the new family partnership, Powell & Son (Pictured: Aurelio Montes Snr.).
Callum, the son, was back in Oz hard at work, so it was the father doing the talking. As Dave Powell explained, Callum spent a year with Jean-Louis Chave in the Rhône and contributes the benefits of his experience and the fact that he has ‘an educated palate’. According to Powell, ‘There are two sides at work. I have a lot of experience but I can get into a comfort zone, while Callum has a lot of ideas, some not all that practical, but he’s full of enthusiasm and wants to challenge everything I do. Yes it’s challenging for me to have to explain things but we’ve talked a lot about making the wines fresher with more purity of fruit and so I’ve re-looked at everything I do. He wants to do everything yesterday but basically we see eye to eye on most things’ (Pictured: Dave Powell).
Perhaps it’s easier for Johann Henschke, who with his siblings are natural heirs to one of Australia’s greatest estates. There’s no question of his parents, Stephen and Prue, resting on their laurels but Johann, who, like his parents, studied at Geisenheim, is keen to explore fresh locations and new grape varieties in the context of the family’s heritage. A promising Nebbiolo for instance is already a work-in-progress under his supervision in the Adelaide Hills.. I wouldn’t want to suggest that the corporate giants of wine don’t have an important place in the wine world, but the story of the interaction of generations gives a special dimension that brings the human side of wine into sharp focus (Pictured: Henschke Nebbiolo label; Johann Henschke).
Anyone familiar with the Barossa’s fabled Torbreck Wines would have already guessed that the Powell in Powell & Son is none other than Torbreck founder Dave Powell. Dave teamed up with his 22 year old son Callum a couple of years ago to start a new small-scale eponymous wine label at the Riverside Vintners in Lyndoch.
Apparently Callum’s birth in 1994 coincided with the pressing of the first vintage of Dave’s own shiraz, so you could say that Callum was born with wine in his blood! Before starting a degree in oenology at Roseworthy, Callum had a stint working under Jean-Louis Chave in Hermitage. Dave is quick to acknowledge that his precocious son is already developing his own unique winemaking style.
But only someone of Dave’s experience and bravado would release an inaugural flagship shiraz with a sticker price of $750 a bottle! Yet the critics haven’t blinked an eye at either the price tag or the pedigree of the Powell & Son Steinert Flaxman’s Valley Shiraz. (Only 220 cases of the 2014 vintage were made.)
Steinert is indeed a very impressive vineyard. Located in Eden’s Flaxman’s Valley, the vines are more than 120 years old and cost the Powells $10,000 a tonne. Dave and Callum are relishing the opportunity to spend time together in this special vineyard, working it to perfection.
Of the inaugural 2014 vintage, Perrotti-Brown remarked that “it’s a very pretty wine possessing a deep garnet-purple color and lifted nose of kirsch, crushed red currants and black raspberries with suggestions of wild thyme, lavender, black pepper and cloves. Medium to full-bodied, it has a firm backbone of grainy tannins supporting elegant yet intensely flavored fruit with great harmony and freshness to the very long finish.” (97 points, eRobertParker.com #221 Oct 2015)
In a recent interview with Wine Business Magazine’s Anthony Madigan, Dave asked, “Can you please make sure you mention Callum in the article? It’s very much a father-son team. He designed the label and is driving the wine style. I’m proud of him.” (Winemaker Dave Powell back in the Saddle by Anthony Madigan, 10 July 2016)
The future is looking very bright indeed for this father and son team!
Dave Powell needs no introduction. The founder of Torbreck took the brand from zero to hero, making among the Barossa’s most iconic wines. His own stock, on the other hand, did the reverse. In 2002 he lostcontrol of the company then, in 2008, his minority shareholding, before leaving under a cloud in 2013. He was declared (and remains) bankrupt. But when I caught up with Powell earlier this month, he was in ebullient form. With good reason. He’s back doing what he loves – hands on wine-making, this time with his son Callum under their eponymous label, Powell & Son.
A blessing in disguise
The straight talker’s anger and disappointment about losing Torbreck still simmers beneath the surface. But Powell is reflective too. Seeing the upside of the loss he tells me “it [Torbreck] got too big and it got away from me…or [correcting himself] rather I got away from it.” He wouldn’t be the first winemaker frustrated by the global ambassador role which comes with having been the face of a brand sold in 45 countries. In a subsequent email exchange with Powell junior Callum reveals, “I was so eager to make wine in the Barossa and work with great vineyards, but I wasn’t so interested in the corporate end of it all.”
So it would seem all’s well that ends well. From Dave Powell’s perspective it’s fun getting back into the vineyard and winery, working with his son “to stay young” and having more liberty – “I don’t have to kow tow” (though he concedes “you still have to play the game.”) From Callum’s perspective he is able to do what he wanted but on a small scale, keeping it in the family, whilst benefiting from his father’s decades of experience. Both in the Barossa (Powell senior worked at Yalumba, Peter Lehmann, Wolf Blass, Saltram and Rockford before establishing Torbreck), then trotting around the globe selling Torbreck (and tasting the great wines of the world).
“So it wasn’t all bad after all…a blessing in disguise” concludes the 22 year old, whom his father is quick to assert is “no passenger.” Indeed, Callum’s take on the Torbreck debacle is that it made him “very, very determined. Losing Torbreck made me realise that if this [winemaking] was what I was going to spend my life doing then I was going to have a precise vision of what I was to do and it was going to be a hell of a lot of heartache and hard work to do it, so the result of that vision had better be worth it.” And as he candidly admits, “Currently as a 22 year old, I mostly bring vision” to Powell & Son (Callum is currently completing his winemaking studies in Adelaide – useful, says Powell senior, because he runs his pHs high).
A shared vision – Callum and Dave Powell, Powell & Son; photo credit Powell & Son
Vision which has undoubtedly been informed by Callum’s “very influential few months” in Hermitage in 2013 with acclaimed Rhone producer Jean-Louis Chave. Having always planned to work alongside his father he told me, “We had a lot of time to talk about the style of wine that we wanted to make. Neither of us wanted to make a new range of Torbreck wines, for many reasons. I love the Northern Rhone for its savoury characters – tapenade, meatiness, funk, smoke. I think it gives so much character and life to a wine, and at the bottom line it’s much more site-specific. A red wine full of fruit and jam can come from anywhere, those savoury characters are much more regional. I also believe that the best Barossan wines are of that style, but to do that it can’t be as ripe, it can’t be overly extracted and the fruit has to come from great sites. Find great vineyards and let them tell the story.”
So while Powell & Son’s wines share Torbreck’s sensuality (the flesh and achingly refined tannins), there is greater emphasis on savouriness and restraint – more lift, less alcohol. Intriguingly for me, all without resorting to the much earlier picking, whole bunch or Viognier co-ferments which typify so many of the new breed Barossa Shirazes which have been forging exciting new pathways for the genre. I asked Powell how he achieved such finesse and funk without losing the sensuality of fruit so naturally gifted by the Barossa?
Of course it helps that Powell & Son’s wines more fully embrace the Eden Valley. For Callum the region has been “a forgotten hero for years….Many great Barossan wines are made with a high percentage of Eden Valley shiraz, but the consumer assumes that it is a Barossa Valley shiraz as it is labelled ‘Barossa’ and Eden Valley doesn’t get its deserved recognition.” His father agrees that Eden Valley Shiraz has been “a really important component” for Powell & Son, “giving the aromatics, pungency and exotics” which Viognier can bring to the party. However, while Powell believes Viognier can be useful for Barossa Valley wines “which can be a bit one dimensional,” he doesn’t think you need it in Eden Valley. “It’s like Cote Rotie” he exclaims – “all the best examples are 100% Syrah.”
But finesse and complexity inevitably boil down to vineyard specifics too. Especially if you are not blending (i.e. going down the single vineyard route), asserts Powell senior, “you’ve got to have great vineyards.” And as we know from Torbreck, Powell is a veritable heat-seeking missile on that front. Steinert and Loechel, the father and son duo’s top single vineyard 2014 Shirazes are dizzyingly good, positively lyrical single vineyard Eden Valley Shirazes. When I asked him if it was difficult to source fruit from great vineyards second time around (old vine Barossa Shiraz is much more sought after since the 90s when Powell founded Torbreck), Powell said he had been surprised that it hadn’t been harder. There and again, he still pays top dollar and when many growers’ main income stream is cattle or agriculture, they are happy to lease to Powell & Son who run the vineyards.
Aside from the Eden Valley factor, Powell says the approach is not so different from Torbreck – ultra-low yielding vines, sympathetic use of oak and getting the tannins right, so you don’t need to add them. It’s about being able to taste when tannins are ready, he explains, then using a component of whole berry (perhaps 50%) “and leaving wines on skins long enough to get a really sublime quality, a delicacy.” I loved how Powell & Son’s single vineyard Shirazes seduced with the attack and finish as opposed to the mid-palate. And I loved their Eden Valley ruffle and truffle – of tannin and earthy yet other-worldly funk. You’ll find my notes on Powell & Son’s first releases below. First, a bit about what’s in the Powell pipeline.
In the pipeline
Powell is plainly very happy indeed with the 2015 wines. Though most wines are still in wood, he rates it as better than 2014 – “bigger.” As for the 2016s, Callum told me there will be two single vineyard Shirazes from Eden Valley, two from the Barossa Valley and one single vineyard Mataro and one Grenache from the Barossa Valley. The regional wines are more affordable and give an idea of traditional regional styles throughout the Barossa: Barossa Valley Shiraz, Eden Valley Riesling, Barossa Valley Roussanne/ Marsanne, Barossa & Eden Valley Shiraz and Barossa Valley Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro.
The single vineyard wines are clearly at the core of both Powell’s vision. Callum told me “most of what I wanted to do was work with great single vineyards throughout the Barossa that can make a great, balanced wine on their own and the label [which he designed himself] does nothing more than states what the vineyard is: vintage, variety, district of the Barossa, and within that we named the specific vineyard after the family that originally planted the vines.” Hoping to secure that vision into the future, father and son plan to buy the top vineyards – in the next five years if possible said Dave (Powell & Son currently lease all the vineyards and the winery).
Powell & Son Riesling 2015 (Eden Valley)
The fruit is sourced from 80+ years old Riesling at 480m from the Steinart vineyard in Flaxman’s Valley, at the southern end of the Eden Valley township. It is also the source of Powell & Son’s top single vineyard Shiraz. Powell used to make Riesling at Rockford from the very same site. The fruit was hand harvested on 6th March 2015, whole bunch pressed, cold settled and cool fermented to dryness at 12-15˚C, then racked off solids and cold stabilised prior to bottling. So far so classic. But while it has Eden Valley’s freshness and pronounced florals – lime blossom and more exotic jasmine – the overall profile is softer – subtly textural – with lingering ripe apple and talc-like minerals, the palate more opalescent than taut and focused. I suspect this will broaden its appeal, but I missed a bit of the snap crackle and pop of energy which I associate with top Eden Valley wines. pH: 2.92, TA: 6.5g/l, Alcohol: 12.0% 600 cases. Made off site by Jo Irvine.
Powell & Son Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2014 (Barossa Valley)
This melt in the mouth orange peel inflected GSM comprises 70% Grenache, 25% Shiraz and 5% Mataro. It’s round and velvety yet persistent with very attractively lingering freshness – not a hint of confection here. The fruit and spice do the talking. Though it’s not the most concentrated GSM, that’s no bad thing when the oak is this sensitive (4,500l foudres) and the fruit supple and concentrated enough to wear its alcohol gracefully. Very drinkable in a velvety not crunchy style. Hand harvested on 5th – 19th April 2014, the fruit was sourced from Western Barossa vineyards aged 80+ years old. The fruit was and de-stemmed into open concrete fermenters where it fermented for 7-10 days. It was then basket pressed to complete the ferment in stainless steel, then racked into foudré with full malolactic fermentation in oak where it aged for 15 months. Bottled without fining or filtration. pH: 3.51 TA: 6.4g/l Alcohol: 15.0% 450 cases.
Powell & Son Barossa Valley Shiraz 2014 (Barossa Valley)
The entry level Shiraz is sourced from different 20-30 year old Western Barossa Valley vineyards with a bit from of Lyndoch in the south. If you are a fan of Torbreck Woodcutters Shiraz, you will love this. It has a beautiful nose awash with heady damask rose and a spicy backdrop of black pepper which resonates on the back palate together with hints of charcuterie. In the mouth, it has Powell’s hallmark gorgeous velvety texture and lovely balance, length and fluidity to its beautiful principally red berry and cherry fruit. The grapes were hand-harvested between 5th – 15th April 2014 and, thereafter, winemaking followed the same path as for the GSM. pH: 3.61 TA: 6.2g/l Alcohol: 15.0%
Powell & Son Barossa and Eden Valley’s Shiraz 2014
The Shiraz was sourced from 40- 70+ year old Shiraz – a 50:50 blend of Eden Valley and Barossa Valley fruit, which explains the wider bandwidth of the harvest, from 5th – 24th April 2014. The Loechal vineyard – the younger of the two single vineyard wines – contributes to this blend. Thereafter, winemaking followed the same path as for the GSM and Barossa Valley Shiraz. This is the funkiest wine of the pack – really earthy. To the point where I raised the brett flag. Powell said I wasn’t the first to do so, but the wine has been analysed and there’s no issue with brett. It has a deep savoury, peppery earthy nose and palate. Though it has impressive freshness, it seemed to tail off a bit on the finish. When I went on to taste the Loechal single vineyard Shiraz, I could see that it shared this wine’s savoury, terroir-driven profile but, where the Loechal is a cream of the crop pick from best vines, it has the stuffing and wherewithal to run with the earthiness which, while pronounced, seems much better integrated – an important strand of Loechal without dominating it. Perhaps this blend needed time for the Barossa Valley fruit component to come up? pH: 3.5 TA: 6.2g/l Alcohol: 14.5%
Powell & Son Loechel Shiraz 2014 (Eden Valley)
This 250 case single vineyard Shiraz comes from the best parcel of Loechel – a western section of the vineyard which is planted on a steep, low yielding easterly aspect with high drainage. The vines, which are 40+ years old, were planted by Loechel family. The fruit was hand-picked on 24th April 2014. Although the Shiraz was processed similarly to the other reds, Loechel was racked into new Domnique Laurent French oak barriques for 15 months. Not that you’d know it. The oak seems on the backfoot. Rasping black pepper and sensual white truffle notes snag your attention from the off and maintain it from pungent, musky, animal-charged start to lingering finish. I think of Patrick Süskind’s novel ‘Perfume’ about the darkly obsessive (murderous) scent-seeker Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. And ‘Leviathan,’ a book I’ve just read about whales by Philip Hoare; he calls ambergris – the so-called ‘floating gold’ prized by parfumiers – for what it really is, hardened sperm whale dung! There’s a sweetness too. Of juicy black berry, raspberry and red currant which parries with this wine’s lifted, as if aromatised, savoury, earthy, gamey notes. Great lightness of being delivered with intensity. Stunning and perfectly unique. pH: 3.68, TA: 5.6g/l, Alcohol: 14.5%. The estimated UK RRP for Loechel – Eden valley floating gold is £85, which puts this wine within the grasp of many more premium wine hunters than its floating platinum – Steinart.
Powell & Son Steinart Shiraz 2014 (Eden Valley)
The fruit is sourced from the 5 acre Steinart vineyard in Flaxman’s Valley, which is planted to 120+ year old dry grown Shiraz vines at 480m. It was hand harvested on 28th April 2014 and, having undergone a similar fermentation process to the other reds, was racked into new Domnique Laurent French oak barriques where it aged for 18 months. Where Loechel ploughs a pungent and earthy furrow, flirting with the feral and decay, Steinart Shiraz is prettier and pleasingly uplifted. It’s more firmly in the fruit and ephemeral flowers zone. And mineral as opposed to earthy. It has a deep purple hue with the inky, florals to match – a swirl of wild violets and peonies is headily laced with riffs of savoury black pepper, sensual white truffle and orange peel spice. Notes which encircle and echo around its fine fretwork of earthy old vine tannins. Great line, length and levity, with a profound sense of delicacy – a translucency – to its mineral-sluiced fruit. Absolutely stunning. pH: 3.77 TA: 5.5g/l Alcohol: 14.5% With an estimated price point of £575, Steinart is firmly pitched in the so-called luxury wine zone which Powell so successfully occupied with his top wines at Torbreck alongside Henschke Hill of Grace and Penfolds Grange. And it belongs there.
Dave Powell – meet the Shaun Ryder of the Barossa Valley
In the first of a two-part feature Peter Dean lunches infamous Dave Powell, the winemaker and ex-founder of Torbreck, who is now back with a bang and a range of top Australian Shiraz through his new winery, Powell & Son, a joint-venture with his son Callum.
Lunch with Dave Powell of Powell & Son is a lively affair that confirms him as one of the most controversial and talented winemakers currently working in Australia.
In researching Dave Powell before my lunch with him to discuss and taste his new range called Powell & Son, I came across a story from Jancis Robinson about how this most outspoken of winemakers had tried to show her his arse.
Well a mark on his arse to be precise.
Soon after meeting him it’s apparent that this legendary winemaker – the man who during 20 years made Barossa Valley’s Torbreck winery world famous and was then forced out – is very much the ‘bad boy’ of the Barossa.
Lunch with Dave Powell is like dining Shaun Ryder with Shane MacGowan pouring the drinks. You just know it has the potential to end badly. Very badly.
Powell explains how he met Alessandro Marchesan of Zonin UK, which will be launching the wines in the UK, at a restaurant in Hong Kong. As an aside he discloses nonchalantly that this first dinner together ended at 8… in the morning.
The first thing he said to me before lunch was “I just need to nip out for a smoke, you stay here and have a line of coke or whatever you do… oh sorry you’re not in the kitchens are you.” Big cheeky wink.
Another story, in similar circumstances, has Powell putting Stephen Henschke on the spot in front of a large audience by suggesting that Stephen should “Pick the fruit when it’s fucking ready.” A visit to Nerthe in the Rhone ends with Powell querying them with “What the fuck are you doing?”
Every story Powell tells is coloured by hi-jinks and peppered with language as colourful as the Shiraz that makes his beautiful wines. Underneath, though, is a refreshing directness and Aussie humour that is good-natured and well, frankly hilarious.
I just bet that this is the first lunch in 67 Pall Mall’s exclusive private dining room that has had a world-renowned winemaker use the C-word in quite such profusion in mixed company. The paint was peeling.
Life after Torbreck
As for the T-word, conversation about Torbreck and its aftermath did dominate proceedings at first. The winery, that was named after Powell’s spell as a lumberjack in Scotland, was founded in 1994 and from humble beginnings as a share-farming winery grew into a world class outfit with The RunRig and The Laird being some of the world’s most sought-after Australian wines. After the winery was bought in 2008, Powell and the winery’s new owner, Peter Kight, fell out so badly that Powell declared himself bankrupt in order to start afresh.
Although Powell has more than one son, Powell & Son is a collaboration with just one – his 21-year old Callum Powell, a third year oenology student, who has recently being studying at Jean-Louis Chave in the Rhone. And Powell stresses that this is a partnership.
“The hardest thing for him to get right is freshness and elegance… as for me I am not subtle or elegant unlike my wines.”
When Callum thought that a wine was too reductive.. “I’ve told him to make sure he picks his fights,” Powell grins.
Powell declares that there is a fine line between a wine that is faulty and complex, particularly when it comes down to ‘funky’ notes, and eschews an approach where the envelope is very much being pushed at all times.
“You never learn anything in life by playing it safe.” He avoids filtering and fining and likes to leave the wine to spend time without intervention or, as he puts it, “Leaving the fucking thing alone.”
It’s hard when tasting Powell’s wines to connect the man with the wines he makes. One minute he’s saying “I’m left-handed and I only do two things with my right hand… go figure that out.” (Another big cheeky wink).
The next minute he’s pouring an elegant and fresh red with a sublime balance of fruit and backbone that makes you pause, think and salivate for more.
So what were the wines like?
We tasted five reds and a Riesling that were all hugely impressive and are covered in depth in a special tasting feature.
The top single varietal Shiraz Steinert is from vines that are 120 years old with grapes the size of blackcurrants. There are 360 cases produced with the trade price £450 a bottle.
“It’s important to have a wine like this. It helps the winery from a prestige point of view but it also subsidises a lot of the other wines. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself ‘do I want to buy a Ferrari?’ ”
“The Loechel is better value for sure but it’s like do you want a Filipino or an Eastern European hooker – they’re both expensive.”
And with that I bid a hasty retreat before I get sucked into a lunch that ends somewhere the middle of the next day, which it very possibly could have.
I am very much buying some of Powell’s new wines. I have gone for the Grenache Shiraz Mataro, and the two Shiraz – Barossa and Barossa and Eden Valley. See the separate Tastings feature for details.
Dave Powell is larger than life. The loud-mouthed Australian is big in every way possible – size, volume, ambition, but he makes wines of surprising delicacy. I meet with him on a Tuesday morning at private members’ wine club 67 Pall Mall in St James’s. Running late, he apologises for leaving me hanging a further five minutes while he nips outside for a smoke. Dressed in chinos and a white shirt with his hair tied back in a ponytail, the 53-year-old admits that the staff had to lend him a blazer to meet the club’s formal dress code. “At least they managed to find one that fits,” he quips.
Settling into a chocolate brown leather armchair in the upstairs library, Powell is candid about his very public fallout with American tech billionaire Pete Kight, who ousted Powell from Torbreck, the Barossa Valley winery he founded in 1994, in 2013 when his five-year contract came to an end. The estate was taken over by Kight, who also owns Quivira Vineyards in Healdsburg, California, in 2008 for a reported US$20.5m.
Torbreck’s £500 The Laird
At the time of the split Kight accused Powell of a “volatile” management style and running up an AU$92,000 bill in a Danish strip club. A bitter court battle ensued following Powell’s comments that the 2009 vintage of Torbreck’s £500 top drop The Laird should be declassified due to high levels of volatile acidity. The court case collapsed and the wine was never released.
“Pete wanted to take over Torbreck from the get go and was giving me enough rope to hang myself with. My lawyer told me I was a lamb to the slaughter. I declared myself bankrupt and walked off into the sunset. Towards the end I was the executive winemaker and was travelling seven months of the year and paying people to do what I loved – winemaking.
“I was 20 kilos heavier and was working myself into an early grave. I lost everything but found it liberating. It didn’t scare me having to start from scratch,” he says, adding, “I went from having AU$100 million to nothing. It was vicious, and it’s interesting how that’s when you find out who your real friends are. I created a monster and had to keep it going. I would have never left of my own volition but it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Powell isn’t allowed to have anything to do with the current staff at Torbreck and is sad to see the winery he created going downhill. “Pete is making a real pig’s ear of it. Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW of The Wine Advocaterecently wrote about my influence there fading fast. He wants to make the company bigger and has introduced an unnecessary layer of middle management. People will be able to judge for themselves by tasting the wines,” says Powell.
Keen to keep moving forward, the visit to London coincides with the UK launch of Powell & Son, his new wine venture in collaboration with his 22-year-old son Callum. His aims are characteristically immodest – “We want to be the DRC of the Barossa,” he exclaims with brio, “but with some affordable wines in there too as the only problem with DRC is that it’s so expensive you can’t drink the bloody stuff.”
The original plan was for Callum to eventually take over Torbreck, but it transpires that his eldest son never had any interest in taking the reins from him. Having spent a year working with Jean-Louis Chave in Hermitage, he had his own ideas about the style of wine he wanted to make. “I set up the job for him as the Hermitage is the best place to learn about Syrah and Jean-Louis is a good friend of mine,” says Powell.
Torbreck’s former general manager Paul Breen, an old friend of Powell’s who left at the same time as him, has joined the Powell & Son team alongside young Slovenian Igor Kuçiç, a former protégé of Powell.
an empty tank at Powell & Son
Five growers jumped ship after Powell left Torbreck and have since gotten on board with Powell & Son. The range consists of six wines from grapes grown in the Barossa and Eden Valley, some of which come from vines that are more than a century old.
“We’re leasing vineyards at the moment with the aim of eventually buying them. It’s still relatively easy to find land for sale with good fruit in the Barossa. We work predominantly with old vine Shiraz but also with Grenache and Mataro, and I make an Eden Valley Riesling.
“I’ve been surprised how easy it’s been getting access to old vines and great quality fruit – Barossa Valley Grenache is as good as anywhere in the world,” enthuses Powell.
“The Eden Valley is cooler and higher than the Barossa so the growing season is longer and the wines have more elegance and finesse. Barossa Shiraz is rich, dark and chocolaty. They’re like yin and yang. It’s easier to make single vineyard Shiraz in the Eden Valley than the Barossa, which can become a bit one-dimensional by picking point,” he adds.
Having grown up in Adelaide and studied economics, Powell was inspired to focus on Shiraz after winemakers like Peter Lehmann raised its profile in the ‘80s. He believes Australians have themselves to blame for the variety getting a bad wrap. “I benefitted from Parker rediscovering Australian wine and regularly got 100 points from him, but a lot of the Shiraz’ coming out of Australia are overdone, syrupy, one-dimensional crap.
Dave and his son Callium
The worst come from the McLaren Vale but those from the Barossa get tarred with the same brush,” he says, adding, “As Aussie’s we tend not to know when enough’s enough. People are surprised at how elegant and subtle my wines are when they meet me as they are two words that you’d never use to describe me.”
However, he admits that during his last few years at Torbreck “the axis shifted a bit” away from that style without him even realising it. Callum is keen to put his own stamp on the wines and Powell describes his influence on the project as “evident”, having learnt at Chave to seek elegance, finesse and purity of fruit in the wines he makes.
One way of locking in the freshness is the use of foudres that give the wines space to breathe. “Large format wood means the wines are a lot fresher after 18 months than they would be in a standard barrel,” Powell says.
As for whites, the duo made a small amount of Marsanne and Roussane this year and Callum is keen to make a Viognier in the future. “He’s got his own ideas but nothing can replace experience. I’ve no doubt he’ll be able to hold his own with me and might one day be making better wines than me. If he does then that would be great. I have an ego about some things but not about that – you want your kids to be better than you,” he says.
Powell & Son’s inaugural vintage – 2014 – yielded just 3,500 cases across the range. Last year 5,500 cases were made and they’ve bottled 7,500 cases this year. Powell says he’ll cap production at 10,000 cases in order to be able to have full control of the project.
Powell & Son’s top drop, the single vineyard Steinert Shiraz
The wines range from £25-500 in price, with top single vineyard Shiraz, Steinert, named after the Eden Valley old vine plot from which it hails, matching The Laird in price. Powell is bullish about his pricing strategy and believes the £500 tag for Steinert is justified.
“If you make a world-class wine it’s okay to charge a world-class price; I did it with Torbreck repeatedly. We only made 220 cases of the first vintage and have just 25 left so it’s selling. People seeking the finer things are more likely to buy it if it’s more expensive, but it’s got to be good. You can’t dress mutton up as lamb – you’ll be shot down in flames and so you should,” he says.
“It’s important to have an icon wine in your portfolio as it helps subsidise the other wines in the range. The biggest challenge is trying to sell Australian wines at that price. People still think of us as the cheap and cheerful stuff you buy at Tesco, yet there’s no problem with selling California wines at that price,” he adds.
Powell reports that Steinert is selling well back home in Australia and also in Hong Kong, which together form the bulk of Powell & Son’s sales. He also sells small amounts in Britain through Zonin UK, and also in Canada, Denmark, France and the US.
Over lunch we try the full Powell & Son range. The wines are elegant and idiosyncratic, the single vineyard Shiraz’ in particular displaying meaty, savoury notes and something of a wild streak. Powell insists this is intentional as he likes a bit of funk in his wines.
“I’m into making slightly funky wines that walk the line. I don’t like to play it safe. A bit of funk gives complexity to a wine as it ages. I go for quite a reductive style after fermentation, but funky wines need a lot of sulphur to buffer the high pH,” he reveals. As for the cork versus screwcap debate, Powell is firmly in the cork camp. “I’m not at all convinced about screwcaps – if there’s a problem in the wine then the screwcap will find it and amplify it. If there’s a problem with the cork then you haven’t paid enough for it,” he says.
As for what the future holds, I’m keen to know whether he’d ever return to Torbreck if the opportunity arose. “I’ve been offered a lot of money to make another Torbreck but I’m not interested in going backwards, it would be like getting back together with one of my ex-wives,” he quips. Finally, I dare to ask him about the Danish strip club. According to Powell he was a victim of credit card fraud.
“The strip club thing never happened – for a start we were in a Champagne bar not a strip club, and I was ripped off there. I ended up paying AU$24,000 for a bottle of Cristal, I didn’t even look at the receipt at the time,” he insists. Powell talks a good game and his enthusiasm is contagious. It’s hard to know how much of what he says is spin – rumour has it that he has a brand on his bottom from an unfortunate incident in Scandinavia – but one thing’s for sure, the man knows how to make mind-blowingly good wine.
Dave Powell launches Powell & Son wines in UK
By Chris Losh
Dave Powell, the man behind the iconic Barossa winery, Torbreck, has burst back onto the UK wine scene with a new range of wines.
Made with his son Callum, the Powell & Son wines are Powell’s first since his bitter split with Torbreck’s American owner in 2013.
The range – available from Zonin UK – includes a Riesling and a GSM as well as a range of Shiraz – the variety with which Powell first made his name at Torbreck in the 1990s.
Numbers are small – total production for the 2016 vintage is only around 7,000 cases – and the UK allocation is described by Zonin UK as ‘tight’. Trade prices range from £24 for the Eden Valley Riesling through £39 for the Barossa and Eden Valleys Shiraz to £425 for the Steinert Flaxman’s Valley single-vineyard Shiraz.
Currently Powell does not own any vineyards. But rather than simply buying fruit in, he is operating long term leases with growers, whereby he pays vineyard owners a fee to work their vines himself.
‘It would be cheaper to buy the fruit in,’ admits Powell, ‘but it’s not the same thing. This way I have control. There’s not an accountant anywhere near the business.’
The majority of the fruit is sourced from the higher Eden Valley, which Powell believes gives the wines a more restrained character.
‘If you’re not careful the Barossa can be too much of everything,’ he says. ‘It’s about backing off and having a bit more class. These wines are a reflection of my experience – more about purity and finesse.’
Dave Powell hasn’t changed. The loud, opinionated, chain-smoking winemaker who founded cult label Torbreck in the Barossa two decades ago — and acrimoniously parted ways with the company in 2013 — is back with a new brand, a new set of wines. And he’s still loud, still opinionated and still rarely without a fag. Only this time round he also has a new collaborator: his 22-year-old son Callum.
When I arrive at the Powell & Son winery in Lyndoch, in the wide open country of the southern Barossa, Powell senior is leaning against the stone wall of a converted 1840s farm cottage, the winery’s office and tasting room, cigarette in hand. After the usual expletive-laden greeting (I’ve arrived a bit late), he introduces me to Callum and another man, Paul Breen, general manager of Powell & Son and owner of one of the Eden Valley vineyards that supplies grapes to the new venture.
“Paul and I have been mates since kindergarten,” says Powell. “He was with me for years as general manager at Torbreck. And that’s the last time I’m f . . kin’ mentioning Torbreck today.”
It isn’t. As we head into the winery to taste the raw 2016 vintage whites and reds from tank and then work our way through the 2015s in barrel in the cellar, Powell talks about Torbreck a lot. Which is hardly surprising: for almost two sometimes-turbulent decades it was his life. From the moment the first Torbreck wines burst on the scene in the late-1990s they — and their maker — attracted a lot of attention: powerful international critics such as Robert Parker in the US lauded the rich, seductive, full-bodied styles, encouraging Powell to raise the prices of his top wines, build the business rapidly and travel the world widely and flamboyantly.
It’s not surprising to find parallels between the former and present labels: each relies on grapes sourced from loyal local growers, and the wines are arranged in a clear price/quality pyramid, with larger volumes of lower-priced grenache blends and shirazes on the bottom and decreasing volumes of increasingly expensive wines the further up you go, culminating in a single-vineyard shiraz priced extravagantly at $750 a bottle.
There are important differences, though: a (very good) riesling has been introduced into the Powell & Son range and there is more emphasis on the finer, more savoury flavours of grapes grown in the cooler, higher Eden Valley. It’s symbolic that while the top $750 Torbreck shiraz, The Laird, is sourced from a vineyard between Marananga and Seppeltsfield — the heartland of full-bodied, powerful Barossa reds — the top Powell & Sons shiraz, Steinert, comes from an old vineyard high in the Flaxman’s Valley subregion of Eden Valley (though a richer, Marananga-sourced shiraz called Kraehe will be introduced to sit alongside the Steinert from the 2015 vintage).
Callum, now in the third year of a winemaking course, has been helping his dad since infancy.
And the other difference, of course, is Callum. Now finishing his third year of the winemaking course at Adelaide Uni, and with years of experience helping his father in the winery, Powell Jr has already notched up vintage in France’s Rhone Valley working for legendary producer JL Chave — an experience that turned him on to the quality of the marsanne and roussanne grapes (both originally Rhone varieties) growing in the Barossa.
“I reckon we can use them to make a good Barossan white,” says Callum, taking a sample of lovely, crunchy, intense 2016 roussanne he’s made and splashing it in my glass. “I really like roussanne and I think it’ll go really well blended with some marsanne we’ve fermented in oak.”
Callum is also a big fan of the Eden Valley. “Because it’s part of the Barossa, many people expect shiraz from Eden Valley to be a 16 per cent alcohol monster,” he says. “But because it’s higher and cooler, the wines are different — still ripe and flavoursome, but they don’t punch you in the face.”
Powell Sr reckons the time Callum spent in France, working with Chave making syrah (the French name for the shiraz grape), helped him appreciate Eden Valley: “He sees more expression of syrah-like characters in the grapes grown up there,” he says.
Father and son winemakers, Dave and Callum Powell.
As he lights another cigarette, Powell tells a story of the moment he knew his son would follow in his footsteps.
“Callum and his younger brother and I had dinner at Aria (restaurant in Sydney),” he says. “Callum was 16. I bought a 1990 Bruno Giacosa Barolo — one of the most expensive single vineyard nebbiolos. I had a glass, Callum had a glass, I went to speak to (chef) Matt Moran and when I came back to the table the f . . kin’ bottle was empty. He said, ‘That was good, Dad. Did it cost much?’ I said, ‘About a term’s f . . kin’ school fees.’ ”
Callum laughs. And then wistfully says: “What I’d really love to do one day is find a little half acre of perfect land in Eden Valley and plant nebbiolo.”
Now that would be different.
Powell & Son – the wines
2016 Eden Valley Riesling $30: This is an absolutely stunning young riesling: scintillating citrus, precise juicy lime and a more-ish, thirst-slaking quality found in the best examples of this grape grown in the Eden Valley. The 2015 vintage, from the same 80-year-old vineyard, is also a lovely, fragrant wine and is well worth buying, but the 2016 is in another league.
2014 Barossa Valley Grenache Shiraz Mataro $50: When I first wrote about Torbreck back in 1997, the wine that impressed me most was The Steading, a humble, earthy grenache blend aged in big old barrels. So it’s good to see a similar styled wine released under the Powell & Son label: it’s an approachable, supple, mellow red with a seductive sprinkling of woody spices (cloves, cinnamon, fenugreek); good now but will also cellar well.
2014 Loechl Eden Valley Shiraz $100: Made from shiraz grapes grown in a 50-year-old vineyard in Eden Valley, this is quite a voluptuous wine, showing a fair bit of rich dark oak influence, but underneath all the braggadocio there’s a fabulous, compressed, savoury quality to the tannins — a sinewy vineyard/regional character that I also tasted in the 2015 Loechl out of barrel and the newly fermented 2016 out of tank.
2014 Steinert Eden Valley Shiraz $750: So is it worth the money? Is this, a first release from a new company (albeit one headed by a winemaker with a 20-year track record, and made using grapes from an acclaimed 120-year-old vineyard), really worth 750 smackers? It is bloody marvellous: a wild cavalcade of dark, brooding, hedgerow berry fruit, heaps of deeply seductive dark oak and then this incredible, enfolding blanket of fine but persistent, savoury tannin. And Powell tells me he’s almost sold out. So some people must think it is.