Saturday, November 12, 2011

Heartland wines by Ben Glaetzer

Have you ever gotten together with your friends and done something exciting? Driven to Las Vegas, kayaked to SaltSpring Island, gone windsurfing in Mexico, started a winery...
   Started a winery?!
   Well that's Ben Glaetzer's idea of fun and he managed to wrangle together a posse of like-minded vinophiles such as Geoff Hardy, Grant Tillbrook and Scott Collett. These men are all leaders in their industry in Australia and their names inspire confidence.

   Geoff Hardy is a fifth generation winemaker in South Australia and his children are even now being groomed to take a more pivotal role in his operations. Grant Tillbrook is a number-crunching wizard whose list of consulting jobs in Australian wineries is staggering... wine-making may be an art-form, but without the right numbers to support it, wineries are incredibly expensive propositions. That leaves Scott Collett whose family has been working with wine in the McLaren Vale for 50 years and show no signs of stopping.
   An inspired group of individuals, but I've often heard it said that "too many chefs spoil the soup". In this instance, nothing could be further from the truth, and it must be due in part to it's captain: Ben Glaetzer.
    Ben literally grew up in the wine industry; Ben's uncle John Glaetzer was the second employee at Wolf Blass Winery (see my article on Wolf Blass at Ben's father Colin is a renown winemaker who won the prestigious Winemaker of the Year award in Australia. Even Ben's two brothers are winemakers. One could say that genetics came into play when Ben's received the Quantas award for young winemaker of the year in 2004 and was called a "brilliant winemaker" by Robert Parker Jr.
   So what does the award-winning winemaker do? He gathers a team of like-minded individuals and creates the Heartland brand of wines from South Australia ( which still focus on quality, but with value being a high priority and not afraid to take a few risks in the vineyard.
   Great pricing, great quality, and all from one of the most innovative winemakers in Australia today! What else do you want? Well I for one want to be able to drink the wine right away - as opposed to Ben's ultra-premium Amon-Ra which deserves ample cellaring. Done. All of these wines drink superbly right away and right from the bottle - I didn't even need to decant.
   So what's the magical key to making wines like this: is it only due to the efforts of the massively gifted confederates? Much as some might like to say "yes", the truth is that terroir plays into the equation just as much (if not more) then anything else.
vineyards in Langhorne
   Heartland wines are grown on two distinct properties; in the Langhorne Creek and on the Limestone Coast. The Langhorne Creek is about 70km, or an hour's drive, south-east of Adelaide in South Australia... it's a beautiful place that has been producing wine longer then almost anywhere in this country. Settlers came here in the early 1800's and by the 1850's a wine industry was already bustling. The area is known for the cooling effects that the local lake Alexandrina has on climate, and has been recognized as a "cool-climate" viticulture region.

a stickleback tree on the Limestone Coast
   The Limestone Coast is almost 300km south-east from Adelaide and shares more in common with it's famous neighbour to the east: Coonawarra. The Limestone Coast soil has a high amount of oxidized iron in it's soil, creating what is known a terra rosa or red-soil. The region is also known as having very dry (even by Australian standards) summers which leads to stress on the vines... this stress is good stress, not like when your boss tells you that he's fired someone else in your department and left all of their work for you. This stress leads to reduced yields from the vines which means that there will be a greater concentration of flavors.
   So Ben, Geoff, Grant and Scott decide that they want to use their powers of oenology for good in the world and create unique, well-crafted wines for a reasonable price. How to accomplish this? They source out regions which don't have aren't as well-known yet so they can afford to sell the yields for modest fees. The results speak for themselves.
2009 Heartland Stickleback Red
 $18   *** Very Good Value ***

Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon 45%, Shiraz 38%, Dolcetto 9%, Lagrein 8%
Region:    Langhorne Creek 67%, Limestone Coast 33%
Vinification: fermented on skins for 5 days before pressing.
                      Malolactic fermentation in 2 and 3 year old oak barrels
Maturation: 12 months in 2 to 3 year old; French and American oak
  • visual:   clear; fully intense plum/garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense developing aromas of red and black currant, red and black raspberry, blueberries, slightly spicy earthy terroir
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (red raspberry) acids, moderate+ (soft chalky) tannins, moderate body, moderate+ alcohol (14.5% ABV), moderate+ intense youthful flavors that mimick well all the red and under ripe berry notes.... the Shiraz makes its presence known with the spicy finish and the Langrein helps with the fresh acids. Very good balance, and structure, medium+ to long length
  • conclusion:   drinks well now but can cellar easily for until 2014. Will not develop appreciably
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   crisp red wines need a bit of fat; pair this wine with a Grilled ribeye steak with kosher seasalt and smoked paprika rub

2009 Heartland Shiraz
$25   **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****
Varietal: 100% Shiraz
Region: Langhorne Creek 95%, Limestone Coast 5%
Soil: Langhorne Creek: Sandy Loam, Limestone Coast: Grey marl over deep limestone
Age of vines: 16-18 years
Vinification: crushed, then pumped over twice a day. Ten days skin contact. Extended maceration
Maturation:  14 months in new to 4 year old; 70% French, 30% American oak hogshead barrels
  • visual:   clear; moderate+ bruised plum/garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense and developing aromas of red berries, spicy black licorice (no, really, that's what it smells like to me), dark espresso and chocolate notes
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (raspberry/currant) acids, moderate (soft, silky) tannins, moderate+ intense and youthful flavors mimicking well the nose with emphasis on red currant, red raspberry with the spicy finish known for Shiraz. Very good balance, excellent structure with long length
  • conclusion:   drinking well now, this wine will certainly reward cellaring for the next several years. Drink 2014-2018
  • FOOD PAIRINGS: a natural for lamb with it's lively acids, consider braised lamb shank with prosciutto-tomato and fresh sage reduction over parnsip and Yukon Gold potato mash

2009 Heartland Cabernet Sauvignon
$25    **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****
Varietal:  100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: Langhorne Creek 73%, Limestone Coast 27%
Soil: Langhorne Creek: Sandy Loam, Limestone Coast: Grey marl over deep limestone
Age of vines: 12-15 years
Vinification: crushed into 10 tonne open fermenters, and left on skins to cold macerate for three days prior to yeast inoculation. The wine was pressed to oak for malolactic fermentation, then racked and returned to oak
Maturation:   12 months 2 to 4 year old; 80% French 20% American oak
  • visual:   clear; fully intense garnet core with cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense developing aromas of blackberry, warm winter spice, light tobacco and cigar box, light eucalyptus or menthol notes
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (red raspberry) acids, moderate+ to fully intense (soft, chalky) tannins, moderate+ body, moderate+ alcohol (14.5% ABV), moderate+ intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose once again with emphasis on the red berry notes and a lingering earthy background... the terra rosa shows through. Excellent balance and structure, long length
  • conclusion:   drinking well now, this wine also benefits from cellaring. Drink 2014 to 2018
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   rich red wine with a bit of zippy acids? Consider a Butter poached beef tenderloin with slightly spicy roast garlic compound butter

Heartland wineries on the map

   And so I'm left at the end of a truly wonderful tasting asking the exact same question I did at the beginning. Which is mightier in winemaking: the winemaker or the terroir? Obviously the answer is more complicated then just black or white.. it's neither one nor the other. The truest joy in winemaking comes for the consumer when winemaker and terroir are working in unison as evidenced by the above.

   My joy these days is measured by the LittlestStudentOfWine, who gave her smiles of approval when she smelled each and every one of these wines. My smiles were not far behind...

As always, I look forward to your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!