Jan 25, 2013

WineWalkabout visits Smith & Hooper in Wrattonbully

Koala was wondering how many folks out there are familiar with a place called Wrattonbully? This is on everybody’s list of wine areas to try right? No, well it should be! Wrattonbully? Where the hail (told not to use the word hell. What the hell!) is Wrattonbully you ask? Wrattonbully is a secluded area of World Heritage-listed ancient geology, originally settled by hardworking farming pioneers, and more recently chosen for its ideal viticultural attributes and just up the road from Padthaway. Padthaway, yeah that helps heaps you say. The Wrattonbully wine region is located in the Northern end of the Limestone Coast area in the south eastern part of South Australia. See the map

Basically behind the Famous Naracoorte Caves. Wrattonbully contains similar soil types to its more famous neighbor Coonawarra, with large areas of the famous terra rossa soil over limestone ridges. These ridges are found throughout the region often on quite high well drained ground. In the early 1990s these soils attracted the interest of winemakers from both Coonawarra and Padthaway where the terra rossa ridges had largely all been planted. Many of the ridges in Wrattonbully showed very similar characteristics to the best vineyard sites in Coonawarra and Padthaway. This combined with the availability of good quality underground water, and available licenses for irrigation, together with a similar climate to Coonawarra, led to a remarkable large scale planting program. Wrattonbully has almost 50 grapegrowers, and close to 20 wine producers in the region. One of these growers / producers is Smith& Hooper.

The potential promised by the large tracts of outstanding terra rossa soils over limestone is now beginning to be realized in wine quality. As the vineyards mature and winemakers begin to understand the unique characteristics of Wrattonbully and its fruit the quality just continues to get better. Over a six year period 1994 to 1999 saw a planting boom in Wrattonbully with over 1800 hectares of vineyard established. The varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay represented 95% of the planting area with others like Tempranillo also being planted. Koala was lucky enough to meet and drink with the Smith & Hooper vineyard manager James and then visit the vineyards and get a fabulous (possibly soon to be famous) tour from Dan the Viticulturist. As validation of the fact that this area is starting to hit its stride is that even pitted against the finest wines from the region (and they are incredibly fine), these Wrattonbully gems came through!  Double Gold was awarded to the Smith & Hooper (part of the Yalumba family vineyards) 2009 Cabernet Merlot and Gold to the Smith & Hooper 2010 Reserve Merlot. Koala had a taste and agrees that these are some fine wines.

Dan was full of information and took Koala on a fantastic tour that was very enlightening. Now Yalumba /Smith & Hooper is no small business albeit family owned, but it could do business almost anyway it chose, and sell it through big marketing spin. You know using flashy ads touting their great caring and the such with windblown long blonde haired busty sheilas and ripped blokes in budgie smugglers. While visually engaging that is not necessary. You see as Dan toured Koala around the area he pointed out the massive old beautiful River Red Gums. These majestic trees were spared when the old time sheep farmers cleared the area for grazing but they would leave one every few hundred meters or so for some shade. Now there are vineyards all around and when they planted they chose to leave these beautiful trees. Not only that but they have created a natural habitat buffer around these trees to help keep them healthy. Those that are dying of old age have replacement trees planted and are cared for as significant habitat for local critters. They have even removed vines from areas that are not up to their standards (they could still sell the grapes for profit but choose not to) and are creating native flora and forna reserves. Some of significant size!

The area is an exciting one that is really starting to show its stuff and Koala can’t wait to go back and check the next offerings and to taste the good things to come as well as revisit some current favorites  Look so here’s the thing, if you find any wine with Wrattonbully on the label, particularly Smith & Hooper, give it a shot. This area is destined to be one of the great wine regions just as its neighbor. Keep an eye out for these wines, you may be very pleasantly surprised! Koala 'recommends' you do!

Happy Adventures,

Kiwi & Koala

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We are always on a WineWalkabout looking for a good drop. Please comment and ask questions about the things you like or would like to read and see. Don't drink without pants on!