Epochal Evolution at Chateau Tanunda
Many things go into making great wine, but ultimately the vines and the winemakers are the prime movers that shape what ends up in your glass.
Suffice to say, building wine is never a simple “A to B” journey, as any winemaker could tell you. Everything is an ever-moving feast; nothing is ever the same from year to year, and each vintage presents challenges that effect every decision that goes into getting fruit to liquid into bottle.
The Chateau's 50-year-old vineyard.
Experience into Bottle
In all of this, experience and insight become wine’s North Star, and it’s clear that an amount of both is always the difference between good and great when it comes to quality.
At Barossa’s iconic Château Tanunda, chief winemaker Neville Rowe has for over 30 years had wine at the centre of his existence. He cut his teeth studying wine science at Charles Sturt, has made wine in France (Burgundy and Champagne), America and Argentina, was GM at Clare’s Sevenhill and Goulburn Valley’s Mitchelton, and made wine at the Yarra’s Domaine Chandon before joining the Château in 2015.
Combine that breadth and depth of experience with the 150+ year-old vineyard resources and the support of passionate owners John and Michelle Geber, and you have something special.
The Building Blocks
“Before I came, I had a view that the wines of Château Tanunda were quintessential Barossa,” explains Rowe. “I knew that the Château itself was undergoing a renaissance and I knew of the Geber family’s passion for wine and their enthusiasm, but what I didn’t know was the full extent of the quality of the Château’s old vineyards, and the depth and breadth of fruit supply across the valley and its surrounds.”
I felt then, as I still do now, that the potential for the wines of Château Tanunda is immense, when I got to spend time looking at the old vineyards and came to grips with everything, it was quite an eye-opener. And within a few short weeks, it was clear that there was – and is – a real foundation to build something special, there’s plenty to work with.
Style and Potential
The Barossa has always been known as the home of big and robust red wines with intensity and concentration. For some, bigger is best, and when the world started to look to Australia for full-flavoured vino, the wines of the Barossa led the charge and created a style and identity that drove the perception of Australian wine – and in particular, Australian Shiraz.
But like fashion, styles change, and there is now a general yearning for wines with character and identity, that speak of place and deliver it with detail and purpose. As this style pendulum has slowly swung over the past 20 years, it’s clear that estates like Château Tanunda, with their heritage, experience and access to vineyards that reflect the special sites, are best suited to lead that charge, and create a new identity for the Barossa.
“There was a time when the Barossa stood for full-bodied and intense wines that sometimes were overripe, perhaps overblown – particularly in the 90s and early 2000s,” Rowe remembers.
“But it’s a big ship and it turns slowly, and I think that there are now a handful of styles that focus on so-called ‘traditional’ Barossa styles that speak of place with plush, clean, fruit-driven wines with intensity, little oak influence and intervention by the winemakers,” states Rowe. “That’s what I believe the valley does best.”
A star line-up of old vine wines up to 150 years' old.
Rediscovery through History
Of all the special wines that Rowe and his team focus on, two of the ranges that get special attention are the Château Tanunda Terroirs and the Old Vine Expressions ranges. Rowe feels they contribute greatly to the progression of the Barossa Valley, through their ability to showcase parts of the Barossa that others cannot.
People who are on a wine journey want to discover what a region has to offer, and these wines, that beautifully promote the unique sub-districts and vines of the Barossa, are that vessel.
“Having the ability to show people a handful of the same variety from different vineyards and terroirs and to have the reference frame of one against the other, it’s a real lightbulb moment; it’s like people are tasting and experiencing the Barossa like never before.”
Payoff and Recognition
For Rowe and his team, the payoff for all this work comes when the people that come to Château Tanunda come back again and again. Accolades however, never hurt, and for 10 years in a row the Château has been named “Best Australian Producer” at the world’s biggest wine show, the Berlin Wine Trophy, where it also won the grand Gold Medal for the 2018 Terroirs of the Barossa Ebenezer Shiraz, further affirming Château Tanunda’s place amidst the best in the world: truly, a feat worth toasting.