In 2001 brewer Lion Nathan acquired Petaluma, the upmarket wine company founded by Brian Croser in 1976. In January 2003, Croser — in partnership with, Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages, Bordeaux, and Société Jacques Bollinger, the parent company of Champagne Bollinger — purchased the Koppamurra vineyard at Wrattonbully, near Coonawarra.
The partnership — Tapanappa Wines Pty Ltd — changed the property name from Koppamurra to Whalebone Vineyard and made it the centrepiece of a new enterprise focusing on wines from distinguished sites.
And just in case you?re wondering how a little known vineyard in little known Wrattonbully became distinguished, it’s worth understanding Wrattonbully first. We?ll move on to Whalebone Vineyard and Tapanappa Wines next week.
Wrattonbully, the biggest of several new wine regions on South Australia’s Limestone Coast, sprawls for forty kilometres along the Naracoorte Tableland, touching Padthaway to the north and Coonawarra to the south.
Hemmed in by these venerable winemaking neighbours, Wrattonbully exploded into existence in the nineties, the product of high hopes and a global red wine boom.
Deterred by rising land prices and a lack of suitable sites in Coonawarra, winemakers moved decisively to Wrattonbully in 1993, attracted by lower land prices, soils and climate similar to those of Coonawarra and clean underground water.
Where two vineyards, covering just 20 hectares, existed in 1993, scores of broad acre plantings, totalling about 2600 hectares, had been planted by 2003.
Wrattonbully’s impressive growth is perhaps best seen in the context of the Limestone Coast overall. This vast area, taking in all of South Australia west of Victoria and south of Lake Alexandrina, now wears the crown as Australia’s largest premium wine growing district.
The Limestone Coast’s combined 2004 grape output of 172 thousand tonnes easily outweighs the 87 thousand tonnes of the combined Barossa and Eden Valleys, the next largest premium area.
Within the Limestone Coast, Wrattonbully holds the greatest concentration of grapes after its older neighbours ? Coonawarra, established in 1891 (62 thousand tonnes in 2004) and Padthaway, established in 1964 (51 thousand tonnes).
Like Padthaway, much of Wrattonbully’s output goes to high quality cross-regional blends. But many grape growers and winemakers, seeing the exceptional quality potential in Wrattonbully, won?t settle for anonymity.
Its soils and climate, the outstanding winemaking achievements of nearby, similar Coonawarra and Padthaway and even its own short winemaking history all support this belief.
As in Coonawarra, Wrattonbully’s vineyards tend to be located on shallow terra rossa soils over limestone. These soils are composed principally of weathered limestone but also contain wind-borne material.
Despite the similarities between the two regions, there are important differences, too. Wrattonbully lies to the north of Coonawarra on a tableland elevated about 50 metres above the plain and to the east of the Kanowinka fault.
According to geologist David Farmer, about 780 thousand years ago ?the country to the west of the fault fell about 40 metres, perhaps under the sea. It was against this cliff face that the Southern Ocean deposited the dunes comprising the West Naracoorte Range? ? near the western edge of today’s Wrattonbully. It was perhaps another 100 thousand years before what is now Coonawarra rose above sea level.
Meanwhile Wrattonbully remained high and dry to the east of the range, But, where Coonawarra grape growing commenced 1890, Wrattonbully’s wine story began only in 1969. Then, in 1974, John Greenshields and others planted Koppamurra Vineyard ? the site acquired by Tapanappa in 2003.
Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Wrattonbully Cabernet Shiraz 2004 and Tiers Vineyard Piccadilly Chardonnay 2005 about $75.
Brian Croser’s new Tapanappa releases come from single vineyards in Wrattonbully and the Piccadilly Valley, South Australia. The red, a blend of seventy per cent cabernet sauvignon, twenty per cent shiraz and ten per cent cabernet franc, is highly perfumed, elegant and supple, featuring delicious plummy fruit with beautifully matched oak and very fine tannins ? an understated style with real fruit depth and, hence, longevity. The Chardonnay, from the Croser family Tiers vineyard, shows cool-climate grapefruit and melon varietal character in a complex matrix of oak and lees derived flavours and textures — a very fresh, fine and slow-evolving style.