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The War on Terroir Hits SA Vineyards

Author: 
Chris Shanahan
Source: 
The Canberra Times
Review Date: 
3rd of December 2006

In last week's column we looked at the emergence of Wrattonbully, Coonawarra's neighbour on South Australia's Limestone Coast, and of Brian Croser's acquisition in 2003 of the pioneering Koppamurra vineyard, established in 1974.

It was the first acquisition by Tapanappa Wines Pty Ltd, a company founded by Croser in partnership with Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages, Bordeaux, and Société Jacques Bollinger, the parent company of Champagne Bollinger.

This followed Lion Nathan's earlier acquisition of Petaluma Wines, founded by Croser in 1976 and headed by him until 2005.

Petaluma had been built, with the encouragement of Croser's great mentor, Len Evans, on the basis of regional specialisation. Thus the Petaluma portfolio included Coonawarra cabernet and merlot from the Evans and Sharefarmers vineyards; Clare Valley riesling from the Hanlin Hill vineyard; Piccadilly Valley chardonnay from a number of carefully selected sites; Piccadilly Valley sparkling wine from sub-plots of those vineyards and, later, shiraz and viognier from Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills.

Losing control of Petaluma prompted Croser to establish Tapanappa along the same lines, though by now, almost thirty years after Petaluma's birth, he had been articulating the merits of ?distinguished vineyard? sites, within specialised regions, for a decade or more.

Indeed, had Croser maintained control of Petaluma it's almost certain that he would have added the thirty-year-old Koppamurra vineyard to its assets and produced a single vineyard wine from it.

Under Croser Petaluma had already acquired the Riddoch Vineyard, Wrattonbully's oldest (established by Patrick and Susie Pender in 1969), and had begun to include a tiny quantity of excellent cabernet sauvignon from it as a legal out-of-district component of Petaluma Coonawarra ? one of the region's elite reds.

Croser also had some familiarity with wines from the Koppamurra Vineyard and had a particularly favourable impression of a 1980 cabernet he?d made for the Ashbourne label in conjunction with winemaking colleague Geoff Weaver.

Having acquired Koppamurra, Croser renamed it the Whalebone Vineyard -- recognising the unique limestone geology of the region with its fossil rich caves and, in particular, the 35-million year old whale skeleton lying under the vineyard.

Croser made the first Tapanappa red from it in 2003 and in 2004 produced the shiraz cabernet blend reviewed last week and 2004 Merlot, due for release early next year.

And the Tapanappa line up now includes a Piccadilly Valley chardonnay 2005 from the Tiers vineyard, owned by Brian's wife Ann. This was the first site planted to chardonnay by Croser in the Petaluma days and is well known, too, as source of Petaluma Tiers Chardonnay since 1996.

Tapanappa is also developing a pinot noir from a new vineyard at Parawa, described by Brian as ?the coolest, wettest, windiest, lowest day time temperature place on Adelaide's Fleurieu Peninsula. But that's only if quality scrubs up to expectations.

What the Petaluma and Tapanappa wines share is an attempt to express and market terroir ? the distinctive characteristics driven by the unique site of each vineyard.

Says Croser, ?There's an antipathy and resentment to the concept within the Australian wine establishment. But terroir is the dictionary around which the language of fine wine is written and talked about. If Australia doesn?t adopt it, we?ll be overtaken by Chile which has?.

Croser laments the commoditisation of Australian wine, evidenced by the collapse of our average export price from $4.77 per litre in 2002 to just $3.72 today. He knows that we have magnificent regional and single vineyard specialties. But the message is not getting out. That's our new challenge.