TASTES LIKE HISTORY
Two modern takes on a classic McLaren Vale style draw on a family tradition.
The little hamlet of Upper Tintara sits largely hidden from view in a small valley directly north of the town of McLaren Vale in South Australia. To the initiated, this little patch of dirt, which backs onto the Onkaparinga National Park, is hallowed ground.
On one side sits Kay Brothers, founded in 1890 and still in the hands of the one family since its first vines were planted. Below the Kay Brothers site is Steve Pannell’s Koomilya Vineyard, a plot that has already distinguished itself with a Jimmy Watson trophy. And on the opposite hillside there’s a vineyard where McLaren Vale put down some of its first roots as one of our premier shiraz regions: the original Hardy’s vineyard, with vines dating from 1891.
The Hardy’s vineyard, in particular, is steeped in a rich history. The old 1860s Tintara winery remains derelict near its base, beside a little dry creek bed, as it has been for almost 100 years. Old slate-walled fermenters are almost intact, as is a brick-lined dome that seems far too grand for a simple water tank, but clearly this was a winery built with high expectations and to stand the test of time.
Today this is all that remains, and the rest of the winery is long gone – gradually scavenged for building materials dragged away after its last historic vintage. It was probably a victim of the impressive reputation the Hardy wines were able to build in a relatively short time, which in the end required a much larger winery and not one hidden away far from town on a dusty track. The old vineyard, though, is still turning out exceptional fruit, vintage after vintage – a prized source of McLaren Vale shiraz that has graced the revered Hardy Show Ports and several red masterpieces, most notably the iconic Eileen Hardy.
While the original Hardy family is no longer involved in Hardy’s wines, they still sell most of their Upper Tintara fruit to the old firm, as they have been doing for almost 150 years. But for more than a decade now they have been holding a little fruit back – although not much. In fact only enough to put away three barrels from each vintage to showcase the old vineyard.
The wine has been the passion project of Andrew Hardy, representing the fifth generation of the family to create wines in Upper Tintara. Andrew has been a longtime stalwart of winemaking in South Australia, starting with Brian Croser in the Adelaide Hills in 1982 just as the wine boom of the 1980s was gearing up. After moving to Knappstein in the Clare Valley he returned to Petaluma, where he remained until last year, when Ox Hardy was born. He has lived and breathed the Adelaide Hills for more than 35 years, and no doubt has been biding his time to stake his own claim to the family name, backed by fruit from the family’s Upper Tintara vineyards.
And they are not the worst place to start. Vines for the Ancestor Vines Shiraz were planted in 1891, and their age certainly brings concentration and depth of flavour. But even younger vines in the area also have a special quality – a brightness and savoury complexity often lost on the flatter vineyards of McLaren Vale. That touch of altitude and the burst of humidity from the state forest forge a unique side to the chameleon that is McLaren Vale, illustrated by Kay Brothers, Koomilya and the Hardy wines. While the top Ox Hardy is drawn from the old vineyard, there is a younger block of 20-year-old vines planted nearby from which fruit has been sourced for the Ox Hardy Upper Tintara Shiraz, which shares a similar character to its famous neighbours.
But Andrew is not stopping there, with a couple more wines soon to be released. There’s a Blewitt Springs grenache, a grape with which McLaren Vale is making a name for itself and that many locals believe may become its greatest gift to the world of wine. Andrew also has plans for a new grenache vineyard on the family property, planted slightly higher on a north-easterly slope. No doubt his forebears would have had something to say about that.
Perhaps the most interesting wine, though, is a return to the past and to be released later this year – an Upper Tintara shiraz fermented in the old winery slate tanks almost 100 years after they went quiet for the final time, hand plunged and crushed by Andrew. This is how those first dry reds from Upper Tintara would have tasted more than a century ago.
Angus Hughson, WISH Magazine, July 2019