Friday, 13 January 2017

The baron of Barossa

Peter Lehmann founded one of the biggest wineries in Barossa but it is not because of the size that he is called the baron of Barossa, but because of how he founded the winery.

Back in late 1970, Peter Lehmann was working at Saltram where they bought grapes from some 150 independent grapegrowers. When Saltram decided not to do so anymore because of surplus, Peter realised that most of these growers’ livelihood was at stake. Therefore, instead of breaking the bad news to them, he resigned from Saltram, bought the grapes from the growers and made the wine with the breakaway team. In doing so, he saved the vineyards which would have otherwise been bulldozed. After 30 years, Peter Lehmann Wines is still working with these growers, most now in their third generations, and making everyday drinking to premium wine using their grapes. Peter, therefore, is highly regarded in Barossa and Australia for being the saviour of the Barossa vineyards.

Ian Hongell is the third generation chief winemaker at Peter Lehmann Wines, who has been with the winery since 1998 and was under the mentorship of Andrew Wigan, then second generation chief winemaker and one of the breakaway team members back in the 70s. Prior to joining Peter Lehmann, Ian has worked at Penfolds, California and France. During his first visit to Hong Kong recently, we discussed his winemaking philosophy and tasted a few of his gems over a delicious lunch.

Ian’s biggest frustration is generalisation. A lot of people think all Barossa wines are heavy, jammy and rounded but there are in fact many different styles depending on the winemakers and where the fruits come from. For him, he believes oak gives structure to wine but it should only be in the background, not in the wine as it will mask the sense of place. Therefore, he has cut down the use of new oak and oak ageing time. This is certainly reflected in the wine we tasted. 

Portrait Eden Valley Dry Riesling 2015:
A fresh, crisp wine with intense lime and apple aromas, the wine was made in tank with no malolactic fermentation to highlight its freshness. Ian called this his cocktail wine they he enjoys in any hot afternoon. Portrait is Peter Lehmann mid-price range that showcases the true characters of the Barossa.

Masters Wigan Eden Valley Riesling 2011:
One of the Masters Collection series named after Andrew Wigan, the wine was made from grapes at the best and cool sites at Eden Valley, and only released after five years of bottle ageing. It is multi-layered with a hint of honey but none of the petrol note that is too often found in young Riesling from warm climate.

Masters Mentor Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2012:
Another wine from the Masters Collection with structure and finesse; The cool 2012 allowed the wine to develop elegant blackcurrant fragrance with a savoury notes on palate. Apparently, Barossa is actually considered as a relatively cool climate region in Australia. Hard to believe but then everything is relative.

Stonewell Shiraz 2012 and 1988:
This is the best Shiraz of the vintage and the best possible expression of the Barossa. Ian presented two vintages, 24 years apart, to show the longevity of the wine. The 2012 was still tight but has a great depth while the 1988 was generous and opulent.

Ian is proud of the evolution of the wines over the years even under the challenge of climate change. By tackling the issue through vineyard management, picking grapes earlier and adjusting winemaking techniques, he is able to make wines with bright fruits and freshness rather than heavy jammy monsters.

Peter Lehmann Wines is available from ASC Fine Wines.

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