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Jasper Hill

jasper-hill.jpgWith a vineyard established in 1975, Ron and Elva Laughton's Jasper Hill is unquestionably one of Australia's most important and respected Shiraz producers.  The twin icon wines, named after their daughters, Georgia's Paddock and Emily's Paddock (which includes a dash of co-planted Cabernet Franc) without doubt march to their own beat, yet are genuinely benchmark Australian Shiraz.

The vineyard is biodynamic, but more importantly since it was first established no synthetic chemicals have ever been applied to the soils or the vines - in essence, the vineyard and wines have been natural since the very beginning.  The vines are dry-grown, deep-rooted into the ancient pre-Cambrian soils, rich red in colour and vibrant with natural and diverse soil life.  Only minimal tending, be it inter-row mulching or light tilling is undertaken.  Yields are exceptionally low - usually well under a single ton to the acre.emily-s-paddock.jpg

Unsurprisingly, all fermentations and winemaking is natural, using indigenous yeasts, no adjustments or additions (bar a small amount of sulphur and very occasionally acid) and 15 month ageing in French oak barriques (20% new each year) without any racking, fining and only a coarse filtration to reduce gross lees.

The wines age exceptionally well - I am fortunate enough to have consumed a number of bottles of the 1991, 1992 and 1994 vintages recently, and all wines have been superb.

Whilst the two Shiraz wines are the undoubted stars, the several other varieties produced also make noteworthy wines. The Riesling (made since 1984) is a pretty, perfumed, floral style far more delicate and lifted than typical Australian (or even Victorian) Riesling, lacking the petroleum or kerosene flavour common in most.  The Nebbiolo is an excellent example of the variety in this country, with bright acidity and fine yet prominent tannins, and lovely savoury, rose-petal and cherry-driven fruit.  Finally the Grenache, drawn from the Cornella Vineyard planted in 1998 about 20 kilometres north of the other vineyards, but on similar red pre-Cambrian soils, similar altitude and similar aspect and also on own-rooted, unirrigated vines, is a more elegant, refined version of the variety than is usually encountered, chock-full of bright raspberry fruit, delicious herbal notes and good, sweet and fine tannins.

ron-laughton.jpgIn the mid 1970s Ron - then a food scientist - had a vision: he wanted to grow Shiraz, on its own roots, without irrigation.  From his extensive travels throughout Victoria he could see that the soils in Heathcote were different - the famed Cambrian soils.  When Ron and Elva purchased the property around 1978 the vines, planted in 1975, had not even reached he wire.  A bushfire destroyed much of Georgia's Paddock in 1987, but thankfully (given the vines were planted on their own roots) the following season new shoots emerged and new trunks were established.

It is nigh on impossible to recommend these wines highly enough, as they are legendary wines, and 2012 is proving to be a masterful vintage throughout much of Victoria.  Long-time devotees of Jasper Hill's wines will be interested to note that the alcohol levels, which has been criticised in years gone by for reaching problematic heights, are significantly lower this year - 13.5% for the Shiraz, 14.5% for the Nebbiolo and 15.5% for the Grenache - precisely where one would want them to be.

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