By Jeremy Muller, FWC.
The McLaren Vale is one of the most exciting Australian wine regions at the moment, spearheaded by the improvement in understanding of Grenache as well as a push towards alternate varieties. With an abundance of old vine Grenache and a move towards better viticultural practices, winemakers across the region have shifted to producing terroir focused wines with an identifiable regional stamp. Largely through lower extraction, less oak usage and single vineyard expressions, increasingly there are more wines showing the heights Grenache can reach from the South Australian region.
Personifying these developments is Vanguardist, an exciting project from Michael Corbett. Centred around the Rende vineyard in Blewitt Springs, Michael is crafting some of the best modern expressions of Grenache in the region. Knowing Michael’s dedication to Grenache and his unwavering detail-oriented focus, I was excited to help him out for 2.5 weeks during harvest in late March.
Flying down on the 20th of March, I immediately jumped in on the management of his 2023 reds. With the second pick off the 50-year-old Grenache and Shiraz vines in Rende just completed, I was instantly initiated into Michael’s rigorous regime of ferment management. With all fermentation taking place in 1 tonne open fermenters, he has total control over his blending of picks as well as ferment supervision. With ripeness varying not just by pick date but by situation within the vineyard, Michael will consciously note the fermenters in accordance. This directs the frequency of punch downs, how vigorous as well as the timing of self-coined ‘lockdown’ technique. The lockdown technique, without going into technicalities, is used to build mid-palate flesh and resolve any firm tannin. As he fervently uses wild yeasts for fermentation, minimal sulfur and no other additions, this level of control, whilst time consuming is what Michael deems necessary to create the fantastic wines he does. Combined with the level of cleaning of equipment, I immediately saw the drive and commitment to producing great wines that Michael has.
On Sunday March 26th, we made the call to make the last pick off the Rende vineyard. Forecasted rain meant we wanted to get everything off as quick as possible. Hitting the vineyard at 6am we picked for eight hours with vigorous sorting, only taking the best grapes on offer. Not wanting to risk any unwanted microbial activity we processed everything until 2am that night. Again, it proved to me the unwavering focus Michael has – everything done with quality in mind, no matter the time or effort required.
Whilst this is only a snapshot of my time there, it was clear to me the effort small batch winemakers/vignerons put in. This story is becoming more common in the region though Michael’s dedication is certainly in the top percentile. The respect from other winemakers in the region was more than evident and it was an incredible learning experience to be there during harvest. Now we are pleased to be offering two of his fantastic wines, a picture of Blewitt Springs Grenache – the 2021 Petit Vanguard Grenache and the 2021 V Grenache. Jeremy Muller, FWC.