Tony Love takes a walk through new vintages from Greenock Creek
Well, hello Greenock Creek Vineyard and Cellars. It’s been a while.
The 2020 release of Greenock Creek’s core wines in many ways is a reintroduction to this famed Barossa Valley producer.
While GC V&C never actually disappeared, with traditional annual releases continuing to stitched-on fans, it certainly feels like the producer has been off the radar for some time.
However, plenty has been happening in the background. Update time: the business changed hands in 2018 with Michael and Annabelle Waugh retiring 34 years after their first vintage in 1984. The new ownership group is headed-up by Sydney based Jimmy Chen, a long time Greenock Creek fan and aficionado, with a deep passion for the brand and desire to maintain the GC style. He is, we’re told, in it with a firm view on the future of the brand.
A new marketing push is one key sign of life since the ownership change. As well, a new crew has overseen remediation of older vineyards, and an expansion to include sites in the Barossa districts of Moppa with small parcels from Lyndoch, Tanunda, Koonunga and Rosedale.
As well, a barrel renewal program has been instituted, while the traditional view of GC winemaking via basket press and open fermenters continues, as does the style which brought intense international focus to the brand in the 1990s – giant, blockbuster, heavyweight, high alcohol Barossa Valley reds that played a huge part in the U.S. critic Robert Parker led 100 pointer Big Red era of the ‘90s and 2000s.
This is nothing to be shied away from – purely a comment on style. The producer’s own tasting notes across its range speak confidently of this: “As with all our grapes, they are picked on phenological ripeness and flavour at a baume range of 14 to 16º. This baume sometimes produces a naturally occurring high alcohol, although this will depend on seasonal conditions.”
The winery team – chief winemaker Alex Peel, formerly Ross Estate and Yaldara, and Peter Atyeo, founder Mike Waugh’s right hand man, assistant winemaker and property manager, referred to as a “custodian of the Greenock Creek style”, is making a concerted effort to return the wines to the quality and style that built the reputation for the business in the mid ‘90s.
Honouring what nature provides in the western Barossa slopes of Marananga and Seppeltsfield, along with the new sites will, no doubt, set their agendas while respecting the long-established house rules.
For those who delight in such larger than life performances, and who will always love the Greenock Creek approach to tradition and stoicism, these new releases are going to make your pulse race.
For many, these wines perhaps represent a distinct moment in history, a certain time in the evolution of Australian red wine expression that celebrated unfettered generosity, the loudest of boasts, the hardest of backslaps. Big hearts. Action-packed.
There is no such thing as wrong or right in considering wines like these even if, for many, contemporary fashion might nod to more medium bodied and elegant wine styles. These deserve to be judged on their own merits and in the context of their own design statements.
No holds barred. Big is beautiful. As always, the wines speak for themselves.
Greenock Creek Apricot Block Shiraz 2018
There’s been a fair bit of mystique surrounding this Marananga district single vineyard wine, the vines planted on an old apricot orchard and the resulting shiraz said to display stone fruit characters derived perhaps from decades of fallen fruit composting the ground. Or perhaps it’s simply a case of “auto-suggestion”, the GC crew suggests. The wine has a decidedly western Barossa tar and blacksmithy note that swirls through a quite high-toned, crushed dark plum and berry nose – and there’s a decent amount of oak in the mix as well. Palate wise the energy levels are lively for what is a pretty concentrated and full-bodied piece of work – acidity and neatly ripe tannins giving balance and length. In the context of heavyweight Barossa shiraz, this is well played, even handed and dangerously more-ish. 15% alcohol.
Greenock Creek Alice’s Shiraz 2018
Single-sitedness is a key for the Greenock Creek portfolio, this from a Seppeltsfield vineyard the viticulture team describes as being on an “ancient soil profile” that perhaps influences the wine’s textural feel. It does come across as more subdued in its high notes yet deeper in its core with an almost chalky, minerally layering all along the palate pathway. Midway, its red to crimson berry and plum notes come to life with a subtle, warm spice note for extra deliciousness. Arguably the most balanced and even-footed shiraz in this Spring release, the Alice’s Shiraz sits very comfortably as a friendly introduction to the bigger Greenock Creek style. 14.5% alcohol
Greenock Creek Casey’s Shiraz 2018
Firstly, note the labelled alcohol level – you feel this immediately as you approach the wine in the glass. It lifts out as you sniff and smell. It tells you unequivocally that it is very ripe Seppeltsfield district shiraz, built solidly from a vineyard planted with selected cuttings from four of the estate’s single-vineyard plantings. So, in some ways this is a compendium wine, super-rich and dense with dark fruits, sweet, powerful, forget the graces and airs. The GC crew itself describes its flavour profile as “luscious plum sauce”. The palate richness is a mountain of fruit and oak with smooth chocolate feel as well – and, yes, some alcohol warmth on the finish. Overpowering for some, overwhelming for others. 16% alcohol.
Greenock Creek Seven Acre Shiraz 2018
This single block wine comes from bluestone slate ground, which no doubt gives a certain individual character. Tricky to pinpoint in some ways, though much of the please here is in a fleshy, squishy plum feel from start to finish – I get blue-skinned plum with some oak spice adding fortitude and earthiness through the palate. There’s a seductive, sun-kissed fruit swelling here in a dense, full-bodied maze of flavours and feels, and even with all its ripeness and richness it compelled me to drink it all in and enjoy it immensely. 15% alcohol.
Greenock Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Labelled as 14% alcohol, this wine is the most restrained in that department of all these 2020 releases, displaying its varietal blue to blackberry notes with a deal of warming spice attached. It’s ripe, warmer climate cabernet with richness and generosity all around it and tannins that coat the palate gently enough to still allow ample fleshiness to remain. The winemaker suggests a sense of ginger appears in the finish, and while that sounds somewhat unusual it does come through – it will be fascinating to see if this is a vineyard character in future releases. 14% alcohol.
Greenock Creek 2018 Mataro
Dry-grown mataro from the western ridges of the Barossa – in this case a Seppeltsfield vineyard – is about as true a compass reading of regional rusticity as you can get. This wine is unashamedly that. In spades. Its dark, brooding spice and crumbly soil notes are right in there along with what is often a typically sub-regional blacksmith, tractor shed and hot iron roof set of smells and feels. All these secondary characters wrap solidly around anything you might seek out as primary fruit – perhaps some dark plum compote and blackberry pie. And for something a little more familiar, there’s high-percentage chocolate richness and tannin in the palate – again more savoury and secondary elements, with some detectable alcohol warmth in the finish, it should be said. Lots to piece together: a big, demonstrative cowboy of a wine. Not for the faint-hearted. 15% alcohol.
Get all the Greenock Creek wines here.