Great wine, it is said, is made in the vineyard.
Whoever first coined that expression clearly never met Dr Bailey Carrodus, founder of Yarra Yering.
A quiet, contemplative man – aloof was also used to describe him more than once – Dr Carrodus arrived in the Yarra Valley in 1969 armed with degrees in horticulture, winemaking, a doctorate in plant physiology from Oxford University, and an astounding academic brain which he soon put to use.
Vines were planted at the Coldstream site chosen for Yarra Yering; dry grown, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz the principals. In 1988, an adjacent 8ha vineyard of Shiraz called Underhill was bought. Planted in 1973 by Ivan Vlasic-Sostaric, the Underhill vineyard lies between Yarra Yering and Warramate on what is considered one of the best slopes in the Valley.
Dr Carrodus understood well the physiology of vines but in the winery he followed his own counsel, creating some extraordinary wines in Dry Red No. 1 (a Bordeaux-style blend) and Dry Red No. 2 (a Rhone-style red blend), while his Pinot Noir helped establish the grape as one that would come to define the Valley’s future. Along the way he also flirted with volatile acidity. His style was, at times, brilliant, idiosyncratic and controversial.
Following his death in 2008 and under new ownership, a winemaker arrived in 2013 who would go on to re-define Yarra Yering and bring added prestige to the name.
Sarah Crowe arrived from the Hunter Valley with not only outstanding winemaking credentials and a fresh eye, but an approach that has proven to be every bit as individual as Dr Carrodus. And she has achieved it by taking old vine fruit and using the winery as her artist’s palette. Great wine, it has to be said, is made in the vineyard AND the winery.
The recent celebration of 30+ years of Underhill shiraz, 1989-2021 (with the exception of 2000 and 2008 which weren’t produced) was a study on the work of a master (Dr Carrodus) and a new master (Sarah Crowe). Here, we look at the progression from Sarah Crowe’s first Underhill shiraz release to her latest:
2013 Underhill Shiraz
93pts | 13.5%
Deep red, retaining some youthful crimsons. Suddenly, the colour is deeper, more concentrated than the 2012. However, it retains a similar degree of elegance and poise in cool climate fruit intensity with red berries and plums to the fore. Harmonious across the palate, rich black fruits join with plum and red berries with lively anise, chocolate and sweet woodsy spices. Harmonious.
This is the year that winemaker, Sarah Crowe, joined Yarra Yering. She took over the position from Paul Bridgeman who moved down the road (literally) to Levantine Hill. She bought a new de-stemmer and puncheons and, importantly, introduced the screw cap!
2014 Underhill Shiraz
90pts | 13%
The 2014 comes across as warm and quite ripe – it’s actually a modest 13% alc. – rich and layered. Red fruits are joined by blackberry and plum with Underhill signature licorice root and spice. Oak is pronounced on the finish ringing in a warm toastiness. While finishing just a wee bit short, it still retains good intensity as it did in its youth with firm tannins.
This is the year Sarah introduced more of a role for 500L puncheons in the wine. But, overall, she admits that she was feeling her way. “I didn’t do a lot, nothing different.” It was also the year that vineyard manager, Andrew George, started working to improve vine health after a potassium deficiency was detected.
2015 Underhill Shiraz
95pts | 13%
Offers a more complex interpretation of Underhill Shiraz than the last few vintages with greater fruit and oak expression and slightly less aggressive tannins. Deep crimson. A multi-faceted bouquet from a mature, nine-year-old that really captures your attention and interest. Offers ripe, sweet black cherry, plum fruit with Cherry Ripe chocolate notes and spice. Detailed, layered and dressed in well-measured tannins, before finishing with a lifted herbal streak. Complexity plus.
“The ‘15 shows better balance,” says Sarah, “and I was backing off on the stalks. I was thinking, ‘Let’s use less stalks and let the fruit come through.’”
2016 Underhill Shiraz
90pts | 14%
A notably warmer, rounder, riper rendition of Underhill. Everything seems a little more elevated, including the role of oak. Tobacco leaf, lifted and sweet, mixes with mulberry and plum fruit, spice and soft, smoked meaty notes. Fine oak tannins, subtle but oh so influential, bring everything along for a long ride through to the finish. Despite the hot vintage, the ’16 still has something to offer.
“A fast and furious vintage. I never want to re-visit the hot, fast ferment I see in all the ‘16s,” says Sarah.
2017 Underhill Shiraz
97pts | 13%
A stunning wine when released that made a feature of its 75% whole berry and 25% whole bunch winemaking component. It has held the wine in good stead. Solid colour retained in red with (still) youthful purple hues. Arrives subtly, discreetly and, above all, tantalisingly. Everything is in place, biding time, for this beauty of a wine still has a long, long way to go. Blue and red fruits to the fore supported by lively spice notes, licorice, a flash of pepper and woodsy oak. It grows in presence on the palate where polished tannins underpin the considerable length.
“We discovered phylloxera in the vineyard just before the ’17 vintage,” remembers Sarah, “which was quite depressing.” The cool year delivered green stalks, allowing Sarah to “break free” of using stalks and to start using more whole bunches. “We moved away from the way stalks used to be handled to something more gentle,” she says.
2018 Underhill Shiraz
97pts | 13.5%
Dense and concentrated in purple-crimson hues. Feel the power in this impressive wine: the intensity of blackcurrant pastille, blackstrap licorice and spice; the rich earthy notes with a lick of leafiness; the creaminess of oak with a light toastiness. Big (for Yarra Yering) and expansive, warm and ripe. And the best part? It’s still setting out on its journey.
“From 2018 and onwards, I feel there is a thread,” says Sarah. “Things start to change. That year I introduced a cool room for overnight chilling of fruit. Up until then there was no refrigeration. From 2018 onwards I am also using cold soak.”
2019 Underhill Shiraz
95pts | 13.5%
A sweet amalgam of enticement rich in black cherry, blackberry tart, vanilla pod, confection, chocolate, spice. Still coming together, melding, with sapid, fine tannins in play delivering both structure and vitality but still within a relatively restrained wine. Still has years ahead of it. Drinkers will play an enjoyably patient waiting game with this wine.
The 50th vintage at Yarra Yering, which was founded in 1969. This was the year that Sarah bought a foudre, a large 3500L upright oak cask and filled it with 20% whole bunches.
2019 Underhill Foudre
95pts | 13%
An unusual diversion for Underhill Shiraz, potentially a one-off (although I hope not) to highlight the impact of what a large 3500L oak cask can have on the wine. This is something that Dr Carrodus would surely have approved of; he was endlessly creative. The foudre was used for both fermentation and maturation with 20% whole bunches playing a significant role in promoting texture in the wine and producing silk-like tannins amenable to not only earlier but later drinking pleasure. A real beauty of a wine capturing lifted fragrant aromatics with black cherry, blueberry, cranberry fruits, gentle spice and background earthy, savoury notes, all in tune with a textural, warm mouthfeel.
A wine that can only broaden the appeal of Underhill Shiraz which will appeal to old and new devotees alike. Only 300 magnums were produced of Underhill Foudre Shiraz from a single cask ($310).
2020 Underhill Shiraz
96pts | 13.5%
Has all options covered: can be both serious in drive and focus, and yet open and generous. Time and time again you find yourself wandering off down the tempting path offered by the sweetness of fruit and accompanying confection notes. It’s that kind of wine. Fruit is to the fore in plum, black cherry, bramble layered in between oak spice and silky, but resilient, tannins. And let’s not forget that delicious lightness of confection and vanilla.
“The 2020 and 2021 were made in very much the same way,” says Sarah. The role of the foudre now plays a constant role in the Underhill Shiraz story; 50% of the Underhill block is fermented and matured in the foudre with 20% whole bunches topped up for maturation, while the remainder is fermented in half-tonne, open fermenters designed by Dr Carrodus. The wine is aged for 12 months (50% in foudre, 50% in French oak puncheons with 10% new).
2021 Underhill Shiraz
98pts | 13.5%
Give your senses over to the arresting aromatics in this beauty of a wine: violet, lilac, anise, fragrant spice. They inhabit every square centimetre and provide the background to multiple layers of impossibly bright and fresh blackberry, black cherry fruits. It speaks pure and uninterrupted of the quality of the vintage first and foremost. Everything seems to fall into place accordingly. All class and serious substance.
A top year in the Yarra Valley with a long, cool growing season. The ’21 Yarra Valley releases so far out on the market indicate a stunning vintage quality-wise right across the region.
The 2021 vintage is due for release May 1.