Bird in Hand is among the powerhouse wineries of the Adelaide Hills, one in a club of high profile producers which sit along the region’s Verdun-Lobethal dress circle. The glossy cellar door, restaurant and ever-expanding production exude confidence and pride in the terroir of the Hills.
So then, how is it that the Bird in Hand wine that came fourth in the Adelaide Review’s Hot 100 Wines comes from grapes grown in the Clare Valley?
Simple. It’s a Riesling.
Winemaker Jared Stringer says Bird in Hand has been making a Clare Riesling since 2006 with the benefit of two hectare-size blocks of the noble grape at Stanley Flat, just north of the Clare township. Until recently, the vineyards were owned by Michael Nugent, the medical brother of Bird in Hand proprietor Andrew Nugent, and supply is continuing under the new owners.
The Hot 100’s high regard for the 2016 Bird in Hand Riesling has been echoed in other places – it won the trophy for best dry Riesling at the annual Canberra International Riesling Challenge and, perhaps most pleasingly for “outsiders”, it took gold in Clare’s own wine show.
While the 2016 wine that charmed the palates of the Hot 100 judges is made in the traditional style for which Clare is justly famous – Stringer dubs it “dry, crisp, flinty and citrus-driven” – since 2009 he and his winemaking colleague Dylan Lee have been using fruit from the second block to try their hand at making a wine which is more up the unctuous, European end of the style spectrum.
“We pick that a little earlier than the dry Riesling, and we are making the style to emulate the Germanic and Alsatian Rieslings, with quite low alcohol and reasonably high sugar content and really high acid,” Stringer says. “The winemaking team will taste the wine as it’s fermenting, and when we’re happy the sugar-acid balance, we stop fermentation by freezing the tank down and killing off the yeast.”
Bird in Hand winemakers Jared Stringer (left) and Dylan Lee (right) (photo: Johnathan van der Knaap)
The winemakers conduct regular tastings of both Rieslings as they age, and both styles are displaying a spectacular capacity to acquire the extra layers of flavour that come with time, Stringer says.
Hearing winemakers wax enthusiastic about the quality of no-longer-available back vintages is a frequent source of frustration for drinkers, but Bird in Hand have a cellaring strategy in play that lets consumers share in the fun.
“One thing we pride ourselves on especially at Bird in Hand is putting aside 20 dozen of each of our ageable wines — in our whites, it’s our Chardonnay and our Riesling, and across our reds — and let them age for eight, 10 or 12 years, and when we think a wine is starting to hit its peak drinkability, we release them back into the cellar door,” Stringer says.
“We’ve had the ’06 in the cellar door for the past few months, and the ’09 is just about to go in. People can taste them at cellar door at no extra cost, and we actually release them for the same price as current vintage.”
With many wine drinkers lacking cellar facilities and a tendency among younger wine drinkers to buy single bottles on impulse, Stringer says the practice lets people encounter unique styles of aged wine they wouldn’t otherwise get to see.
“It means they can come here and see what a 10 year-old Riesling or a 15 year-old Shiraz taste like and enjoy it, and then they can buy a bottle and take it home to their friend’s place without it costing an arm and a leg.”
The 2017 vintage of the dry Clare Riesling has just been released, and while it is the result of radically different conditions, with fruit picked more than a month later than the previous year, Stringer says the wine is a worthy successor to the ’16. You can taste that at cellar door too.
I think it’s been said before, but head for the Hills.
Bird in Hand
Header photo: Felix Forest