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Hot 100 Wines:
A riff on the Rhone from Murray Street

Murray Street Vineyards 2018 Black Label SGM, Barossa Valley
Murray Street Vineyards 2018 Black Label SGM, Barossa Valley

Claiming the #5 spot in this year’s Hot 100 Wines countdown, Murray Street Vineyards’ 2018 Black Label GSM greets the palate like open arms before a warm embrace.

‘Abutting’ is a word that perfectly describes the relationship between Murray Street Vineyards and the north-western Barossa hamlet of Greenock: as you head east out of town towards Nuriootpa, the winery’s vineyards begin as soon as the houses stop. And if you pull over quickly enough, you can visit one of the most charming cellar doors in the Valley. Well, normally you can.

Murray Street Vineyards is just shy of its 20th birthday. It was founded in 2001 by proprietor Bill Jahnke and winemaker Andrew Seppelt. Seppelt has since moved on to more eclectic things, but the model for Murray Street – estate-grown, small-batch wines – continues.

The latest incumbent in the winemaking job at Murray Street is Ben Perkins, who could walk to work, if only he still lived in his childhood home in Greenock. After graduating from the Waite oenology course, Perkins started work in 2008 at Two Hands, another Western Ridge Barossa winery, where he stayed for 12 years, rising to the chief winemaker role in 2013.

Perkins moved to Murray Street to take over the winemaking in October last year, so while he can’t take any credit for the 2018 Murray Street Vineyards Black Label SGM (Shiraz Grenache Mataro) that scored a top ten spot in the Hot 100 Wines SA, he is a strong believer in the style. So too are the Hot 100 judges, who commended it for its blackberry crumble and fresh berry compote notes on the nose, as well as its balanced grippy tannins and sour cherry acidity, which added up, they said, to “open arms before a warm embrace”.

With comparatively few drinkers willing to wait for their wines to age, Perkins believes it is essential for winery line-ups to include wines that possess accessibility: wines that can be enjoyed young and are, in the current argot, “smashable”. The so-called Rhone blends, usually a mix of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre (aka mataro), very much fit the bill. The Murray Street Vineyards’ version deviates from the standard issue by making shiraz the dominant partner: “It delivers that big juicy fruit in a really good way,” Perkins says. “It has that real drinkability and roundness. In this blend, the varieties should complement each other, and in this vintage it does.”

The proportions of the varieties will naturally vary according to the vagaries of the vintage, Perkins says. “It’s a matter of looking at it on the blending bench and seeing what really works.”

Perkins emphasises, though, that drinkability should not imply simplicity. His own winemaking focuses on achieving complexity of structure and length on the palate.

Murray Street is self-sufficient in fruit, which is drawn from two estate vineyards, one of 170 acres at Greenock and the other of 130 acres just a few kilometres south at Gomersal. The varieties straddle the Rhone and Bordeaux, with shiraz, unsurprisingly, as the mainstay, with some vines as old as 60 years. There is a substantial planting of cabernet sauvignon and also rows of mourvedre, merlot, cabernet franc and some petit verdot. The existing grenache stocks were recently supplemented by the purchase of a block of 100-year-old vines “just over the fence” at Greenock.

Perkins likes to collaborate closely with the subcontracted grapegrower. “To me, an important part of winemaking is involvement in the grape-growing process,” he says. Viticulturist Stephen Stoll has worked with Murray Street for many years, and Perkins says the role of tradition and a good working knowledge of the sites is vital to the quality of the wine: “Ninety-five per cent of the puzzle is in the vineyard.”

The 2020 vintage, coming on the back of two seasons of drought, has seen yields plummet across the Barossa. At Murray Street Vineyards, the crush is down by more than two thirds to less than 200 tonnes.

Quality, however, is very promising. “While the quantity is small, I think there will be some really smart wines coming out of 2020,” Perkins says.

Good news at last.

Charles Gent

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