So that’s a wrap. Vintage 2023 is in the bag, with much of our anticipated harvest safely picked with perfect ripeness, flavours and chemistry and without the pressure that vintage weather in this maritime climate of the Hunter Valley can sometimes give.
The previous three years of La Nina patterns continued into the spring of 2022, giving cool wet growing conditions and a few extra challenges for all grape growers in the Hunter. As always, only the strong survive, and any viticulturist that was pre-emptive around disease management was rewarded with minimum damage and potential crop reductions. As we rounded the corner into veraison, the weather shifted to mostly mild, warm and dry. From mid-December until the third week in February, we have had the occasional storms that gave us momentary panic but ended up simply refreshing the vines.
The Hunter often experiences a reasonable diurnal temperature difference where while the days may be warm to hot, the nights cool right down. This preserves the natural acidity whilst fruit flavours and sugar slowly develop. We started picking two to three weeks later than usual due to the wet, cool spring (and saturated water table from the July floods), but that has meant increased hang time, providing us a slower accumulation of concentrated flavours. Crop levels are generally normal for the whites and reds, and I would be giving the vintage a ‘9 out of 10’ rating for quality as it sits right now across whites and reds. The reds, in particular look fantastic with great colour and flavours. We even made a Botrytised Semillon this year, which we will release in a few months.
Hard to compare this year with any of the 40 vintages I have done in the Hunter, as this one felt different with a later harvest time and then very, very drawn out, so I had to be patient. And I am not good at that. But I am excited by the flavours we have had and there isn’t an ordinary wine from this vintage. Apart from our solid and tireless vineyard and winery team, it was great having two of our (now adult) children working with us across all viticulture and winemaking operations. Ollie in particular, stepped up and sometimes the ‘old dog ‘ was learning new tricks, and sometimes I was teaching new tricks. It’s an evolution. Alessa continued south to the vintage in the Yarra Valley. Lisa, as always, leads the support crew. 27 vintages for Margan Wines, and we are still loving it all!
The Fordwich Hill Vineyards cover three distinct vineyard blocks being Timbervines, Fordwich Hill and Saxonvale & span 26ha in total. They are all planted on a unique plug of red volcanic clay which is the weathered product of ancient volcanic eruptions. The soils are mineral rich and absorb moisture easily and release it slowly. These vineyards were all planted in the late 1960’s by Lindemans and Saxonvale and are the cornerstone of the unique style of Margan wines.
The Ceres Hill Vineyard was established by Margan and they planted varieties traditional to the Hunter as well as pioneering ones. This is the property where the winery and tourism operations are based and was first planted in 1989 with just 2ha of Semillon. It was the start of Margan Wines and plantings have increased over the decades to a total of 16ha. There are three soil types on this property: grey clay (Semillon and Chardonnay); sandy loam (Albariño) and red clay sand (Barbera and Merlot).
Timbervines was purchased in 2005. It has 30 ha of mature vines, including ‘old clones’ that have been grafted over the last decade. This vineyard includes the Francis John Margan block from which their Aged Release Semillon is made, the BC4 Shiraz block, the Tempranillo Graciano Shiraz field blend and some of the best Shiraz, including their Aged Release Shiraz.
Saxonvale Vineyard is the name of the former vineyard, winery and wine brand established in the late 1960’s on this unique site on the Fordwich Sill. The winery and brand have long gone but the old 29 ha vineyard remains.
The vineyard provides grapes for their Limited Release Wines of White Label Verdelho, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz Mourvèdre.
2022 ‘Fordwich Hill’ Semillon
Lemongrass and lime peel dominate the aromatics, the palate is light and full of fresh citrus. A vibrant acidity gives this wine line and length, a key characteristic that we look for when classifying our White Label Semillon.
2022 ‘Fordwich Hill’ Chardonnay
This is the inaugural release of White Label Chardonnay from the Fordwich Hill Vineyard. The vines were planted in 1970 and the vineyard site slopes gently towards the Wollombi Brook. The soil is a unique blend of red volcanic and river sand. The increased drainage and lower fertility of the site gives lower yielding vines and concentrated fruit with intense varietal characteristics.
This wine marks a more complex and textural direction for the White Label Chardonnays. Grilled peaches melds with fresh grapefruit pith and a savoury roasted cashew backbone.
2019 ‘Fordwich Hill’ Shiraz
Savoury Hunter Valley nuances temper powerful purple and black fruits. Bright, natural acidity allows this wine to be accessible straight away, however patience will see its complexity and depth evolve over the next decade or more. A favourite vineyard from an outstanding vintage.
2022 ‘Ceres Hill’ Albariño
originates from the NW coastal regions of the Iberian Peninsula. The wine smells of lime zest, nashi pear & sea spray & the palate has juicy lime, sherbet, pear & lemon balm. The palate is textural with mineral notes & fresh acidity & a characteristic touch of salinity, paying homage to its coastal origins.
2021 ‘Ceres Hill’ Barbera
Typical rhubarb and spice on the nose, this vineyard produces a level of consistency that few others do. Savory spice on the palate provides regional typicity and bright red fruits and crunchy acidity give varietal structure and define the wine more so than tannins and richness.
It is a great food wine as the acid cuts through richer red meats like lamb. It matches well with hard cheese and is lighter in body and alcohol than many red wines.
2021 ‘Timbervines’ Tempranillo/Graciano/Shiraz
A field blend of these three varieties which they grow, pick and vinify together. The Tempranillo provides the rich, red fruit, Graciano gives acidity & Shiraz provides dark fruits & tannins. Volcanic soils from the vineyard give the wine its Hunter personality while keeping true to its Spanish heart.
2021 ‘Saxonvale’ Shiraz Mouvedre
Inspired by the blended wines of the Southern Rhone, this single block of Shiraz, planted on the rich volcanic soils of the Fordwich Sill is interspersed with some of the only Mourvedre vines in the Hunter Valley. The entire block is harvested collectively, when the Mourvedre component, which ripens later, is at optimal maturity. This produces riper shiraz with greater concentration than some of the other blocks. The freshness and herbal lift of the Mourvedre (otherwise known as Mataro) provides acidity and aromatic vibrancy.
Briar and anise, laid over blackberries typify the distinct aromatic profile of the Shiraz Mourvedre. The palate lends a savoury and Amaro like edge to dark fruits. Complex and generous, framed by gentle suede-like tannins and bright acidity typical of the cool growing season.