Ah, the life of a vintner! Ten years ago, Ms. Kim Longbottom and her husband bought property in the Australian region of Padthaway, part of the Limestone Coast in the southeast of South Australia, and called their estate Henry’s Drive in honor of a long-ago postman from the area. Kim cleverly named the wines, which range from young, easy drinking reds and whites to complex, concentrated Cabernet Savignons, Bordeaux-style blends, and Shiraz, after various postal-related icons or events.
Now I am sitting with Kim and her winemaker Renae Hirsch, a soft-spoken young woman who “speaks grape” with the best of them. The reason for the meet-up is that Henry’s Drive wines will be coming to the U.S. and they want to build awareness of their brand.
Our tasting begins with “The Postmistress” Blanc de Blanc, a sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay. Then we have “Morse Code Chardonnay,” a barely oaked style that is clean and linear.
Of course, my interest was firmly planted in the reds, as Australia is Shiraz’s natural home. Now the Morse Code Shiraz is their entry level wine, sourced from the Estate’s Padthaway vineyards. The soils in this area are varied, including red loam, black loam, and deep sod over limestone. The 2008 vintage is quite the bargain considering the terroir, just $8.99.
A step up in price is the Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot blend called Pillar Box Red, with aromas of blueberry, licorice, and dried mint. Kim tells me it is named after the red postal boxes that used to dot the Australian landscape. I like the wine, and am getting into the whole postal system branding concept.
Now there is something I really like about the Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz. It is black and inky and looks and, to some degree, palate, which always tips me off in blind tasting I am about to encounter a new world Shiraz/Syrah. The wine has lots of concentrated rich fruit, and this wonderful black licorice component. Great with lamb.
I suppose the modern equivalent of the ’07 “Dead Letter Office” Shiraz would be a returned email, yet this wine is much more pleasant and one of my favorites. The flavor is so rich and concentrated I ask Renae if it is old vines, and she says not. The fruit comes from the vineyards grown in red loamy soil over limestone, and it is barrel-fermented and matured in oak for 12 months.
The more expensive The Trial of John Montford Cabernet Sauvignon (with 10% Cabernet Franc) was rich and savory, yet very, very concentrated, especially compared to the previous wines. And the last wine, 2007 Henry’s Drive Shiraz ($35) also comes from the best soils and 13-year -old vines, and is aged in oak for 16 months. Again very ripe, rich, and concentrated, yet of all the reds I liked the easier-drinking Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz.
The perception about Australian wine in the United States is that it is very fruit forward and high in alcohol. Though these wines were on the higher end of the alcohol spectrum, they were balanced and, for the higher end wines, displayed much elegance and finesse These had body and muscle that seemed to represent the terroir and skills of the winemaker.
The postal theme is very clever, and Henry – wherever he is – must surely feel honored. One smiles to think of the time, in the very near future, when a young consumer points to the red letter box and asks a store clerk or sommelier what it means. “Before email, people had to write things on paper and a postal worker would deliver it by hand,” would be the likely answer. Thank you, Kim, for producing such quality wine to commemorate your excellent terroir and its many stories.