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The New Barossa
Part 8: Torbreck

Dave Powell (pictured above) is a big bloke. I’ve heard that he can lift a barrique above his head with ease. I get the impression that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly – he takes plain speaking to the level of bluntness, and it can actually be quite fun to ask his opinion of someone you know he’s none too impressed with. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of him, for sure. But good on him – he spent an hour and a half with me talking me through his wines, and then when we were in the pub on Saturday night he found me again and bought me a Coopers Pale.

But let’s focus on his wines. Quite simply, they are fantastic. For me Torbreck is the prototype ‘New Barossa’ winery. The only shame is the prices: they are expensive. The Juveniles, for example, sells for £16 in the UK, and the Runrig is well past £100 a pop. I have to concede, though, that these wines are good enough to justify both the hype and the prices.

Dave started making his own wines in 1994. He studied economics and entered the wine business by accident after working the vintage at Yalumba in 1981. Subsequently he travelled widely and worked lots of vintages, before starting work at Rockford in 1992. He became aware of various old neglected vineyards in the Barossa, and he started buying them up and making wine from them. His first wines were sold to an English guy he’d worked with at Saltram, Phil Reedman. His 94 Shiraz and 1995 Grenache went to Australian Wine Agencies, and in 1997 the first Torbreck wines were released, the 1995 Runrig and 1996 Steading.

Powell hasn’t looked back, and in 2004 Torbreck processed 1000 tons, which is a significant quantity for a premium winery like this. Dan Standish (right), who also makes his own wine (the Relic and the Standish), and the Massena wines (in collaboration with Jaysen Collins) is winemaker here.

Some notes on the names. Torbreck is the name of the forest in Scotland where Dave Powell worked as a woodcutter. Steading is the name of a pub in Edinburgh; also the term given to outbuildings on a farm. Struie is a mountain he worked on in Scotland; Factor is the guy who runs the woodcutting operation. Descendant is descended from Runrig; it uses the old barrels from Runrig and the vines were cuttings from the Runrig vines. And Runrig? In one of the pubs Powell drunk in on Struie the band Runrig played, and then the pub burnt down when they reopened. It’s also the name of the land distribution system that evolved into the crofting system.  

Torbreck is primarily a red wine producer, but around 10% of the production is white. We began with the 2002 Woodcutter’s White, which is lovely and fresh with appealing fruity character. It’s quite rounded, with some richness. Dave Powell explains, ‘In the Barossa, the biggest problem is that people have tried to make everything here. My idea is to work with varieties that have not only been here a long time but also which are suited to the climate’. The only non-Rhône variety they work with is the Semillon used in this wine: the Madeira clone is used which handles the heat well. Some old vine components are barrel fermented; the younger grapes are fermented in stainless steel.

Next up, the Juveniles, which is an unoaked blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro, with the former dominant. ‘To me, Grenache is the most exciting variety in the Barossa’, says Powell. It is medium bodied, so it still has richness but it doesn’t have the heavy tannins and syrupy fruit character. Powell describes it as a ‘warm climate Pinot Noir’. The juice oxidises easily, like Pinot Noir, and you have to watch the yields more than with Cabernet and Shiraz. ‘You can’t be afraid of high alcohol levels with Grenache’, he explains. ‘If you don’t get the ripeness right it gives no richness’.

Torbreck Juveniles 2002
Average vine age 80+ years. Nose of lovely ripe, cherryish dark fruits with some animally hints. Delicious vivid dark fruits on the palate with some spiciness and a dark chocolate edge. A rich, expressive style with lots of interest. Very good/excellent 92/100

Torbreck Juveniles 2003
Sweet, herby, spicy nose is very aromatic with some animally depth. The palate has a lovely sweet, rounded character with very expressive meaty, animally notes. Soft and quite delicious. Very good/excellent 93/100

Torbreck The Steading 2002
The same wine as the Juveniles but given elevage in barrels. Subtle, spicy, slightly minty edge to the nose. The palate is dark and spicy with lots of fruit and some structure. Bold, full and quite expressive. Very good/excellent 91/100

Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2003
All the old vine vineyards have some younger vines in them, and the grapes from these go into the Woodcutter’s. Average yields are 2 tons/acre and the wine is aged for 12 months in old foudres. Ripe, smooth sweetness to the nose, which is quite aromatic. Lovely purity of fruit on the palate with good intensity. Good acidity and quite elegant. Very good/excellent 90/100

Torbreck The Struie 2002
A blend of Barossa and Eden Valley Shiraz, 20% new oak.  Breathtaking aromatic nose of pure red and black fruits. The palate is ripe and full with lovely sweet, spicy fruit. Very elegant with lovely spicy complexity and great purity of fruit. Some dark chocolate hints. Excellent 95/100

Torbreck The Factor 2001
60–90 year old vines; 30% new oak; 18 hl/ha yields. Dark, rich, chocolatey spicy nose. The palate is super concentrated with bold, spicy, tarry fruit. Very rich and intense with some nice toastiness from the oak and good acidity. Very classy in a big, bold Barossa style. Super stuff. Very good/excellent 94/100

Torbreck The Factor 2002
Dark, sweet rich fruits on the nose. Lovely ripe, rich fruit on the palate with nice structure. Good concentration of rich blackcurranty fruit. Very appealing. Very good/excellent 92/100

Torbreck The Descendant 2002
This is from Shiraz vines planted in 94–95, harvested at 14 hl/ha. It is co-fermented with 8% Viognier, which when it is picked is at 17 degrees Baumé. Pure, ripe elegant nose. The palate is super-elegant with vivid, smooth fruit together with a lovely smooth spicy structure. Brilliant purity of fruit: massive but elegant. Excellent 96/100

Torbreck The Descendant 2003 (final blend)
Lovely structure: a big wine but with great purity of fruit. Silky tannins. 92–95/100

Torbreck Runrig 2001
Old vineyards harvested at an average of 12 hl/ha. A little bit of Viognier is included. It spends 2.5 years in wood, all French, 60% new. Pure spicy nose with sweet, spicy, chocolatey notes. The palate is elegant and spicy. Quite rich with lots of complexity, smooth silky tannins and great length. A big wine but not at all overdone. Very expressive. Very good/excellent 94/100

Torbreck Runrig 2002 (base, without the Viognier)
Great concentration: rich and bold with lots of fruit, and spicy tarry complexity. Very dense with rich fruit.

Torbreck Les Amis 2002
This is a varietal Grenache that sells for the same sort of price as Runrig. 2002 is the second vintage; the first was 2001. It’s from a single vineyard planted in 1901, harvested at 12 hl/ha, and aged for 18 months in new barrels. A dark, rich wine. Slightly shy and taut nose with a spicy edge. Massive concentration of sweet, spicy fruit on the palate which is very intense. Lovely earthy spiciness. Smooth, silky tannins: bold and extremely long. Excellent 96/100

The Bothie 2003
A sweet wine from Muscat à Petit Grains Blanc. Pretty, grapey, refined nose. Very fresh and grapey on the palate. Good acid and soft texture with nice balance. Very good+ 88/100

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