Jeffrey Grosset is a devotee of single-site expression.

Intuition, backed up by detailed geological research, led a young Jeffrey Grosset to the Polish Hill Vineyard site in South Australia’s Clare Valley. Prior to his ownership, it was an unloved strip of land, rocky and infertile. But he had a hunch it could produce exemplary riesling.

Grosset’s current portfolio includes a suite of fine riesling, each with its own character and story. However, it is the strikingly unique expression of riesling from the Polish Hill Vineyard, with its persistent ‘late flavour’ that epitomises the Grosset single-site ethos that captivates the minds of wine lovers around the globe.

Grosset heads a dedicated team of skilled staff working on the vineyard.

History

Meticulous, focused, and hardworking, Grosset was initially inspired to make riesling after his first taste at a family meal. However, he was not from the wine industry nor from wealth, so he armed himself with a complement of credentials, including agriculture and oenology, plus subjects in business management, beginning his studies, aged 16.

He worked as a winemaker in Australia and Germany. But his dream was to make his own wine. “I wanted to make the best wine I possibly could, regardless of effort or cost”, recalls Grosset. He was drawn to the Clare Valley for its reputation for riesling and its potential to produce good cabernet.

In 1979, aged 25, he purchased an empty, old stone building in Auburn, historically used as a milk depot and butter factory, and converted it into a winery. His bank loan included funds to buy good equipment, which he saw as essential for his success. He had four tanks, just enough for the tiny volume of three rieslings and one cabernet that he made from purchased fruit in his inaugural vintage. The auspicious decision to vinify and bottle the riesling blocks separately, highlighting the distinctive nature of the subregions, set the Grosset brand on its four-decade-long journey of success.

Grosset made his first Polish Hill Riesling in 1981 from a small, dilapidated block belonging to Professor Ray Molloy. Grosset, who met Molloy while studying, took over the management of the vineyard. It was a pivotal decision, as it revealed the synergy between riesling and the distinctive, hard-rock soil.

Dean Hewitson says he’s using whole bunches more often these days.

Polish Hill Riesling was exclusively made from this block for nearly 20 years. However, Grosset’s deep-set desire was to plant his own vineyard, so in parallel, he began a search for land. On the edge of a large estate called Kadlunga, south of Molloy’s block, was a long, rectangular strip with near-identical geology. After lengthy negotiations, the owners agreed to sell the section of ‘poor country’ to Grosset.

The area was known for its Polish heritage, and historical records show that this 14.5ha section was once owned by farmer Valentine Pawelski. However, his death by the “accidental capsizing of a wagon” saw the land sold to John Chewings in 1879, ultimately becoming part of the Kadlunga estate, though fortuitously, the land remained on its own title. In 1881 Kadlunga was purchased by Sir Samuel James Way, the Chief Justice of South Australia. The estate changed hands over the years, complete with the rocky strip, until it was carved off by Grosset in 1996 and planted with vines.

The first vintage of Polish Hill Riesling to include grapes from the new vineyard was 2000, and for the first time a screwcap was used on most of the bottles to seal the wine. Grosset eventually lost access to the Molloy block, which was sold and the vines removed. The first vintage solely from his Polish Hill Vineyard was 2005. Grosset had unlocked the secret of the land, serendipitously revealing its capacity to produce distinctive, cellar-worthy riesling.

The tight, small grapes from the Polish Hill Vineyard offer a pronounced difference in taste.

Viticulture and Winemaking

The most southerly in the Polish Hill River area, the vineyard sits at 460m in altitude. It has silty, slightly acidic topsoil of low fertility over a hard rock, shaley/blue slate base.

Of the 8ha of riesling, there are three different clones, which add subtle complexities to the wine and help with consistency between seasons. In addition to the widely planted GM198 clone is GM110. This clone has smaller berries and bunches, giving pronounced flavours on the finish. There’s also a small amount of 156, sourced from the nearby Sevenhill Vineyards, valued for its even flavours. It, too, has small berries and bunches, though it is slightly looser in form.

The own-rooted vines are relatively close planted for an Australian vineyard, with around 2,500-3,000 per hectare. Vine row orientation is essentially north-south, though with a slight tilt to pick up more of the morning sun. Vertical shoot positioning is the trellis type, with two foliage wires, and spur pruning is used with a strict limit on the number of buds per vine.

The beautiful vineyard is hand-tended on a vine-by-vine basis by a dedicated team of long-term, highly skilled staff. Organic and biodynamic management is integral to the vineyard’s health, and Grosset firmly believes it also results in better wine. Certification ensures that an uncompromising level of discipline is observed, and after a period ‘in conversion’, full organic and biodynamic status was achieved at Polish Hill in 2015 and 2021, respectively.

Grapes are hand-harvested with excellent natural acidity, as high as 9g/L in some years and a low pH around 3, negating the need for additions. The crop is around 5 tonnes/ha, and the harvest Baumé sits below 11.7, resulting in moderate alcohol levels in the finished wine.

Winemaking is tailored to achieve high-quality wine with finesse on the finish, promoting purity over complexity. The grapes are destemmed and gently crushed. After a long cold settling period, the free-run juice is fermented with a neutral yeast, followed by a short time on lees.

The different clones are sectioned, harvested and fermented separately, resulting in up to eight components. During blending, the team identifies the base parcels and build the wine up from there. All portions invariably go into the wine, but keeping them separate gives greater insight into the block and informs future winemaking and viticultural decisions.

Polish Hill Riesling is a flawless expression of site, and it is also a reflection of its maker. As a custodian, Jeffrey Grosset is dedicated to the vineyard’s management in a changing climate, remaining agile in his thinking to preserve not only wine quality but the distinct timbre of the unique stretch of land.

Tasting Notes

While reflective of their vintage, there is an undeniable signature in the Polish Hill Rieslings. Unadorned in their youth, they become layered and beguiling with age.

2021
Pristine aromatics and focused intensity with a defined, structural acidity. A wine of classic proportions with a long future ahead.

2015
Remarkably unevolved with a tensioned core, delicate sweet-lemon flavours and impressive persistence. A wine of finesse at the beginning of its flight.

2010
Outstanding in its complexity, intensity, purity and detail. It’s at a perfect stage of its evolution, displaying notes of lemon butter, grapefruit zest and wet stones, plus the tiniest hint of flint, with a crescendo of flavour on the finish.

2005
Preserved lemon, candied lime zest and a hint of smokiness. Soft and expressive with depth and power.

2002
An exceptional wine with bright, spicy, sweet-lemon flavours, incredible mid-palate freshness and mesmerising length. Utterly irresistible now, though its
journey is far from over.

2000
A succulent wine of provenance from a warmer year that has aged with grace. Expansive citrus flavours with hints of lanolin. Fully mature and delicious.