Poonawatta’s oldest shiraz vines have been in the ground for more than 140 years. The Holt family has carefully tended the vineyard for the past half century, and the vines produce succulent, age-worthy wine. Located in South Australia’s beautiful Flaxman’s Valley, nestled within the region of Eden Valley, this heritage vineyard is one of Australia’s true viticultural treasures.
European settler Ferdinand Vorwerk is believed to have planted the vineyard in 1880, with help from Auguste Wegener. It is probable that Vorwerk leased the property from landholder George Fife Angus, who owned the property until his death in 1884, after which it was bought by Vorwerk’s brother Adolph in 1887. A 10-year lease was granted in 1891 to Tom Vandyke Temple and Walter Grandy Smith, though Walter was replaced on the lease in 1898 by his father Sidney Smith of Yalumba. Sidney Smith was the son of Yalumba founder Samuel Smith.
At lease end in 1901, Temple and Sidney Smith bought the property from Vorwerk as tenants in common. A year later, Smith’s portion was transferred to his daughter Ada, who was also Temple’s wife, and the Temples owned the property until it was sold back to the Crown in 1922 as part of the WW1 soldier settlement scheme. The property was subdivided: farmer Edith Bartholomaeus had the Poonawatta homestead block, and viticulturist and apiarist Alfred Monteith the old shiraz block.
One suspects that the property was named Poonawatta, an Aboriginal word from the local Peramangk people, by the Temples, as their house in Adelaide was also called ‘Poonawatta’.
Sue and John Holt bought the Poonawatta property in 1966 and secured the old vine block section a few years later. The vineyard needed complete restoration as there were collapsed trellises and cattle roaming through the vines. Vine gaps were filled in by ‘layering’, which involves the propagation of a new vine by burying a cane from a neighbouring one until it develops its own roots.
The Holt’s son, Andrew, and his wife Michelle are the current proprietors, with Andrew looking after the vineyards and overseeing the winemaking, and Michelle managing the daily running of the business. Andrew’s mother Sue continues to be hands-on in the vineyard.
The gently sloping 24 row 1880 vineyard is 0.8ha in size with a north-easterly aspect and 3.6m vine spacing. There are close to 1,000 vines in total. The climate is cool, and frosts and winds are common, which in some years can adversely impact fruit set and yield. The soil ranges from dark, silty loam on red clay, to lighter sandy loam with schist, red quartz and black mica. With an altitude of 420m, harvest occurs much later than the nearby Barossa Valley, often well into May.
The vineyard is hand-tendered and sustainably farmed with a focus on soil health and biodiversity. Irrigation is in place to support the vines in the dry years.
The source of the original vine material is unknown. However, cuttings have been taken from the 1880 vineyard to establish numerous local plots.
Poonawatta first made the 1880 Shiraz in 2002 with one tonne of fruit, one new barrel and some loaned old oak from Kaesler Wines. The Holts collaborated with winemakers Stephen Dew and Reid Bosworth at Kaesler until 2015.
Today the Holts own tanks within Rolf Binder wines, and they work closely with winemaker Harry Mantzarapis in all winemaking decisions.
Grape flavour, and tannin ripeness, are the primary drivers of the harvest. However, in the mid-to-late 2000s, the market demanded wines at the riper end of the spectrum. Despite this, Andrew Holt reflects that the wines still displayed “balance and a seam of elegance” due to the cooler site. The pH and TA are remarkably consistent year-to-year, with adjustments unnecessary.
The wine is made using small-batch open fermentation, over 6-9 days. Once in barrel, it spends an extended time in the presence of the lees to introduce complexity. Fine-grained, medium-toast Seguin Moreau French barriques, both new and used, is the oak of choice. Winemaking interventions, such as the number of rack and returns, have been reduced over time. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.
“It’s a wine that delivers right through the experience, from front-palate to mid-palate to finish,” says Andrew Holt, “And it’s held together with a tremendous structure. Within that structure are layers of flavour that present themselves as the wine is savoured, as it opens up, and differently as the wine ages. It has an underlying savoury seam in many vintages, and there is beautiful complexity with hints of dried meats, olive leaf and spice which underpins the fruit.”
Drinking wine made from vines that have survived for close to one-and-a-half centuries, weathering the ravages of the wind and frost, multiple changes of ownership and periods of glory and of neglect is a special thing indeed. Poonawatta 1880 Shiraz is a treasured wine that has preserved history by sustaining the memories of our early viticultural pioneers. It is concentrated, age-worthy and reflective of its unique terroir. As one of the oldest vineyards in Australia, the 1880 vineyard is a precious piece of our viticultural landscape.
2002 Inaugural vintage
Almost 20 years old, this perfectly cellared wine has aged beautifully. It is a full-flavoured shiraz with a mix of red and black fruits, subtle flecks of sage plus hints of pastry and chinotto. It finishes soft, clean and quiet. The wine is drinking beautifully now and it shows the potential of the historic vineyard.
The wine has ripe black and red fruits with excellent mid-palate richness and personality. Exotic liqueur cherry and mulberry flavours are delicious and persistent, and integrated acidity adds refreshment and balance. It is an impressive wine, showing both restraint and power and is one of the best vintages produced. Drink or hold.
2014 Museum release. Currently available
This example from a cooler vintage displays attractive palate succulence, a trademark of this vineyard, along with corresponding lemon, red fruit, green pepper and fresh herb elements. Fresh and bright on the finish. Bottled under screwcap. Drinking well now.
A generous palate with intense, ripe red, blue and black fruit, and subtle hints of smoked meat. Excellent mid-palate succulence and ripe, silky tannins. It is drinking well now, though will become more mellow with time.
2018 Future release
Ripe, youthful, expressive and primary. Intense raspberry and red cherry flavours with lashings of spice. Too young to drink now though poised for longevity.
There was no 1880 Shiraz produced in 2004, 2011 and 2016. Small volumes were made in 2002, 2006 and 2017. 2020 is still subject to barrel classification.