St Hugo brand home in the Barossa Valley.

There are lots of real saints named Hugo or Hugh, but the wine St Hugo is named in memory of Hugo Gramp, who was the boss at Orlando Wines when he was cruelly struck down in the prime of his life, along with 17 others, in the Kyeema plane crash of 1938.

His death so shocked the company, and the Gramp family who still owned it at the time, that they’ve honoured Hugo ever since, most significantly with the St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, first minted in the 1980 vintage.

Hugo’s son Colin Gramp AM passed away this year on 7 August at the grand age of 98, so it seems timely to discuss this famous wine.

As well, the parent company, Pernod Ricard Winemakers, recently released a selection of back-vintages simultaneously. They are the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, and a much older vintage, 1998. They are under the banner of the Fine and Rare Collection.

Evidently, back-vintages of St Hugo have been available from the Barossa Valley cellar door before this, but now they have a wider distribution.

The 1998 is a cracking wine from a great vintage, drinking at its peak now at 22 years of age. It’s tremendously complex and mellow, with a fascinating bouquet that encapsulates freshly turned earth, dried herbs, tobacco and cigarbox, with elements of meaty charcuterie and cedar. In the mouth, it’s full-bodied, rich and rounded, with supple texture and abundant soft but drying tannins. It’s A$170.

The other four wines are all very good and worth their A$70-$85 price tags, the 2008 especially youthful.

The current release 2016 St Hugo (A$50) is, in my view, a particularly good vintage of this wine. I scored it 95 points and described it as a classically elegant Coonawarra cabernet that accurately expressed the region and the grape variety. It will keep for at least 20 more years if well cellared. It has a deep red-purple colour, and a rich and highly appealing blackberry and chocolate bouquet, tinged with rose petals and hints of dried herbs.

It’s full-bodied and elegantly structured, the tannins persuasive but supple. Oak is subtly played and the minty note that often shows in this wine seems absent.

Peter Munro took on the winemaker role in March 2019.
Peter Munro took on the winemaker role in March 2019.

The information accompanying these wines, including extensive notes about the present winemaker Peter Munro, who took up his role in March 2019, talks a lot about the history, the show success (every vintage of St Hugo has won at least one gold medal) and the winemaking – but nothing about the viticulture or fruit sourcing.

This is peculiar, at a time when grapes – the true origin of quality in any wine – are front and centre in most winemakers’ and wine companies’ discussion of their top wines.

Unfortunately, it’s still common to ignore the vineyard, not only chez Pernod Ricard but most of the larger wine companies. It probably happens because they don’t own many of the best vineyards themselves. And it’s possible they don’t like giving credit to grape growers, preferring to pretend the company’s winemakers are the creators of the wines, and should take full credit.

Perhaps they also want to protect their grape sources from potential predators – competing winemakers who might make the grower a better offer.

But it is a touch disappointing. Some big wine companies also have ‘regional’ wines that neglect to name the region, and even ‘single vineyard’ wines that neglect to name the vineyard!

But it is a touch disappointing. Some big wine companies also have ‘regional’ wines that neglect to name the region, and even ‘single vineyard’ wines that neglect to name the vineyard!