To understand modern Australian wine, we have to start with Clonakilla. The wine that Tim Kirk makes from his family’s vineyards in the village of Murrumbateman, 25 miles north of Canberra, is ones of the greatest expressions of Shiraz made in the country. With their ripe fruit from a cool climate, they are genuinely unique: these wines seamlessly combine power and elegance.
We are thrilled to host a masterclass with Tim Kirk, in which he will lead us through a remarkable line up:
Clonakilla Viognier 2015
Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2015
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2015
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2014
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2012
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2011
When Tim’s father John first planted vines in Murrumbateman in 1971, the choice of location was pure serendipity. Murrumbateman is in the cool Southern Tablelands and John, an Irish research biochemist, had accepted a job with the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry in nearby Canberra. If Murrumbateman was known for anything, it was for sheep breeding. However, John was passionate about the wines from Europe’s cooler climate regions and was enchanted by the potential of his new 44 acre farm; he named it Clonakilla (“meadow of the church”) after his grandmother’s farm back in Ireland. Whatever was to happen, this site would provide a better opportunity to make some wine than his previous university job, teaching at Aberystwyth in Wales.
The first wine produced at Clonakilla was a Riesling Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Shiraz from the 1976 vintage. Throughout the rest of the seventies and eighties the focus of production was on these blends, although in 1986 John was inspired by his son Jeremy’s demand that he plant “something new and rare” to plant some experimental Viognier on the property. But as their vines matured and the family became more experienced working the land, it was clear that the greatest potential of the site lay in Shiraz. And so, in 1990 the Shiraz was bottled without any Cabernet component, to considerable critical acclaim.
Everything was in place, but it would take Tim Kirk’s 1991 trip to the Rhône valley for the epiphany that created the modern Clonakilla as we know it. Tasting at Guigal, the superstar of Côte-Rôte, the single vineyard wines blew Tim away. Their haunting perfume was arresting, but it was texturally that these were wines entirely unlike the robust Shiraz from back home; they were silky and harmonious. Here was a completely different aesthetic for Shiraz. Côte-Rôte is home to a tradition of co-fermenting a small portion of Viognier with the Syrah, and after much soul-searching this was the direction in which Tim decided to take his family’s estate. With the 1992 vintage he bottled the first Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. It was a defining moment, well before the pursuit of cool climates became a fetish of the wider wine community. Here was a different take on what Shiraz could be. In the words of Andrew Caillard MW, of Australian auction house Langton’s, it was “one of the most important advances in Australian Shiraz since the release of 1952 Penfolds Grange Hermitage.”
When: Tuesday 23rd May at 7.30pm
Where: Philglas & Swiggot 21 Northcote Rd, Battersea