Hunter Valley 2017 shiraz at $100 a bottle reflects a great vintage

Hunter classic: Lake's Folly 2017 Hill Block shiraz - 200 cases, $100 per bottle.
Hunter classic: Lake's Folly 2017 Hill Block shiraz - 200 cases, $100 per bottle.

Fifty-five years ago, the old timers of Hunter Valley Wine Country used to joke about Max Lake, the hand-surgeon from Sydney, who planted cabernet sauvignon grapevines on his Pokolbin property.

“Have you heard about this bloody Pitt Street farmer, coming up here from Sydney to plant a vineyard?”, they’d say. “He’s got no idea. He’s a bloody doctor! You know he just planted cabernet, right here in the Hunter Valley… Ha! What a fool!”.

Everyone knows that shiraz makes the Hunter’s greatest red wines; the Brokenwood Graveyard’s, the Mount Pleasant Old Hill’s, the Tyrrell’s 4 Acres and Vat 9’s. Shiraz is the red wine hero of the Hunter. Not cabernet.

Well, be that as it may, over the last 50 years Lake’s Folly has cultivated a reputation for producing one Australia’s finest and most fascinating wines: Cabernets – a red wine blend made predominately of cabernet sauvignon, with a splash of merlot, petit verdot, and shiraz – is typically ethereal, exciting, enigmatic and exalted for its utter excellence whenever it engages with one’s senses.

And yet, for some time now, Lake’s Folly winegrower, Rod Kempe, has been keeping a secret hidden in his cellar.

New ground: Winegrower Rod Kempe is poised to release, for the first time ever under the iconic Lake’s Folly wine label, a wine made only from shiraz. Picture: Daniel Honan

New ground: Winegrower Rod Kempe is poised to release, for the first time ever under the iconic Lake’s Folly wine label, a wine made only from shiraz. Picture: Daniel Honan

Having enjoyed the warm and dry conditions of the outstanding 2017 vintage, Kempe is poised to release, for the first time ever under the iconic Lake’s Folly wine label, a wine made only from shiraz.

“There was no grand plan of waiting for the right time to finally release a straight shiraz,” Kempe says. “It was made wholly and solely on the fact that what we had there in barrel was a bloody red hot wine.”

Until the 2017 vintage, the shiraz that grows in conjunction with the celebrated Lake’s Folly cabernet sauvignon has been used to provide power and blush to the paradoxically delicate elegance of the Cabernets wine. A portion still gets blended each vintage into this wine, but given the cracking conditions of 2017, Kempe thought it right to set aside some shiraz from the Hill Block to see how it fared on its own. He is quick to note, however, that this is nothing new.

“If there’s ever something that really jumps out at me and looks outstanding, I want to recognise it and try to make something of it,” says Kempe. “That’s what we did in ’14 when we made the magnums of merlot, which was a brilliant little wine.”

It was. Utterly magnificent.

“But we don’t make magnums of merlot every year,” Kempe says. “Just like we won’t make a single site shiraz every year. This is just an extra parcel of beautiful old shiraz vines from the Hill Block that I deemed was too good not to make a wine from.”

Just too good: "It was made wholly and solely on the fact that what we had there in barrel was a bloody red hot wine," Rod Kempe says of his Lake's Folly Hill Block 2017 Shiraz

Just too good: "It was made wholly and solely on the fact that what we had there in barrel was a bloody red hot wine," Rod Kempe says of his Lake's Folly Hill Block 2017 Shiraz

Only 200 cases of the 2017 Lake’s Folly ‘Hill Block’ Shiraz will be released. It’s a beautiful wine. Truly. Far more powerful and intense than the Cabernets, yet elegant and restrained, like only a true Hunter red can be. Deep purple; the colour of nightshade, like the evening sky just before dark. A beguilingly raucous aroma of black and blue fruits; blackberries, currents and cherries rush around an edifying arc of subtle oak, above an undertow of white pepper, crushed herbs and violet petals. Black current, blood plums and spice flavours sail over sapid, silk-like textures, which joyfully contrasts the crash of lively, chalky tannins towards the end.   

The wine is priced at $100 a bottle. Lake’s Folly’s wine club members get first dibs. If any is left, it will go on sale at Lake’s Folly’s cellar door on Broke Road.

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