We don’t even touch it!
Since 1912 the Osborn family have grown grapes and made wine in the picturesque surrounds of McLaren Vale. Today, fourth generation family member Chester Osborn is at the winemaking helm, making distinctive wines using traditional methods in the winery and the vineyard.
I was reminded tonight while drinking The Derelict Vineyard Grenache, of a trip we had in the 'before times' to d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale South Australia.
What had initiated the trip? Back in the day we had a fun and entertaining chin wag with Chester Osborne of d'Arenberg at an Australia's First Family of Wine event in San Francisco. It was later in the evening, when the regular crowd was done and the 'after drinking' was happening. After a few glasses Chester was telling the story in a way only Chester can, of this old bush vine Grenache vineyard to some local wino’s that they (d'Arenberg) don't do anything to, "Nothing? Nothing! We don’t even really prune it!"
There is an old saying 'never let the facts get in the way of a good story' and Chester is a true artisan in this skillset. Well this all sounded too interesting to not go and visit on the upcoming trip to Adelaide, South Australia and so we said as much. After an exchanging of contact information it was on! A journey halfway around the world to another hemisphere, to visit this unique and by all accounts wild and untended vineyard.
Arrangements were made, but unfortunately as things would go, Chester would be gallivanting around Europe on the dates we would be in town. Not to be denied we were put into the more than capable hands of Vineyard Manager Giulio Dimasi and Senior Winemaker extraordinaire Jack Walton, who had made themselves available to take us on an amazing vineyard/winery tour and give us a taste of the many amazing Grenache wines from d'Arenberg.
After meeting Giulio and Jack, we climbed into the Ute and headed out to the vineyards. It's the middle of winter in McLaren Vale and the sun is just starting to peek out from behind the morning fog as we approach the Derelict vineyard. A mob of roo's gave us a most indignant "you are in our space look' before hopping of into the next vineyard. The sheep grazing between the rows could not have cared less. We climbed out of the Ute and walked into the vineyard with these somewhat decrepit looking gnarly small vines. It was hard to comprehend that these scrawny looking vines just happen to be 80 plus years old. After repeating what we remembered from our chat with Chester there were some synchronized eye rolls. It became apparent there were a couple minor details that would require some retelling of the story.
Sheep do their thing in the vineyard and take care of the ground crops. They do use a horse drawn wagon and hand harvest the grapes. Look, we are as guilty as anyone when it comes to the embellishment of a good story. This is especially true after a few glasses of wine and some laughs. Who is not going to go in for more? Besides, who knew that a couple of wine wankers living in Monterey, California would go on a 'Winewalkabout' to actually go check out a story that is set on the other side of the world. Sorry we had to bust your awesome story Chester, but that's how we roll. We want the real story out there. We believe our readers can handle the truth... So look, here's the thing, the only bust in the story really is the fact that the vines are pruned, hand pruned to be sure, but they are pruned. Other than that, the rest of the story about what they do and not do is pretty close. No herbicides. No pesticides. No machinery. No tractors. Pretty much if the sheep cant do it, it is not done! It truly is a minimalist approach to vineyard management and a management model that would make most vineyards seem way over-worked.
These stunted, gnarly old Grenache bush vines are truly something to behold and the story is a good one. This and a number of other vineyards were saved from destruction at a time when Grenache was considered unfashionable, Chester acquired many old bush vine, overgrown and abandoned vineyards.
The lineup of Grenache from d'Arenberg is very impressive. No two are alike, and the characteristics of each will capture your attention and your palate.
The Derelict Vineyard Grenache (video with Chester)