Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Kay Brothers’ Precise Vineyard Management Reaps Rewards in McLaren Vale

Kay Brothers Winery is renowned in Australia for being the oldest McLaren Vale winery still owned by the original family.  Yet although the operation dates back to 1890, this is a winery that is decidedly not resting on its past laurels. 

Duncan Kennedy, Chief Winemaker of Kay Brothers Winery, visited New York City this fall to attend a media dinner with some of his current releases.  Duncan is a seasoned winemaker who began apprenticing in Padthaway vineyards as he studied for his viticulture degree. After a few years of consulting in South Australia, he shifted focus and locales, beginning to make wine in Okanagan Valley, Bordeaux, and Napa.  That was followed by post-graduate studies in Oenology and then working in cellars in McLaren Vale. 

Duncan stepped up to chief winemaker and viticulturalist at Kay Brothers in 2015.  In describing the region, he told us that it’s 50 kilometers south of Adelaide and has a Mediterranean climate, with breezy hills and nooks and valleys. 

It’s clear his start in viticulture is reflected in his careful vineyard management.  He shared that he “spends most of my time in the vineyard.”  He’s always checking on the vines and the grapes to ensure “that they’re in a happy place.”

The wines Duncan brought with him included Shiraz as well as – unexpectedly – Grenache.  In the McLaren Vale, 50% of plantings are Shiraz, 15% are Cabernet Sauvignon, and a modest 5% are Grenache.  Yet the grape is clearly one of Duncan’s passions, as he admitted, “I’m a bit obsessed with Grenache.”   He conveyed his pride in the results, stating, “We’re definitely making some very exciting wine.”

The wines tasted that night were uniformly impressive, and included:

Kay Brothers Amery Basket Pressed Grenache 2017 – The basket press is used for crushing grapes in a less rough way. Duncan told us the soil for this wine is sandy and produces a more perfumed wine.  The basket pressed wines have soft tannins and the gentle treatment is aimed at preserving that freshness.  I found that this lively wine offered rosemary and blackberry on the nose with sour cherry on the midpalate and a long finish.  $39.99

Kay Brothers Amery Basket Pressed Shiraz 2016 – A well-balanced wine with spicy pepper and ripe black cherries on the nose and palate.  The tannins are well integrated and the length is good.  $39.99

Kay Brothers Amery Hillside Shiraz 2015 – Grown on the Hillside vineyard that was originally planted in 1892, this wine was held back for two years, aging in American and French oak, and was bottled in 2017.  Duncan regards this wine as a more traditional McClaren Vale-style Shiraz.  A big Shiraz, this had black cherry and blackberry fruit character with a perfumed nose of cherries and herbs.  $59.99

Kay Brothers Amery Griffon’s Key Grenache 2017 -  A big wine, which offered flavors of black pepper, thick skinned-black plums, and ripe raspberries. It had a plush mouthfeel, with elegant smoothness.  Duncan sources this wine from two different parts (top and bottom) of the same sloped vineyard.  A terrific expression of Grenache.  $59.99

Kay Brothers Amery Cuthbert Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 – Named for one of the family owners of a past generation, this was a complex, big wine with blackberry, plums, balsamic, and black olives mingling on the palate. Duncan shared, “Cabernet doesn’t like to be too stressed,” and told us that these vines are shaded by timber.  A beautiful, expressive wine with a long finish.  $119

Kay Brothers Amery Block 6 Shiraz 2015 –  Duncan told us that this wine was grown in “a dryer year.”  While the resulting crop was small, the grapes offered intensity.  The 2015 Block 6 Shiraz had a spicy nose with black fruit.  On the palate, there was huge black fruit flavor as well as pepper and spiciness.  Fine tannins were well integrated and the wine had huge length as well as a touch of minerality. $119

Kay Brothers Amery Block 6 Shiraz 2017 – In contrast to the 2015, this vintage was during a wet year with thriving canopies.  The wine was full-bodied, with gorgeous blackberry and mulberry fruit, herbal notes of rosemary.  It was elegant and smooth with good length.  As we complimented the Block 6, Duncan told us it “reflects the giving nature of the vintage.”  $119

Tasting through a few vintages that had such different weather conditions is a real test of a winery’s ability to produce quality wine consistently.  These Kay Brothers releases are all solid, delicious wines that are a testament to the care both in the vineyard and the cellar.

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