By David Sly
What started as a late-night conversation between two wine families who share a common distant relative has evolved into the most expensive wine yet produced from Coonawarra – and it sets an innovative new benchmark for elite wine output from the region.
The Redman and Balnaves families are already renowned for producing world-famous wines, but their decision to join forces and produce a wine that celebrates their common ancestor William Wilson (he’s fourth generation winemaker Dan Redman’s great-great-great grandfather) represents a first.
The release of the 2016 William Wilson Shiraz Cabernet on Saturday September 1, selling for $300 a bottle, combines elite grape parcels to produce a style once called claret, and regarded as a distinctive Australian wine signature.
“It was an idea we had before the 2016 vintage – to make a very special wine that could be released to celebrate the 200th anniversary of William Wilson’s birth, but sometimes simple ideas don’t turn out so easy,” says Doug Balnaves with a wry grin.
While Scottish-born Wilson was a famous horticulturist – and the lavish garden beside his Petticoat Lane cottage in Penola inspired Coonawarra’s first grape grower, John Riddock – trying to confirm accurate records of Wilson’s birth has not been so easy, with Doug finding three different dates in two countries.
“Let’s just say the wine is an appropriate celebration of William Wilson’s life,” he says.
To build this iconic wine blend, cabernet fruit comes from 46-year-old vines on Balnaves’ vineyards, while the Redman’s shiraz is from 85-year-old vines on a patch they call The Last Row.
“Both fruit parcels were identified as ideal for this blending project, even before they had been picked,” says Dan Redman.
The hunch proved right, although it took a while to decide on the wine’s final recipe; the winemaking team initially thought shiraz would account for three quarters of the blend, but after blending trials it became 55% shiraz and 45% cabernet.
What results is a deliciously rich, nuanced wine, eminently drinkable now, but with the structure and intensity that will allow it to age gracefully in the cellar for at least 40 years.
“It’s not a contrived wine,” says Doug Balnaves with a note of pride. “The fruit is exceptional and the quality shines through. It’s a rare thing for a wine to exceed our expectations, but this one has.”
While this was designed as a one-off project, the results have been so encouraging that the winemakers have already secreted away parcels of grapes from the 2018 vintage in the hope of making another Redman/Balnaves blend, although nothing is yet confirmed.
“The first my dad knew about us possibly doing it again was when he saw the team I’d hired to hand-pick shiraz from the Last Row block,” says Dan Redman with a sheepish grin.
“If I hadn’t noticed a few extra expensive oak barrels in the inventory, I probably still wouldn’t have been told,” says Doug’s daughter Kirsty Balnaves with a smile and a weary shake of her head.
“The truth is, this project has excited both families. It’s a rare thing to achieve something so exceptional.”
Due to its limited volume, with only 250 dozen produced (shared equally between the two family wineries), 2016 William Wilson Shiraz Cabernet will only be available at each winery’s cellar door or online.
To celebrate the launch of this special wine in grand fashion, the Balnaves and Redman families will be hosting a William Wilson event beside his headstone in the Coonawarra cemetery as part of the Coonawarra Cabernet Celebrations in October, with haggis to eat and bagpipes providing the soundtrack to accompany a wine tasting.
Check coonawarra.org for details.
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