August 13, 2014

A very savvy 25 years for Shaw + Smith

Shaw + Smith Sauvignon Blanc

In July, Shaw + Smith celebrated the release of the Shaw + Smith 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, as well the new vintages of their other acclaimed wines. So far, 2014 has been another big year for this winery. Following this year’s win of three trophies including Best Australian Red at the International Wine Challenge for Shaw + Smith 2012 Shiraz, the team are celebrating their 25th Sauvignon Blanc vintage release.

In the cool Adelaide Hill’s, Martin Shaw, Michael Hill-Smith MW and their team produce one of Australia’s leading Sauvignon Blancs.  The grapes are sourced from their own vineyards in areas such as Balhannah, Woodside, and Lenswood.  According to David LeMire MW, Shaw + Smith’s Global Sales and Marketing Manager, ‘We like high and cool sites and the diversity of the Adelaide Hills means we have to be super careful about where we source fruit from. Even working at the cooler higher end of the spectrum there can still be 7 – 12 days difference in picking times, which is great as it allows us to move our picking crew around to get the grapes at the right time.’

Senior Winemaker, Adam Wadewitz, has indicated that the 2014 vintage was considered a challenging one.  This was due to poor flowering and the hottest summer on record with lots of 40+O C days topped off with a deluge of 140mm in one night. Subsequently, this meant that fruit was sourced from their cooler, higher altitude vineyards that had recently come online.

The result was a Sauvignon Blanc that offers plenty of grapefruit, white stonefruit and riverstone with hints of orange blossom and lemon balm. There is balance and ripeness that culminates in a beguiling smoothness to the texture. It feels softer in the mouth than 2013, while still retaining a zippy zesty line and length. The Shaw + Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($25) is an elegant style that drinks well with food or without and one that you will enjoy more than one glass of.

“there are exciting times ahead with the winery and vineyard team that we have in place”

To my way of thinking, this twenty-fifth vintage is a great time to reflect on the history of this grape in Australia. In 2013, just over 32 million litres of Sauvignon Blanc was sold in Australian retailers (Neilsen MAT December 2013). This figure is up from just over 20 million litres for the year ending in February 2010 when it had just overtaken Chardonnay (Neilsen MAT February 2010). To put this into perspective, the beloved Shiraz grape comes in a distant second behind Sauvignon Blanc, just selling over half this quantity.

David LeMire assures us that ‘there are exciting times ahead with the winery and vineyard team that we have in place.’ He adds, ‘We’re very fortunate that our Sauvignon Blanc has become so popular and we are working as hard as ever to make sure that we repay people’s faith in our wine, by chasing every small quality gain. We’ve come a long way since Michael and Martin were working out of Martin’s garage.’

It is just as true that Australian’s, like many other wine consumers around the globe have a hankering for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  The retail statistics include a large slug of Sauvignon Blanc imported that region. On both sides of the Tasman, there are producers who are picking their grapes based on flavour and quality and using a range of winemaking techniques to produce wines that offer more by way of balance, texture, depth and complexity.  However, it is important to not overlook Australian Sauvignon Blanc producers and to appreciate the range of styles, often much more food friendly and less pungent, that are on offer here.

Here are some more of David LeMire’s insights into the past twenty-five years of Shaw + Smith Sauvignon Blanc:

1. Has there been any change in style for the Shaw + Smith Sauvignon Blanc in the past 25 years?  

DLM – We’ve stayed pretty true to our Sauvignon Blanc style over the years. We’ve looked at a number of options, like malo and oak and different levels of ripeness, but in our experience the best results have come from meticulous work in the vineyard, low yields, sourcing from the right sites, and picking at precisely the right time, by hand. The work with Sauvignon Blanc is very much vineyard focused, and that philosophy is as strongly held as ever.

2.  What, if any, has been the changes that you personally have seen in Australian Sauvignon Blanc in the past 25 years?

DLM – I think Australian Sauvignon Blanc has had to compete increasingly on quality in the face of the New Zealand dominance in the $10 – 15 price bracket. They can produce a decent varietal wine more cheaply than we can, so we have to make quality exceptional and ensure our style is driven by our unique sites.

3. Twenty-five years ago, in your opinion who was producing the ‘style setter’ Sauvignon Blancs in Australia (premium price category and above)?  

DLM – I don’t think there really were too many back then – it was a pretty small category. Katnook Estate is one that comes to mind.

4. Is there a wine or a set of wines that was/is used to benchmark Shaw + Smith Sauvignon Blanc against?  

DLM – We look at a variety of wines including the best from NZ and the Loire Valley. But we don’t only look at Sauvignon Blanc. Our style is about purity of flavour and freshness and intensity.  So we are interested in other unoaked styles, like really good Riesling, that share those characteristics.

5. With the new higher altitude vineyards coming on line, what is the future direction of this Sauvignon Blanc? 

DLM – We purchased a mature vineyard at Lenswood in 2012 which gives us some higher altitude Sauvignon, and we are always looking for growers in the right places (mainly at high altitudes) who are willing to embrace our quality parameters.

The main drive is to continually make small percentage quality gains, and that does impact on style as well.  For example, we believe in hand-picking grapes within a short window when they are ripe but still retaining crisp acidity. That picking decision, combined with low yields, means there’s great flavour, and also means we have clean lees that the wine can stay on for several months, building texture.

So the quality and the style go hand in hand for us.  A single vineyard wine isn’t on the short term agenda – we like the benefits of being able to blend different parcels each contributing different flavours. We have, though, made a small amount of a Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc blend from two high vineyards from 2013 that was given some skin contact before wild yeast fermentation in old french oak. It’s a really interesting wine and gives us a chance to see a different, more savoury expression of those particular sites.


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