KOOMILYA – PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE by Stephen Pannell
Koomilya is a special place in a special landscape. It’s so much more than simply a beloved vineyard in the Upper Tintara district of McLaren Vale.
We recognise with the utmost integrity every time we step onto the ground at Koomilya that it is on the traditional land of the Kaurna people, and we pay our unreserved respect to Kaurna elders past, present and emerging.
One of the most important acts we can do with this in mind is to restore and regenerate the native scrub surrounding the vineyard. This is our way of respecting the ancient landscape and learning from it, to live by it, and thrive in the natural systems it supports.
We have gone about regenerating the land by partnering with McLaren Vale Biodiversity Project to continue the clearing of the creek line and replanting with locally indigenous plants. We’ve now cleared more than 5000m2 once choked with olive trees. The remnant vegetation is making a strong return along with a greater diversity of native birds including the endangered black cockatoo.
Once an impenetrable wall of woody weeds that disrupted air flow around the property, the creek line is now a place of great peace and beauty.
Using the olive tree waste, we have created biochar, a fine-grained charcoal that is used to add nutrients back to the soil and to store carbon in the ground. We have been at the forefront of a pilot program, unique to South Australia, involving state government and private enterprise in a partnership to create a circular economy from an identified pest. A Tiger Cat carbonator, the only one in Australia, was brought from Queensland and converted three tonnes of biochar from ten tonnes of woody waste in 36 hours.
The pilot program has now led to global interest in creating CORCs (Co2 removal certificates). The methodology and use of olive waste to make biochar is the first of its kind to be acknowledged and accepted by Puro.earth, a B2B marketplace, standard and registry focused solely on carbon removal.
The immediate result for Koomilya is 1250m2 of dormant creek line cleared of very old olive trees and subsequently replanted with native grasses, providing further habitat for beneficial arthropods as well as 30 tonnes of biochar-activated compost that will be dug in to the mid-rows of the vineyard.
This year we have seen a dramatic return of native fauna including echidnas, native bandicoots and microbats, while the number and species of native orchids have increased on the hillsides surrounding the vineyard after being cleared of boneseed weed. We have now identified the King Spider, Wallflower Donkey, Spotted Donkey, Purple Cockatoo, Rabbit Ears Sun and the “freaky” Maroon Hood orchid. We put the increase in these populations down to an increase in habitat for native wasps and bees required to pollinate the orchids and the improvement in the understory.
The regenerative methods used in and around Koomilya are not reliant on chemical intervention and play a large part in improving habitat. The resulting investment in biodiversity and the carbon economy at our tiny and humble place on the planet is one of our proudest contributions to the preservation of the ancient landscape. To follow the regeneration story use #koomilyaorchidproject on Facebook or Instagram.
Our restoration project extends to the vineyard, where we have removed a 1.3-hectare Cabernet Sauvignon block to make way for two new Grenache blocks. The previous owners, Jill and Don Cant, recently recounted removing a block of very old and unhealthy Grenache after buying the property in 1972, replacing it with Cabernet.
The return of Grenache to Koomilya is a homecoming of sorts, the vine cuttings sourced from the esteemed Smart Vineyard in Clarendon. It may take a while for a single-block Koomilya Grenache to come along, but the gratifying improvement in the other varieties grown there since our regeneration project began, promises the character of Grenache grown on the red soils of the Koomilya hillside will be worth the wait.
This year sees the release of three single block Shiraz from the 2018 vintage. The JC Block Shiraz and DC Block Shiraz see a return and are joined by the GT Block Shiraz. There are subtle differences in each of the blocks from aspect to the composition of the soil, but the winemaking is very similar allowing for each block to have its own voice. The tasting notes and comparison page detail these differences.
We hope you can see in this release what we are trying to achieve in preserving the landscape and the unique aromas and flavours that are unmistakably Upper Tintara and undeniably Koomilya.
Simply stated, 2018 was a solid year. A vintage without extremes that was kind to both winemakers and vines alike. The fruit had lovely freshness and vivacity, the crops were of an average size and there was consistency throughout despite the dryness of the soil. Even the winemakers seemed to be enjoying themselves!
2018 Koomilya JC Block Shiraz RRP $116
A single-block Shiraz from 46-year-old vines with a southwestern exposure at an altitude of 120m. Soils are dark-grey, slaty siltstone thinly laminated with ironstone. Hand harvested on 1st March at yields of 3.3 tonnes/hectare. The fruit underwent spontaneous fermentation with 20% whole clusters included, and the juice spent 14 days on skins. It was settled over 12 days. It was then moved to second- and third-use French oak puncheons for malolactic conversion and 20 months’ maturation. It was racked once before being bottled without filtration on 11th December 2019. Alcohol 14%; pH 3.61; total acidity 6.4g/L. Total sulphur at bottling 64ppm.
Earthy, saline, fragrant, deep, special. Liquorice, bramble fruit, walnut, spice, charcoal, dried flowers and herbs. Thick tanning rolling through the mouth, nori and lavender perfume, all the berries but not fruity, as such, powerful and stony, with chew and freshness on a superb long finish. And, indeed, it’s the length of flavour and presence that marks this out as a special wine. Outstanding. An Australian classic. Very long term. 96+ points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front October 2021
2018 Koomilya GT Block Shiraz RRP $116
A single-block Shiraz from vines aged 30 years old, grafted on 46-year-old roots. The block has a southern exposure and sits at an altitude of 116m. Soils are dark-grey, slaty siltstone thinly laminated with ironstone. Hand harvested on 1st March at yields of 3.9 tonnes/hectare. 100% destemmed fruit underwent spontaneous fermentation and the juice spent 12 days on skins. It was settled over 10 days. It was then moved to new French oak puncheons (20%) and a 2,800-litre vat for malolactic conversion and 20 months’ maturation. It was racked once before being bottled without filtration on 11th December 2019. Alcohol 14%; pH 3.75; total acidity 5.9g/L. Total sulphur at bottling 55ppm.
Spice, rose, lychee juiciness sitting over chocolate, iodine, dried herbs and red and black fruits. It’s stony and thick in tannin, roast meat, sun-dried tomato, black olives, a bold volume of dark berries, but savoury and distinctly umami in flavour. Tannin rolls on the finish, with a tacky and tactile feel, and the length is top notch. Acidity is bright too, and almost juicy. Fascinating wine. Distinctive. 95 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front October 2021
2018 Koomilya DC Block Shiraz RRP $116
A single-block Shiraz from 46-year-old vines with a south-eastern exposure at an altitude of 108m. Soils are dark-grey, slaty siltstone thinly laminated with ironstone. Hand harvested on 4th March at yields of 3 tonnes/hectare. The fruit underwent spontaneous fermentation with 22% whole clusters included, and the juice spent 11 days on skins. It was settled over 8 days. It was then moved to second- and third-use French oak puncheons for malolactic conversion and 20 months’ maturation. It was racked twice before being bottled without filtration on 11th December 2019. Alcohol 13.5%; pH 3.61; total acidity 6.3g/L. Total sulphur at bottling 65ppm.
Liquorice, the sort of brittle dark toffee my Mum used to make, blackberry and blackcurrant, sea spray and oyster shells, biscuit spices, and thyme. It’s full of juicy and fresh small dark berried flavour, ferrous and deep, layers of pumice stone tannin, and for all the darkness, it’s still so light on its feet. Finish is very long, with a spiced poached strawberry and rhubarb thing happening, and lavish stony tannin. Wonderful. 96 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front October 2021
ALSO AVAILABLE IN SMALL QUANTITIES: KOOMILYA RED BLENDS…
2018 Koomilya Touriga Graciano Mataro RRP $48
Upon purchasing the vineyard in 2012 I saw it as an ideal place to create a blend that included varieties I believe will see McLaren Vale into the future and, furthermore, complement the traditional varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. We grafted two contoured and terraced blocks on deep red soil to Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional; planted Graciano and Mataro; and restored the health of a neglected row of Mataro planted in the mid-19th century. The first wine to be released was the Touriga Cabernet Mataro, released under S.C. Pannell, that went on to win Wine of Show at the McLaren Vale Wine Show in 2016. The blend may change from vintage to vintage, but the wine will always be unmistakably Koomilya.
Touriga Nacional (78% of the blend), Graciano (11%) and Mataro (11%) were hand-harvested on 28th March 2018 and co-fermented, spending 10 days on skins. The wine was gently pressed and sent to old French oak puncheons to complete malolactic fermentation. It was later racked to a 2800-litre French oak vat for maturation, and bottled on 11th December 2019 without fining or filtration.
The nose shows violets, ripe plum, woody spice, black grapes, molasses and 70% dark chocolate. The dark aromas and colour lead you to believe the palate will be heavy, but a surprise awaits. Touriga’s typically savoury entry is followed by a gradual unfurling of dark fruits from the Mataro and Graciano. The tannins penetrate all corners but don’t dominate nor distract from the freshness of the fruit. The finish is intensely long and moreish. – Stephen Pannell
Slicker than your average, this is the most innovative wine we have seen from Koomilya with Touriga holding purple and dark berry fruit aromas and flavours around which Graciano and Mataro layer and build the wine on the palate. The smoothly honed finish is terrific. 94 points. Nick Stock, Gourmet Traveller WINE August 2021
2018 Koomilya Cabernet Touriga RRP $71
Upon purchasing the vineyard in 2012 I saw it as an ideal place to create a blend that included varieties I believe will see McLaren Vale into the future and, furthermore, complement the traditional varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. We grafted two contoured and terraced blocks on deep red soil closest to the scrub at the top of the east-facing slope to Touriga Nacional with the intention of blending with Tempranillo, Graciano and Mataro. Blending with Cabernet Sauvignon was never planned but as fate would have it there is magic between the two varieties that can’t be ignored.
Block 1 Cabernet (76% of the blend) and Block 8 Touriga (24%) were hand-harvested on 15th March 2018 and sent to separate open-top fermenters. The Cabernet spent 12 days on skins before gentle pressing and the Touriga saw eight days’ maceration before pressing. Both portions were sent to extra-large French oak puncheons (50% new) for malolactic fermentation and maturation. The wines were blended in mid-November 2019 and bottled on 10th December 2019.
The nose shows blackcurrant bon bons, cassis, black tea, mahogany and violet. The classic Cabernet leafiness is toned and buffed by Touriga’s dark floral notes.
The dark, faintly sweet entry is delicious, the complexity immediately apparent. The tannins are taut and dusty, like splitting red gum for the combustion stove, and the finish has a precision, tension and length that means this was no accident; these two varieties are meant for each other. Just ask the Bordelais. – Stephen Pannell
2017 Koomilya Tempranillo Touriga RRP $53
Upon purchasing the vineyard in 2012 I saw it as an ideal place to create a blend that included varieties I believe will see McLaren Vale into the future and, moreover, complement the traditional varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. We grafted two contoured and terraced blocks on deep, red soil to Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional, planted Graciano and Mataro and restored to health a neglected row of Mataro planted in the mid-19th century.
The first wine to be released was the Touriga Cabernet Mataro released under S.C. Pannell, which went on to win Wine of Show at the 2016 McLaren Vale Wine Show. The blend may change vintage to vintage but the wine will always be unmistakeably Koomilya. Alcohol 14%; pH 3.76; TA 5.5g/L.
Aromas of blackberry, fruits of the forest, red toffee apple, roast beetroot, smoky paprika and Dutch cocoa. The palate shows red toffee apple and blackberry on entry followed by cocoa and paprika, finishing with Touriga’s signature fruit mince and plum pudding. There is tension to the texture from a firm spine surrounded by generosity. The tannins ripple and repeat, folding back on themselves. – Stephen Pannell
Stephen Pannell grafted two terraced blocks to Tempranillo and Touriga when he purchased Koomilya in ’12. In ’17 (as intended) the two parcels were vinified separately before blending, then transferred to a large French oak vat for maturation. It’s chock-full of black fruits, licorice, dark chocolate and multi-spices. 94 points. James Halliday, Halliday Wine Companion 2020
This is a very plush, rich and silky Touriga with a ripe red-plum nose and gently spiced complexity below. The palate has a super smooth, fine and silky texture and delivers long, fresh and elegant on the finish. Effortless. Drink or hold. Screw cap. 94 points. Nick Stock, JamesSuckling.com June 2019
Black jelly bean, violet, iron, fruit mince, blackberry and a little spice. It’s fresh and lively, red fruits and apple, slightly sticky and ferrous tannin, and a good long finish, perfume and spiced fruits trailing. Such character and interest. An excellent drink. 93 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front November 2019