KOOMILYA – A DEDICATION by Stephen Pannell
After working 39 vintages, including nine in Europe, I’ve spent plenty of time in vineyards and wineries to ponder: Why do I love wine? Why do I love making wine? What is it exactly that makes a great wine? I think that all great wines obey a set of rules, and the most important of these is that wine should have a sense of place; the best possible expression of where they are from. Put simply, a wine should taste like it comes from somewhere specific; unique, discrete and impossible to replicate. And with this being the case, it gives a winemaker greater direction and purpose, and drives everything that you do. With the attention on place, the protection of regional, vineyard, and even single block characteristics become the most important factor in the winemaking decisions. The focus is on growing the wine and working the vineyard to reduce the need for winemaking tricks, such as acid addition, excessive oak, over ripening etc. The vines are pruned hard, reducing the need for excessive irrigation and resulting in a lower yield but a more balanced vine, and a better expression of place. The best of all possible results is a wine that reflects location, accent and the circumstances of the seasons throughout that particular vintage – it should be a faithful record of what has passed and still endures, rather than an attempt to project any particular image, taste or shape.
The Koomilya vineyard is wedged between the original Upper Tintara vineyard, which was planted by the famous Doctor Kelly in 1862, and the Hope Farm or Seaview vineyard, which was established in the early 1850s by George Manning. It is hidden away at the dead end of Amery Road and includes 13 hectares of vineyards and over 15 hectares of native bush and scrub; with a creek line that flows through the heart of the property. The scrub and creek line have a moderating influence on the microclimate of the property. The cool air from the 161-hectare Hardy scrub which sits above the property flows down the creek line in the evenings, keeping the nights cooler. The native bush hills to the north and west protect the vineyards from the strong and often hot winds in summer.
We do not know exactly when the property was first planted, but our neighbour Colin Kay says it’s been here as long as his family can remember, and so that would give it an estimated timeline back to the 1850s. I first stepped foot in the Koomilya vineyard in December 1994. I had just started working with BRL Hardy and was responsible for the Tintara winery – one of the premium vineyards contracted to Hardys. Twelve months into my position at Hardys, a 1995 Eileen Hardy Shiraz I made won the Jimmy Watson. A major component of that Shiraz was sourced from our Koomilya JC Block.
Yes, the vineyard can grow amazing fruit, but funnily enough it’s the land and its beauty which has an almost spiritual attraction for me. Out of the hundreds of vineyards I have visited around the world, this was the vineyard I fell in love with and most wanted to own. In 2004 I advised Don Cant, the then owner, that if he ever considered selling the vineyard, I would be interested. In late 2012, Don agreed to sell the 35-hectare property to my wife, Fiona, and me. Our chance had come!
These wines have strength, intensity, and glorious grape tannins, which wind the palate together, almost like a double helix. This complex structure pulls you straight through the wine and settles you in the heart of the vineyard. They illustrate what I’m hoping modern McLaren Vale Shiraz will be, which harks back to a tradition of what it looked like in the 1960s, without all the artifice of winemaking. Above all, these wines look and taste, ‘Koomilya’.
I get immense satisfaction spending time there, and find it calming and cathartic. I hope you enjoy these wines as much as I enjoy the current journey I am on in bringing them to you.
2017 was a very cool, mild and stress-free vintage for vines. Good winter and spring rains were followed by a very mild, long summer. The results are wines with ample fruit complexity and great natural acidity. Most important however is the delicious fruit freshness and balance.
2016 was a vintage of two distinct halves. Winter and spring were exceptionally dry and warm, with irrigation beginning earlier than we can recall. To answer concerns, a number of rainstorms quickly changed everything, replenishing soil moisture and setting up for a mild harvest. The interesting thing about 2016 is the profound tannin and the similarity to 2006 and 1996.
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
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
2016 Koomilya CP Block Cabernet Sauvignon RRP $115
Sourced from a block between the JC and DC blocks on Koomilya’s southeast-facing slope. It was planted by Jill and Don Cant in 1975 and machine-pruned for more than 25 years. I’ve slowly worked the vines back from poor health since purchase in 2012. It’s now one of the few cane-pruned Cabernet blocks in McLaren Vale. It’s planted to the old McLaren Vale clone; an extremely low-yielding, small-bunched and small-berry clone producing extraordinary wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon from Koomilya has consistently contributed to many trophy-winning wines including two ‘Bushing King’ trophies since 2016.
Hand-harvested on 12th March. 10 days on skins before a gentle press and sent to French oak puncheons for malolactic conversion and 19 months’ maturation. Bottled 28th November 2017. Alcohol 14%; pH 3.54; TA 7.5g/L.
Typical cassis and redcurrant aromas to start, then bramble, finishing with sumac, Za’atar, rosehip, cranberry and mahogany. Perfectly ripe Cabernet with no herbaceous character. An open-knit palate, generous and opulent without being overdone. Fine tannins beautifully resolved that carry the finish well over the horizon. – Stephen Pannell
A beautiful array of fresh, ripe blackcurrants and dark cherries with subtle wood spices and a liquorice thread. The palate has such smoothly rendered tannins and a very juicy core of fresh, dark plums and blackcurrants. Really impressive, velvety tannins. Drink or hold. Screw cap. 96 points. Nick Stock, JamesSuckling.com June 2019
Classic Aussie red in many ways, but reference that in a more old school way, perhaps. Blackcurrant, liquorice, raspberry liqueur, some exotic spice, a minor amount of truffle and polished wood. It’s juicy and supple, tannin is tucked tight into sheets of intense and subtly sweet small berried fruit, there’s a savoury sort of umami/nori thing happening too, and the finish is long and slick with ripe tannin. Quiet authority here, and it’s a wine that’s not trying too hard to be anything other than what it is, which, in short, is very bloody good. 95 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front November 2019
Also available, in limited quantities…
2015 Koomilya Shiraz RRP $71
Concentrated, pure and fine with lovey raspberry and black cherry fruit. Structured and very fine. Backward and tannic but pure and primary with lots of finesse, even though there’s good structure here and some floral perfume even at this early age. Thrilling wine. 95 points. Jamie Goode, wineanorak.com September 2017
2015 Koomilya Cabernet Shiraz RRP $71
One of Pannell’s greatest talents as a winemaker is his blending, and this is a shining example of a deft touch. The vintage has delivered superbly vibrant red and blue fruits, cassis, blueberries, red plums, raspberries and blackberries. The palate has silky textural appeal, gliding and building layers of fine velvety tannins that hold layers of bright fruit. Deceptively long, powerful and elegant. Drink now or hold. 95 points. Nick Stock, jamessuckling.com September 2018
Brooding blackcurrant fruit nose with some fine floral notes. Lovely freshness and purity here with good acidity. So pure and expressive, with real finesse. Tannic yet pure, linear and elegant. A classic. 96 points. Jamie Goode, wineanorak.com September 2017
2015 Koomilya DC Block Shiraz RRP $115
A captivating wine that marries the best of the region’s supple, approachable Shiraz style with a wealth of detail and astutely assembled tannin structure. The nose is bathed in ripe red berries, delivering a very nicely curated array of earthy and sweetly spicy complexity. The palate has a seductive allure as it is very supple and packed with fleshy, ripe red plums. The tannins are suspended in helix-like form and wrapped around a long core of plush, deep blackberries, red and dark plums. Deeper chocolate and plums to close. Superb. Drink or hold. This will cellar nicely. 97 points. Nick Stock, jamessuckling.com September 2018
Highly aromatic with brooding black cherry and raspberry fruit. Really concentrated with amazing depth and a hint of spicy richness. Burly and tannic but still very fresh and pure. Has massive potential for development. 95 points. Jamie Goode, wineanorak.com September 2017