Exciting times at Balnaves! We’ve always loved everything about this venerable grape-grower, terra rossa cheerleader and all-round fab family.
And with spring in the air, the sense of renewal adds a thrilling frisson to the mix. Outgoing winemaker Pete Bissell leaves the range on absolutely top form. Pete’s consistency across the range was remarkable, and in recent years he added to his perfectly executed classics with a few modern twists.
The Entav Bordeaux blend is a modern, stylish and bright take on Coonawarra, while his 2018 Chardonnay is especially exciting, with its early-picked pep, zip and line. The Shiraz, which included a significant portion of whole bunch in 2016 and in its super follow-up release in 2018, has become more perfumed, silky and refined. Beautiful fruit to the fore.
The range, in other words, has never looked better. Viticulturist Pete Balnaves has been in the vineyards here since the founding of Balnaves back in 1990, and sister Kirsty has been involved in the running of the business since then, too. And with Jacinta Jenkins – or JJ as she’s known – taking up the mantle as head winemaker, the future is seriously bright.
JJ takes over from a man who composed these wines for 25 years. During that time, Balnaves has been named Halliday Wine Companion Winery of the Year. Pete himself has won several accolades, including Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year and Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology Winemaker of the Year, and even snagged a Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy on the side. Together with genial patriarch Doug, Kirsty, Pete Balnaves and Pete Bissell turned the Blend into one of Australia’s most-consistent top-value Bordeaux blends; put The Tally in the Langton’s Classification as an Outstanding wine; reinvigorated Coonawarra with the Entav wines; defied expectation with a brilliant Chardonnay year in, year out; and made this estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon an Australian benchmark for this variety.
Pete Bissell is a fount of knowledge and natural mentor. He’s been unstintingly generous in passing on his know-how to JJ, who had the pleasure of working at his side for more than two years. Even better, she even has Riesling in her veins, having worked at Pikes in the Clare Valley and Dr Loosen in the Mosel.
Vintage 2018 started with cool and frosty weather, then turned warm and dry. Chardonnay fruit was handpicked early on the 19th February with a baumé of 11.5. Whole bunch pressed juice was barrel fermented on solids in new (25%) and seasoned Louis Latour burgundy barriques, with 50% being wild yeast, 50% AWRI 1375 yeast. Lees contact for eleven months preceded bottling in March 2019. 19 barriques of Chardonnay were produced from the 2018 vintage.
Hand-picked, whole-bunch pressed and fermented on full solids in 25% new and used Louis Latour Burgundy barriques, mix of cultured and wild yeast, 11 months on lees, no malo. A mixed vintage weather-wise with early frosts reducing the crop by 30% but, in the end, the warm, dry finish proved ideal for this fine-edged chardonnay, revealing its inner delicacy. Cut apple, lemon drops and stone fruits with citrus acid bite. The almond bread characters on the palate add a lovely savoury touch.92 points. Jeni Port, Halliday Wine Companion 2021
Vintage 2016 produced excellent Shiraz. Sourced from our 43-year-old Paulownia Shiraz vineyard (70%) with a parcel of our 1975 Old vines (15%) and our Vortmann vineyard (15%). Low yielding vines were picked at 14.2 baumé, berry-sorted and fermented with 30% whole bunches in an open topped fermenter for 8 days and then matured for 11 months in French oak. – Pete Bissell, Balnaves
As ever, a sure hand, but one with a twist hitherto seldom used in Coonawarra; 30% whole bunch inclusion in the ferment. This has added spice and a singular tannin structure supporting the rich fruit and supple oak. So easy to enjoy. 14.5% alc; drink to 2031.95 points. James Halliday, The Weekend Australian
2017 was cool and long with great ripening conditions for Merlot. The Blend this year consists of Merlot (68%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Petit Verdot (2%). Matured in 30% new oak, balance seasoned French oak for 12 months prior to bottling in November 2018.
Deep red colour, the nose shows soft round satsuma plum and blackberry fruit aromas with a spicy vanillin note from the oak. Light to medium bodied with dense black fruit and a spicy firm tannin finish. Showing the plush black fruit that is emblematic of the vintage.
68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. Matured in French oak (30% new) for 12 months. Some smart winemaking on show which belies the affordable price tag. Gentle fragrance, bright red and black fruits, but the real clincher is the concentrated aromatics, delightfully fresh and lifted. There’s violet and rose petal with splashes of spice and some of that Coonawarra bay leaf that is pure terroir. Sensational value.93 points. Jeni Port, Halliday Wine Companion 2021
54% clone 412 Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% clone 338 Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petit Verdot combined in 10-tonne open-top fermenter. Cold soaked 5 days at 10°C then inoculated with BM45 yeast. Another five days on skins before pressing. Maturation in new François Frères Allier large-format barrels and in tank for five months. Bottling in October 2016.
Fresh new clones and a fresh style that’s bottled early, this has a rich array of blueberries and blackcurrants, as well as boysenberries and fresh red plums. The palate is silky and soft and the very focused flavours are well and truly in the fruit zone. A delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Drink now. Screw cap.93 points. Nick Stock, jamessuckling.com July 2019
Vintage 2013 was generally mild with one hot period. Blended from Cabernet Sauvignon (82%) principally from our Walker, Quarry and Dead Morris vineyards, with Merlot (18%) from Avery and Rise. Walker Cabernet, the largest component, was harvested using berry sorting technology prior to ferment. Matured for 16 months in new (50%) and used French oak prior to bottling in October 2014.
An 82/18% blend from three cabernet and two merlot vineyards; matured for 16 months in French oak (50% new). Excellent crimson-purple; the bouquet is aromatic and inviting, the palate with a balance of blackcurrant, mulberry, black olive and herbs, oak adding its own flavour as a bonus.94 points. James Halliday, Halliday Wine Companion 2018
Vintage 2015 was cool with very slow ripening after a warm Christmas, with low night-time temperatures allowing for good maturation. Cabernet Sauvignon from our Walker Cabernet vineyard (97.3%), was blended with (2.7%) Petit Verdot, from Dunstan. This wine spent 18 months in tight-grain French oak from Taransaud, and Berger and Sylvain cooperages, before bottling in December 2016.
Deeply coloured, this is classic Coonawarra Cabernet with cassis, mulberry, mint and dried bay leaf coming together with fine but firm tannins to present an intense, earthy wine that doesn’t even flick the needle of dead fruit/high alcohol. It thus has a certain austerity of the kind you once found in classed growth Bordeaux from good vintages such as ’70.96 points. James Halliday, Halliday Wine Companion 2019
Picked 28th March. Fruit from Dead Morris (100%). Matured for 20 months in French oak (50% new). Alcohol: 14.5%.
Hits up immediately with flavour. A luscious gravity. For all the fruit, there is tannin, a spread of it, a curling wave. Seductive and impressive at once. Rich with blackcurrant and dark chocolate. Outstanding. 96 points. Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front October 2015
Vintage 2010 was cool and even ripening, and vintage on normal timing in late April. Sourced from Dead Morris and Walker vineyards, all fruit was handpicked and 100% of the blend received a long maceration on skins. Maturation was for 19 months in new fine-grained chateau barriques from Seguin Moreau, Taransaud and Sylvain cooperages, before light egg fining and bottling in December 2011, under procork.
Fruit power, strength of tannin, fineness and finesse. It’s all here. Layers of blackcurrant and bay leaves, peppermint and rich dark plum. There’s a chocolatey/pencilly note here too but really, this presents as a seamless whole. The quality is outstanding. The length, the poise, the structural foundation. Tip-top Coonawarra cabernet.95 points. Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
Balnaves have used Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to make this modern Sparkling red. Blended from selected parcels of more complex and elegant wines from eleven vintages of reserve wines matured as a solera. Tiraged in October 2018 and then disgorged in March 2019. Rich and very complex with cassis, blackberry and violet fruits, combined with mature Coonawarra Cabernet characters of chocolate, leather and truffle.