Since its launch in 2010, International Grenache Day has been held on the third Friday of September every year (this year, 18th September). More commonly known as the G in GSM, its role is no longer just as a supporting act in a blend; today Grenache shines bright as a single-variety.
On its special, celebratory day, you’re invited to grab a glass and join us as our Grenache-loving winemakers, Tim and Brett, share a few reasons why this varietal has become one of our favourite Barossa wines and deserves some attention.
Grenache is traditionally a Spanish varietal (where it’s known as garnacha.); tell us how it found its way around the world to the Barossa in South Australia?
Grenache cuttings from Spain were included in the original collections that James Busby brought into Australia in 1832 however in wasn’t until the late 1840’s, after new cuttings arrived from the South of France, that greater planting occurred in the Barossa Valley.
Up until the 1950’s, Grenache was the most widely planted variety in Australia as it’s high vigour, large crops and late ripening nature meant that it was really well suited to growing grapes destined for fortified wines, particularly in the warmer climates.
As the popularity of fortified wines faded, and red table wines gained in popularity, many of these Grenache vineyards were replaced with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. At the same time a surplus in wine grapes in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s meant that the government actually announced a vine pull scheme which encouraged growers to replace vineyards with other crops and fruit orchards. Unfortunately for us, Grenache was often selected to be pulled.
When it comes to producing Grenache, what makes the Barossa wines so special?
The Barossa is home to the oldest surviving, and producing, Grenache vineyards in the world with the earliest plantings dating back to 1848. These old dry-grown vineyards have an innate ability to control vigour and grape yields whilst sourcing just enough ground water to produce extremely high quality Grenache grapes.
The huge diversity of soil types and microclimates across the warmer Barossa Valley floor and cooler Eden Valley also enables us to blend several premium Grenache parcels to create wines with much greater complexity.
With Barossa winemakers really only beginning to focus on table wines in the last 20-30 years, we’re still in a very exciting phase of identifying the parcels of old vine Grenache that were planted in ideal locations for high end table wine production.
Grenache is arguably having its time in the sun, what is it that’s so appealing about this varietal?
We think the versatility of Grenache is what is making this variety so appealing.
While long being recognised as an integral component of red wine blends such GSM’s we are now seeing single varietal wines produced from Grenache in many different styles.
Winemakers are really experimenting with the variety and the perception of Grenache from the Barossa being jammy, overripe and simple is no longer. Exciting, bright and vibrant wines are being produced for consumption when young whilst textural, savoury examples are still worthy of many years in the cellar.
For those looking to explore Barossa Grenache, what will they discover when they swirl their glass?
Throughout the Barossa, Grenache is being made in many different styles, from super bright wines that focus on primary fruit, richness and soft tannins to much more savoury and complex styles, focused on spice and texture. However, the alluring cherry, raspberry and spice aromatics combined with round, opulent tannins are the hallmark characters of Barossa Grenache. Gone are the days of overripe, high alcohol and raisin flavoured wines and vibrant, medium bodied wines are now much more common.
Apart from the fact you’ve had a hand in making it, what makes Peter Lehmann Grenache different to other Grenache wines from the region?
Our unrivalled access to beautiful old Grenache vineyards spread all over the region enables us to create wines of great complexity, with an amalgam of different flavours and textures due to the blending of several beautiful old vine Grenache vineyards.
We are extremely lucky to source fruit from 6 vineyards that are classified as Old vine (over 35 years of age) or Survivor vine (over 70 years of age). These special vineyards are spread right across the Barossa Valley which means we are able to consistently produce super high quality Grenache each vintage. In cooler years, parcels from the warmer, early ripening Western ridge (Marananga, Greenock) may standout and in contrast, parcels from the cooler, later ripening northern Barossa (Ebeneezer, Light Pass) may excel in the warmer years due to slow and steady ripening allowing more complex flavour development .
We are really spoilt with the access we have to truly great Barossa Grenache vineyards and this is what enables Peter Lehmann Grenache to be a real standout.
How does this varietal lend itself to winemaking, and the winemaking techniques you enjoy most?
For us, making great Grenache is all about building layers of complexity into the final blend. We like to harvest some fruit slightly earlier in the season, with these batches contributing vibrant, crunchy cherry and raspberry fruit flavours and higher acidity to the final blend. The batches harvested later in the season then add richness and structure to the final blend as well as beautiful ripe plum fruit flavour and complex spice aromatics.
We then like to ferment whole berries at a relatively cool temperature which enables a long, slow fermentation that helps to extract increased flavour and tannin as well as retain the beautiful bright fruit aromatics that Grenache is famous for. A sprinkle of whole bunch fermentation is included in the final blend, however this is only to add complexity of flavour rather than being an obvious feature of the final blend.
Our Grenache is then matured in larger format barrels, 500L puncheons, and only older oak is used. Instead of introducing oak flavour to the wine, these barrels allow retention of vibrant flavour whilst allowing gentle aging on light lees to slowly soften tannins and build texture to the mid palate.
What are you doing to get the Grenache vines ready for Vintage 2021?
Pruning is now almost complete in the Barossa. Whilst being important for all premium wine grapes, pruning is especially important for Grenache due to the fact that is a particularly vigorous variety that can result in very high yields if not controlled. By reducing bud numbers and keeping yields low, we receive much higher quality fruit with greater intensity of flavour and better balanced tannin structure.
Once pruning is complete we continue to hope for early spring rain. After 3 consecutive drier than average years the vines have very much enjoyed the recent downfalls. This has enabled flushing of accumulated salts from the surface soils and increased soil water content leading into the 2020/2021 growing season. Let’s hope it continues for the next month or so.
I’ve seen Grenache used in Rose wines, what makes it suitable for this wine style?
Grenache is a very popular choice when making Rose, mostly due to the same characters that make it such an attractive red wine. Lifted, pretty and complex aromatics combined with soft acid and generally low tannins means that the juice can be separated from the skins before, or during, fermentation to make beautiful Rose wines.
Grenache berries are commonly thin skinned, meaning that the berries usually have a higher ratio of juice to skin and the skins contain less colour and tannin than other varieties like Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. This enables us to leave the juice in contact with the skins for a longer period, extracting more flavour but still having lightly coloured and finely structured Rose juice.
It is also quite a low acid variety which helps to produce very approachable young wines with a soft, textured mouthfeel when combined with time on yeast lees post fermentation.
What are your top tips for enjoying Grenache? (food, serving temp, occasion etc)
The current diversity of style means Grenache can be well suited to an assortment of cuisines. Lighter bodied styles with more moderate alcohol levels pair beautifully with slightly spicy Asian dishes whereas bigger, richer styles have enough weight, flavour and structure to consume with grilled meats, pizza or intensely flavoured slow cooked red meat dishes.
Personally, Grenache wines are becoming my go to for weeknights. Light and refreshing enough to drink a glass while cooking, versatile enough to match whatever is on the menu and complex enough to savour another glass post meal!
How will you be celebrating this special varietal day?
We will be celebrating by cracking a bottle of our recently released 2018 The Bond Grenache at our Barossa Valley Cellar Door.
Did you know?
- Garnacha originated in Aragon, a region in northern Spain.
- The earliest mention of Garnacha can be traced all the way back to 1513 in a text by Gabriel Alonso de Herrera called Agricultura general. It was known then as Aragones a synonym that described a “black-berried variety from Madrid,” (according to Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding’s book titled Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours).
- Grenache is blended into some of the most expensive wines in the world. Grenache is the dominant variety (of the thirteen permitted) in the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC.
- There is more land committed to Granache than any other variety – that’s mostly thanks to huge vineyards in northern Spain, where Garnacha is a classic table wine.
- Peter Lehmann 2018 The Bond Grenache has just been awarded the Vinpac International Trophy for Best Grenache at the 2020 Barossa Wine Show
- Peter Lehmann 2017 The Barossan Grenache is simply delicious – confirmed by a string of awards including a gold medal awarded at both the Melbourne and Perth Royal Wine Shows, and 91 points from Australia’s wine bible, James Halliday’s Wine Companion.