Winemaker Profile: Andrew Wigan of Peter Lehmann

Red wines, especially Stonewell Shiraz (tastings), are what most of us think of when the name Peter Lehmann (tastings) comes up, but the development of the Lehmann white wines, especially riesling and semillon, is perhaps even more impressive. Great shiraz is no rarity in the Barossa, the story of Stonewell has been told, and Peter Lehmann Wines now makes a battery of superb reds. But chief winemaker Andrew Wigan’s success with white wines is less talked-about. When Wigan and Lehmann worked at Saltram (tastings) in the 1970s they made good reds, but the white wines by Wigan’s own admission were rather ordinary. They had no finesse. Wigan’s refinement of the dry whites at Lehmann, right down to the entry-level riesling and semillon, has been nothing short of revolutionary. Reserve whites Margaret Semillon (tastings) and Wigan Riesling (tastings) now regularly top the shows and often excel in overseas judgings.

When Wigan was an oenology student at Roseworthy in the mid-’70s, the class toured Lindemans (tastings), where Philip Laffer made an impression that Wigan has never forgotten. “He said the key to all great white wines was to make them light and fine so they’re delicate and fault-free when young, and they will age well. It’s a fallacy to make full-flavoured white wines and expect them to age well, or to expect time to iron out their faults. He was right. We had to teach ourselves how to make white wine. (Fellow winemaker) Peter Scholz and I spent ages tasting everyone’s wines against ours at the shows and trying the figure out why we got bronzes when others won golds, and working out how to make them. The first white-wine trophy we won was with the ’82 riesling at Adelaide, a wine with just 10.8% alcohol. It was our turning point. The ’09 Wigan by the way is just 10.9%. We’re picking our whites a lot earlier, not only riesling and semillon but even chardonnay and chenin blanc. They’re light and refreshing with lots of natural acidity. We’re not waiting around for fruit flavour on the vine – that’s crap – what’s important is structure and balance. You get it by picking early, and the wine will be racy, not big or over-the-top.”

With semillon in the early days, Peter Lehmann was doing what other Barossa wineries did: picking it too ripe and using too much oak, making it like a chardonnay, but the wines were clumsy and developed too fast. In 1998 Wigan looked at Hunter Valley semillon and thought, “”the Hunter makes the best semillon in Australia. We’ll pick it earlier, ferment in stainless steel instead of oak, and bottle it early.”” Now they make great semillon that often fools experts into thinking it’s from the Hunter.

Similarly, Wigan applies a limit to reds. “”We don’t go over 14.5% alcohol. That’s riper than we used to be. In the early days we picked at 12.5 to 13 Baume, and we probably picked too early. We’ve gone the other way now, but we don’t want them too ripe.”” Wigan has achieved a huge amount in his 37 vintages, including International Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition twice (in 2003 and ’06), and White Winemaker of the Year at the International WINE Challenge in ’06. He’s been a finalist in our Winemaker of the Year twice before: in 2001 and ’08.

What can he be hoping for in the future? “”The next big challenges are two: to continue to strengthen and improve the Peter Lehmann brand and its awareness – to make it a really successful world brand. We’re up there but we need to keep working on it. Secondly, to create a young team that can carry on the tradition. We’re well on the way, with people like Ian Hongell, Kerry Morrison and Philip Lehmann.””

Despite the international gongs, Wigan cites the Jimmy Watson Trophy (with the ’89 Stonewell in 1990) as his biggest achievement. “”That really put us on the map. We won that when we were nobody. Until then, we were known as a reliable producer but nothing special. All of a sudden, everyone wanted to know us. We started to get listings and things started to happen.””

When the winner was announced, Wigan and his fellow winemakers Peter Scholz and Leonie Lange all went up to collect the trophy together, which had never been done before. “”We started a tradition. These things are never down to one person. Peter Lehmann is very much a team.””

Vital Statistics

  • REGION: Barossa Valley
  • ANNUAL CRUSH: 18,000 tonnes
  • STAND-OUT WINES: Wigan Riesling; Stonewell Shiraz

* Andrew Wigan was Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine Winemaker of the Year for 2009.

First published in Gourmet Traveller Wine – Oct-Nov 2009.

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