Super Vale vintage
The 2014 vintage was an ‘armchair vintage’ at Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard, according to Californian winemaker Chris Carpenter. With intermittent rain falling during the ripening period, the harvest was stretched. Indeed, it could also be dubbed the yabbying vintage, as Carpenter and his co-winemaker Charlie Seppelt killed time with that time-honoured rural Aussie pastime.
Carpenter is a tall, charismatic American from Chicago who became Jackson Family Estates’ icon cabernet winemaker in the Napa Valley. When Jacksons bought the Hickinbotham Clarendon Estate, in the highest part of the McLaren Vale region, Carpenter became the cabernet guy while Seppelt looks after the shiraz – and, as the local man on the ground, has overall control. They produce a merlot, a shiraz, a cabernet and an icon blend of cabernet and shiraz called The Peake, named after Clarendon’s 19th-century viticultural pioneer, Edward Peake.
The recently released 2014s are the third vintage. All of the wines thus far have been excellent, marking a major new presence in the South Australian fine red wine firmament. The Peake (tasting) is again clearly the pick of the crop, as it should be at $175 (the other three are $75 each). The 2014s are perhaps slightly softer and more elegant than the ‘12s and ‘13s, especially the cabernet, which has lovely fine, gentle tannins.
As Carpenter explained to me,
“2014 was a superior vintage in northern McLaren Vale. The tannins are more savoury, the fruit less cuddly. The rain extended the vintage and we spent some time yabbying.”
Rain typically leads to dilution of the grapes, but if the fruit can be held on the vines, it will in time build flavour, says Carpenter.
“You hold them till they are starting to dehydrate a little, and the flavour is building, but luckily there was no rot.”
The Peake is 56% cabernet and 44% shiraz. It’s based on two blocks of vines which are among the original 1971 contoured plantings by Alan Hickinbotham Jr. These typically provide more tannin-dominant cabernet and the least fruit-driven shiraz. The well-exposed bunches give fruit concentration and tannin weight, says Carpenter, and this fruit has always gone into The Peake. The good news is that there is four times as much of it: the 2012 (tasting) and 2013 (tasting) were just 100 cases; the 2014 runs to 400 cases.
The merlot (tasting) is ripe with chocolate and plum aromas and no leafiness; the shiraz (tasting) has delicious smoky, savoury notes and velvet texture; the cabernet (tasting) is laden with cassis and violets, while The Peake is a mixture of the best features of the other wines, with greater power and concentration. These are elegant, statuesque red wines which will age superbly.
Unhappily for off-premise buyers and cellaring nuts, the Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard wines are sold 80% to restaurants, 20% to retail. Sydney’s Best Cellars is a retail stockist.