Gemtree releases underground shiraz

Mike Brown (right) and Joshua Waechter dig up the Subterra barrel. (Photo: Kerry Barnes)

No doubt you’ve always wondered what a shiraz would taste like if you buried a barrel of it in the same vineyard in which the grapes grew?

It’s tremendously concentrated and loaded with character, including a certain earthy, mineral undertone.

Gemtree Vineyards, of McLaren Vale, decided to find out.

The resulting wine is now selling at their cellar door for AUD $180 a bottle. It’s called Gemtree Subterra Shiraz 2016. And it is excellent.

Whether it possesses any particular unique characteristics imparted by its lowdown dirty treatment is arguable.

Gemtree is a biodynamically certified vineyard, managed by Melissa Brown. Her winemaker husband Mike Brown took the grapes from one row of vines, put the resulting wine in one barrel, coated the barrel in a thin layer of beeswax for protection, dug a two-metre-deep hole in the vineyard, interred the barrel and left it there for six months, where it stayed through a very wet winter. Then the barrel was exhumed, the wine bottled, and just 240 bottles resulted. No sulfur dioxide was added.

The packaging is pretty special, as you might expect for such a costly and rare bottle of wine.

Without the benefit of a ‘control’ bottle, it’s impossible to say what differences there might be as a result of the burial. The wine is certainly impressive. It’s tremendously concentrated and loaded with character, including a certain earthy, mineral undertone. I thought it quite outstanding, but I suspect the wine was selected for its high quality in the first place.

Brown says he has repeated the exercise. He told me: “Repeated in 2017 which will be released November 2018, and this week we buried the v18.”

People do weird things with barrels of wine.

When on Santorini a few years ago I was told by the proprietor winemaker at Gaia, Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, that he’d sunk a barrel of assyrtiko in the ocean, not far from his winery, to see what would happen. As you do.

I’ll be back there in a few weeks and will be sure to ask about it.

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