Doug Neal wows with whites and reds

The present owners of Paradise IV replanted a 19th Century vineyard on the Batesford property in 1988. (Photo: Paradise IV Wines)

Doug Neal is one of the undersung heroes of winemaking in southern Victoria. His early experience in winemaking was at Giaconda, where he worked the vintage for 15 years and is still close to the owners, the Kinzbrunner family. He has been the winemaker at Paradise IV near Geelong for 13 years and in recent years has been associated with the Del Rios winery at Anakie, also in the Geelong region. He’s been tucked away from view in the relatively small and quiet Geelong region: one wonders how much bigger a profile he might have, had he been in the Yarra Valley, for example.

Neal’s white wines are excellent, but it’s his two latest reds that wowed me the most.

The present owners of Paradise IV replanted a 19th Century vineyard on the Batesford property in 1988 – exactly 140 years after the original owner, J. H. Dardel, planted on the same land. Now they are selling the property, including the 5-acre vineyard, and Neal is heading to the Macedon Ranges wine region to work for Hesket Vineyard. The challenges there will be somewhat different, with pinot noir – which has so far not been a big part of Neal’s experience. The 8-acre Hesket Vineyard also has chardonnay and “a little bit of riesling.”

I’ve been following Neal’s activities for several years and admiring his achievements, and the subtle influence he’s been having in several areas of Victorian wine. For many years he has imported barrels from France – at various times, Sirrugue and Bossuet. He’s back managing Sirrugue’s business in Australia and New Zealand now. Sirrugue oak is a key influence in the style of Giaconda wines, especially the magnificent chardonnay. Indeed, one can see the influence of Sirrugue barrels (40% new) in the current release 2017 Del Rios AD Chardonnay (AUD $50). Students of terroir could do worse than compare another of Neal’s current releases, the 2016 Paradise IV Chardonnay (AUD $60), which comes off limestone soil, with the Del Rios, off volcanic soil.

Neal’s white wines are excellent, but it’s his two latest reds that wowed me the most. Geelong shiraz has been emerging from the shadows in recent years, and the 2016 Paradise IV Dardel Shiraz (AUD $70) is a cracker. It combines the spice of a cool-climate growing region with the richness and ripeness of a good site in a warmer season. The second wine is the 2016 Paradise IV Chaumont (AUD $60), a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 12% shiraz and 3% cabernet franc. Its tobaccoey bouquet takes me straight to St-Émilion.

There have also been some excellent shirazes under Neal’s own label, Hildegard, a brand he intends to develop further.

I for one will be watching the next chapter in the evolving Doug Neal story with great interest.

*Sydney retailers likely to stock Paradise IV, Hildegard and Del Rios wines include Vintage Blue, The Wine Collective, Australian Wine Centre and L Maestro of East Killara.

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