Fine Stein wines

L-R: Andrew (Drew) and Jacob Stein in the Robert Stein vineyards. (Photo: Robert Stein Wines)

If you pick up a bottle of the flagship Robert Stein shiraz, The Kinnear, you’ll have to look hard for the vintage. It’s not as if winemaker Jacob Stein is being coy about it, but he’s done it deliberately. “You have to read the story to find the year,” he says. And it’s quite a story, as the first Stein, Johann, left his native Germany and sailed out to Australia on a ship named The Kinnear, arriving in 1838. He was one of several German ‘vine dressers’ brought to the new colony by the Macarthur family of Camden Park, as few of the early settlers had any knowledge of viticulture.

Jacob is one of several younger generation winemakers in Mudgee who are shaking the place up.

Nearly a century and a half later, Robert Stein re-entered the wine industry, planting the vineyard that his son Andrew and grandson Jacob now manage.

The Kinnear 2016 (AUD $80) is the third vintage of this wine, which comprises the best two barrels of shiraz from the family vineyard on Pipeclay Lane.

“It’s the best fruit from the best rows from the best blocks of the vineyard – the top blocks,” says Jacob.

It was aged in French barrels, one new and one older, for 15 months. The wine has terrific density and fleshy texture; concentration with softness.

“Mudgee doesn’t have enough iconic wines; wines striving for distinction,” says Jacob. “We have Huntington Estate Block 3 Cabernet, Lowe Zinfandel and Logan Ridge of Tears, but we need more.”

Which is part of the reason the Steins have bottled this special shiraz separately.

Jacob is one of several younger generation winemakers in Mudgee who are shaking the place up. Tellingly, one of his competitors says,

“Jacob Stein is a breath of fresh air. He’s the best thing that’s happened to Mudgee for a long time.”

But it’s not easy keeping a growing brand like Robert Stein as a pure Mudgee brand when the region has been shrinking.

“We’re struggling to buy enough fruit, of the right quality or not, in the last few years,” he says. “We’re trying to stay 100% Mudgee, but we won’t make a rule of it. Our new Farm Series brand could be blended, but so far it’s all Mudgee. The Oatleys have pulled out half the vineyard they used to have, and the region itself has dropped by 50% in the last decade. Now it’s hard to find grapes.”

The 2018 Farm Series Riesling is part of an AUD $18-$20 series of wines made from growers’ grapes, aimed at the Sydney trade, and comprising a merlot, a rosé, a white field blend, and a riesling. Its name is a reference to the ‘vineyard, winery, farm’ concept that is what Robert Stein is today. It has a fine restaurant, the Pipeclay Pumphouse, for which its gardens and paddocks supply much of the produce.

Indeed, riesling is a case in point.

“In 2009, when I came back to work here, we were selling 200 cases of riesling a year. Now we’re doing 2500 cases of the Dry Riesling alone. We now have four rieslings: the Farm Series, the Half Dry, the Dry and the Reserve. Dad’s said ‘No more rieslings!’”

No doubt the quality, backed up by wine show success, is driving it all. The yet-to-be-released 2018 Reserve (AUD $50) has won three trophies, and the 2018 Dry Riesling (AUD $30) had already won four trophies and five gold medals when I visited in November.

The 2018 Reserve is all off their own vineyard’s ironstone and quartz shale soils. It’s hand-harvested and wild fermented, 20% in barrel.

The 2018 Dry Riesling comes from estate vines and growers. Jacob proudly tells me where the bought-in fruit comes from. “Miramar, planted 1974; Malcolm Roth, planted 1975, and our vines, planted 1976.”

Both wines have great precision and intensity and will age superbly. They will add to the proud tradition of Mudgee riesling, and continue the great line of seriously underrated, ageworthy riesling that Ian McRae at Miramar turned out for so many years.

The story continues.

Postscript: the biggest surprise I found at Robert Stein was the 2016 Reserve Shiraz (AUD $50), made from estate vines planted in 1976, vinified with 25% whole bunches and wild fermented. It combines power and concentration with spicy, dried herb complexities: a delicious, succulent wine that is more accessible than The Kinnear and – while less dense and forceful – gives even more pleasure today.

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