Third-generation winemaker making his way with Lehmann

Winemaker Tim Dolan. (Photo: Ben Macmahon)

Tim Dolan is a winemaker with pedigree, not unusual in the Barossa Valley, where there are families into their seventh generation plying their trade in grapes or wine.

Tim Dolan grew up with the scent of fermenting grapes in his nostrils. His father Nigel worked for Seppelt at Seppeltsfield and Château Tanunda in a career that culminated in several years at Saltram as chief winemaker. That was serendipitous as Saltram is where his career began, under its legendary chief winemaker Peter Lehmann. The fact that Tim is a winemaker at Peter Lehmann Wines today completes a circle.

“Living at Saltram for most of my childhood, I saw at first-hand what it took to be a winemaker and work in the cellars. I got an introduction to the industry without having to work in it.” – Tim Dolan

The lineage began with Tim’s grandfather Bryan Dolan, who worked at Stonyfell where he made the first-ever Jimmy Watson Trophy winner, the 1961 Stonyfell Metala Cabernet Shiraz Claret.

Tim is a tall, lean, broad-shouldered young man, softly spoken and wears a ready smile. His career at Peter Lehmann Wines began in 2011 under then chief winemaker Andrew Wigan. He’s presently part of a four-person team under chief winemaker Nigel Westblade.

Was it an advantage or a curse to be the son and grandson of winemakers?

“There was never any pressure on me to follow in their footsteps,” Dolan says.

“Living at Saltram for most of my childhood, I saw at first-hand what it took to be a winemaker and work in the cellars. I got an introduction to the industry without having to work in it.”

Dolan saddled up for a trip to the big smoke to tell the press about the upcoming Peter Lehmann Masters series wines and the next vintage of flagship Stonewell Shiraz.

The Masters series comprises Wigan Eden Valley Riesling, Margaret Barossa Semillon, Eight Songs Barossa Shiraz, and Mentor Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tim Dolan evidently has a soft spot for Barossa riesling, and part of it concerns the vineyard and its owners. The upcoming 2015 vintage of Wigan Riesling is a single vineyard wine, the growers being the Hurn family, whose vineyard is behind Mengler’s Hill on soil that is “sandy but not too bony”, says Dolan. Owner William Hurn’s son is Shannon Hurn, known to AFL followers as a star of the West Coast Eagles.

As well, 2015 was the final vintage of Andrew Wigan, and, according to Dolan, it was the best vintage since 1993. The 1993 Peter Lehmann Reserve Riesling was a great wine, won a list of show awards as long as your arm, and drank superbly for many years even considering it was bottled with a cork. I for one consumed more than my fair share of it.

Andrew Wigan was chief winemaker from 1980 to 2014. He first worked with Peter Lehmann at Saltram and was at Lehmann’s side when Lehmann founded his own winery in 1979. In 2003, what had been known as the Reserve Riesling was renamed Wigan in his honour. Wigan riesling is released with at least five years of age.

Margaret Semillon is named after Peter’s wife Margaret, the ‘great woman beside the great man’ as the saying goes: his wife, business partner and a champion of the Barossa and its wines, especially semillon (and fino sherry—although PLW no longer markets the sherry).

As Tim Dolan reminds us, Peter Lehmann Wines rewrote the rule book on Barossa semillon in the early 1990s, opting to pick the grapes earlier and forego wood-ageing, emulating the traditional, low-alcohol Hunter Valley style. Few can ever tell them apart.

Mentor cabernet is named in tribute to the founder, as Peter Lehmann, the man, mentored innumerable winemakers and cellar hands during his 50-year career. Wigan, Nigel Dolan, Charlie Melton and Peter Scholz of The Willows are just four.

“Eight Songs is like a liquefied box of chocolates; Stonewell is like crushed up old tractors!” – Tim Dolan

Peter Lehmann, encouraged by Margaret, had a great passion for the arts, and Eight Songs Shiraz is named after Eight Songs for a Mad King, one of his favourite ensemble musical works. It was composed by Briton Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in 1968 with a libretto by Australian Randolph Stow, based on the words of King George III.

The wine provides a style contrast for Stonewell, being sourced from some of the cooler and more southern vineyards including Eden Valley and Bethany. The upcoming vintage 2018 includes some Light Pass and Moppa as well.

Stonewell is based on the northern Barossa, the upcoming 2016 blended from Moppa, Stonewell and Ebenezer districts. Where 2018 Eight Songs is rich in sweet blackberry fruit, chocolaty and ‘cuddly’ (to use a Peter Lehmann-ism), the 2016 Stonewell is powerful, concentrated, with ironstone and graphite nuances and lashings of firm tannins. It promises to be very long-lived.

Tim Dolan sums up the two wines:

“Eight Songs is like a liquefied box of chocolates; Stonewell is like crushed up old tractors!”

The Masters series are all AUD $45. They and the 2016 Stonewell Shiraz (AUD $100) will be released on November 20th.


One thought on “Third-generation winemaker making his way with Lehmann”

  1. Avatar
    David Ridge says:

    Bryan Dolan was one of the loveliest blokes you’d meet. I had the good fortune for much of 3 decades as an export inspector at AWBC, to have Bryan as our lead inspector. A man of calm, integrity, wisdom and vast experience, who valued evidence and reasonable outcomes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *