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Australia ♯7 Wolf Blaas

One of the first impressions on arriving in the Barossa Valley is that everything is on a much bigger scale than we have seen before, acres of vineyards, as far as the eye can see and some really big wineries, owned by very large companies.

This was borne out talking to Bernard Higgin head winemaker for Jacobs Creek and man responsible for making at least eighty million bottles of wine. I think its hard to picture what that looks like but yesterday we had chance to see a winery of nearly that scale at Wolf Blaas.

We met Simon General Manager and Matt O’Leary Head Winemaker to tour the Wolf Blaas Barossa Winery. It is immense. I’ve included some pictures, but here are some statistics. They have 2,500 separate temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, they are all outside but wrapped in thick insulation against the heat of the sun. They will crush around 40,000 tonnes of grapes this year. Each year they buy 7,000 new oak barrels and have 40,000 on site at any one time.

What I found impressive is the power of the rational mind at work here. This is an engineer’s solution to making wine and I mean that as high praise. Making wine is a process and to make good wine at this scale that process needs to be understood and tightly managed.

A great example of this was the open fermenter room. This is an immense steel shed with thirty or forty large open stainless steel fermenters running down the middle. In them were red grapes fermenting away. Each can be temperature controlled, pumped over, racked and returned or have the fermenting grapes punched down into the wine by automatic paddles. Once the ferment is complete the wine is run off, the vat picked up by crane. It’s carried to one end of the room and upended into the press, simple, efficient and effective.

Simon and Matt were relaxed, had detailed specific answers to hand for any question asked and were completely open. They looked like two men at the top of their game.

We tasted through a small cross section of the complex brand hierarchy of Wolf Blaas. There were some lovely wines at the top end Black and Platinum level that sell for $130 or more. But what I found most impressive was the quality of the Yellow label wines. These sell for $18 here and probably about £8 at home and they are made in huge volumes. There was balance, restraint, freshness of fruit and classy confidence here. Yes, these are commercial wines and yes, we have tasted better wines but I doubt we have tasted better value wines.

Many thanks to Simon and Matt for being great hosts, and for a fascinating and really eye opening visit.

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