D'Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2006 McLaren Vale Australia

D'Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2006, McLaren Vale, Australia

Drunk in Stollhof, Austria November 2015

The winery

McLaren Vale's d’Arenberg was established in 1912 when Joseph Osborn, a teetotaler and director of Thomas Hardy and Sons, sold his stable of prize winning horses to purchase the property that now houses the winery. It is located 35 km south of Adelaide in South Australia.

Joseph’s son Frank joined him on the land and they set about acquiring some more vineyards. Joseph Osborn died in 1921 leaving full control of the business to Frank.

In the early years grapes were sold to other wineries before the winery was built in 1927 shortly after Francis (universally known as d’Arry) Osborn was born. Initially making fortified wines to export to England, the business prospered until World War II stifled demand. This coincided with Frank’s ill health which forced d’Arry to leave school in 1943 at age 16 to help his father run the business and work the land. d’Arry took full control of the business in 1957 upon Frank’s death and in 1959 he launched his own wine label named in honour of his mother, Helena d'Arenberg, who died shortly after giving birth to him. d’Arry decided to put a red stripe on the label, inspired by happy memories of his school days at Prince Alfred College, where he wore the crimson-and-white striped school tie. d’Arry’s son Chester joined the business in 1984 as Chief Winemaker.

d'Arry and Chester D'Arenberg 

Chester’s philosophy is to make wines that have great fragrance, fruit palate texture and length. The finish of the wine must have a natural, fine balance of acidity and a complex structure of tannins. "I aim to make loudest, most flowery fragrant and most fruit-flavoured wines that have great palate texture and are free of excess oak. I look for tannins that are long, lively, gritty and youthful with fragrant fruit-mineral notes. I want to see it all my wines; I want a wine that has edges of all sorts of complexities such as spices, meats, compost and forest floors etc…"

"Our other focus is to make a wine that is not going to go too earthy or bitumen - tarry with age. Some producers make wines that have oodles of fruit; they’re ripe, rich and gutsy, but in a few years these wines may show inherent problems from their production. That is fat, blousy, and chocolate and tar with short palate life. This is also the opposite of what we aim to produce."

d'Arry and Chester D'Arenberg with basket press

d’Arenberg is unique in that it is the only winery in Australia to use the traditional basket press method for white wines as well as reds. Chester believes that one of the advantages of basket pressing is cleaner juice, as it is partially filtered through the mass of pulp it drains through in the basket. This saves time in settling and clearing the juice and minimal interference which enables quality to be preserved.

The winery philosophy is minimal or no irrigation, no fertilization, minimal spraying and no soil cultivation. "With minimal irrigation and no fertilization the vines develop strong root systems that penetrate deeper into the soil profile and spread wider giving the grapes a greater expression of the soil," Chester explains. "When we stopped fertilizing we noticed that skins were getting thicker with a lot less green tannins and the berries were more turgid with better acidity and they were ripening at lower sugar levels."

Many d’Arenberg vineyards are completely dry grown, and those irrigated only receive strategic drip irrigation at two possible times, and only if required. The first time is before flowering in winter or early spring and only in dry years. This emulates rainfall and promotes healthy canopy development and ensures bud burst. The second time is at the end of December to ensure irrigation is not needed during ripening.

The net effect of minimal input viticulture is slightly lower yielding vines producing intense flavoured grapes showing the individual character of the soils they are grown in. The environmental benefits are also significant with less mechanical requirements, less water and soil richer in natural micronutrients.

Climate and soil - terroir

McLaren Vale's climate is of the Mediterranean type: warm dry summers and cool wet winters, with low relative humidity and relatively high evaporation. In McLaren Vale, the risk of rainfall or frost during the harvest period is rare and this is one of the reasons why the region is such a marvellously predictable place to grow grapes and make premium wines. The proximity to the sea is one of the biggest influences on the climate of McLaren Vale as well as the Lower Mt Lofty Ranges which form the Sellicks Hill ranges and which border McLaren Vale to the East. The result is that hot summer days are moderated by cool westerly, southerly or easterly breezes off the surrounding ocean, and also the 'Gully Winds' from the Hills. This makes for a prolonged ripening period during which time the grapes accumulate flavour and intensity. (and they help cool down the vineyard workers!)

Having a 'Mediterranean' type climate means there tends to be a smaller temperature variation. The average January temperature in McLaren Vale is 20.9 degrees C. Annual rainfall is anywhere from 650-700mm. 150-200mm falling between October and April, which means that rainfall is winter dominant, though we do get some in the growing season. There are numerous microclimates within the region, however, determined by variations in soil type and altitude as well as the various geological landforms. 

There are a large number of soil and geology types evident across the McLaren Vale region which provides opportunities for adventurous grape growers. A Geology map that was ten years in the making was published in 2010 and it provides a greater understanding of what lies beneath the surface. McLaren Vale was originally a glacial deposit which explains the huge diversity in age and type of the geology and soil. Some of the younger sand and sandstone formations are dated at 500 million years of age with some limestone, quartzite and clay aged between 500 and 750 million years of age. 

d'Arenberg grows and sources grapes from vineyards all over the McLaren Vale region, with a focus on grapes from the north and north eastern corner. The region itself rises from sea level to approximately 220 metres above sea level in the north, on the rise to the Mt Lofty ranges. The higher areas are much cooler than the low lying vineyards and generally make a more elegant wine, particualrly when sourced from the sandy soils of the Blewitt Springs region.

McLaren Vale vineyards:

Osborn Estate

The original family property located at Osborn Road, McLaren Vale this 113ha (280acre) Estate has 73ha (180 acres) planted with various varieties made up of old and new plantings. Shiraz planted in 1912, bush vine Grenache and Mourvèdre planted from 1918 through to Cabernet Sauvignon (1950s), Chardonnay, Marsanne, Viognier, Chambourcin, Sauvignon Blanc. Soil profiles are a mix of three McLaren Vale subregions, McLaren Vale, Seaview & Blewitt Springs. Primarily Ironstone & chalky rock with a thin covering of clay loam on the higher slopes of the vineyard with deepening clay layers as you venture down the slopes to creek bed clays as found in the valleys. Also found is sandy loam on marley limestone soils.

The Pedler’s Divide Vineyard

Adjoining the vineyards below the Osborn Estate Vineyard at the corners of the Twentyeight Road & Chalk Hill Road it runs towards Kangarilla Road. Pedler’s Divide Vineyard is a 35.5ha (88 acre) vineyard on 40ha (100 acres) ranging from 60 to 80 meters above sea level. It was purchased and developed in the late 1990’s to varieties best suited to the various soils on the property to maximise the wine styles consistent to d’Arenberg such as Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Souzao, Tinta Cao, Marsanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Rousanne. The soil profile on the highest reaches of the vineyard is very similar to the sandy loam over clays typical of the Blewitt Springs. The sloping sandy hill then falls onto the flat where soils range from grey clays over limestone to grey/brown loams over limestone or clay.

The Mustard Block Vineyard

Mustard Block is a 32ha (70 acres) vineyard property located on Tatachilla Road, on the shallow capped soils of the Pedler Creek Ridge to the seaward side of McLaren Vale. Varieties include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sangrantino, Tempranillo, Tinta Cao, Verdelho and Viognier. The vineyard is called the Mustard Block due to the widespread infestation of Mustard Weed through the property. Located on the western face of the McLaren Vale subregion, the vineyard consists of shallow red and brown earths over lime. Elevation ranges from 65 to 45 meters above sea level.

The Bamboo Ridge

A prime Blewitt Springs property located on a high sandy ridge along Whittings Rd. The 19.47ha (48.2 acres) property is planted to Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Semillon, and Merlot with excellent old vines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache and Shiraz which are the highlights of this property. All soils are deep sand.

The Ege Vineyard

The Ege Vineyard (named after its founder Egerton Dennis) located on Moritz Rd; McLaren Flat was recently purchased from the Dennis family, a noted historical family of McLaren Vale and long standing friends of the Osborn family. It is set on a 36.6ha (90 acre) property close to McLaren Flat in a valley below the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges. It is planted to 19.56 ha (48.4 acres) of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc. Soils vary from sandy loam over clay to loam on clay, coupled with the 108 year-old vines is an exceptional addition to the d’Arenberg collection of vineyards.

The Wilcadene Vineyard

The Wilcadene property is located along Douglas Gully Road, Mc Laren Flat which is close by to The Ege Vineyard. The vineyard comprises of 6ha planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Grenache and Shiraz of which the oldest vines were planted in 1958. The landscape is undulating with deep glacial sandy soils which are very different in comparison to its neighbour, The Ege Vineyard.

The Little Venice Vineyard

Little Venice is situated 1 km east of the winery at the top end of Foggo Rd. It is a beautiful 20 hectare (49.5acre) property planted in the late 1990’s to 7.5 hectares of Shiraz with an elevation of 130mts. This property again was set up by the previous owner before d’Arenberg and is set on two very distinctive soils types, 4 hectares of sandy loam over clay and 3.5 hectares of brown to grey loam over marly limestone clay. Both of these soils are suited to dry grown quality production.

The wine

100% McLaren Vale Shiraz. Harvest Dates 28 February to 16 April Oak Maturation 20 months in new & aged French and American oak barriques. Alcohol by Vol: 14.5%. Bottling Date: 14 December 2007

Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that affects vineyards all over the world. Often vines affected are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity.

Each batch of fruit received was gently crushed in a Demoisy open-mouthed, rubber-toothed crusher so as many of the berries as possible remain whole. After crushing, the must was transferred to open fermenters where the seeds and skins are permanently submerged beneath the free run juice. The must receives no plunging or pumping over while fermentation occurs. Once the primary fermentation is nearly complete, traditional foot-treading takes place prior to basket-pressing. The wine is then transferred to barrel to complete its primary and secondary fermentation. After 20 months every barrel is individually assessed for quality. Only the best barrels are selected to be bottled as The Dead Arm Shiraz

2006 vintage in McLaren Vale

In terms of overall quality the 2006 vintage was very good, with most whites varieties, Shiraz, Mouvedre, Cabernet and Petit Verdot being the highlights  with fruit characters noticeably fragrant with good acidity and excellent length of flavour. Botrytis and other bunch rots were not a problem this vintage as no significant rainfall events occurred during the ripening period.

The lead up to vintage was uneventful with average winter rain followed by heavy rains in spring that resulted in vines with healthy, balanced canopies on most soils. A mild, early, summer leading into a warmer period during veraison stopped vegetative growth allowing vines to channel energy into the fruit. A prolonged cool period occurred after veraison in February with some rain which enabled the fruit to ripen without any stress. Finally the warmth returned in March with cool evening temperatures to complete ripening in almost perfect conditions enhancing fruit flavour and richness without diluting levels of natural acidity. Picking was staggered with many parcels picked in wonderful autumn conditions.

Fermented Grape tasting notes

The D'Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2006, McLaren Vale was certainly hyper concentrated and benefited from decanting -  a big wine. The wine was deep red in the glass and the nose and palate was heavy with dark chocolate, blackcurrant and black cherry with a hint of spice, anise, pepper and tobacco. Tannins, fruit and acidity were well balanced though the wine felt a little alcoholic which was not surprising given it is 14.5%. Super smooth with a satisfying, long and warm length. 

Though the wine was enjoyable its concentration almost made it hard to drink, though cheese paired very well with it. My fellow drinker and I took some time to drink the bottle, almost like having a bottle of Port. An experience to be sure....I never thought I'd be drinking something made from vines infected by the Eutypa Lata fungus!