Clarendon Hills (wine)
|Wine region||McLaren Vale|
|Key people||Roman Bratasiuk|
|Known for||Astralis, Piggott Range Syrah, Hickinbotham Cabernet Sauvignon, Romas Grenache|
In 1990 Roman Bratasiuk founded Clarendon Hills winery in McLaren Vale, Clarendon 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Adelaide in South Australia. Clarendon was selected as a base because of the significant number of old vineyards (50 to 90 years). The township of Clarendon was established in 1880 by European migrants, who bought with them pre-clonal, original French vine cuttings and propagated vineyards across the surrounding hilltops. Clarendon is home to hugely varied terrain with sandy, clay based soils in the lower elevated regions and contrasted with shattered shale and ironstone rich, quartz ridden soils in the highest areas. Grenache, Syrah Merlot, Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards are sourced by Clarendon Hills within the Clarendon, Blewitt Springs and Kangarilla districts. Seeking to express the imprint a vineyard and its terroir stamps on varietal expression, Roman exclusively produces single vineyard wines. Today there is lots of single vine yard wines in Australia, but when Roman started in 1990, he was a virtual pioneer. In the early 90's, Roman started becoming known for his Grenache, but today it is his impressive collection of ultra high quality wines spread across his 19 single vineyard cuvee portfolio. In Wine Advocate issue #173 it comments "Clarendon Hills is one of the worlds elite wine estates". Clarendon Hills is most highly regarded for its Syrah wine, named Astralis. In 1996 wine critic Robert Parker tasted the 1994 Astralis and wrote in issue 110 of his newsletter:
|“||This is the hottest wine in Australian wine circles, as it came out ahead of two great vintages of Henschke and Penfolds’ Grange in a recent tasting. If readers can believe it, it is a bigger denser, more concentrated wine than the Grange||”|
and in issue 108 (1996) he named Roman wine producer of the year. After this Astralis became a cult wine.Two vintages of Astralis (1996 and 1994) were recently included within the 'Greatest 1000 Wines of all time 1727-2006" as a result of 15 international MW's collaborating with Scandinavian publisher FINE. Clarendon Hills was awarded New World Winery of the Year in 2006 by Wine Enthusiast. To date, Astralis is either the highest or equivocally scored as the best Australian Shiraz/Syrah based wine every year according to US publications Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate.
Clarendon Hills began with the obsession of Biochemist Roman Bratasiuk’s love of great wine. Driven and inspired by the impact appellation and producer alike has on wine style and varietal expression – Roman sought to further his passion for great wine by making some himself. Roman, although never trained as a winemaker, planned on using his insight as a wine taster and scientist alike to dictate decisions along the way. Influenced by preferred styles, favourite producers and vintage expression, Roman sought to make a version of the wines he loved.
Clarendon Hills was effectively born in 1989 when he knocked on the door a local grower whose fruit he liked the flavour of – a warm friendship grew from this moment, a handshake followed and it was the first Clarendon Hills vineyard – even until this very day. On Saturday 24 February in 1990 Roman, armed with bucket and secateurs arrived, much to Mr. growers shock when he began picking, himself. Roman started at 6am and finished at 9 pm that evening; he picked half the entire vineyard himself and returned on Sunday the 25th to finish it off. This process was repeated in a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard which formed the 3 single site wines produced in 1990. Crushing was performed by Roman using empty bottles to squash the fruit in a bucket, then transferred by that bucket, to one of the 3 small ex-dairy tanks bought -all bought for $100- a quick, non-temperature controlled wild-yeast fermentation ensued and the wines were pressed in a borrowed basket press and matured in 3 separate third-hand barrels. The vintage was finished in 11 days. Much to Roman’s delight the wines were superb and they sold out – paying for more buckets, 3 more barrels, and rent for a shed to house wines. The process was repeated the next year and the year after that. Clarendon Hills grew from the determination one man had to make wine ‘after work’ and ‘on the weekends’ of his 9-to-5. A local news paper even ran a story "Tin shed wines take on the world", which made Roman cringe but slowly Clarendon Hills grew, it afforded more devices to make the process less labour-intensive and slowly grow his vineyard repertoire. In 1994 Roman left the Australian Government laboratories and devoted himself to Clarendon Hills 100%. The 1994 vintage saw Roman employ his first employee and rebranded his $30 Clarendon Hills Shiraz as 1994 Clarendon Hills Astralis. It was the first bottle in Australia to be priced at $100. It sold out. On Roman pressed for many years, making and selling the wines himself. Travelling the world over to show people the wines he made. This was the most logical avenue Roman considered, as he made the wines, who better to sell them?! The recipe was spot-on and he continues to show the wines himself.
The wines are always hand-made and despite the addition of more single sites to produce from over the years, Roman has always maintained his hand in processing, assessing and readjusting directions at every step of either the making or selling.
Clarendon Hills produces 8 Syrah, 6 Grenache, 3 Cabernet Sauvignon and one Merlot and Mourvedre wine. All single vineyard, single varietal wines, produced from low yielding, dry grown old vines which are hand pruned, hand picked. All wines are aged in high quality French oak barriques.
- Mackay, Jordan (December 2006). "Clarendon Hills". WineEnthusiast (15 December 2006): 46–48.