Anyone that knows the Barossa Valley would be very familiar with Charlie Melton, an icon of the Barossa, Originally from Sydney, Charlie moved to the valley in 1974 and is now wine maker and co-owner of Charles Melton Wines.
Operating since 1984,this family run winery operated by Charlie and his wife Virginia, specialises in the production of limited release premium red wines. I caught up with Charlie to find out more about his background and his biggest influences.
Tell me about yourself and when were you first introduced to wine making?
I came over from Sydney and arrived in the Barossa in 1973. My mate and I needed some cash to fix up our broken down EH-Holden ute so we could continue our trip across the country. There were two jobs going and after flipping a coin, I got the cellar hand job working for Peter Lehmann and then moved to his new winery with Peter six years later.
In 1984 I purchased my first grapes to be made under the new “Charles Melton” label and produced a Sparkling Red from old dry grown vines in the Barossa. Soon after my wife, Virginia and I, built the cellar door and winery on Krondorf Road, where it still stands today.
You are known as the pioneer in reviving old vine Grenache based wine in the Barossa Valley, how did that come about?
I spent some time in the ’80s touring through France and after a visit to the Rhone, developed what would be a life-long passion for the wines from this region, particularly those from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Châteauneuf-du-Pape translates in English to “Castle of the New Pope” as named in the 13th Century after French Pope Clement V removed the Papacy from Rome to Avignon in 1309. In this appellation, fruit from Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre are blended with up to 11 other varieties to create elegant, mouth-filling wines.
Back in the Barossa, grape growers were being encouraged by the government to pull out their less fashionable Shiraz and Grenache vines, but having seen the possibilities for these varieties while in France, I started to experiment in the vineyard. We began to prune the old vines harder so they would produce lower yields with fewer berries that exhibit greater concentration. Dry grown vines also produced fewer bunches with richer and more complex flavours, adding to the palate richness we now associate with Nine Popes.
Why were Shiraz and Grenache so unfashionable in the 1980’s?
Mostly because they were being used to make cheap, high alcohol fortified wines. Shiraz in its darkest days was being used to make Shiraz berry muffins!
Tell me about Charles Melton Wines?
The wines move from a light red, ‘The Rose of Virginia’, through to Australia’s premier Rhone‐style red, ‘Nine Popes’. Charles Melton also makes small quantities of Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sparkling Red, and is the only Australian producer of a Vin Santo styled dessert wine, Sotto di Ferro.
Great emphasis is placed on the quality of fruit, with all grapes dry grown and harvested from the winery’s own 80 acres of prime Barossa vineyard land, supplemented by a select group of family‐owned vineyards. Yields are extremely low with often only one tonne to the acre and the vineyards are truly old with some exceeding a century in age.
A range of techniques are employed during the winemaking process. These include whole bunch fermentation, open fermentation, pigeage and indigenous yeast fermentation. These techniques provide a range of blending options, allowing Charles Melton to achieve a balance between wines that portray pure fruit flavours and more earthy/gamey characters.
Showing complexity from a range of vineyard sites and vinification techniques, the wines have demonstrated over the last two decades an ability to cellar gracefully into mature examples of the finest Barossa styles.
What is so special about the Barossa terroir?
The Barossa terrior is both benign and varied at the same time. Benign in the sense that we only occasionally suffer the worst of nature and varied in that the terrain of the Barossa offers such a range of microclimates from the high hills to the rich deep loams of the river flats on the Valley floor.
Charles Melton Wines own approximately 80 acres of prime Barossa Valley vineyard including the Crown Village Vineyard on Krondorf Road, Woodlands Vineyard and High Eden Vineyard.
The Crown Village Vineyard at Krondorf is slightly elevated, with gully breezes from the Barossa ranges nearby, providing cooling breezes. The Woodlands Vineyard, close to Lyndoch, is a milder site than those situated on the Barossa floor. This is due to the slightly higher level of humidity, giving rise to fresher and more aromatic flavours.
High Eden, recently purchased as a bushland block, has been planted with some of the varieties most common to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We have three well known varieties and some not common to Australia. These unusual varieties have been specially selected because they are traditionally used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and will provide new fun at the blending table.
Who have been your biggest influences throughout your career?
The late Peter Lehmann.
What inspired the name The Rose of Virginia?
Named for my wife Virginia, my “flaxen haired” beauty.
What is the most popular wine at Charles Melton right now?
I am very excited by our new release 2015 Rose of Virginia right now as it has a fragrant Turkish delight bouquet, with a little pepper and spice. Although the 2013 Father in Law Shiraz and 2013 La Belle Mere GSM just about to be released are going to be well sort after and will cellar very well.
How was Nine Popes born?
After I made the first (and yet unnamed) Nine Popes in 1988, I looked for some clues to select a suitable name for the wine. Drawing on the only classically regarded Grenache region in the world, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I decided to give it an Aussie twist to avoid any litigation with the French. Unfortunately I am not especially fluent in French (rather, not at all) and thinking that Châteauneuf-du-Pape meant the home of the “Nine” Popes, our Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre blend wine, the Nine Popes was born!
What are your top foodie recommendations in South Australia and why?
Peel Street Restaurants and Yorke Peninsula Fishing! Best whiting around and some fantastic snapper down the bottom of the Peninsula.