This is our fifth release of Urth, a wine originally conceived with my old mate Neil Pike.
By way of background, I began discussing Riesling possibilities with Neil and Ian Hongell back in 2017.
Ian had recently taken the job of chief winemaker at Torbreck, leaving Peter Lehmann Wines, where amongst his suite of duties, he had made their Wigan Riesling. Torbreck had no ambition to make a Riesling, being focussed on grape varieties from the Rhone. But Ian confided in me, letting me know that the one wine that gave him goose bumps was Riesling.
Neil was sitting with us as we discussed several possibilities; we even considered an Eden Valley / Clare blend where components crafted by both Ian and Neil were made separately (and very differently) and subsequently blended together.
Eventually, we decided to make two different wines, allowing each winemaker to explore winemaking possibilities that were not possible or practical within their own businesses.
My early Riesling discussions with Neil coincided with the growing South Australian interest in Rieslings raised in oak, much as Riesling has been traditionally made in its ancestral homes of Germany, Alsace and Austria. We have seen high profile (and delicious) releases from John Hughes (Riesling Freak No.1) Jim Barry (Wolta Wolta) and Rockford (Vine Vale).
There has also been an increased interest in fermenting Riesling without the addition of added yeast; wild fermentation tends to encourage deeper flavours within the finished wine.
Recognising pleasing elements in Rieslings made both in stainless steel and old oak, both in inoculated and wild ferments, we came up with a plan to make a blend that harnessed all the advantages of tank, barrel, inoculation and wild ferment.
Since our first release of Urth, the fruit has always come from the same patch of the pristine vineyards grown by Pikes in Polish Hill River. The fruit has always been picked together and divided into two different components; one inoculated with a neutral yeast and raised in stainless steel, the other wild-fermented in old barrels and left on texture-enhancing lees.
Neil ‘left the building’ in 2020, to concentrate on his amazing Lime Finger wines (note that his 2022 Lime Finger ‘Solace’ Riesling from Polish Hill River was recently awarded the Halliday gong for Riesling of the Year). The Urth project has continued pretty seamlessly since Neil departed Pikes. The Pikes team of Steve Baraglia and Andrew Kenny have been enthusiastically invested in the project; our group blending sessions have stimulated great excitement as we see the difference in the base wines each year.
Deciding on the final ratio of the two components has always been the fun part! In both 2020 and 2021, we settled on a blend of 60% tank, 40% barrel. The cut and drive of the tank component with elevated upper partials has been given gravitas by the deeper weight of the smaller component from barrel.
When we went through the same exercise for Urth ‘22, we immediately assembled the blend using the 60/40 formula, swirled, tasted, looked at each other, smiled and locked it in.
2022 is a special vintage for Riesling in SA. Early in the wine’s development, there is an apparent delicacy, with cooler vintage aromatics of fennel fronds as well as the expected river stones, lime blossom and preserved lemon. But it’s the sything, saline tsunami of feisty acidity that makes me gasp with pleasure. Hold me back! This is so damn drinkable, but you just know that it will look even better in five. Maybe even in twenty.
We don’t make much of this and seem to sell out a bit faster each year. Don’t hesitate. Let the Urth move for you…