Day: 22 June 2023

Otherness Detroit Shiraz + Cabernet

Made by Marco Cirillo


The Barossa’s wine industry isn’t immune to the changing trends of a fickle marketplace. Tastes change; buying patterns change. The imposition of 116-218% tariffs on Australian wine exports to China has exacerbated an existing problem of oversupply and has again demonstrated that our exporters are prone to loading a single basket with too many eggs.

Driving through the back roads of the Barossa in early June 2023, seeing vineyards still laden with shrivelled fruit made me feel the pain and despair of growers who were beginning the long task of winter pruning, without having the confidence that they will sell a single berry in 2024.

During a similar downturn in the late 1970s, red wine sales flatlined. Peter ‘My word is my bond’ Lehmann (then chief winemaker at Saltram) was directed by Dalgety’s (the pastoral company that owned the winery) to inform their grape growers that they would not be purchasing the fruit contracted for the 1978 vintage.

In a mad gamble, Lehmann together with his mate, industry legend Robert Hesketh masterminded ‘Masterson’: a brave and honourable attempt to extract some financial return for the local Barossa families with whom he had previously, in good faith, shaken hands on the agreed sale of their grapes.

The 1978 ‘Masterson’, a Shiraz Cabernet was made in the Saltram winery.

The high-risk nature of the venture wasn’t lost on Peter and his wife Margaret. Peter, whose favourite author was Damon Runyon, came up with the ‘Masterson’ nomenclature and the reference to Sky Masterson from ‘Guys and Dolls’, the character played by Marlon Brando in the 1955 movie of the musical. The iconography on the Masterson label, the Queen of Clubs followed through to the branding of Peter Lehmann Wines, established in 1982, ostensibly as a ‘winery for the growers’. 

I’ve spoken to many of the cast of characters in the Masterson story. Margaret, Dave and Phil Lehmann, Robert Hesketh, Charles Melton (a young winemaker working with Lehmann at the time). Just last week, grape grower Roger Mattschoss informed me that he had provided fruit for the 1978 wine; a particularly poignant recollection for Roger, as he was about to start dropping 70 tons of rejected 2023 Shiraz on the ground.

Otherness ‘Detroit’ is named after the other main character in Guys and Dolls, Nathan Detroit, who ran an illegal craps game in New York city and is played by Frank Sinatra in the movie. The wine, also a Shiraz Cabernet, was made by my mate Marco Cirillo, who also crafts the Otherness 440 Cabernet. Marco is married to Annika Lehmann, Peter’s granddaughter, so more strands of familial narrative twist together to link this with Masterson ‘78.

Charlie Melton remembered that they couldn’t afford to purchase oak in 1978, so the wine was raised in Stainless Steel. Detroit was also largely raised in tank. Marco had a particular stylistic approach in mind, whereby the fresh vibrancy of the 2022 vintage was captured, but there was some play possible in softening the finished wine with a barrel-aged component.

The wine is delicious. Bright, juicy, fresh and oh so drinkable. I can sense the kinship with Marco’s ‘Vincent’ and like Vincent, Detroit is bottled under Stelvin.

I’ve had a long fascination with the Barossa’s history, largely fostered during the years I worked for Robert O’Callaghan who has always been so aware of the stories, traditions and the characters who conspired to influence the great region this has become. 

The cycle of prosperity and economic contraction will always affect our Barossa wine and viticultural industries. Driving through the ruins of Rutherglen a few years ago, I realised that by contrast, the Barossa has always had a capacity to overcome. To regenerate. To tighten budgets and hold its collective nerve. 

For all the negative outcomes of the downturn in the late 1970s (for example the government-sponsored 1980s vine pull scheme) Peter Lehmann and the Masterson story helped change the perception of a region which had previously been known for a number of high-profile brands that released wines that didn’t often acknowledge the region from which they came. 

After 1978 and Peter Lehmann, the audience suddenly realised that there were legion families who over generations had lovingly tended their vineyards. 

Let’s toast Peter and Barossa grape growers by raising a glass of Detroit!

“One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you’re going to wind up with an ear full of cider” – Sky Masterson to Nathan Detroit, Guys and Dolls

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