Of the red grape varieties commonly grown in Margaret River, Shiraz undoubtedly plays second fiddle in terms of recognition and prestige to Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been common practice over the years for some wine critics and pundits to declare that Margaret River provides a completely unsuitable climate for the variety and that it would be better to remove the vines entirely and simply concentrate on the traditional “Bordeaux” grapes, and particularly Cabernet.
It’s fair to say that many wine drinkers and collectors may not necessarily share this view, and our Margaret River flagship Shiraz, named Leston after the vineyard it comes from, has found an appreciative audience since we released the first vintage in 1999. The vineyard itself has been maturing and evolving over the 20 years of its existence to date, and it has been exciting for us to witness the impressive evolution of the Howard Park Leston Shiraz over that period; the result of our continual refinement of viticulture and winemaking techniques to achieve the best possible outcomes in the bottle.
There are four Shiraz blocks in the Leston vineyard with a total area of 11 hectares. Each block responds to conditions during the growing season to produce varying yields of grapes with subtly different characteristics. The fruit from these blocks is selectively harvested – often fruit from the same row will be picked and processed separately to account for soil variations within the block and their impact on flavour development. These differential harvests are then vinified separately so our Chief Winemaker Janice McDonald can identify the most suitable components to inform her barrel selection and then the blending of the finished wine after oak maturation has completed.
The decision when these Shiraz blocks were planted between 1996 and 2001 to employ the Scott Henry trellising system, which spreads the fruiting zone across a larger area to allow steady, even ripening as more sunlight penetrates the canopy of each vine, has been justified by the outcomes in the finished wines – defined ripe fruit flavours, an absence of green herbaceous characters and smooth, open-weave tannins which spread flavour across the palate to define and lengthen the attack and finish of the wine.
Immediately after harvest occurs, an increasing emphasis on manual sorting of hand-harvested fruit using triage tables for more recent vintages further ensures that only the very best, optimally ripe berries make it as far as the fermenter, and any unripe or overripe berries are discarded. The consistent seasonal application of organic matter under the vines has been a priority in recent years, with the aim of improved vine health and the resulting benefits that come from balanced, mature vines ripening their grapes evenly and with higher overall quality. The commitment to continual improvement in our vineyard practices that was recognised when our Chief Viticulturist David Botting received the MRWIA award for viticultural excellence is ongoing, and the Leston Shiraz is a great barometer of the favourable outcomes of our program.
The Howard Park Leston Shiraz makes a good case for what can be achieved when creativity and commitment come together to draw the best from a beloved grape variety and a vineyard site with huge potential. It’s a wine suitable for immediate enjoyment or careful cellaring, and hopefully makes a worthy contribution to the diversity of expression currently evident in Australian Shiraz.