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Wednesday 29 November 2017

Unearthed - a unique barrel of McLaren Vale wine

Gemtree Wines has unearthed a new wine in its range - literally.

SubTerra, a premium-quality McLaren Vale single-vineyard shiraz, is billed as "the first wine in the world to be "returned to the earth" in a barrel to age. 

Aged in a wax-coated French oak barrel buried deep in the soil underneath the vines where the grapes for the wine were handpicked, the earth provided a perfect natural temperature controlled cellar for the wine to mature, the Gemtree crew believes.

It is a technique inspired by ancient Georgian winemakers who fermented their wine in clay pots called Amphoras, which were sealed using a thick layer of olive oil at the top and buried in the ground to age. 

It has never previously been done in a wine barrel, however. as far as the Gemtree team is aware.

Gemtree winemakers Mike Brown and Joshua Waechter said the original idea came towards the end of vintage while discussing winemaking with the team over a few beers after a long day in the cellar. 

“We thought the winemaking process starts in the vineyard, why not return the wine to its roots to age and continue its connection to the earth,” said Mike. 

“The idea fitted with the winery’s biodynamic and organic ethos, minimal-intervention approach, so we thought it was worth a try while also giving ourselves the greatest chance of success.

“We’ve never been afraid of trying new things to explore what’s possible.”

The hand-picked grapes for SubTerra were selected from a small, protected vineyard with alluvial soils and a geology dating back millions of years. 

The wine was fermented on its skins for five days until the tannin profile was balanced and then pressed before being transferred to a three-year-old barrel for the remainder of primary and secondary fermentation. 

The barrel was returned to the earth on the March equinox, when the earth was breathing in (so I am reliably told) and buried 2 metres below ground beneath the original vines. It was then aged until the Spring equinox. 

“The excavation was like an archaeological dig with great care taken not to damage the barrel which had by now been enveloped and protected by the earth through one of the wettest winters on record,” said Brown. 

“After lifting the barrel from the earth, removing the chive then tasting provided the nerve-racking moment but we needn’t have worried – the wine was extraordinary. Purity, vibrance, energy, the balance was all there."

Unfortunately for those keen to try only 240 bottles were produced, all made from clear mud sourced from the vineyard (just joking!). 

If you are interested, the wines are for sale for $180 a bottle. 

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