Like may new discoveries of fine vineyards my road to Damascus as concerns Shannon came with their 2008 Mount Bullet. Five stars in John Platter the wine spoke for itself. Opulent, rich, perfumed and still maintaining a classical structure. I was hooked. I was further impressed by their fragrant, concentrated and yet accessible Pinot Noir. It took a while for me to visit the farm and so when I finally did so I was visibly excited. I have for a number of years been very enthusiastic about the wines emerging from the Elgin Valley. Their elevation and cool climate brings elegance, refinement and something different to the SA wine scene. And Shannon brings its own unique contribution to the Elgin wine renaissance.
Part owner James Downes greeted me at the tasting room door and from there we went across his property in his four by four. He is obviously a man with a love for nature and conservation. He pointed to a large bird of prey sitting atop a wooden pole and told me that there were 66 baboons on the property and in the summer, plenty of snakes! There were masses of bees about and he mentioned that on Sunday he had caught a large bass on the river on his property. Shannon is evidently a property teaming with life and James seems to like it that way. It adds to the wine.
His production is small, plus minus 100 tons of which only 40 tons go under the Shannon label. He outsources his production to various producers who buy their grapes from him. Quite a number of customers so they obviously have faith in his growing conditions and his ability to give them the fruit they desire. He describes himself as a “professional grower.” He also supplements his income with apple and pear production. Fruits Elgin is known for.
He describes his viticultural approach as “modern commercial”. Commercial, organic, on a per vineyard basis. This strikes me as a very pragmatic approach. The elevation of the farm is 260- 310 meters above sea level. The average temperature during harvest is 21% but the night time tempreture during the later part of the harvest is only 10%. Due to the elevation of the farm, an important influencing factor in the character of the grapes.
Their first commercial bottling was in 2007 so they are quite recent producers. But in a short space of time they have made a great impact. All their wines rate 4 and half stars in John Platter and they export to 26 countries with the US and Japan being their biggest markets.
What impressed me the most was the intricate blocks of vineyards across the vine area for different parcels of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. This gives them the opportunity to isolate the precise character of each block and blend accordingly for the final product. For example, the blocks for the Italian and French Merlot destined for the Mount Bullet stand side by side. But they ripen at different times in spite of their proximity. This requires great skill in knowing when to pick. All this points to Shannon’s intimate knowledge of their growing conditions and terrior. A fact which helps to explain the quality of their wines.
Now onto the tasting which James led me through. A tasting that affirmed that all the hard work in the vineyards revealed themselves in the quality of the wines.
The Sauvignon Blanc Sanctuary Peak 2013. The colour bright and clear. The nose generous and dramatic showing apple, Shepard, lime and litchi. The palate rich and smooth. 12% Semillon barrel fermented in New Oak. “Fresh in its youth, generous aromatically. Only later does Semillon start to express.” “Made to last 15 years in the bottle.” “Semillon gives wine more palate weight.” James observes… I must confess that I did not realize that Shannon produced such fine Sauvignon Blanc as my attention has always focused on their Merlot and Pinot Noir.
The Rockview Ridge Pinot Noir 2012- Clear pale ruby. “Pinot Noir is a variety that expresses vintage variation the most.” Nose of blackberry and youngberry. “Pinot Noir is a variety that is very generous aromatically.” Spiciness on the palate. The palate is still tight and focused. James comments that the “Wine is very full on the palate.” “One wouldn’t think of it by looking at it colour.” “The spice is from the New Oak.” Lots of intense, flavours on the palate. “Good purity of fruit.” “Trying in Pinot to capture red and black fruit.”
Mount Bullet 2011- A 100% Merlot. Inky dark. Purple tinges. “Totally different colour profile to Pinot Noir.” A nose of lead pencil. On the palate “classic tannic structure.” “Ripe tannins.” Mineralty on the palate. Tannic grip. On the palate- dark chocolate with a long finish. Very dense and structured. James points out “Got 5 Merlots in it.” “That is why we don’t put Merlot on the label.” More Bordeaux in character.
Finally, the Macushla Pinot Noir Noble Late Harvest Pinot Noir 2013- 132 grams of sugar. Colour almost Turkish delight. On the nose from Pinot “reduced berries” “strawberries, freshness, liveliness, orange peel. The palate- delicious, easy drinking and smooth. “Lovely balanced wine.” Intense flavours, rich but not heavy. James points out that it’s “not a commercial wine” and “not commercially available.” Only three barrels made.
Shannon proves that small can be beautiful. That if you put tremendous work into detail and all the multitudes of vineyard blocks on your property you can achieve wines of high quality, perhaps of the sublime. Elgin has many fine producers on offer each offering something special and of high quality. But Shannon offers something different. A high quality Sauvignon Blanc with its own intrinsic quality. With the Mount Bullet perhaps one of the top and most distinctive Merlots in the country. A fine, complex Pinot Noir. And a desert Pinot Noir. Something novel and rarely produced world wide. I’m glad that I tasted that first bottle of Mount Bullet 2008. As it lead to a greater appreciation of what Shannon has to offer and a deeper insight into their wine goals and where they hope to lead them.