Just a ten-minute drive from Kaesler Wines Nuriootpa cellar door and winery lies the Barossa sub-district of Marananga. It’s the home patch of Kaelser’s Alte Reben Shiraz, as well as a few other treasures – with over nine hectares of Kaesler owned vineyards. It’s a renowned wine parish, producing some of South Australia’s finest examples of shiraz, thanks in part to the unique soil composition. But its star shiraz status has only come into the spotlight fairly recently – by winemaking standards – according to Reid Bosward, chief winemaker at Kaesler Wines.
“Marananga, if you go back hundreds of years ago, there were some vineyards but it was mostly pasture for sheep. But in the last ten years [it has] been identified as one of the hotter prospects in the Barossa Valley, particularly as shiraz has gone from the vine pull scheme in the late 80s to now – it’s probably (if not definitely) our lead variety.”
Named Gnadenfrei by German settlers, the name was changed to Marananga, meaning ‘two hands’ in the local Aboriginal dialect, as a result of the great German name purge following the First World War. A few of South Australia’s most well-loved wineries have parcels in Marananga, including Tscharke, Penfolds, Torbreck and Whistler – providing a good indication of the quality of the land and soil. “It’s right on the Greenock Creek,” Reid says, “… which is obviously pretty famous from the perspective of Greenock Creek Wines. We’re just around the corner from them and we’ve got Hentley Farm just to the west of us – so some pretty auspicious neighbours that we have around here.”
Why so famous?
It’s a bit of a microclimate in Marananga, according to Reid. “There’s 13 sub-districts of the Barossa Valley and Marananga is one of them. If you look at the Barossa Valley from a north-south perspective, Marananga is just a little bit to the west. What that means is it’s probably a little bit drier, a little bit warmer and the soils are a little bit more ancient than what they are on the Eastern side which is closer to the range.”
It’s not just all eyes on shiraz. The Marananga climate also supports a cracking supply of grenache, petit verdot and mataro. “We’ve got some younger grenache that we planted in 2003, but then we have the Alte Reben shiraz vineyard, which is what we’re very well known for out in this area. Which was planted in 1899 so it’s a pretty seriously old vineyard. Not only in the context of the Barossa Valley but also the world.”
A somewhat chaotic mix, the soil around Marananga has some unusual properties and complex layering, resulting in the unique flavour of the wines. From volcanic quartz, 400 million-year-old red soil and alluvial washes – it’s a mixed bag of dirt.
“I think what makes it special is actually the diversity of the soil here,” Reid says, gesturing to the land around him. “It’s a pretty wrinkly sort of countryside. You’ve got some bony hills, and there is a lot of quartz up there which is remnant from an old volcanic era. But when you get down over here into the creek, it changes quite significantly and there what you’ve got is a lot of gneiss and schist. And that’s really sort of unusual stuff to have in this part of the valley.”
Being that a lot of the soil is marine in origin – red soil over a limestone base – it took quite a bit of detective work to discover the parentage of the unusual composition.
“This schist and gneiss, it’s got no bedrock that is its parent anywhere around here. It took me ages to figure out where it came from, but if you follow the Greenock Creek and you look on Google Earth, you’ll find that [the creek] reaches all the way up into the Eden Valley – and if you look at the soils in the Eden Valley, it’s all about schist and gneiss.”
That unusual mix would have taken hundreds of millions of years to end up deposited in Marananga, resulting in the unique soil that exists today.
“Probably just on this 40-acre property here we might have six or seven different types of soil and that’s what makes it really interesting. You might actually find that one acre might have two or three different soil types in it,” Reid says, “But that suits us down to the ground because we’ve got a lot of small baby fermenters and we can take advantage of those different soil types. That’s what really makes our business unique, our ability to take advantage of this area and the diversity in it.”
The Marananga flavour
The shiraz wine that comes from Marananga vines has a reputation for big, juicy, bolshie characteristics. It’s known to be a robust wine, with the different soil types embedded into the final flavour profiles. Think rich, full-bodied and gut-busting with notes of coffee, rich chocolate and black cherries. Characteristics Reid is particularly fond of.
“They tend to always be bigger and richer styles from Marananga and that’s just the nature of the soil. Also, whenever you get dry and hot growing conditions with shiraz you tend to end up with wines with bigger shoulders and a bigger build and we don’t shy away from that.”
Some lucky souls – like Reid – can taste the difference in soil layers.
“Those old vine roots get down a long way, we estimate about 30 or 40 feet. But as you move down you’ve got different strata that have been laid down over the years. These roots go down through all of that different strata and each of that has a different set of minerals and trace elements. They then end up in the metabolism of the vine – which shows through. So when I’m tasting these wines, what I can taste, sort of more instinctively (rather than just an actual flavour) is these different minerals and trace elements.”
It’s a special opportunity to be able to be the caretakers of vineyards like those in Marananga, one that Reid and vineyard manager Nigel van der Zande take great joy in.
“Because we own all of these vineyards you can see how these things taste different over the years. Every season is a little bit different and every season will give us a different type of wine. But there’s always a common thread throughout those wines.” Reid says, crouching down to pick up a handful of soil.
It’s not just Reid blowing his own trumpet either – the Kaesler 2015 ‘Alte Reben’ Shiraz won The Cooperages 1912 award for ‘Best Wine of Show’ and the Barossa Valley Ballooning award for ‘Best Shiraz 2015 Wine of Show’.
So if you’re the type of connoisseur who likes a big brash red wine, it will also appeal to those who like a (pleasant) surprise from vintage to vintage. Unlike mass-produced wine from standard soils, these wines are a boon to wine lovers who don’t require a sterility of flavour.
“There’s always a house style or a vineyard style and that’s what’s coming from those particular vines. Although the seasons will change and there will be bigger years and leaner years, there’s still a thread that stitches them all together and says that they come from the same place. That’s exciting to work with.”
Discover Marananga Alte Reben Shiraz in-house by visiting us at our Barossa Valley cellar door and be guided through a very special tasting of our four flagship Barossa Valley shiraz wines, plus a selection of limited release and back vintage wine. Kaesler Wines cellar door is open for tastings seven days a week from 11am to 5pm.