"Gnadenfrei to become Barossa’s next “Chateauneuf du pape”-esque Appellation" - Marco

Here at Tscharke we do often get together in front of a glass of good wine, or most likely a few glasses. Whether celebrating someone’s birthday, the festivities or just another busy week being over, we always find an excuse to crack open a bottle and take the time to properly“benchmark”the wine and talk about it (unless it's been"one of those days"and all we want is a bloody drink and we wouldn't bother discussing it). 

Out of all the different varietals and regions we get to taste, there is one producing wines that always ends up our favourite in the line-up, and that is the Rhône Valley of France.

I personally love every sub-appellation in the Rhône for different reasons, but there is one in particular that is my absolute favourite, and that is Châteauneuf du Pape.

The red wines from this region need no introduction I am sure, and despite them being pricey (although not as much as top Crus from Bordeaux or Burgundy) they are worth every cent. These wines display the sexiest colour hues, an incredibly complex bouquet of ripe and stewed red fruit, spiced and savoury, almost meaty, and then a rich and warm palate with incredible structure and length; on top of this they also have outstanding cellaring potential.

In the last few decades, with thanks to legendary winemakers like Charlie Melton, the Barossa has rediscovered the Rhône Valley varietals and blends, and despite Shiraz still dominating the scene, GSMs and single varietal Grenache and Mataro (aka Mourvedre) growing exponentially in popularity.

With climate change and growing seasons getting hotter and drier our beloved Shiraz is suffering and struggling to perform with consistency (it's still producing stunning wines in good vintages, don’t get me wrong)! Taking this into consideration, Damien (Tscharke) has chosen to plant more vineyard to Grenache and Mataro; varietals that he loves and (originating from northern Spain) can withstand long, hot and dry Summers. 

With these vineyards planted in the past 3 years and more to be developed in the future we’ll find ourselves working with Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Grenache Blanc (in order of yield size) all coming from one single site: the Gnadenfrei Vineyard at the Western end of the township of Marananga (formerly Gnadenfrei). I might be biased but I find it the prettiest vineyard in the Barossa, with its Southern half stretching alongside the iconic palm trees on Seppeltsfield Road, with an Easterly facing slope (breathtaking views from the top, over the Valley floor and the peaks of Eden Valley in the distance) and an interesting variety of soil types; rocky at the top to dark, loam at the bottom.

Gnadenfrei North offers patches of untouched scrub and pretty much every possible aspect to work with, from cooler Easterly facing slopes where we hope Grenache Blanc is going to retain acids and freshness, to the Westerly facing Grenache Noir contoured block that catches the sun in the hottest hours of the day, all the way until sunset, growing ripe and rich in sugar and flavour.

With such a beautiful piece of land to grow the best grapes on, and the intent to carry the flavours of this magical place and the sense of“terroir”all the way to your glass, the future of Tscharke gravitates more towards single site blends, where the attention and the recognition is not given solely to the varietals used, but to the sub-appellation on which they are grown, and the effort to turn what could be“just another vineyard”into an iconic and widely recognised top-spot for grape-growing.

The idea of giving more importance to sub-regional appellations is not something we came up with. The Barossa Grounds Project, a collaborative undertaking commencing in 2008 by the Barossa Grape & Wine Association, is an ongoing journey to investigate and articulate the diverse characteristics of vineyards in the different“parishes”(townships or loosely defined sub-regions) of the Barossa Valley and their influence on wine style. Damien has supported the project from the beginning, and what he has in mind for the future can only help the cause.

Why though to focus on those specific varietals? Why do we look up to the Rhône Valley blends and try to follow their path rather than trying to come up with something new?

I personally love the Australian wine industry because of the freedom we have to experiment and be innovative in winemaking. That said I think we have a lot to learn from the Old World. Wine has been part of their lifestyle for thousands of years - they know it better than we do, it’s in their blood. There is a reason why European wines are considered by the majority to be the best in the World and some are happy to pay thousands of dollars for a good bottle of Burgundy for instance.

The focus and love Barossa winemakers have for the Rhône Valley in particular comes from the many similarities the two regions share: low to moderate elevation, blue skies and the heat from the plentiful sun that ripens the grapes faster, the powerful wind that carries away the moisture, intensifying the dry climate. As a consequence, just like them, we focus primarily on red wines of high alcohol and the whites rather than showing high acidity and freshness, are riper and more textural.

In Châteauneuf du Pape Grenache Noir is dominant, followed by Syrah (Shiraz) and Mourvedre (Mataro) just like our Gnadenfrei Vineyard. Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc wines are usually blends of many white varietals, usually Grenache Blanc or Roussanne dominant... and guess what? We've picked Grenache Blanc for the first time in 2020 and are looking to plant some Roussanne over the next couple of years. 

During vinification and maturation at Tscharke we use a variety of techniques, some of them very much Old World inspired; whole bunch fermentation, concrete fermenters, warmer ferments, cap management by hand and foot, elevage in concrete, terracotta, large oak vats or French oak foudres (3000L in our case). 

When you do some research on how they make wine in the Rhône Valley this is what you’ll find: 

Winemaking in Châteauneuf region tends to focus on balancing the high sugar levels in the grape with the tannins and phenols that are common in red Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Following harvest, the grape clusters are rarely destemmed prior to fermentation. The fermentation temperatures are kept high, with the skins being frequently pumped over and punched down for the benefit of tannin levels and color extraction to achieve the characteristic dark Châteauneuf color. The common technique of using small barrel oak is not widely used in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area, partly due to the fact that the principal grape Grenache is prone to oxidation in the porous wooden barrels. Instead, Grenache is vinified in large cement tanks, while the other grape varieties are made in large old barrels called foudres that do not impart the same "oaky" characteristics as the smaller oak barrels”.

Sounds like we are already on the right track, right?

The first wine to be released under the new Tscharke Gnadenfrei label will be a Grenache Blanc, currently ageing in our terracotta amphoras. 

Keep your ears to the ground as we are not far from the start of a new and exciting adventure that promises to deliver wines of unprecedented quality, that are pure expressions of a place and a time.

-- Marco