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What The Market Says
Personal Experiences with Mataro in Australia
Friday, 22nd March, 2013  - David Farmer

'March Mataro Madness' is underway at Glug and we will do our best to get you to try this wonderful variety. We will win on this score as with every order this month you will receive a FREE bottle of really good Mataro'.

It is the business of wine and food magazines and their stable of wine writers to explain the qualities of new grape varieties. Australians are reluctant to try new styles, but bit by bit the wine fraternity chips away and overtime they expand the range of varieties that move from novel to familiar. Currently they are encouraging the adventurous to try varieties such as pinot gris and prosecco (sparkling wine) and reds like sangiovese, nebbiolo and tempranillo.

Oddly enough since arriving in the Barossa in 2004, Ben and I have been focussed on popularising an old variety mataro. Mataro dates back to the original plantings in South Australia and we see a lot of potential in this existing, underappreciated variety. Our reasons are simple; the wines are complex plus they age, mataro blends well with a number of other varieties, plantings exist of very old bush vines, it thrives in the inland heat, and being a late ripening variety gives the fruit ample time to develop interesting, full flavours. And the largest plantings exist right here in the Barossa.

Perhaps we also display a streak of contrariness as articles about these new, or 'alternative varieties' as they are also called, often mention how they develop in cooler regions when being in the Barossa our job is to make customers aware of long established varieties like mataro, grenache and carignane and the flavours they develop in a warm climate.

My first real experience with mataro was selling the Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mataro in the mid to late 1970s in Canberra. Penfolds had stopped making this blend in the early 1970s which meant the remaining wines had good bottle age and with few buyers they were also cheap. Even so consumers are wary of salesmen and I did a lot of talking to win them over. As it turned out what I had learnt about mataro back then was to lie dormant until the mid 1990s.

During the 1980s I made regular visits to wineries across Australia and late in that decade struck up a friendship with the Barossa grower-winemaker Rolf Binder of Veritas Wines [Rolf Binder Wines]. Rolf's parents moved to the Barossa in 1954 and purchased the Fohrer and Abel winery in 1955 and renamed it Veritas. Rolf senior had a Hungarian background and created an Australian version of 'Bulls Blood' from shiraz and mataro pressings in 1967. The family owns perhaps the best block of old bush vine mataro in the Barossa, possibly planted around 1920.

In the late 1980s Rolf and others like Chris Ringland and Robert O'Callaghan were feverishly experimenting with Barossa reds, some using mataro. In 1991 Rolf with Chris Ringland and Russel Johnstone made the first of the grenache and mataro blends which was released under the RBJ label. A super concentrated mataro grenache was made in 1993 and this was the first of Rolf's Magpie wines. I can assure you I felt right at home but at this time I must say I did not fully appreciate the remarkable qualities of mataro.

The Origin of the Blockies Shiraz Mataro

Over the years I have talked to many growers from the Riverland regions and elsewhere enquiring how they adjusted to the dramatic shift from fortified wines to table wines. Shiraz rode the wave to table wines but a variety like mataro fell into neglect and some was grubbed out. Others varieties simply became part of the dry red blends and found their way into the booming cask market. I did though glean that unwanted, thus hard to sell varieties like mataro, odd port varieties from Portugal and grenache were used to make the growers house reds and that thought was left to ferment away with my Penfolds Bin 2 knowledge.

In the mid 1990s I was consulting to the Sydney retail chain of Theos and one of the projects was to expand the range of 'private labels'. This seemed like the time to create a shiraz mataro blend based on the idea of the Penfolds Bin 2. Creating new wines does though require a lot more than a label as you need to build into the 'brand' a story which explains to the customer why they should try it. I called the wine, Pioneers Way 'Blockies' Shiraz Mataro, the source being the Riverland as Barossa wine, for example, was too expensive. Some of the Riverland growers had settled after the wars on 'soldier settlers blocks' and they became known as Blockies, so I created a story based around the house reds they made from unwanted varieties of which the best were those made with a high percentage of mataro. With it went the promotional tag line 'good enough for Blockies, good enough for us'.

Since then the Blockies design has evolved but the tag line is the same and it is of course on Glug for your pleasure.

We knew when we created Glug that we wanted to deal in the traditional Barossa varieties and this would mean highlighting the merits of mataro. It took a few years to assemble a stock holding and during our March Mataro Madness we feature what we have made and purchased. Please join the 'Mataro Awakening'.

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