Turkey Flat Vineyards visit – Barossa Valley

Ciara Wong
15 May, 2017

Barossa was founded by George Fife Angas, a wealthy English shipping merchant, around 1836. The area was actually named after a mountainous ridge in northern Spain after a famous battle was fought there during the peninsular wars, the Battle of Barrosa. However, due to an administration error it was misspelled and the name of Barossa was born. Just think, we were saved from trying to roll our r’s in pronouncing this famed South Australian gem.

In wine regional terms – Barossa is the name of the Australian Geographical Indications’ official boundaries of the Barossa Zone, its regions are: Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, and the Sub-region of High Eden.

To say that the Turkey Flat Vineyards sits in the heart of the Barossa valley is no lie. Sitting along the banks of Tanunda Creek, just outside the main town of Tanunda, the winery it is surrounded by vineyards of their own and other famous Barossa wine producers. Their winery and original vineyard, dating back to 1847, are on Bethany road. Along with the other vineyards of Stonewall and the warmer micro-climate of Marananga (near the famous Sepeltsfield winery). Although established by the British, the influence of the later German immigrants is apparent, with names and wineries named after Lutheran tradition.

Winery & Vineyard Visit
We were met by Alex Schulz and we began our tour in the winery. The first impression was how well-proportioned and boutique it felt. Winemaker, Mark Bullman, was in the process of cleaning out the barrels making them ready to fill with the 2016 Grenache. We were promised that after lunch we could have a go filling it if we dared. Apparently it is a very delicate process – you could end up with a lot of it splashing in your face and making a general mess of things, not to mention losing the wine.

We toured the rest of the winery, while Alex explained the various tasks and winemaking procedures they perform when making the wines; how they handle the tannins with the old vine Grenache stems, whole bunch fermentation used to bring liveliness and freshness to the Butcher’s Block Red. The impression was of the great care, attention to detail and skills used in the process – a real art.

The Vineyard
From the winery we walked straight into the vineyards by the cellar door where the famous old vine Shiraz and some old vine Grenache reside.

Barossa has great diversity in soil profiles, which is a key ingredient to wine styles. The predominant soil in the Barossa Valley is red loam to clay over limestone, which works well with Shiraz in the Barossan heat. It has high water holding capacity and enables the roots to dig deep down for the precious water reserves stored from winter rainfalls.

Old vines Shiraz
The Shiraz vines at Turkey Flat are some of the oldest in the world. Planted 1847, there are only three other vineyards in the Barossa that are contenders for THE oldest.

One of the reasons for their longevity was due to quarantine restrictions imposed on South Australia to protect against Phylloxera, which had been ravaging much of the vineyards in Europe and the world. It is amazing that what looks like old and decrepit vines can still produce any fruit. Why can these old fellas do this and what is all the fuss about? The wider consensus is that when vines age their vigour declines and they produce less fruit. The vine, therefore, has less grape bunches to nourish so it pours all its energies into the few that it has and voila! And because they’re old, they know how everything works, so everything is usually in harmony: fruit, acidity and tannins, are all in balance ready to be made into great wine. And like in cooking, if you have great ingredients and a great cook, makes for a winning team. There is a rumour that a PhD student is currently studying all three and running DNA analysis to find out which is the oldest.

And for Turkey Flat, it certainly is a winning team having recently won 97 Halliday points for their 2014 Shiraz in 2016.

Other Features of the vineyard:
Cover cropping is a term in organic viticulture but even if you do not farm organic many vineyards use this to enhance the ecosystem of their vineyards by using natural techniques such as inter-row plantings. This is a technique to grow other plant materials between vine rows to both nourish the soil, e.g. nitrogen fixing plants such as clover, and challenge the vines to work harder for their nutrients, giving balanced vines and quality fruit.

Tasting in old butcher shop:
We had lunch in the old Schulz family butcher shop, converted into the cellar door. The original butcher’s block still stands in the dinning annex and historic pictures hang around the room, lending an old world ambience and sense of place to the whole experience.

Filling the barrels
After lunch it is competition time and the aim is to fill the barrels as much as you can without it over-flowing and bursting out all over the place. The wine is pumped from the fermentation tanks at high pressure by a hose that is inserted into the bung-hole of the barrel with a special attachment. A yellow control box is attached to the nozzle, which is used to control the speed – there requires great skill in the use of this…

We both succeeded in not spilling a drop of wine, although I did feel Mark was holding his breath a bit when we had the control. Mark was very diplomatic in declaring a draw but I think Claire was the more skilful party.

The barrels are Gamba oak barrels. Coopered in Asti but made from French oak sourced from all main sites in France. They specialise in larger format barrels, 400-, 500-, 600- and 700-liter capacities. Because oak offers some oxygen permeability, Gamba say the large-format barrel leads to less reductive aromas and improved fermentation because the yeast is in the presence of some oxygen. Turkey Flat think that the coopering and toasting style of Gambe suits their style of wine better.