Ashton Hill winemaker Stephen George in one of Australia's most skilful and versatile winemakers. Making powerful reds at Wendouree, he also produces some beautifully elegant Pinot Noir's at Ashton Hills. This 2019 Ashton Hills Piccadilly Valley Pinot Noir is one of several outstanding examples of Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir currently made at Ashton Hills.
For this wine, winemaker Stephen George believes 2019 provided him with the finest set of source vineyards he’s had the luxury of working with yet. All of the grapes were hand-picked, keeping individual parcels separate in small open fermenters, with some whole-bunch additions for enhanced aromatics and structure. All ferments were with indigenous yeasts with each parcel basket-pressed and went to seasoned French oak barrels with full solids. Just prior to bottling, the wines were racked and blended.
The result is a quintessential Piccadilly Pinot with lifted sweet berry, rhubarb and menthol aromatics that unfurl to release some Campari-like tones. On the palate, there’s lovely restraint, with medium-bodied fruit throwing all of the same characters found on the nose along with some exotic spice, that bitters note, and a vein of sappy, eucalyptus-like undergrowth complexity that lingers on the finish. There are also plenty of fine, wispy tannins. In general there is a fine tension and freshness here, and more restraint and savoury structure than we’ve noted in this wine previously. A terrific release from Ashton Hills and again, outstanding value.
Stephen’s pioneering work at Ashton Hills was one of the catalysts for the development of the Adelaide Hills as a wine region. In the early 1980s, the Adelaide Hills wine scene was very much in its infancy, with Brian Croser leading the charge but very little other vineyard development underway. Along with Croser, Stephen was one of the key players to put Adelaide Hills on the map with his resolve to produce the best pinot noir in the country from his site in the Piccadilly Valley. Buying the land from a market gardener, Stephen recognised its immense potential, often telling friends that “where apples and cherries grow, it’s a good pointer for producing classic European style wines”.
And so the journey began. Planting his vineyard at an altitude of 570 metres and with a south facing aspect that looks towards Mt Lofty, Stephen was drawn to the fact that the site was one of the coolest areas in South Australia. Determined that this was prime real estate for his winemaking vision, Stephen started with cuttings of pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling and soon established himself as a leader in clone development for the emerging region.
For over 30 years Stephen experimented with up to 25 pinot noir clones, ultimately settling on five key clones that now make the acclaimed Reserve and Estate Pinot Noirs from Ashton Hills, plus a range of awarded sparkling wines. Eight carefully cultivated rows of riesling also remain in the Ashton Hills vineyard, producing a highly exclusive and limited Ashton Hills riesling each year.
Stephen has now taken a step back into semi-retirement to spend more time travelling to his beloved Burgundy, and has transferred his stake in Ashton Hills to Wirra Wirra Vineyards, with its pedigree in cool climate Adelaide Hills whites and quality McLaren Vale reds. Nonetheless, he continues to reside at his home at the winery and works closely at vintage with the Wirra Wirra winemaking team to continue the tradition of producing benchmark wines from the Ashton Hills site.
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