Corey Ryan worked as a winemaker at Henschke for six years before he and viticulturalist Simon Cowham, who had been managing vineyards for Yalumba, started up their own winery. It's called Sons of Eden, and since its first vintage (2000) it has quickly emerged from the pack. One of my top picks among the hundreds of new small wineries coming out of Australia, it specializes in wines that manage to build grace and harmony into those ripe, opulent Aussie flavors.
If that were all Ryan did for a living, that would be impressive enough. But he's also spent the past four years as chief winemaker (a job which recently morphed into a consultancy) at Villa Maria, one of New Zealand's strongest wineries. That's a 2,000-mile commute. He is happy to keep working for a paycheck, so there's no pressure to make Sons of Eden grow too fast, beyond its current 2,000 cases annually.
But why New Zealand? Couldn't he find a job closer to home?
"New Zealand has a different set of strengths than we do in the Barossa," Ryan said on a visit in San Francisco (8,100 miles from home, if you're counting). "Their best wines are all about finesse. Ours are about power. The challenge is to get some power behind the finesse in New Zealand and for us to get more finesse to go with the power in Australia."
I couldn't have said it better myself. The Sons of the Eden wines all strike me as exceptionally supple and smooth.
Ryan agrees that working with Pinot Noir has sharpened his preference for finer texture in the wines. It's something he started with at Henschke, where owner Stephen Henschke says he thinks of his Shiraz wines (including the icon-level Hill of Grace) as "big Pinots." He wanted to capture "that slippery feel you get from a great Pinot."
"That's it," said Ryan. "I'm trying to make a similar style."
It's a balancing act, creating those refined textures without losing the effusive flavors. Sons of Eden makes three Shiraz-based reds. Romulus is the biggest, a plush Barossa red. Remus uses Eden Valley fruit, and it's brighter and spicier, but still on the ripe end of the scale. Zephyrus adds a dollop of Viognier to the Barossa Shiraz, which weaves in more exotic fruit and spice. Kennedy is a Grenache blend, with Shiraz and Mourvèdre, and can be the equal of Zephyrus in a good vintage. There is also an Eden Valley Riesling, called Freya, in that distinctive steely regional style.
It's a good lineup, and a style I would love to see others pursue.
Richard Sibly — Seattle, WA — February 8, 2007 12:07pm ET
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