I had just finished updating my Australian vintage charts for Wine Spectator’s upcoming red wine tasting report when I received an email from Jonathan Maltus, owner of The Colonial Estate in Barossa. He has decided to skip the 2007 vintage entirely. He sold off the wines in bulk.
This is an unusual step anywhere, especially in this era when science can overcome many obstacles that might have been disasters in years past. Maltus has made wine successfully in Bordeaux (especially at Château Teyssier) and in Australia. (He also has a new project in Napa Valley, called World's End, debuting with the 2008 vintage.)
After tasting through the wines they made, Maltus and his head winemaker, Neil Whyte, consulting with enologist Gilles Paquet, decided quality was not up to their standards and disposed of all the wines in two days, according to an announcement from the winery.
Frost, drought and prolonged heat affected the 2007 vintage in Barossa, reducing yields dramatically and presenting a challenge for winemakers, especially those such as Maltus who want to play against the kind of big, rich reds that made Barossa famous. In my view, The Colonial has been increasingly successful at it. After mixed results with the 2002 and 2003 vintages, his 2004, 2005 and 2006 wines were on the upswing. But apparently, 2007 proved to be too much for Maltus and his team.
Although others have downgraded the vintage, I think many of the better winemakers managed to make some great wines, not at all over the top. In my tastings such producers as Two Hands, Mitolo, John Duval, Betts & Scholl, Turkey Flat and Glaetzer are selling outstanding stuff from 2007. Of course, I have only seen the first wave of wines from Barossa 2007, but judging from what I tasted in the barrel last year, it looks to me as if enough of the best producers got it right in 2007 to warrant a high vintage rating, but with a warning. Some people missed it. In the end, I gave the 2007 vintage 90 points.
Maltus says he has always admired the stand taken by Bordeaux vigneron Jacques Thienpoint on his 2003 vintage of Le Pin, where the wine was not released due to intense heat just prior to the harvest.
The reality, however, may be more complex. Colonial Estate wines have not exactly been burning up the market here in the US. Recently a big wine shop in San Diego was selling excess inventory of Exile, a $100-plus wine, for $19.99. Skipping a vintage will certainly give Maltus a better chance to sell the 2008s, which by all accounts will be a memorable vintage, rather than having several vintages backed up. Consumers who like the Colonial style should keep their eyes open for bargains on any ’05s and ’06s that might show up.
And don’t generalize from the news that one vintner has decided not to bottle a vintage. Wait for the 2007s. Many will be worth it.