Jacob's Creek's wine reputation rests on a popular fruit-driven style rooted in Barossa Valley and South Australia. Ehren Jordan, owner-winemaker of Failla, is a prominent member of In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB), a brigade of California wineries professing to seek lighter, more elegant expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Now Jordan and Jacob's Creek are collaborating on a new brand, Two Lands, due for release in early 2015.
Turns out they have plenty in common. Jacob's Creek tends toward the lighter end of Australian wines. Even its Shiraz has more clarity and open texture than most, and somewhat lower alcohol levels. I have always liked the crisp Rieslings from old vines on great sites in the Barossa. Jordan has experience with riper styles at Marcassin and Turley, and even his Failla wines aim for riper expressions than his IPOB brethren.
"Ehren has total freedom to try anything," said Jacob's Creek winemaker Bernard Hickin. "He didn't demand anything, but he suggested. How about wild-yeast fermentations? More lees contact?"
"I have had interns from Australia at Failla who introduced me to wines from smaller producers," Jordan said. "That showed me what was possible."
When Jordan arrived in time for the 2013 vintage, Hickin took him around to vineyards in Padthaway, Coonawarra and Adelaide Hills, all cooler regions, and some special sites in Barossa. "When you've farmed the same land for 40 years, as [Jacob's Creek] has in Australia, it's different from 20 years, which is what we have in California," said Jordan.
Two Lands has modest goals. It starts with four wines at $14 a bottle: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, "varieties we grow in reasonable quantities on premium vineyards," Hickin said. They are meant for immediate consumption.
The results in general overdeliver on quality and share elements that stand apart from other Aussie bottlings, especially at that price. I tasted them with the winemakers when we were both in New York in October.
The vivid Two Lands Pinot Gris 2014 has richer flavors than most, a profile that might be mistaken for Riesling or Gewürztraminer, with a light texture (12.8 percent alcohol) from 40 percent cool-climate Adelaide Hills sites. The soft texture Chardonnay 2014 has zip from acidity, playing ripe pineapple, peach and citrus flavors into a pleasantly long finish. "We actually picked this a little riper," Jordan said, "and we did less manipulation. The acidity is all natural; nothing added."
The Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, mostly Padthaway with 20 percent Barossa, shows harmony of red fruit, cinnamon and savory notes on a medium-full frame. The Shiraz 2013, also mostly Padthaway, with 10 percent Langhorne Creek and 10 percent Riverland, has smoky berry and pepper flavors on a taut structure with fine tannins. The texture needs some bottle age to smooth out, and may get there by the March release date.
At the moment, the whites outshine the reds, but I will look forward to tasting these blind for review. How will they rate with peers? My guess is that this collaboration has more going for it than mere public-relations value.