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by Fred McMillin
Alas...A Bottle Too Far
The Best of Show at the McLaren Vale Wine Competition was the Wirra Wirra Vineyards Chook Block Shiraz. Total production = 273 cases.
The Rest of the Story
Chook? Wirra Wirra? McLaren Vale? Let's go back to the grape's arrival in Australia.
1788—Eleven small ships arrive at what will become Sydney. They carry about a thousand settlers, AND "claret" cuttings taken aboard in South Africa. Three years later the first bunches of Australian-grown grapes are cut.
1836—The settlers reach Adelaide, some 500 miles west of Sydney. McLaren Vale is just south of the modern city, about 5 miles inland from the sea. It is gently undulating, fog free, grape-friendly.
1838—A mere two years later, one John Reynell plants the first vineyard in the area, which in now called "McLaren Vale-Reynella."
c.1885—The Australian wine industry is booming. Mr. Robert Strangways Wigley sets up a new winery, Wirra Wirra! (an aboriginal expression meaning "among the gum trees.") But the 100-acre estate collapses after Robert died in 1924.
1968—Cousins Gregg and Roger Trott revive Wirra Wirra! Gregg is a chicken farmer and his chicken shed adjoins the vineyard. (pictured) An Australian expression for chicken is "chook." Hence, the vineyard name, "chook block." (Note photo of Greg and the gum tree fence leading to the winery.)
The Bottle Too Far
So, we now understand the name, Wirra Wirra Vineyards Chook Block Shiraz...but there are only 273 cases, and they are some 8,000 miles away. RATS! I'll never get to taste it.
Then my phone rang: "Fred, I brought a wine from Australia I'd like you to try. I went to the annual McLaren Vale Wine Competition. and I talked an Adelaide wine merchant into shipping me a case of the long-shot winner. It's called , Wirra Wirra Chook Block Shiraz!" It was my neighbor, Thomas Layton, whose computer expertise takes him Down Under frequently on business. So I put the $35 bottle into my last blind tasting and it whipped 19 rivals ( 7 other imports and 12 from the Golden State). Thomas had said it had an imposing deep color, ripe fruit nose, and much power on the palate (for years to come). I agree. It was a 1998, so had not spent a lot of time in American and French oak. Yet, the depth and complexity were startling. Now, why did I write about Wirra Wirra when it's not available in the U.S.A. ? Answer: Because some Wirra Wirra is available!
Thank You, Tamara
Tamara Landre, Imports Brand Manager for Wilson Daniels Ltd., tells me they have brought in the $20 Church Block Wirra Wirra. It's a 1999 blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. We'll taste it soon and report back. If you want to try it, contact Ms. Landre at (707) 967-1846, FAX (707) 963-8566.
Never dreaming I'd taste the "Chook Block" Best of Show, some time ago I read about Wirra Wirra winemaker Ben Riggs and the skill he showed in oaking his whites. I guess the accolades now extend to reds, after the Shook award, which he and wife Annie are receiving in the photo.
This page created June 2001