Around the world, across the years, there are more stories about wine than anyone can recount.
The most dedicated connoisseur doesn’t know them all.
But even if you have only a passing interest in wine, a good yarn can light up your glass.
We might start by defining a connoisseur.
It comes to us from the Latin and Old French.
Modern definitions include:
“To know, to become well-acquainted with.”
“An expert, a judge, one well-versed. “
But our favourite from Cambridge is a little more relaxed:
“A person who knows a lot about and enjoys one of the arts: or food, drink etc and can judge quality and skill in that subject”
That kind of person we like. As long as they pass on their knowledge gently, genuinely and generously. We don’t like snobs in the wine business.
We know you’ll be one of the people we like.
Good stories have more than one chapter
The headings for a complete wine story would include: The history of the vineyard, the soil from top to bottom, the aspect, the grape variety, the viticulture, the weather, the vinification and most importantly the people who shepherded the wine through its life.
We have a great story about people for you here.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
Sadly, this one starts sadly
In 1938 a young man is away from his home at boarding school in Adelaide. He is not unhappy there. Until one evening he hears the news on the radio that a plane carrying 14 people has crashed in the mountains north of Melbourne. All on board are killed. Among them is his father.
He is being comforted when the mail turns up. He has received a letter signed ‘Your loving Dad’, written only the day before.
The words are heartbreakingly gentle, genuine and generous. The strong hand offers sympathy for a head cold, some advice about lessons, promises of phone calls to come.
The young man is Colin Gramp. His father is Hugo Gramp, appointed in 1920 at the age of 25 as the MD of the company founded by his grandfather Johann who planted his first grapes in 1847.
Hugo is one of three legendary characters on the plane, each from a wine family, well known then, famous today. They intend to fly from Adelaide to Melbourne and on to the nation’s capital Canberra to speak to Government representatives about taxes on wine.
The other two are Tom Hardy and Sidney Hill-Smith of Yalumba.
Hugo remembered in the best possible way.
Let’s flick the pages through to 1980. The Gramp & Sons winemakers, now led by Colin, take a superb crop of cabernet from the rich red soils of Coonawarra. In 1983 it is released as St Hugo.
Awaited by connoisseurs every year its legend grows. Many gold medals (229) and trophies (31) have been awarded for its intense blackberry and spice flavours and its lingering finish of fine tannins. The 2010 vintage, the 30th, is described as fantastic.
The St Hugo cursive script is today on more than one label. The Coonawarra cabernet is still the flagship but there are more reds and whites too showcasing the home vineyards of the Barossa and other fine areas as well. A straight shiraz from the Barossa, a Barossa shiraz/Coonawarra cabernet blend, a grenache/shiraz/mataro blend and a delightful riesling from Eden Valley.
Some magnificent teamwork
We were recently invited to a dinner to review the past and anticipate the future.
In the Barossa, a brilliantly refurbished 1830s ironstone building now houses the St Hugo restaurant.
There, Executive Chef Mark McNamara and Chief Winemaker Dan Swincer have a very close relationship, working on wine and food combinations that display the power and finesse of the St Hugo wines.
However we are seated in the dining room at a waterfront hotel in Sydney hundreds of km from the Barossa, but modern technology and another great collaboration has seen Mark and Dan team up with their mate Joel Bickford, Executive Chef at Pier One.
Dan has travelled to be at the table with us so Joel’s food had better be top notch. It is. Superb.
Joel dazzles us with small servings to suit the wines through the meal: a mushroom gnocchi, a pig’s head compote, a perfect tender rare lamb with parsley root, and just to show it can be done in the right hands he combines a white fish with a red wine!
A fillet of Murray Cod cuddles up to shallot, seaweed, peas and a beurre rouge with the just-coming-of-age St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. A marriage made in … where else?
‘The Last Letter’ the first in the Legacy Collection
After tasting some classic St Hugo reds we are allowed a first look at a new range, the Legacy Collection. Its first member is called ‘The Last Letter’. A small part of that 1938 missive is reproduced in a shadowy hand on the label. The wine behind is a 2013 Barossa cabernet sauvignon. The warm vintage year confers power on the grapes. The aromas leap out of the glass, a swirl of dense dark berries, a whiff of spice. In the mouth it is rich and dark, deep and concentrated. Sturdy tannins point to great ageing potential. The predominately new French oak has done its work over 20 months.
A happy ending
This wine is enjoyed at the end of the dinner with a sheep’s cheese plate combining kohlrabi, onions and salted egg.
With a name like St Hugo it is almost impossible not to slip in a few heavenly references. But we won’t.
We’ll leave you to make your own pilgrimage at www.sthugo.com