No, I’m not referring to the condition known as a limb “falling asleep,” or an ineffective relief pitcher. Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa lata which randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often vines with its symptoms are severely pruned, replanted or abandoned.
But at d’Arenberg Vineyards, located in the hills just north of the township of McLaren Vale, on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, the Osborn family considers Dead Arm to be a natural part of vineyard life. One half, or arm of the vine, slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side might be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side . . . .
Well, these truncated, gap-toothed old vines have been producing small bunches of highly flavored grapes since the late 19th century. That’s almost as long as four generations of the Osborn family have tended their vineyards and cellars.
Each year, small parcels of Shiraz from the Dead Arm blocks are vinified separately from other Shiraz. After hand-harvesting the very small-berried, low-yielding fruit, it is then gently crushed by the open-mouthed, rubber-toothed ‘Demoisy’ crusher and pumped into headed-down open fermenters where the traditional foot-treading in wader-clad feet takes place. A week or so later, the still fermenting Shiraz is gently pressed by their 19th century ‘Coq’ and ‘Tregoning’ basket-presses into new and first use American and French oak barriques for 22 months maturation, before blending and then bottling.
The 2002 Dead Arm Shiraz is the ninth vintage to be released by d’Arenberg. Classic Shiraz flavors of plum and blackberry are layered with pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and hint of five spice. Rhubarb and deep earth add to the complexity leading to chewy tannins and a long spicy finish. This elegant wine can easily cellar for another 7-10 years.
From the same vineyard comes The Laughing Magpie. A name that the daughters of winemaker Chester Olson coined, calling their two wild pet Kookaburras “laughing magpies.” (We have fond memories of being awakened at 5 AM by the cackling laugh of the kookaburras outside of our Sydney apartment).
The 2009 Laughing Magpie is the Osborns’ first-ever blend of Shiraz and Viognier, a reference to the black and white coloring of the magpie (black Shiraz coupled with the white Viognier). Although several of d’Arenberg’s Shiraz vineyards date back to the early 1900’s, the Viognier vines were not planted until 1995. The result is an exotic nose of lychee nuts, honeysuckle, apricot, blackberries and cassis. This wine is expressive, full bodied but soft. Like its cousin, the Dead Arm, the Laughing Magpie will benefit from further bottle aging and decanting.
(Both are in Big & Concentrated at Teller.)