Certain names resonate strongly within the halls of Australian wine history. Jim Barry Wines is one of them. It was Jim Barry’s drive and community spirit that helped shape South Australia’s Clare Valley as a benchmark in the world of Riesling and Shiraz. Thereby cementing its place as one of Australia’s premier wine regions. When we were in Australia in 2011, we visited some of the most iconic wineries down under and had our fill of some of the world’s best Shiraz. Nothing tastes better than the local wines and food. Australia is also known for prawns the size of your head, which we also happily devoured.
Jim was the first qualified winemaker in the Clare Valley, graduating as the 17th student to gain a Degree in Oenology at the famous Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1947. While boarding in Clare and working at the Clarevale Cooperative, Jim met his future wife, Nancy. In 1959 Jim and Nancy purchased their first property and vineyards on the northern outskirts of Clare. The property was part of the original estate of Edward Burton Gleeson, founder of Clare, and known as Burton Cottage. In 1964 they purchased 70 acres of prime river flats from Duncan McRae Wood in the Armagh area of Clare. This property would go on to be the foundation of their red wine production. In 1969, after guiding Clarevale for 22 years, Jim took on the challenge of helping to establish Taylor’s new winery and vineyards at Auburn (originally known as Chateau Clare Estate).
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In 1974 the first “home-made” wines were produced at a new winery built on a hill with a spectacular outlook over the picturesque northern Clare Valley. In 1977 they purchased the 329 acre Lodge Hill property. With the help of their sons, Jim and Nancy purchased further sites including Clare River (1989), Jacka’s (1995) and John Knox Oval (1998) in Coonawarra, all of which help in contributing to their various wines today. Sadly, Jim passed away in Clare in 2004. But Nancy, along with sons Peter, Mark, and John continue to play an important role in the everyday running of the business. Peter became managing director in 1985. Today Peter’s sons Tom and Sam both work for Jim Barry Wines as winemaker and commercial manager, while daughter Olivia is studying at university with an interest in joining the company. We had the pleasure of meeting Sam recently at the Australian Embassy Legacy Winemakers tasting.
The Jim Barry Riesling is bone dry, with crisp acidity and beautiful lime flavors. The high altitude of the vineyards make the Rieslings steely, minerally and citrusy. Peter also night-harvests all of his fruit, which helps them retain their acidity. Just perfect with asparagus, au gratin potatoes and lemon meringue pie.
The Lodge Hill Shiraz is one of my personal favorites from down under. Clare Valley’s eastern ranges have soils of rich, chocolaty loam over vertical sheets of ancient slate, ideal for low-yielding Shiraz vines. This Shiraz shows a big aromatic lift of pepper, black plum, rosemary and cumin. On the palate is bright, fresh fruit, with masses of mulberry, blackberry and Morello cherries, complimented by mild chocolate-like undertones. If that isn’t the perfect pairing for your Easter lamb chop, I don’t know what is!
Here’s to three generations of an iconic winemaking family and a flavorful Spring of Jim Barry wines!