Winery Spotlight: Peter Lehmann Wines

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Vintage Cellars
February 27, 2019
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With a legacy spanning generations, Peter Lehmann’s name endures through the quality of his namesake wines and his commitment to the region he loved.

The man and the region were so closely related there was barely a breath between them. Peter Lehmann was the Barossa, and the Barossa was Peter Lehmann.

The son of a Lutheran pastor, Lehmann was there in the 1960s, when the modern Australian wine industry was still relatively young, and helped to shape it. He became the great champion of what were then vinous underdogs, riesling and shiraz, and the surprise package that is Barossa semillon.

In the wine industry’s never-ending cycle of boom and bust, he stood firmly by the Barossa’s classic varieties as well as his grape growers.

Peter Lehmann is no longer with us, and the amazing wine company he created in 1980 is now owned by Casella Wines, but the Lehmann wine name, philosophy and company still resonate strongly throughout South Australia's Barossa Valley and way, way beyond.

The Lehmann winemaking style

The secret, if there is just one, to the Peter Lehmann Wines’ (PLW) winemaking style is diversity, notably in the sourcing of grapes from a solid core of multi-generational grape growers. This is what helped grow the legacy.

Over the years, the company has had upwards of 140 grape growers on its books, contracts sealed by a handshake, providing it with access to some of the oldest vines in the Barossa Valley and adjoining Eden Valley. Growers are scattered up and down the two valleys, supplying grapes from a mix of different altitudes, soils, climates and vine age.

By way of example, the Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling — named in honour of long-time winemaker Andrew Wigan, who retired in 2015 - is traditionally blended from fruit grown by nine growers, with the age of vines ranging from 50 to 100 years. The complexity and intensity of flavour that old vines add to a wine are beautifully expressed not only in the Wigan but the company’s flagship wines made from semillon (Margaret) and shiraz (Stonewell).

The second secret,if we are counting, to the PLW style follows on from the first, and that is simplicity. There are no particularly modern takes on winemaking to be seen in the range of Peter Lehmann Wines, no fancy tricks or manipulation. The fruit is the thing.

Iconic shiraz

“Peter Lehmann was my dad’s mentor,” says third-generation Barossa winemaker, Tim Dolan, son of award-winning Nigel Dolan of Saltram fame. “And my grandfather and Peter were great mates, having worked together back in the Saltram days.”

Peter Lehmann gave Tim Dolan the opportunity in 2011 to return to the Barossa Valley to work at PLW after making wine around the world. Today, Dolan is one of a band of winemakers with a special interest in riesling and semillon - the latter named in honour of Peter Lehmann’s wife and business partner, Margaret - and, it goes without saying, shiraz.

Shiraz comes in multiple quality levels, price points and styles, Shoulder to Shoulder being one of the younger. “We’re aiming for a classic expression,” says Dolan. “It has 20% new French oak and a mix of older French and American.” The wine exhibits a little more power and oak than that displayed in the company’s entry level shiraz, Portrait Shiraz. “It’s batting well above its weight in terms of value for money.”

Eight Songs Shiraz is Dolan’s own favourite. “I love it. It’s always in that super-elegant, super-silky style with 100% French oak.”

It began life in 1986, when Peter Lehmann was keen to explore something just a little different. Previously, his red-wine making had been built around American oak and it was time to see what French oak could bring. The result? Eight Songs exudes restraint and class.

Then there’s Stonewell, top of the tree when it comes to Peter Lehmann shiraz. Grapes are sourced from some of the best vineyards in the Barossa Valley (and occasionally the Eden Valley), including the Stonewell sub-region, and the wine is both fermented and matured in French oak. The current 2013 release is a touch bigger and more robust than some previous vintages, no doubt the result of a dry vintage.

“But in terms of longevity, the 2013 will probably outlast most vintages, so it’s one for the cellar,” Dolan suggests.

The quintessential Barossan

For a winery that didn’t exist before 1980, there is a sense of permanence to the Peter Lehmann Wines cellar door, which lies on the Barossa Valley lifeline, the Para River.

The entry to the property passes old stone cottages from Barossa’s early days as a settlement for German immigrants seeking a new life away from religious persecution.

The spacious cellar door is housed in a cottage dating back to the 1880s, which has been extended and tastefully modernised to incorporate a large tasting bench, fireplace, lounge area and private tasting areas, including the Hoffman Cellar carved into the hillside.

There are few cooler places to visit on a hot summer’s day in the Barossa, or prettier places to enjoy when the weather is kinder - especially the gardens and lawn area. There’s always a welcoming embrace of Barossa-based hospitality at Peter Lehmann Wines, and they certainly set the benchmark when it comes to getting involved in all things Barossa. Visitors are invited to attend PLW-hosted events, such as A Day on The Green, or to swing by during the Barossa Vintage Festival and the classical Vino & Violins event held during October’s Good Food Month.

The Peter Lehmann winery is open for private tastings, such as the utterly unmissable Very Special Vineyard and Stonewell tasting. And what better way to follow these than with a German-inspired food platter and glass of something delicious.