When Ferdinand Vorwerk decided to plant a small Shiraz vineyard sometime in the late 1870s, site selection would have been as important as it is today. However back then the chosen site was about survival of the vineyard, so vines were planted in deep soils near rivers and creeks, requiring less distance to cart water to ensure the vines survived their first summers.
So in the winter of 1880, Ferdinand with the support of some local labour including Augusta Wegner, planted 24 rows of Shiraz next to a small creek on the eastern side of Eden Valley’s Flaxman Valley. We believe this was the first vineyard to be planted in the Flaxman Valley area, and the second in the entire Eden Valley region after the Henschke Hill of Grace vineyard.
During their early years these vines would have been generous croppers, which suited the demand of the day in growing grapes for the production of fortified wines. Now wearied by age and the once rich soils stripped of their excess nutrients, and with extensive root systems tapping deep to sustain them across the seasons, the 1880 vines produce small crops of impeccably balanced and wonderfully flavoured berries.
With an Eden Valley heritage going back 5 generations, Sue and John Holt purchased the Poonawatta property in 1966. The vines, then in their 80s had fallen into a state of neglect, having not been pruned for some years, with collapsed trellises and cattle roaming freely through the vineyard. Moving the cattle out was easy; the re-trellising somewhat more time consuming and while the initial pruning was relatively straight forward, it took a number of years of care and attention to bring the vineyard back into viable production.
This is a small vineyard by any standards. The surviving 912 vines (0.8 of a hectare) is, to the best of our knowledge the 7th oldest Shiraz vineyard in Australia. The gnarled and contorted vines reflect their years, with twisted and split trunks delivering their precious harvest each vintage. Yielding an average of 1.5 tonne to the acre, the weathered vines are carefully hand pruned and picked, not just to ensure maximum fruit quality, but to also ensure minimal impact on the vines – affectionately known as the “old girls”.
For many years the fruit was sold to a number of Barossa wineries, and in 1991 we took a small portion for ourselves and made the first trial wines from the 1880 vines. The “shed red” as we called it was a great success and the results were remarkably good (more to do with great quality fruit than wine making skills.)
In 2002 we produced the first Poonawatta The 1880 Shiraz, and this wine is now firmly entrenched as the cornerstone of the Poonawatta brand, and the flagship wine of the portfolio.
Poonawatta The 1880 Shiraz is now recognised and appreciated as a wine with genuine heritage and true single vineyard provenance.