***** Outstanding, James Halliday, 2015 Australian Wine Companion
‘Stephen George wears two winemaker hats: one for Ashton Hills, drawing upon an estate vineyard high in the Adelaide Hills, and one for Wendouree. It would be hard to imagine two wineries with more diverse styles, from the elegance and finesse of Ashton Hills to the awesome power of Wendouree. After years of selecting the best pinot noir vines to provide grafting material, in the spring of 2011, all of the white vines (other than riesling) were grafted to pinot noir, the outcome is that Ashton Hills now has 2.65 of pinot noir, and 0.35ha of riesling.’ James Halliday
'‘The world of Australian pinot noir has been turned on its head over the past decade or so, in terms of who are the sought-after producers. Certainly there is more competition than ever and quality is generally through the roof. Ashton Hills was outstanding way back in the 1990s, has never had a lull, and here it’s pretty safe to say that it still is.’ Campbell Mattinson
Stephen George’s three hectare, dry-grown, Ashton Hills vineyard lies in the Piccadilly Valley sub region of the Adelaide Hills on a ridge just below the summit of Mount Lofty. Planted in 1982, it’s a quality site that, thanks to the humility and integrity of its gifted farmer, has been the source of some of South Australia’s most intriguing cool-climate wines, and certainly its most authentic and fascinating Pinot Noir.
You don’t need to spend much time in the Piccadilly Valley to realise why this area was granted sub-regional status—it is totally different to the rest of the Hills. In short, it’s much colder and wetter. George’s Estate vineyard lies at 570 metres above sea level and the vines shudder through some of the coolest vintage conditions in the country. Meanwhile, rainfall is a whopping 1200mm a year, well over double that of the Barossa. Whether it’s the lifted perfumes, elegant structure and Alpine freshness of the Pinot Noirs or the icy purity of the Riesling, Piccadilly Valley’s bona-fide cool-climate imprint is never far away. A healthy portion of old-vines and the vineyard’s south-facing aspect afford George the luxury of late harvesting that plays a significant role in the personality of these wines.
Terroir is one thing, how it’s worked is another, and Stephen George clearly has an intuitive touch and the drive to continually evolve. Most recently this evolution has resulted in George grubbing out all varieties except for Pinot Noir, and a little bit of Riesling, focusing his Pinot Noir on four specific clones selected from a line-up of 25 that he had tested. It’s on this exciting, Pinot-centric leg of Ashton Hills’ journey that we join Stephen George for the ride.
The Ashton Hills winery is incredibly basic, with an earth floor and next to no equipment whatsoever. The Pinot fruit is destemmed via a small, customised, gentle destemmer that keeps as many whole berries as possible. The fruit is then basket pressed, and the wine is made without any sulphur additions until bottling. Some whole bunches are included, and the percentage varies according to the style of the vintage. The red wines are mostly raised in aged, neutral French hogshead barrels. The Reserve Pinot may see some new oak, but again, the percentage depends entirely on the vintage. There are no recipes here. We have winemaking specs for the other wines in the notes below.
Having already cemented his living-legend status amongst his peers and compiled a storied CV that includes his role at Wendouree (since the 1980s) and twenty five vintages at the helm of Ashton Hills, you could forgive this reclusive winemaker for taking his foot off the gas. Not a bit of it. Looking in from the outside he would seem to have done it all, and yet when you meet him, and taste his young wines, you get the impression that he is just getting going. Stephen George is in fact making the best wines of his career and we’re thrilled to be able to offer them to you.