A Priceless Inheritance
Established in 1860 Tahbilk is one of Australia's most beautiful and historic family owned wineries. Located in the Nagambie Lakes region of central Victoria (120kms north of Melbourne), one of the nation's premium viticultural areas, the property comprises some 1,214 hectares of rich river flats with a frontage of 11 kms to the Goulburn River and 8 kms of permanent backwaters and creeks. Purchased by the Purbrick family in 1925, Tahbilk is now home to 5 generations.
"The fabric of Tahbilk, its buildings, its estate vineyards, its 1860 shiraz block, and its idyllic setting by the Goulburn River (and its anabranches) all have history so seamlessly woven through its fabric that it's become timeless. Nothing will be changed or added in the future unless it is part of the continuity stretching back to 1860."
- James Halliday, Foreword of Vintage Stories
The vineyard has some 200 hectares under vine which includes the rare French Rhone Valley whites of Marsanne, Viognier and Roussanne; and the Rhone reds - Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre. Also planted are the traditional varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho and new age rising stars Tempranillo and Savagnin.
Vineyard plantings extend back to Tahbilk's founding with original pre-phylloxera Shiraz vines still surviving from 1860 - an eponymous wine produced from them since 1979. Tahbilk is further blessed with an abundance of further "old vine" plantings including Shiraz from 1933 (the prime source for Tahbilk's 'Eric Stevens Purbrick' Shiraz releases), Cabernet Sauvignon back to 1949 and Marsanne from 1927 (a "sister" white release to the 1860 Vines Shiraz).
Harvest commences in early March and continues for five to six weeks with approximately 1,600 tonnes (red & white) grapes processed. Total production is over 100,000 cases with just over 10% being exported to the key markets of U.S.A., United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries.
The Tahbilk approach to red winemaking is considered very traditional and has not changed since its inception in 1860. Tahbilk produces wines with an emphasis on fruit flavour (as distinct from oak flavour) with the proven potential to improve and develop added complexity if patiently cellared.
Generations have challenged this traditional approach, in particular Alister, who in the often told story, mentioned to his Grandfather he would like to change the red winemaking style. He broached the subject with Eric who promptly opened a bottle of 1962 Special Bin (which he regarded as his best vintage). After the usual description, analysis and praise, Eric simply commented: 'Well, old boy, if you think it's so good, why do you want to change our reds?'.
Alister quickly came around and in an interview years later he best captured the essence of why Tahbilk continues to do as it does today.
"Fashions come and go in wine as in all walks of life."
- Alister John Purbrick - Wine & Spirits Guide Interview Dec 2008
While the grapes are no longer hoppered by chain off the horse-drawn drays to be fed to the crusher, the must is pumped into the original oak fermenters where cultivated yeast is introduced and fermentation commences. Carbon dioxide gas is formed during fermentation and this forces the skins (called the cap) to rise to the top of the vat.
Twice daily the juice from the bottom is pumped over (turned over) the top of the cap which extracts the colour, flavour and tannins from the grape skins - three important elements in producing quality, structured red wines. Once fermentation is complete (7-10 days), the wine is drained off the skins, which are in turn fed into a membrane press to extract any remaining wine - called pressings, and then pumped into oak casks in the original 1860 and "new" 1875 cellars.
There is storage in both cellars for some 365,000 litres of wine in a diversity of French and Polish oak casks, varying in capacity from 1,137 litres to 6,365 litres - the majority of the casks being well over 100 years old with some dating back 140 years.
The wine is allowed to settle and mature in the cask, being twice transferred (racked) into clean casks leaving the sediment (lees) behind.
Maturation time is approximately 18 months (the temperature stays a constant 15-16°C all year round - perfect for maturing red wine) and on completion the wine is filtered and bottled then cellared for a further 12-18 months prior to labelling and distribution (Tahbilk 'Eric Stevens Purbrick' Reds and '1860 Vines' Shiraz will be have up to 4 years cellaring prior to release).
With the construction of the dedicated White fermentation cellar in 1979, one of the first initiatives undertaken by Alister Purbrick after assuming the General Manager's role, white winemaking at Tahbilk was ushered into a new age.
The white grapes are crushed and the must chilled to 5-10°Celsius before being pumped into computerised grape presses. The juice is separated from the skins and pumped into refrigerated stainless steel tanks and fermented with cultured yeast under strict temperature control to maximise flavour and freshness.
On completion of fermentation (10-15 days), the wines are stabilised in additional stainless steel tanks, prior to filtering, blending and bottling (Chardonnay is the exception, being matured in new French and American oak barrels for up to 12 months).