Nepenthe Wines owes its name to a classical allusion – in the ancient Greek epics of Homer, nepenthe was a mystical, and possibly magical, drink prepared from Egyptian herbs that dissolved worldly cares and sorrows.
The name of the wine that took a top 10 spot in the latest Hot 100 Wines is a link to more recent and tangible history – the Nepenthe Good Doctor Pinot Noir is so-named in tribute to Nepenthe founder and huge Pinot fan Dr, who died in 2005.
Comparatively speaking, Nepenthe is an Adelaide Hills old stager – the Tweddells planted their original Lenswood vineyard in 1994, set up the region’s second winery two years later, and in the following years acquired three other vineyards along the spine of the Hills, at Charleston, Balhannah, and Hahndorf. The vineyards and the label were taken over in 2007 by major wine company Australian Vintage, which also runs a swag of other well-known wine brands, including McGuigan, Miranda and Tempus Two.
Nepenthe is probably better known for its white wines – the standard Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris are very popular sellers – but the Good Doctor is from the top-end Pinnacle Range, which also includes a wooded Sauvignon Blanc called Petraea, the Ithaca Chardonnay, and the Gate Block Shiraz. All retail at around the $35 mark.
Although Nepenthe has 130-odd hectares of its own vines in the Hills, the winery draws on a variety of other Hills sources, and chief winemaker James Evers says the fruit for the 2015 Good Doctor came from a contracted grower near Uraidla.
Viticulture – especially good canopy management – is crucial for successful Pinot Noir, Evers says. While the berries need exposure to sunlight to gain colour and to ripen, they are very reactive to heat. “So it’s about having a balanced canopy and a balanced crop level,” he says.
Evers says the 777 Pinot Noir clone works well in the cool conditions of Uraidla, and the winemaking approach is all about restraint, with the aim of capturing the freshness and vibrancy of the fruit with minimal impact.
“So we’re not really working the ferment too much – we want fresh, light flavours with not too much oaking, letting the variety express itself. It’s about bright fruit and complexity, without being overworked on skins.”
The judges of the Hot 100 praised the wine for achieving balance between lightness of touch with savouriness and structure: “It is fresh and lively without being overtly sweet,” they said, a verdict Evers finds gratifying. “That was exactly what we were trying to achieve,” he says.
2015 was a tricky vintage in the Hills, he says, with timing being the key. It was a low-cropping year and grapes ripened very quickly, which “tripped some people up”.
“You had to be on the ball, or you risked picking your fruit too late. It was about capturing it at the right time and, if you did capture it at the right time, it was absolutely a very good vintage, with great natural acid retention in the fruit,” he says.
Evers has high hopes for the 2017 version of wine – with vintage halting its backward march, picking will be several weeks later than the past few years, and the plentiful rain in the early part of the season has been welcome.
“Thanks to the moisture profile, what we’ve got is vines that are really healthy that are in great balance.”
The recent burst of extreme heat proved short-lived, and the weather has returned to the ideal mix of warm days and cool nights. Provided the rain holds off for the next few weeks, Evers says the vintage is teetering on the brink of being outstanding.
Just what the Doctor ordered.