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Delhi Wine Club
Bit of Truth in Rolf Binder of Barossa Valley

Posted: Monday, 23 July 2012 11:12

Passing By: Bit of Truth in Rolf Binder of Barossa Valley

July 23 : Rolf Binder, owner of Rolf Binder winery from Barossa Valley, an associate of the award- winning boutique winery Veritas, was on a whirlwind tour of India last week, with a short stop-over in Gurgaon, near Delhi where Subhash Arora met him for an exclusive chat and tasting of five wines from his portfolio, including the Rolf Binder Halliwell being imported by the Mumbai-based Wine Park.

Photos By:: Adil Arora

Click For Large ViewFrom all accounts, the Rolf Binder is a Barossa Valley boutique winery with an iconic status, despite being in existence only since 2005. But the older associated family winery Veritas has had a history of 50 years of wine-making. Started by Rolf’s father, Rolf Heinrich Binder, an aristocrat from Hungary who migrated after the Second World War in the early fifties with his Austrian wife, it has won several awards as the Best Small Winery.

With the then immigration laws for Europeans, the migrants were obliged to work for the government and in this case he worked for 3 years in the railroad where he met a grape grower-cum-driver. Rolf says, ‘my father grew up in the lap of luxury in Hungary with an English nanny. He spoke perfect English when he came to Adelaide. He had studied industrial chemistry and that helped him in starting the wine business and founding Veritas Winery when he met the grape grower also working with the railroad company.’

‘The winery initially focused on the then popular fortified wines and Ports (as they were allowed to be called till recently),’ says Rolf as he starts to open the 5 bottles of wine we are about to taste. Veritas also became popular with their Bull Blood-not literally, but a full-bodied red wine made from Shiraz and old vines of Mataro (same grape as Mourvedre in France and Monastrell in Spain).

In Vino Veritas

Rolf proceeded to tell me diplomatically that the new winery bearing his father’s name made no difference to the clients or the sales of the winery as they were already aware that he was the winemaker for Veritas- a name taken from the Latin, ‘Vino Veritas’ which means ‘in wine there is truth’. Perhaps the truth is also that the brand Veritas ran into some legal issues in the US and the family thought it prudent to switch to the new name while keeping the old winery and brand name alive for the domestic industry; one can still buy Veritas fortified wines but only at the cellar door.

It was a revelation when Rolf said that the young generation in Australia is going back to drinking fortified wines-though with a bit of difference. They prefer cocktails made with them. That should be good news for the domestic industry that has run into trouble for the past decade with exports under pressure and the domestic consumption aggressively being pushed up with increasing imports. 

All in the family

Rolf is an oft-awarded and highly regarded red winemaker while his sister Christa works with white wines. She has an oenological background from Bordeaux, having 12 years experience with Wolf Blass from where she came out as a winemaker. Together they hope to carry on with projecting Rolf Binder winery as a small cult producer of Barossa Valley, working with the grapes from Barossa and Eden Valley.

The family owns 150 acres and leases another 35 and buys a small quantity of grapes from outside, making 70% of wines as state grown. Out of the 27,500 cases produced annually, 85% are red and the balance 15% white. 70% of their wines are exported with Canada being the biggest market, with every province selling their wines. Other good markets are Belgium, Taiwan and China about which he has an interesting impression.

China vs. India

Click For Large ViewRolf Binder Winery has a distribution set up as well as another new venture in China, comments on which he reserved for his next visit. But he is convinced that the Chinese industry has gone about in a wrong way and India would come out ahead unless the Chinese correct themselves fast. With the climate and monsoon seasons and the consequent harvesting problems being similar to India, China planted the grapes the wrong way by aping Bordeaux and engaging consultants who blindly recommended Cabernet and Chardonnay. Anyone having some unused land anywhere went in for grape growing recommended by the western consultants without studying what was best for the soil. He believes that the land and climate is good for tougher varieties like Nebbiolo, Barbera, Albariños- varieties that have tougher skins and grow better in warmer soil.

‘I travel a lot and know sufficiently well about China. Level of service and knowledge in India are 6 years ahead of China where they are drinking wine as a western habit whereas in India service is important and the knowledge about wine is much ahead. Once these things fall in place, acceptance of wine will be enormous. Downside is that there is too much talk of regulation and restrictions with customs duty being a negative factor for retail.’

Balanced wine with high alcohol

As expected from a majority of Australian wines, the alcohol levels of Rolf Binder wines are also high, generally 13-14.5%. But this is not something that bothers Rolf as a winemaker. ‘We work very hard with canopy management but it is important to have proper phenolic ripening and if this means higher sugar, there is bound to be more alcohol. What is more important is wines with good balance where the alcohol is neither detectable on the palate, nor any problem,’ he says.

Wines Tasted

One of the objectives of the current visit has been to expand the portfolio after working with Vishal Kadakia of the Wine Park. ‘We are currently selling Rolf Binder Halliwell, a Shiraz-Grenache blend (75/25 mix) in India. This is widely listed at ITC, Pullman, Indigo Restaurants, Four Seasons etc. across Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon, Calcutta and Bangalore,’ discloses Vishal. It’s also available on Jet Airways Business Class,’ says Vishal. The blend of 70% Shiraz and 30% Grenache was crimson coloured with shades of chocolate brown and aromas of dark cherries. The flavour was full, warm and cherry with distinctive spice note dominating. A well-rounded and homogenous velvet textured wine with a long and fruity after-taste that was enjoyable without the food as well.

Earlier, starting with Riesling made from the grapes grown by Rolf’s sister Christa in a small vineyard she owns, the wine was concentrated, mineral and the usual ‘petrol-ly’ aromas and crispy, lime flavours but with softer undertones than perhaps a German Riesling. The decent price would make it an excellent addition to the Indian portfolio.  Magpie Estate ‘The Thief’, a Mourvedre Grenache blend Rosé did not appear to be either Rose, or a Red but a cross (Rolf admits not caring for Rosé and so they macerate it for 24 hours instead of the usual 4-8 hours) and may not find many takers in India at present, though it was an interesting wine.

The Fakir 2009, a Grenache made in the associate Magpie Estate in Barossa Valley was another interesting wine with warm texture and deep garnet colour. Flavours of plums and several herbs underlined this refreshing wine with soft tannins but crisp acidity with a reasonable length.

In the absence of his top drop, Hanisch Shiraz, the Rolf Binder Heysen Shiraz, Barossa Valley 2006 was a true revelation of Rolf’s capabilities. The powerful yet elegant, highly viscous, concentrated and a wine full of dark cherry and spices was so delicious it almost tempted me to stay back for the dinner which I had to regret as I had committed to another wine tasting dinner for which I had to rush back to the city. Though expensive, it would be able to seduce many a sophisticated palate backed by  the wallet.

Click For Large ViewI wonder why his sister Christa has not pushed him into bringing her award winning Semillon or look at the possibility of a Semillon Sauvignon blend- similar to Bordeaux whites. Revealing a secret about the blend, he clarifies that the best white blends are made from the fruits from vineyards in different areas. Since the grapes mature at different times, with Semillon requiring a lot of sun, one needs to pick them from different areas at the same time when both ripen at the same time.

This was the first visit for Rolf to India though he started exporting one label through the Wine Park 4 years ago. ‘I have seen a lot of India but only from the height of 39,000 feet,’ he says. He must have seen a lot more this time during his whirlwind tour of Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and finally Gurgaon where he had a one night stop-over at the recently opened beautiful Novotel property, Pullman and from the look of excitement on his face, it looks like he will be passing by India more often in the future.

Subhash Arora


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