As Pinot Noir is the holy grail to many Australian winemakers, so the making of a “Grand Merlot” is to James Irvine.
The intriguing plummy depths, full complete racy flavours; balancing tannins and premium oak interaction, with overall complexity and satisfaction of style is how the Irvine “Grand Merlot” is perceived. The Grand Merlot comes only after quite some years planning. To establish the style, Merlot wines both unblended and partially blended were tasted, read about, and made, over many years. Wines and articles came from all over the world to see if there was a consensus of style. Thankfully there doesn't seem to be such a thing, so we were able to choose those alternatives that best suited our ability and our vineyard.
The decision to plant Merlot at Springhill Eden Valley was easy and always intended, for “man cannot live by white alone”.
The Grand Merlot shows all the characters we were after and represents a high level of refinement of style and individuality. Further comparisons of analysis of Merlot from overseas and Australia plus intuitive drawings from forty plus years winemaking has brought about a number of changes to the Grand Merlot over the years. The changes have resulted in a more complex wine than usual with tobacco/leather overtones above the plummy bouquet. Deeper tannins have added to the palate, firming the end but still leaving the plum fruitiness in mid-palate. There is a light pepperiness which adds to the overall kaleidoscope of the bouquet. The grandness in all this mostly refers to the completeness of the wine and its ability to express itself in a totally prestigious way. Refinements in the winemaking which in themselves are well known, plus one or two that are particular to Irvine “Grand Merlot” results in the very special differences which no other Merlot can emulate. The finish is so clean and so distinctively Merlot that we are proud to be makers of such a wine.
With many vintages behind us, years of research, minor modifications to the winemaking each year, maximising the flavour reward, and creation of a distinctive style, we believe we now have one of the finest Merlot wines in the world.
Lesser oak allows the fruit to show even more plum and cherry characters while a firmness of palate will serve the wine well as it ages, giving back-bone to draw on. The whole flavour is so lively and complex that palate interest is maximised and so rewarding.
Maturation in new and used Allier oak takes place for up to two years, giving the desired notes to the finish while retaining the nose and spiciness of the oak.
From a serving view we see the elegance, fruit, and soft dry finish matching many varied types of food from entrée to dessert. Truly amazing but worth every try.
As is critical with Merlot, this site is very well drained because of the sub-strata of gravel. The trellis is based on the two wire vertical system and part machine harvested with the rest hand harvested. The sites chosen face east/west, and north to catch the warm sun late in the season when the days are very short and we wait for the baume to reach 14.5º or better. The picking takes place around midday to avoid any possibility of dew pick-up and to ensure the crushed grapes are warm to start the ferment.
The winemaking is carefully supervised in all stages being made to exactly personal standards and to our own Irvine criteria. It takes a very different understanding of wine and its maturation to have a wine ready at six to ten years of age rather than one at two to three years.
Great plummy fruit on both bouquet and palate, with plenty of vinous herbaceous complexities complemented by the judicious use of new oak and older casks.
Grand Merlot will retain a release age of four plus years, with a minimum of 20-26 months in oak and a year or so in bottle.
Over the years we have changed one item per year to see if we can improve the totality of the Grand Merlot in its global style.
While taking notice of the traditional winemaking of Pomerol and St Emilion in particular, there has been no attempt to make other than an Eden Valley deluxe premium Merlot.
High ferment temperatures (30-32°C); when thought necessary (depending on the year); fermentation to dryness on skins; extended maturation on skins; low pH regime; tannin additions at ferment - post ferment/pre-barrel filling - pre-bottling, have all played a part.
The oak selection was established to suit this vineyard particularly and may not work elsewhere. Basically one third new Allier, one third once used and one third old barrels.
Over the years we have carried the wines out to fifty months in barrel but found that the wine “dries out” too much past twenty-four months, losing some of that marvelous plummy attitude and showing premature age characteristics.
Pushing the ripeness levels higher and higher over the years from 13.5° Baume in tank to 15.2° has given an understanding of the role that alcohol plays in the complexing. From this we believe that Merlot from Eden Valley should crush at 14.5° Baume. At this level the plummy dimension is most rewarding and gives great depth with balance to the overall style.
This ripeness is even more important in the Estate range to give a Merlot definitive varietal rather than a complex style. In Estate with a shorter wood maturation, we want 'the Merlot character' to show very distinctly and so 'plumminess' is most important.
pH levels are slightly higher and quite often the residual sugars reach 4-5 g/L. Lively, racy, fruity, soft, rich, rewarding and at a reasonable price. It is Estate Merlot that forms the basis for itself and the Merlot-Cabernet Franc (50% Merlot).
In all wines the pressings are added back at the end of ferment.
Barrel filling is usually during August-September and uses the newly emptied oak from the recent bottling.