Barossa Valley & Kalleske Wines

Troy Kalleske's family has been growing grapes in the Barossa for six generations, but making wine for just four years. It took that long to produce a winemaker. His name is Troy and he's just 27 years old. He hadn't sold a bottle till last year, but he's already making his mark. Troy began making wine in 2002 after graduating in wine science and working for a handful of other wineries, notably Rolf Binder's Veritas and Southcorp. He spent three years in Southcorp's graduate winemaker program, working in six of Southcorp's wineries in three states.

It's not that the Kalleskes are slow movers; rather, the family has always run a mixed farm, with cereal cropping, animals and hay-making, and were fully occupied without the extra bother of winemaking. They sold their grapes to Southcorp, whose great Penfolds Kalimna vineyard is just over the hill about 8km from their farm, which is in the Moppa sub-region at the head of the Greenock Creek.

Troy, though, is fast making up for lost time. He's made 6,000 cases of 2005 vintage wine for his own label. And he's already turned out a bevy of impressive reds, under his own estate-grown Kalleske label, as well as making his cousin Tammy Pfeiffer's Red Nectar wines, and has plans to launch a non-estate-grown Barossa label, Pirathon. He's also about to replace the implement shed he's been using as a winery with a purpose-built structure.

Kalleske is well placed to make great wine: his family's 200-hectare farm has 48 hectares of vines, including a 1.2-hectare plot of ancient, 1875-planted shiraz vines which go to make the Johann Georg Shiraz, a blockbuster red named after the original Kalleske – who migrated from what is now Poland back in the 19th century. The Kalleskes didn't plant that vineyard, they bought it from a neighbour way back when. "We've gradually built the place up over the generations, buying pieces of land from neighbours when they became available," says Troy.

The Johann Georg plot is now surrounded by younger vines. What strikes me about all the old vines on the farm – and there are many – is their relatively narrow trunks. We're used to seeing massive thick trunks on centenarian vines, thicker than you can wrap your two hands around. But these are comparatively slim. "It's because the soil isn't very vigorous here," explains Troy. That's an advantage, especially when growing shiraz, which is a high-vigour variety. Low vigour vines give moderate yields of grapes, which in turn give concentrated wine. Which is definitely the Kalleske style. The Johann Georg 2003 is a massive wine, thick and dense, and if power and guts are what you want in a $100 shiraz, this has them. The 2003 Kalleske Greenock Shiraz ($45??) is also packed with flavour in the trademark super-ripe, high-alcohol, plum-jammy style. The 2003 Old Vine Grenache ($45) is a little too over-the-top for me, but there's no denying its richness and ripeness. At 15.5% alcohol it's not a wine I could drink much of, but there are many who would love it. "You really can't make good grenache without getting it really ripe," says Troy. "Below 15%, the flavour just isn't there." Kalleske also made a 2003 'K' shiraz viognier for Cellarmaster wine clubs, which is a delicious red despite being rather obviously viognier-ised, and is well priced at $33.

My preferred wine is Clarry's Barossa Red 2004, named after Troy's 87-year-old grandfather. It's an 80/20 blend of grenache and shiraz, and to me, that's the way to handle high-alcohol grenache: cut it back with other Rhone varieties that don't need to be so ripe. Not only is Clarry's the cheapest wine at just $20, it's also the one I'd prefer to drink with dinner.

There's also a Clarry's Barossa White – the only white wine made by Kalleske – which is a blend of semillon and chenin blanc, and it's very passable, without standing out. Chenin blanc is seldom seen these days. Indeed, one of the few changes the Kalleskes have made to their varietal mix has been to graft or re-plant some of the old-fashioned white varieties such as doradillo and pedro ximinez over to more shiraz.  

The other quirk at Kalleske's is the environmentally friendly agriculture they practise over the entire farm. They have been organic for a decade and moving increasingly into biodynamics in recent years. It's the passion of Troy's dad, John Kalleske. They stop short of burying cow's horns filled with manure: they prefer to buy in the biodynamic preparations. "It's the environmental considerations that were the stimulus," says Troy. "We don't want to fill the soil up with chemicals. We want a healthy soil with active biological life in it." No doubt the soil is returning to the kind of health it must have had back when Kalleskes first farmed here, arriving in 1838. In a way, the wheel has turned full circle, proving that in these corporatised times, family history and tradition still count for something in our wine industry.