Who is Charles Melton?

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To cut a long story short …A boy from Sydney named Graeme Melton, arrived in the Barossa Valley in 1973. Graeme and a mate needed jobs to fix their broken-down EH Holden ute to continue their road trip across Australia. There were two jobs going – one as a cellarhand at a local winery called Krondorf, and another pruning at a vineyard down the road. They flipped a coin – Graeme got the cellarhand job.

At Krondorf he met Barossa winemaking legend Peter Lehmann (at the time, chief winemaker for the Dalgety group, Stonyfield and Saltram), and moved with Peter when he set up his new winery 6 years later. Lehmann refused to call his protégé “Graeme”, hence “Charlie” was born - and has stuck!

Just to speed this up a bit… During the next 10 years, ‘Charlie’ honed his winemaking skills under Lehmann – and met his wife-to-be, Virginia. Fast enough? In that time, he also travelled to France, and developed the beginnings of what would become a life-long passion for the wines of the Rhone Valley – in particular the Southern Rhone region where Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre are blended with up to 11 other varieties, as in the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation.

In 1984, Charlie purchased his first grapes to be made under the new “Charles Melton” label – and produced a Sparkling Red from old vines dry-grown in the Barossa. He soon splashed out again – this time purchasing 13 acres of Grenache and Shiraz. At that time, he also built the cellar door (“the barn”) and winery which still stands today on Krondorf Road, just outside Tanunda, in the valley of Barossa, in the state of South Australia.

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How was the Nine Popes born?


Around the time that Charlie was building his new winery and cellar door on Krondorf Road, the Australian Government was paying grape growers to pull out their old Barossa Shiraz and Grenache vines (known today as “the great vine-pull scheme”). The varieties had become unfashionable – Grenache being used mainly for cheap, high alcohol, fortified wines; Shiraz (in the darkest times) being made into Shiraz berry muffins.

Charlie, having seen the possibilities for Grenache and Shiraz throughout his travels in France, started experimenting in the vineyard. He began to prune the old vines harder so they would produce lower yields, and therefore concentrate more energy into fewer berries. These vineyards were “dry-grown” – a strategy of not irrigating the vines, so that they would produce intense, concentrated flavours, un-diluted by water.

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Why Nine Popes?

Chateauneuf du Pape, the region of France upon which Nine Popes is based, when translated to English means “Castle of the new Pope”, as it was the home to the alternate papacy in the 13th Century.

But in many of the old languages the word “neuf” can mean both “nine” and “new”. After Charlie had made the wine that was to become the first (as yet unnamed) Nine Popes, he cast around for clues to help him arrive at a name – as calling a wine “Charles Melton Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre” back in the ‘80s would have created as much excitement as (insert own local comparison here!!).

So, drawing on the only classic Grenache growing region in the world, he looked at Chateauneuf du Pape for inspiration and decided to give his wine a name that had a little Aussie twist that would avoid litigation with the French.

Problem was, his French skills were a tad light on (non-existent!!) and he thought Chateauneuf du Pape meant home of the “Nine” Popes... ‘nuff said?!!

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What's so special about the vines/wines of the Barossa?

Because the Barossa has been spared the ravages of phylloxera, some of the Valley’s vines are aged in excess of 130 years old.

This means that they have deeply developed root systems, which enables them to survive without irrigation - and thus produce berries with intense, concentrated fruit flavours. These berries have a natural sweetness (even when fermented to bone-dryness) that is un-rivalled in the world.

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Old Vines vs young vines

Vine age has some minor bearing on increased quality if all other things are equal.

But, in vineyards as in life, equality is nigh on impossible. We place far greater weight on vineyard yield as a quality parameter.

The other key factor in quality assessment is vine health, and this is where vine age gives a distinct advantage. In those years where the weather conditions give rise to water stress (or rather “lack of water” stress), the old vines with their deep-rooted characteristics cope far more smoothly than shallow-rooted young vines, especially shallow-rooted irrigated vines where the root system is kept closer to the soil surface by frequent waterings.

Whilst a small amount of stress can be beneficial, highly stressed vines do not produce well-balanced fruit.

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Where are the vineyards - and how old are they?

Charles Melton Wines owns approximately 90 acres of prime Barossa Vineyard, including:

- Old bushvine Grenache, and younger Shiraz surrounds the winery and cellar door in Krondorf Road in Tanunda. This site is slightly elevated, with gully breezes from the Barossa ranges only metres away providing a cooling effect.

- Grenache and Shiraz surrounds the Meltons’ home “Woodlands”. This is near Lyndoch (approximately 15 km south of Tanunda), and would be regarded as a milder site than those situated on the Barossa Valley Floor. This is due to a slightly higher level of humidity giving rise to fresher, more aromatic flavours.

Charlie and Virginia also source fruit from a select group of Barossa grape growers, many of whom have been growers for the Meltons since they started out 20 years ago. These include:

- Foxy’s vineyard is literally over the fence from the Charles Melton winery. She grows 12 acres of Shiraz and two acres of Cabernet.

- Peter Boehm (who Charlie worked with in the early days at Saltram) has 2.5 acres of old Shiraz, two acres of younger Shiraz and some old Grenache.

Yields from all the Charles Melton vineyards are extremely low – on average about 1.5-1.8 tonnes to the acre.

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Why Barossa?

There are a number of advantages in being in the Barossa, both technical and also in a marketing sense.

The Barossa terroir is both benign and varied at the same time. Benign in a sense that we only occasionally suffer the worst of nature (’69 or ’74), and varied in that the terrain of the Barossa offers such a range of microclimates, from the high hills to the rich deep loams of the river flats on the Valley floor.

For the rich, plush style that Charles Melton is known, the Barossa is ideal because we will always get the ripeness we need. But with careful vine management and picking control we can keep a degree of elegance and finesse in the styles we make.

In a marketing sense, the Barossa is probably unique amongst Australian winegrowing, with its history and heritage of the German settlers arriving in the 1830s providing the special flavour that is this tiny community.

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What contributes to the price point of the high-end Charles Melton wines - the Nine Popes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grains of Paradise Shiraz, and Voices of Angels Shiraz?

- the quality of the fruit:
o Barossa grown,
o vines aged up to 130 years,
o hand pruned down to 1.5 tonnes/acre,
o hand harvested,
o bunch-thinned when necessary (in a naturally high-yielding year),
o growers paid top $$ to keep crops low/quality high.

- the winemaking:
o Charlie’s experience, expertise and reputation – built over 30 years;
o the wines are handcrafted. Hard labour goes into the picking, crushing, pumping-over, pressing, barrel work, and blending;
o only the best (mainly French - Saury and Radoux) oak is used;
o the wines are in limited supply – only 250-300 tonnes/12-15,000 cases a year;
o the wines have gained national and international recognition; they are in high demand throughout the world;
o the wines have been judged among the best in their class by the most educated palates in the world – Robert Parker, Wine Spectator (USA), Decanter, Jancis Robinson, Robert Joseph (UK), James Halliday (Aus), Bob Campbell (NZ), Winpac (Asia).

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What is Charles Melton's view of screwcap closures?

Cork spoilage, either through cork taint (TCA) or random oxidation is undoubtedly a big problem. We hate to think of one of our customers opening a bottle of any of our wines, having cellared it carefully for five or more years, only to find that it’s corked!

Charlie and Nicki both attended the International Screwcap Conference in New Zealand in 2004, and we came back feeling very positive about the benefits of screwcap closures. We took part in tastings of back vintages of both white and red wines under screwcap vs cork.

We have also conducted our own screwcap vs cork trials here at Charles Melton for the past eight vintages and, to date, we can see no difference in quality (except, of course, we know some of the wines under cork will have TCA). 

To this end, the entire range of Charles Melton’s 2005 vintage Reds (except for a few export orders) – the Nine Popes, Shiraz, Cabernet, Voices of Angels, Grains of Paradise, and the Father in Law - were bottled under screwcap… as well as the Rose of Virginia of course!

All the Charles Melton range as of the 2006 vintage is entirely under screwcap seal.

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