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Murdoch Hill

Reach for the Stars: New-Release Pinot & Chardonnay from an “Ultra-quality Player.” [Mattinson]
Murdoch Hill

Michael Downer is no stranger to the awards circuit, yet even so, the recent clutch of accolades points to an estate operating at the top of its game. How is this for starters? Last year, Michael’s Landau Syrah took the title―and a cool 99 points―for Halliday’s Shiraz of the Year, and its maker took his place among the Winemaker of the Year finalists from the same publication. Little surprise that Murdoch Hill rocketed into Halliday Wine Companion’s Top 100 Wineries of 2023. “Few wineries reach for the stars quite so regularly as Murdoch Hill,” quipped Campbell Mattinson.

This year, the Murdoch Hill Pinot Noir makes a welcome return. The meagre 2022 harvest forced Downer to prioritise his premium Pinot bottlings. “So, it’s nice to have a bit more Pinot back in the playground”, Michael told us, referring to 2023’s slightly healthier yields. The cool, long, late season delivered perfumed, spicy Pinot fruit of bold flavour and lithe structure, translating to elegant, restrained wines that are bang on the money.

Meanwhile, the Chardonnay from Downer’s estate vineyards in Oakbank and Lenswood (a site that also provides Downer’s Rocket Chardonnay) shows the calibre and purity of flavour that well-farmed fruit from great cool-climate sites can provide. In Downer’s hands, these exceptional vineyards and the quality of the season have gifted a mineral-charged Chardonnay of pristine fruit and mouthwatering tension. Both wines offer unbeatable value. Finally, we have also got our hands on a final, small parcel of Murdoch Hill’s 2022 Phaeton Pinot Noir and Tilbury Chardonnay: those who have tasted the wines recently will not hesitate.

The Wines

Murdoch Hill Chardonnay 2023

Murdoch Hill Chardonnay 2023

Few do Chardonnay better than Michael Downer, and this is another cracker. The lion’s share of the fruit for this year’s Chardonnay comes from Murdoch Hill’s estate vineyards: the home vineyard in Oakbank and the newly acquired 8.5 hectares of vines in Lenswood. The balance is grown on sites Michael Downer has worked with for years in Lobethal and the Piccadilly Valley. All the sites share some common traits: high elevation, sustainable farming practices, and vines that are over 20 years old.

The top block on the Oakbank property, sitting at a lofty 420 metres, is home to Bernard clone vines and forms the backbone of this year’s blend at 50%. The Lenswood site, at 30%, brings an open and generous fruit profile, providing a lovely contrast to the more linear and tight nature of the high-altitude Piccadilly and Lobethal material that rounds out the blend.

The cool, mild conditions in 2023 meant the fruit was handpicked about two weeks later than the 10-year average. The Oakbank portion was destemmed while the rest of the fruit was pressed as whole bunches. Wild barrel ferments and maturation occurred in puncheons and barriques for 10 months (about 20% new). To “build the back end” of the wine, Downer let a portion of the wine go through malolactic conversion while all parcels rested on gross lees and some barrels were stirred. He tells us he aimed to make “a salivating, delicious and mineral Chardonnay with great tension and acidity.” 

Murdoch Hill Chardonnay 2023
Murdoch Hill Pinot Noir 2023

Murdoch Hill Pinot Noir 2023

After a brief hiatus in 2022, the Murdoch Hill Pinot Noir makes a welcome return in 2023. Cool, high sites in the Piccadilly Valley usually form the basis for this wine, and this is the case for the most part in 2023. 70% of the fruit hails from Piccadilly, with the balance from Downer’s own Lenswood vineyard. The cool, fresh conditions in those high-elevation Valley vineyards delivered fruit of perfume, elegance and structure, fleshed out nicely by the spice-driven, weighty and deep nature of the Lenswood stock.

Fermentation took place in small open-top fermenters with just a small portion of whole bunches (5%). Downer decreased that component this year, explaining the Lenswood fruit already brings sufficient spice and structure to this year’s wine. Maturation occurred in barriques and puncheons for 10 months (20% new). It’s an elegant, perfumed and spicy release, full of red-fruited vibrancy with a lovely core of pure flavour and a delicious, mouth-watering close.

Murdoch Hill Pinot Noir 2023
Murdoch Hill Tilbury Chardonnay 2022

Murdoch Hill Tilbury Chardonnay 2022

Fruit for the 2022 Tilbury was sourced from the Lenswood Vineyard (80%) with the balance coming from the usual Piccadilly and Lobethal growers that have previously contributed to this wine. The style of the fruit from the Lenswood site is more open and generous, providing a beautiful contrast to the linear and tight nature of the Piccadilly and Lobethal material. Its fruit is from own-rooted I10v1 clone vines planted in 1989 and Bernard 76 and 95 clones planted in the early 2000s. The Lobethal site is close to 500m of elevation and has soils that are loaded with ironstone, contributing fruit with a classic flinty expression and powerful drive. The Piccadilly soils are varied, with sandstone, sandy loam and ironstone.

The fruit was hand-harvested and whole-bunch pressed into French puncheons, barriques and some Stockinger vessels for fermentation (about 40% new wood this year). The wine went through full malo and had some light lees stirring over eight months maturation.

The Lenswood stamp is clear as day; open, generous and powerful fruit flavours are bridled by a muscular frame, precise acidities, compact structure and some bold length. It’s a wine of energy with just the right amount of reduction, complexity and plenty of malo generosity to keep you tethered to the glass. An exciting new chapter indeed!

The Lenswood stamp is clear as day; open, generous and powerful fruit flavours are bridled by a muscular frame, precise acidities, compact structure and some bold length. It’s a wine of energy with just the right amount of reduction, complexity and plenty of malo generosity to keep you tethered to the glass. An exciting new chapter indeed!

"Supple, flowing and gentle expression here. Woody spices, cinnamon over lime and ripe apple, some green melon, lime. Quite a bit of flint and warm slate minerality in the wine. Concentrated, but also finishes mighty fresh and tense, with a trickle of briny minerality. Quite a bit of seasoning here, and needs some time to settle in, but you can see the DNA of a fine wine to emerge."
93+ points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
"This is exceptional chardonnay, baring a gloss of quince, white peach and nougat amidst the citric, chalky freshness, verbena lift and pungency that marks the long, detailed finish. There is a severity to this, as with many wines at this stable. It simply needs the toning hand of time. That will happen with patience. Best after 2025."
95 points, Ned Goodwin MW, jamessuckling.com
“Bright, light yellow hue with a smoky toasty bouquet that evokes smart oak and a little reduction. The palate is delicate, refined, understated and quite intense, with a clean dry and appetising follow-thorough. Good focus and room to grow with a little more time in bottle.”
93 points, Huon Hooke, The Real Review
Murdoch Hill Tilbury Chardonnay 2022
Murdoch Hill Phaeton Pinot Noir 2022

Murdoch Hill Phaeton Pinot Noir 2022

The Phaeton is a 50/50 blend of fruit from the Murdoch Hill Lenswood Vineyard, and two of the original growers in the Piccadilly Valley who have always contributed to the wine. From the lofty Lenswood site (500 metres), four blocks of clones D5V12 and Dijon 114 and 115 (planted in 1989 and the early 2000s respectively) are used. The complexity of clones adds a dense core of fruit as well as structure and great aromatic fragrance. The Piccadilly sites are planted to clones 114 and 115. The first site lies at 520 meters altitude outside the town of Piccadilly, below Mount Lofty. Its easterly aspect provides Downer with delicacy, pretty aromatics and pure, red-fruited notes. The second vineyard, also with an easterly aspect but in Ashton, sits on a steep slope at 560 meters on quite shallow sandstone and hard soils, and adds forest floor complexity.

Downer handled each parcel separately, both with a portion of whole berries and whole bunches (17%). The whole bunch portion was pulled back dramatically this year as small yields and a low juice-to-stalk ratio meant a more restrained approach was required. Fermentation occurred in stainless steel followed by maturation, mostly in puncheons with a small amount in barrique (approximately 25% new) for eight months.

The power of the vintage and the pedigree of the Lenswood site is immediately apparent here in the pure red summer fruits, tea cake spice, a touch of warm earth and bright floral allure. There’s a nice, tight composition with balanced complexities and a real sense of energy. The whole-bunch component is spot on, beautifully integrated with the tight structures, silky flow and complex length. Power, poise and outright quality in the glass.


The power of the vintage and the pedigree of the Lenswood site is immediately apparent here in the pure red summer fruits, tea cake spice, a touch of warm earth and bright floral allure. There’s a nice, tight composition with balanced complexities and a real sense of energy. The whole-bunch component is spot on, beautifully integrated with the tight structures, silky flow and complex length. Power, poise and outright quality in the glass.

"Quite a meaty scent, shiitake mushroom, truffle too, some minty lift, pretty exotic spice notes too with dark cherry the mainstay of fruit character. Silky texture, quite light on overall but a better word is understated and lively in a subtle mode. That equals charm. Nice grip to fine, lacy tannin profile too, and feels pure and refreshing to drink. Good gear, is the message."
94 points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
"A translucent ruby. The mouthfeel barely nudges mid-weight. Yet there is something rather beautiful about this. Subtle aromas of red cherry, ume, peony and musk burn with an incendiary glow, casting an initial awkwardness and the vegetal whiff of whole bunches aside as the wine opens with air and the trajectory of fruit sweetness grows. Nothing trop, mind you. Everything in good measure. The tannins, detailed. The freshness, contagious. This is a pinot brimming with charm and the capacity for haunting complexity with mid-term cellaring. Drink or hold."
94 points, Ned Goodwin, jamessuckling.com
“Deep-ish red-purple colour with a bold, bright and youthfully straightforward aroma, black fruits laced with a reductive note. It's bold and stolid on the palate also, without detail or subtlety but a whack of firm tannins. There is concentration. Time may bring more out of it.”
92 points, Huon Hooke, The Real Review
Murdoch Hill Phaeton Pinot Noir 2022

“Murdoch Hill is a serious ultra-quality player in Australian wine. Take note.” Campbell Mattinson, Halliday Wine Companion Top 100 Wineries 2023

"It’s Murdoch Hill’s goal to showcase the breadth and the quality of the Adelaide Hills. Sometimes this looks like flinty chardonnay, crackling with energy, and sometimes it looks like an unusual blend of pinot gris, pinot noir and pinot meunier. It’s all part of the vibe at Murdoch Hill, who in a short time estate-bottling wine, has already become one of the Hills’ most celebrated producers.” Lopes and Ross, How to Drink Australian

“Michael really knows what he's doing both in the cellar and in the vineyard. He has proven his credentials over and over again…” Halliday Wine Companion, Winemaker of the Year Finalists 2024

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