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Murdoch Hill

Lenswood Goes Galactic—The 2022 Rocket Chardonnay & Apollo Pinot Noir
Murdoch Hill

Michael Downer struck gold with his Lenswood site, and he knows it. Even so, the speed and level to which the recently acquired vineyard is delivering have surprised even him. Since purchasing the site a few years back, Downer and his team have done their due diligence in raising viticulture to Murdoch Hill’s high standards and identifying the unique blocks and personalities within the 8.5-hectare vineyard. That work is already paying dividends, so much that the Lenswood Vineyard makes up two-thirds of this year’s Rocket Chardonnay and is the sole source for the Apollo Pinot Noir. Crafting his headline wines from his own vines is a big deal for this grower. As Michael told us, “The minute the fruit landed, I knew we had something special”.

 

Sitting at a lofty 500 metres elevation, the steep slopes at the Lenswood site face both east and west. The 8.5 hectares under vine (Downer has left 10 hectares as native bushland) are planted to Chardonnay (65%) and Pinot Noir (35%). The vineyard is a tapestry of clones and blocks; the I10v1 own-rooted, low-yielding Chardonnay vines are the original plantings on a steep, east-facing slope, while the Bernard 76 and 95 clones lie on a gently undulating western aspect. There are four blocks of own-rooted Pinot Noir vines: two were planted in the early 2000s to Dijon 114 and 115 (facing southwest), and the D5V12 blocks were planted in 1989 in the top corner of the vineyard facing east. The soils are lean loam over clay with seams of ironstone and quartz.

 

Like most others in the Adelaide Hills, 2022 delivered Downer outstanding fruit quality in wincingly small quantities. The low yields and cool temperatures provided excellent growing conditions for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with fruit hallmarked by vivid acid structures and powerful depth of flavour. Michael is particularly pleased with this year’s Apollo. The clonal mix, coupled with the diversity in soil and aspect found in the Pinot Noir blocks in the Lenswood site, has resulted in a beautifully pure wine with a savouriness and robust tannin profile rarely found in Pinot Noir from the Hills. For us, it is definitively his best release yet. Regarding the Rocket, the Lenswood site lends dimension and tongue-coating silky grace to the familiar mineral backbone of his Piccadilly fruit. Both are exceptional releases.

The Wines

Murdoch Hill Adelaide Hills Sulky Riesling 2023

Murdoch Hill Adelaide Hills Sulky Riesling 2023

Murdoch Hill’s delicate and fine-boned Sulky Riesling comes from 20-plus-year-old vines on a small, sustainably managed vineyard in Macclesfield in the southern reaches of the Adelaide Hills. These well-established vines lie on ironstone bedrock. The fruit was picked by hand and pressed as whole bunches to 1500-litre foudres for spontaneous fermentation. It matured for three months on fine lees before being moved to tank for another two months before bottling.

It's another beautifully crafted release from Michael Downer, teeming with springtime freshness. White florals, citrus and a mineral edge form a powerful core of flavour, supported by chalky texture and fresh, driving acidity. It’s a textural and mouthwatering release, far from your average South Australian Riesling. 

Murdoch Hill Adelaide Hills Sulky Riesling 2023
Murdoch Hill Apollo Pinot Noir 2022

Murdoch Hill Apollo Pinot Noir 2022

Now in its third year, 2022 marks a significant point in Apollo’s evolution. For previous releases, Michael has sourced fruit from one to three vineyards in the Piccadilly Valley’s western ridge. This year, 100% of the fruit for the Apollo was sourced from the family’s recently acquired Lenswood Vineyard. Initially planted in 1989, the Pinot Noir plantings total 35% of the acreage. There are four blocks; two were planted in the early 2000s to Dijon 114 and 115 (facing southwest); and the D5V12 blocks were planted in 1989 in the top corner of the vineyard facing east. Fruit for the 2022 Apollo came from the two 1989 blocks—one of which is very rich in ironstone, giving a deep tannin profile to the fruit—and one of the 114/115 clone blocks. Each parcel was fermented separately in 2.2-tonne fermenters, and the end composition is roughly equal to each block.

Cooler conditions in 2022 saw a decrease in the whole bunch component to 20%. The wine was raised in a mixture of French and Austrian demi-muids, puncheons and barriques (roughly 40% new) for nine months. Downer is working with tight grain, low-impact barrels to build texture and structure into the wines.

With the strength of the Lenswood fruit behind it, Apollo has taken off. From the very first sip, you get an enticing perfume of red fruits and dark berries mingling with savoury spice, tilled earth and a complexing smoky reduction. The palate is a real charmer, with pure and fleshy fruit calibrated to supple, velvety weight and a fine web of fluid tannins and acidity bringing sculpted shape and refreshment. Taking nothing away from the previous releases and forgiving the galactic analogy, it’s on another planet.


With the strength of the Lenswood fruit behind it, Apollo has taken off. From the very first sip, you get an enticing perfume of red fruits and dark berries mingling with savoury spice, tilled earth and a complexing smoky reduction. The palate is a real charmer, with pure and fleshy fruit calibrated to supple, velvety weight and a fine web of fluid tannins and acidity bringing sculpted shape and refreshment. Taking nothing away from the previous releases and forgiving the galactic analogy, it’s on another planet.

"Whiffs of cap gun, warm slate, a bit of flint too, plus dark cherry, salted liquorice. Savoury start, very. Smoky and flinty to taste, an override on dark cherry fruit, plum, licks of liquorice again and lingers with smokiness again. Tannins are grippy and Italianate, but the savoury and herbal elements rule. A caveat for some. Structured, serious pinot noir. A bottle opened day before: less of the savoury elements, chewy, juicy, dark fruited and the tannins ripping with authority. More fruit and herb and spice here. A better wine."
94+ points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
"A cool vintage, but a good one. Typically regional aromas of mescal and dill, derived from a good whack of whole bunches in the mix. Damson, mandarin bitters, bracken and gunpowder, the fleck of stalky, green tannins too evident and herbaceous. Yet the fruit beyond has charm. The structure of the wine has gravitas. This is no simple and sweet pinot. There is more going on, yet only time will tell if the green astringency is to be absorbed. Best after 2026. Screw cap."
93 points, Ned Goodwin MW, jamessuckling.com
“Deep, brooding red with a good tint of purple, the bouquet tinged with nutty oak over black cherry and herby stalky nuances, while the palate is broad and soft, full and round, a little loose in its structure, suggesting it's not for long keeping. On the other hand there is plenty of tannin and backbone. It could surprise. A generous, robust pinot.”
93 points, Huon Hooke, The Real Review
Murdoch Hill Apollo Pinot Noir 2022
Murdoch Hill Landau Syrah 2022

Murdoch Hill Landau Syrah 2022

You might think it would be no easy feat to follow up the knockout 2021 vintage but Michael Downer has pulled it off with aplomb. “The Landau 2021 was among the top-scoring wines last year and the 2022 version is no different,” was how Ned Goodwin MW prefaced his note.. 2022 was another great year at this address, with cool conditions and plenty of rain promoting a prolonged, even season. The resulting fruit was exceptional: perfect ripeness and complex, layered profiles.

Though not the most expensive bottling in the range, Landau is in many ways Downer’s signature wine. It comes from a single parcel of vines at Murdoch Hill’s Landau block in Oakbank. It’s a predominately east-facing slope at 400 metres above sea level on shallow, red loam soils with varying levels of schist rock and a vein of ironstone. The vines were planted in 1998. Oakbank’s warmer, sunny days allow the Syrah to fully ripen while the afternoon breezes and cool nights promote natural acidity. The block is sustainably managed according to organic principles, with zero herbicides.

Downer’s style has always channelled the elegant, spicier side of Adelaide Hills Syrah. Cool-fruited freshness and lacy tannins form the foundation, while whole bunches, whole berries and restrained oak add the colour between the lines. The 2022 fermented with 20% whole bunches and was raised in older oak puncheons (just 15% new) and demi-muids for 10 months.

Ned’s note does not oversell the quality. 

“Among the vanguard of exceptional Australian shiraz. Or syrah as it is called here for the sake of differentiating this lithesome, aromatic and mid-weighted expression from the yeomen of warmer zones. Exceptional aromas of violets, crushed blueberries, white pepper, cloves, olives, saucisson and nori. The mid-palate is a sinuous concourse of measured generosity and freshness. The tannins, supple and impeccably shaped. The finish, long and energetic, without being obvious. In fact, nothing here is obvious, which is what makes for such exceptional drinking. If asked my favorite Australian syrah, this would be with the four or five gushed in the first breath. Drink or hold. Screw cap.”
96 points, Ned Goodwin MW, jamessuckling.com
Murdoch Hill Landau Syrah 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 Rocket Chardonnay 2022

Murdoch Hill Rocket Chardonnay 2022

The lion’s share of the fruit for the 2022 Rocket Chardonnay comes from the family’s recently acquired Lenswood Vineyard. Initially planted in 1989, this beautiful site sits at a lofty 500 metres elevation and is home to some of the oldest vines in the Lenswood area. With lineage and continuity of style in mind, alongside the 65% Lenswood component, 35% of the blend is sourced from one of the traditional, high-sited Rocket sources in Piccadilly Valley. The Lenswood site is home to a tapestry of clones but it was the clone 76 vines planted in 2000 and located in the western forest block that were chosen for the 2022 Rocket. In terms of style, Downer tells us the Lenswood site brings grace, purity and openness to the wine, providing a perfect juxtaposition to the racier expression of the Piccadilly fruit.

Whole bunch pressed, the juice was settled for less than 24 hours and rough racked to a mixture of demi-muids, puncheons and tight-grained low-toast French barriques (50% new) for nine months. The wine went through full malo. The parcels were then assembled to tank to rest for a few months before bottling in January.

Elevated by the quality and inherent power of the Lenswood fruit, the 2022 is densely aromatic, complex and layered with fresh citrus, wet minerals and a lick of lovely struck-match reduction. The palate is crammed with mouthcoating energy. Layered citrus and grilled nut flavours float on the palate aligned to gracing malo richness, mouthwatering acidity and a friendly tug of phenolic grip. The finish is powerful and super long. It’s a striking, high-octane model, and a world-class Chardonnay.

Elevated by the quality and inherent power of the Lenswood fruit, the 2022 is densely aromatic, complex and layered with fresh citrus, wet minerals and a lick of lovely struck-match reduction. The palate is crammed with mouthcoating energy. Layered citrus and grilled nut flavours float on the palate aligned to gracing malo richness, mouthwatering acidity and a friendly tug of phenolic grip. The finish is powerful and super long. It’s a striking, high-octane model, and a world-class Chardonnay.

"Right up there at the apex of Aus chardonnay these days, it feels. Lots going on here. Brilliant texture too, almost chalky with pucker, bristling with ticklish general minerality, understated in flint, lime, green apple, halva, alpine herbs and fennel. Feels very sleek and slick, extra long, finely and tightly wound but with drinkability in tow. Very precise. A gentle savouriness underlying, with green almond a feature, a feature in the lingering finish. Kaleidoscopic in feel. Excellent mod-Aus chardy."
96 points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
"Flint, nectarine skin, white peaches and chalk, a saline slake of mineral torque, pungent and saliva-sapping across the long, punchy finish. Classy oak embossment. Somewhere between the Jura and the nether of the New World, this is an exceptional if not highly stylised, mid-weighted chardonnay molded for the acid freak. Will age well, no doubt. I often prefer the Tilbury bottling, but not in this instance. Drink or hold. Screw cap."
96 points, Ned Goodwin MW, jamessuckling.com
“Bright light to mid yellow with a complex bouquet of smoky reduction, toasty oak and savoury fruit-derived flavours that last a long time on the palate. The finish is cleansing and dry, with a lip-smacking touch of tannin in perfect harmony with the rest of the wine's components. Delicious mealy flavour with stone fruits and citrus, oak well in the background.”
95 points, Huon Hooke, The Real Review
Murdoch Hill Rocket Chardonnay 2022
Murdoch Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2023

Murdoch Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2023

From a cool, low-yielding, high-quality vintage, this vibrant, energetic, estate-grown wine has received the same deluxe treatment from Michael Downer as everything else at Murdoch Hill. The vines, planted across three blocks in 1998, lie on sandy soils shot through with quartz and ironstone. This year, the fruit fermented and matured entirely in tank. Previous years have seen a small portion fermented in barrel but Downer deviated in order to “preserve the lovely purity of fruit” in 2023. The result is a wine stacked with tropical and citrus fruits, elegantly balanced and bursting with flavour and freshness.

Murdoch Hill Sauvignon Blanc 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 Vis-à-Vis Cabernet Franc 2022

Murdoch Hill Vis-à-Vis Cabernet Franc 2022

This is the fifth release of Downer’s Cabernet Franc. The fruit was sourced from Murdoch’s own Oakbank vineyard, with its sandy loam soils which are lightly peppered with quartz. Downer has planted a further 400 vines of Cabernet Franc which will come online from the 2023 vintage. 

The vines here are spur pruned and the team practices detailed hand pruning, shoot thinning and bunch thinning to ensure they give Downer the lifted, violet and red-fruited profile he’s chasing for this spicy, sappy, Loire-inspired red. The fruit for the 2022 was hand-picked and 100% destemmed, then racked into mostly older (only 10% new) French barriques, where it rested for 10 months. 

High-toned, richly weighted, brilliantly balanced, bright and pure fruited — this is a more than worthy homage to its Loire inspiration. We eagerly anticipate a bigger allocation of this wine, but until then, we suggest you act now; this is never around for long and the 2022 is some of Downer’s finest work.

High-toned, richly weighted, brilliantly balanced, bright and pure fruited — this is a more than worthy homage to its Loire inspiration. We eagerly anticipate a bigger allocation of this wine, but until then, we suggest you act now; this is never around for long and the 2022 is some of Downer’s finest work.

Murdoch Hill Vis-à-Vis Cabernet Franc 2022
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

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