Cover Story - Feb 2006

Baron of the Barossa

By: Meridith May
Geoff Schrapel Leads BETHANY WINES in 150 Years of Australian Winemaking History  
Barossa – and the Barossa Valley – in South Australia, has become synonymous with quality wines. While almost all the major players in the country have a presence today in the Barossa, the Schrapel Family was one of the pioneers, planting their first vineyard in 1852 from European cuttings.
Johann Gottlob Schrapel and his family arrived in South Australia in 1844, just eight years after the colony was settled. They established a home and cleared the land to grow crops and graze animals.

It would be over 100 years later – in 1981 – that Johann’s fifth generation descendants Geoff and Rob Schrapel established Bethany wines in a quarry high in the Barossa Ranges, overlooking the family’s vineyards and the historic village of Bethany.

The GR Reserve

Today, fifth generation Barossans Geoff and Rob Schrapel have over two decades of winemaking under their belt. Their hard work and passionate lifetime efforts in continuing in a long tradition of premium grape growing resulted in a hallmark acknowledgement, when in 2004, Bethany was claimed the winner of the 2004 Great Australian Shiraz Challenge.

The story goes back to 1992, when Bethany Wines produced a stunning Shiraz, which was judged to be the Best Shiraz at Australia’s National Wine Show in 1994. The best six hogsheads of this wine were set aside for extended oak maturation over the following two years and then a further three years of bottle age. The culmination of this process was a wine released in 1997 as the GR1 Shiraz Reserve. It was at once recognized for its full flavored, elegant style by consumers and connoisseurs. Its outstanding cellaring potential was acclaimed and the wine was soon to sell out.

Its successor, the current release of this range is the double-trophy-winning 1998 GR6 Shiraz Reserve, Winner of the Frescobaldi Trophy at the 2004 International Wine and Spirits Competition and the 2004 Visyboard Trophy at the Great Australian Shiraz Challenge.

The Great Australian Challenge is the most important annual Shiraz competition down under for the country’s iconic grape, with over 250 wines from all the major regions judged. Challenge Director Alister Purbrick said the award was all about raising the bar.

Shiraz is our most important red wine category for export, but we can’t sit back and rely on our priceless plantings of old vine Shiraz. It’s awards such as the Shiraz Challenge that encourages us to keep our competitive edge.”

Commitment to Quality

The GR series (named after Geoff and Robert) has inspired the Schrapels to keep premium parcels aside on other occasions when the vintage warrants special treatment.

“We have avoided chasing Parker scores,” said Geoff Schrapel, who picked up the Visyboard Trophy in Melbourne at the same time his brother Rob traveled to London to collect the Frescobaldi Trophy for the GR6 Shiraz.

Schrapel referred to the blockbuster reds that hail from the Barossa, made popular by the U.S. wine critic. “Our slopes and flats are cooled by gully breezes which tend to lead to a more elegant style Shiraz with fresh fruit flavors and fine tannins. Winning these major trophies in London and Australia is an international endorsement of our philosophy.”

The judges praised the GR6 for its “extraordinary open nose, fresh red fruit, eucalyptus, very ripe, rich palate and fine structure.” Slightly lower sulphur levels enable the fruit to better display its true flavors.

“We have also maintained two years maturation in American oak while others have moved more towards French oak,” Schrapel pointed out. “It depends on the vintage, but with the outstanding 1998 season, we thought American oak was again the right way to go – and this has certainly justified our choice.”

The Barossa

Now recognized as Australia’s premier wine region, the Barossa shares many physical parallels to the Napa Valley. Both regions are home to overflowing vines that grow in a fertile valley floor surrounded by hills – with hot, dry summers. Both areas are about an hour’s drive from a major city (Adelaide and San Francisco), still remaining more country than sprawling urban development.

Over 20 years ago, when Australia was intent on developing its cool climate vines, the Barossa’s emergence of its big, bold Shiraz would soon embrace the wine world as the flagship varietal for the country.

Riesling has also taken center stage in the Barossa, demonstrating a unique personality and lively mineral and floral quality along with its expressive fruit. The white is on a roll, and the process of no oxidation, low temperature fermentation in stainless steel and early bottling offer up delicacy with substance; sometimes even austere.

Bethany in the Barossa

Bethany’s quaint cottage-style winery has some of the best panoramic views of the Barossa. The decision to locate the winery in an old quarry has given the brothers some natural advantages in the winemaking process – gravity is used to reticulate the must from the crusher to stainless steel tanks and barrels for fermentation. Rob and Geoff pay particular attention to the careful handling of grapes at vintage and wine is made in small lots to maximize variations in fruit flavor and ripeness which contribute to the complexity of the final blend.

Bethany grows a range of varietals: Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Grenache and of course, Shiraz. Many of the vines are old and require traditional management such as hand pruning and harvesting while other new plantings are managed using the latest viticultural technology such as close planting, high trellises and canopy management.

Bethany’s location at the foot of the Barossa Ranges means that it is fanned during summer evenings with cooling breezes. This creates a special micro-climate which allows the grapes to achieve food sugar and acid levels without becoming over-ripe. This gradual ripening creates well balanced wines with flavor and structure.

Rob & Geoff Schrapel

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