La Linea hatched in Peter Leske’s head in late 2006, soon after leaving Nepenthe. He had been Winemaker at the super-premium Adelaide Hills company since its foundation just over a decade earlier. Contemplating his next step, he found the aroma and taste of a dry, fine rosé made from Tempranillo grapes turning over and over in his mind. Imagining aromas and flavours that don’t exist can be frustrating – but it’s the winemaking equivalent of a melody forming in a songwriter’s brain; a melody which won’t go away until it’s played.
Leske needed to play.
While interest in (and plantings of) Tempranillo are growing rapidly in Australia, it’s still regarded here as a ‘minor’ or ‘emerging’ or ‘non-mainstream’ variety (depending on your preference for jargon!). Not so in its home in Spain. The Spanish grow it widely, and much like we do with Shiraz in this country, make it into a diverse range of styles, from crisp rosés produced for summer drinking, to robust, long-living reds.
At that point Leske had made five vintages of dry red Tempranillo from three different vineyards in the Adelaide Hills, and loved the variety’s character and structure. Being a Pinot maker and aficionado, its similarity (and difference) to the great red grape of Burgundy intrigued him. Like Pinot, Tempranillo is strongly influenced by the site in which it grows. One of the three vineyards, in the central Hills near Echunga, produced fruit which struck him as perfect for rosé. Another, in a warmer and drier location near Kersbrook to the north of the region, gave more tannic fruit ideal for serious dry red.
But just about every good wine is the product of a team effort; and Leske knew that this project was no different. He was lucky to be able to join forces with David LeMire MW, who had shortly before become the Universe’s 264th Master of Wine. Having passed many years in wine importation, distribution, marketing and education, David also knows enough about the nuts and bolts of growing grapes and making wine to be downright dangerous in a practical winemaking situation.
La Linea’s first wine was that dry, fine, food-friendly rosé which played itself over and over in Peter’s mind. Released in September 2007, the 2007 La Linea Tempranillo rosé received terrific independent review and acclaim, and set the benchmark for the style in Australia. It has been followed by a remarkably similar version from every subsequent vintage; all sourced from the same block of fruit. No surprise then that the wine has gained respect not just for its originality, but also its consistency.
The team also made a dry red Tempranillo from the 2007 vintage and has done so ever since. However, in this case the source of fruit has varied from year to year, as in that short time the team has seen the hottest season for decades (’08), followed by the coolest and wettest a few years later (’11). In some years bottling from just one, in others blending the two sites, the team has consistently produced one of the country’s benchmark “Temps” – always fundamentally in the same style: consciously less high in alcohol than many contemporary Aussie reds; and while medium-bodied, with the variety’s typical fleshy mid-palate and drying tannins. And a fragrant lift which is delicious!
And in 2009 and 2010, when a few barrels of the northern, warmer Kersbrook site took their fancy, they released very limited quantities of the single-vineyard selection ‘Norteño’ Tempranillo. This wine showcases the influence of the site; it reflects the warmer and drier conditions with a core of robust tannin which also offers greater longevity in bottle, if you wish to forget about it for a while.
While La Linea is all about Tempranillo, the team is not entirely focussed on one variety. In 2008 they made their first Adelaide Hills Riesling, in a carefully ‘off-dry’ style: the Vertigo ‘25GR’). Not being Tempranillo, it has a different name! In 2009 it was joined by its partner ‘TRKN’; being a bone-dry (German: ‘tröcken’; gettit?) version of the same batch of fruit.
Why “Vertigo”? The slope on which the Riesling grows is best described as ‘vertiginous’. Photos don’t do it justice, but hopefully you can see why the Hills are famed as a beautiful part of the world, if not get an idea of just how steep the block is.
The story continues... we have just endured the short, sharp 2012 vintage, which saw miserably small quantities of genuine top-notch fruit received into the winery. We got the quantity we wanted for rosé, but have precious little dry red from this season. Given the choice of small amounts of terrific stuff or the opposite, we know what we’d take every time - but when the 2012 reds hit the market, they won’t last long. Fortunately, that’s a year away yet – at least...