Dubbed "the Baron of the Barossa" by the wine world and called "PL" by friends, Australian winemaker Peter Lehmann died June 28 at age 82 of complications from kidney disease. His legacy in the wine world is one-of-a-kind, a gentle and often hilarious man who took Barossa wine to the world stage.
It was in the late 1970s, as a winemaker at Saltram, that he first made waves in the Aussie wine world. Going through tough times, the winery wanted to stop buying fruit from legions of grape growers, and tasked Lehmann with letting them know. He refused, left the company and started his own winery.
Over the next 30+ years, Peter Lehmann Wines became one of the Barossa's biggest wineries without sacrificing quality. From entry-level wines to the flagship Stonewell Shiraz, Lehmann ensured the Barossa was well-represented in every one of his bottles.
Peter Lehmann Wines have had a strong presence in Western Canada after he first visited the Prairies in 2003.
"(Peter) spent time in the mountains in B.C., and Alberta, but felt the people on the Prairies were close kindred spirits to Australians, coming from hearty pioneer stock and constantly challenged by severe weather conditions," said Norman Gladstone, director/principal at International Cellars, which represents Peter Lehmann Wines in Western Canada.
Peter and his wife Margaret toured Western Canada in 2010, including a stop here in Winnipeg. I first met the Lehmanns a few days earlier in Vancouver as a guest of a special tasting that featured one wine from each of Lehmann's six decades in the industry. Besides tasting incredible history, I was struck by Peter and Margaret's down-to-earth, charming nature.
When I visited Australia in May 2011, PLW was one of many stops I made. Rather than a run-of-the-mill tasting, viticulturist Nigel Blieschke and senior winemaker Ian Hongell took me to the Stonewell vineyard -- where fruit for their flagship red is grown -- to learn to prune vines.
Tasting the wines in the vineyard while fumbling with an electric pruner (hoping to keep all my digits intact) was a truly memorable moment.
Peter's friends and family gathered at the winery Friday to raise a glass and tell stories about the Baron of the Barossa.
For more Peter Lehmann stories (there are far too many to fit here), visit my blog here.
Peter Lehmann 2009 Shiraz (Barossa, South Australia -- $20.93, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Red licorice, brambly black cherry, plum, vanilla and spice aromas come through on this iconic Barossa Shiraz. It's a full-bodied, peppery, well-balanced Shiraz that brings that ripe dark fruit while retaining the structure and tannin needed to keep this from becoming run-of-the-mill Aussie Shiraz. It's a well-balanced Shiraz that's equal parts approachable and age-worthy. 90/100
Peter Lehmann 2010 Barossa Blonde (South Australia -- around $17, private wine stores)
Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Semillon make up the blend on this fresh white. Green apple, lemon, spice, honey and a hint of wooliness on the nose show well. It's a light-plus, off-dry, viscous white, with plenty of green apple, sweet melon, lemon zest, honey and bruised pear flavours that are fresh and lively. Try with lighter salads, mild cheeses, or not-too-spicy Asian fare. 87/100
Peter Lehmann 2011 Weighbridge Unwooded Chardonnay (South Australia -- $12.52, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Red apple, lemon candy and honey notes on the nose are decidedly Chardonnay-esque, albeit without the big creamy vanilla and tropical fruit notes of its oaked counterparts. It's a medium-bodied Chardonnay that's a modest 11.5 per cent alcohol-wise, leaving a hint of residual sugar to accompany the ripe red apple and lemon flavours and the light acidity. A great summer white for the price. 86/100
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