2017 Winery of the Year: Mount Pleasant

James Halliday by James Halliday

3 Aug, 2016

Mount Pleasant was so named by Maurice O’Shea, its sole owner from 1922–32, its co-owner (with McWilliam’s) until 1941 and then simply its winemaker and manager until his death in 1956. And before I continue the story, I cannot help but say how utterly remarkable McWilliam’s role was. Based in the Riverina, they were makers of fortified wines. While it was (and remains) a mighty clan, I have not read or heard of a senior clansman who had an understanding of light to medium-bodied shirazs in the 1920s or 1930s.

Indeed, there were all too few customers who had such knowledge. The reality was that the wines were difficult to sell at prices that barely covered the cost of production.

Fast forward to 2013 and the appointment of Jim Chatto, and tectonic plates move again. Chatto walked through every metre of vines (as O’Shea would have done) with retiring winemaker Phil Ryan, tasted every wine still in barrel or tank, and tasted all bottled wine stock yet to be sold. One of Maurice O’Shea’s great strengths was his ability to taste wines near or at the end of fermentation, and know where they would fit under the Mount Pleasant label.

Chatto has adopted an O’Shea approach to the vineyards of Mount Pleasant, notably the 3.1ha Old Hill (planted 1880) and the 0.74ha Old Paddock (planted 1921 with cuttings from the Old Hill). A forensic palate, and a vine-by-vine observation are his tools.

Just below the Old Hill is Steel City, a 0.4ha block planted in 1988 (‘very promising’); above on the next rise is The Contours, a 0.67ha block planted in 1963, which now makes Mountain D Full Bodied Dry Red. Adjacent to the Old Paddock is 8 Acre (2.79ha planted in 1986 which, says Chatto, ‘Makes some of the best shiraz from the estate’).

Rosehill, across the road from Lake’s Folly, is a 27ha mosaic of shiraz blocks planted in 1946, 1965, 1968 and 1990, and replanting in 2015 and 2016. Instead of a single wine, we now have the 1946 Plantings (ex 5.44ha in three blocks) and the 1965 Plantings (6.56ha in three blocks, the first fronting Broke Road). Like the plantings around the winery, the soil is deep red.

The 31ha Lovedale semillon block on sandy flats fronting Allandale Road has also been under the dissection microscope, with identified block releases maturing in bottle. Equally important is the decision that as from 2014, Elizabeth Semillon is 100% ex Lovedale Vineyard.

This year’s tastings produced one shiraz (2014 Maurice O’Shea) with 99 points; two with 98 points; four with 97 points; and five with 96 points. Three semillons received 98, 97 and 95 points. An awe-inspiring array. View the tasting notes for Mount Pleasant wines.