Kaesler – Established in 1893
The Kaesler Vineyards were established in 1893. The family, sprung from Silesian pioneers who came to the Barossa Valley in the 1840s, took up 96 acres in 1891. They cleared the scrub and in 1893 planted out the entire holding with Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro (Mourvedre) and White Hermitage vines.
Some of the gnarled dry-grown Shiraz still remains and provides the backbone of the intense wines produced from the sandy loam of this prime viticultural block.
Over nearly a century of hard and stoical work, the Kaeslers at times removed patches of vines to plant fruit trees – apricots, peaches and prunes – to keep the farm going. They had their own horses, stabled in the pug wall and brick building that is now the cellar door. They had some cows, too. The cow shed has become the present restaurant.
But there were always vines, most of them for red and fortified wine. More Grenache was planted in the 1930s. It grew well and had the high sugar content needed by the taste then for fortified wines. More Shiraz was planted in 1961, 1962 and in the 1970s. It could be used for fortified wine, but was also excellent for table wine as European migration helped turn Australia away from its ports and sherries. Now more than 70% of Kaesler’s red wine vines are 40 or more years old – age that shows in the brilliance of the wines.
The Kaeslers had some white wine varieties, but they were not the sort of people to be taken in by the apparent fad for white wines that sadly affected so many other Barossa holdings. This fad led to the Government-sponsored “vine pulls” in the 1980s that destroyed much of the valley’s stock of irreplaceable century-old Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro vines. Sadly, the struggle to survive forced three Kaesler brothers off this historic property.
The Kaeslers and later owners did not make their own wine. Traditionally, they sold their grapes to the Seppelts. The exceptional Kaesler wines now being produced had their beginning in 1997 when a young winemaker at Cellarmaster just a few hundred metres away at Dorrien noticed the power and intensity of the fruit.
The present range of Kaesler Wines springs from a worldwide search for a property to produce the best possible grapes for red wine.
Winemaker Reid Bosward and his co-owners, a group of international wine lovers, searched areas such as America’s Napa Valley, the south of France, Marlborough in New Zealand and other parts of Australia before deciding to buy into the Barossa.
“No other area can produce the intensity of flavor that we have in the Barossa,” says Reid.
The search began through a chance meeting – and the love of great wine.
Reid Bosward comes from Dural in New South Wales. As a boy he earned his pocket money packing shelves in the local bottle shop. He dusted a bottle of Grange. “I couldn’t believe it. It was $7. Who would pay $7 for a bottle of wine?” he recalled thinking.
In 1987 he came to Roseworthy to do the winemaking course. It was a bumper three years. The 11 who finished that course now shape much of the Australian wine industry.
Reid went back to NSW to work for Murray Tyrrell in the Hunter Valley. Mr Tyrrell – “always Mr Tyrrell” – taught him neatness, order, cleanliness, balance and introduced him to working with Shiraz. He also learned that the real secret of great wine was always in the vineyard. It was knowledge he confirmed making wine in many places.
He took his technical knowledge to France to work with Jacques Lurton, near Narbonne, adding to the “Flying Winemakers” bringing new Australian skill to the less well-known areas of France. At Domain DuVasiere, he brought new techniques to a winery that was 600 years old.
In South Africa, he was instructed by the English owners to ignore local traditions to ape the French and produce wine that better reflected the fruit it was made from. In Moldavia, on the Black Sea, the wine froze – and he returned to the Hunter Valley.
Then chance entered. In 1994, Reid and his now wife Bindy were at Chateau La Louviere at Pessac in the Graves district. They were joined for a weekend by one of Bindy’s friends, Julie Fraser, and her husband, Edourd Peter, a Swiss banker.
At dinner in a Bordeaux restaurant (helped by three bottles of 1985 Chateau Mouton Rothchild), Edourd asked Reid how much it would cost to set up a winery in Australia. Reid said a million dollars, which to him then sounded a lot of money. “Ed just raised an eyebrow and said: ‘If you see anything in Australia you think would be a good buy, give me a call’.”
That thought stayed with Reid as he returned to Australia to make wine for Brian McGuigan in the Hunter.
In 1997, Reid came to the Barossa Valley to make wine for Cellarmaster. This was an enormous experience. “At Cellarmaster, with all its demands for varieties and levels of quality, you had to make 20 times as many decisions as you would have to in other places,” he said.
This added to Reid’s confidence – and confirmed the knowledge that the real secret of great wine is always in the vineyard.
In 1998, Edourd and Julie came to Adelaide to visit Julie’s parents and the four got together again. At dinner in the Aldgate Pump Hotel, Edourd asked Reid if he had thought any more about a vineyard and winery. “Actually, I think about it all the time,” Reid replied. How much? This time Reid had a more realistic figure. “Ed said: ‘I think we can come to that’.”
“A few weeks later we had lunch at Vintners up here. He outlined his proposal and how much he was prepared to put on the table and off we went.
“There were not too many restrictions on what he expected He wanted excellent wine and ultimately I think he wanted it in Australia, but I had to go through the process of checking everywhere just to make sure we were doing the right thing.
“We looked everywhere. We looked at the Napa Valley. We looked in the south of France. We looked in Marlborough in New Zealand and we looked at the best regions in Australia.”
Then chance entered again. Reid first saw fruit from Kaesler’s in 1997 when Toby Heuppauff sent it to Cellarmaster under an arrangement for some to go back to be sold under a Kaesler label. The fruit impressed him.
In 1998, he was so overwhelmed by the intensity of the old vine Shiraz that he made a special batch he called “Old Bastard”. It was up there in the Grange and Hill of Grace class, but with its own distinctions, its own secrets.
Clearly, here was his vineyard, but was it for sale? By sheer chance again, it was.
Edourd and his colleagues – an American, a Swiss and a German – with Reid made the purchase from Toby Heuppauff in November 1999.
But, with less than 30 acres, it was not big enough to justify building a winery. They not only needed more land, to meet their ambitions, they needed top grape-growing land. This in the tightly and mainly family held Barossa Valley was a formidable task.
Chance came again. Barry Matthew, the man who owned the property next door, decided to sell out and retire. Not only was this some of the best land in the valley and producing sumptuous wine grapes, it brought together 60 of the original Kaesler acres from 1893.
The first vineyard the winelovers bought comprised the buildings and 26.3 acres of vines – eight acres of Shiraz, 5-1/2 acres of Grenache, 2-1/2 acres of Mataro, eight acres of Semillon and just over two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2000 vintage was difficult throughout the valley. Kaesler’s got only 19.6 tonnes off the 26.3 acres – “but it was good stuff.”
In 2001, they added the vintage from the neighbouring 28.5 acres they bought later in the year. This new area had six acres of Shiraz, eight acres of Grenache, six of Semillon, some Riesling – “and we planted some Voignier.” This was a variety Reid had noted in France as a straight white wine and as a fascinating blend with Shiraz.
The old vine material was there. Led by 3.7 acres of 1893 Shiraz, more than 70% of the red wine vines on the combined vineyard were 40 or more years old. The Shiraz thrived on the sandy loam over clay. The Grenache was on the rockier patches, restricting the crop from this prolific producer.
The first major decision was to intensify the fruit even further. Growers who send their fruit to outside wineries may tend to keep their tonnages up. Growers who make their own wine can opt to restrict the output to increase the quality.
By pruning responsibly and reducing water, Reid has already cut the yield on red wine grapes by nearly 40%. The result is density and exquisite flavour. Baume, the measure of sugar content, is high – allowing wine to be made with up to 15% alcohol.
Why make such powerful wines? “Because we can,” Reid explains. “Lean wines are for a lean area. The Barossa allows us to have a high intensity of flavour. Most other places can’t do this.”
It is part of the partners’ determination to make great wine and to develop a style that offers a choice.
“Three companies set the style for 80% of Australian wine,” Reid says. “It is a danger for the industry to have so few careful styles. Australia needs the variety that there is in France. We need the individuality in smaller wineries. We need to offer something different.”
Kaesler is built on providing a difference. The partners do not plan to take Kaesler up to 300,000 cases. The business plan is not to make money in a hurry. It will take five, seven or 10 years to make a profit. In the meantime, the international partners take their share in wine, not money. The determination is to concentrate on producing excellent wine.
Kaesler also owns vineyards at Marananga, that includes plantings of 1899 Shiraz.
“The thread that holds Kaesler together is the production of excellent wine,” Reid says.