The St. Andrews Story
Wed, 20 August 2014
In 1969 when Bill Taylor Senior went searching for land to fulfil his dream of crafting Australian wines that would rival the best from France, he knew from experience that the Clare Valley was something out of the ordinary. High altitude, limited rainfall, warm days, cool nights, plenty of limestone underpinnings, and not too close to the big smoke… an excellent mix all round for a winemaker. At first, the Taylors were able to source 440 acres of prime land in the beautiful Auburn region of the Clare. Following this initial acquisition and with great enthusiasm, the pursuit of excellence in winemaking began in earnest.
A quiet yearning
And yet… the original Taylor family dream had always been to secure a substantial landholding of around 1,000 acres.
It had been a core vision of the family to create an old-world style ‘estate’, featuring contiguous vineyards surrounding the central winery cellars. With this flame continuing to burn across the years, neighbouring property owners were approached by the Taylors for a first right of refusal should selling their land become an option. And at times fortune certainly smiled upon the Taylors; bundles of adjoining land eventually became available and these were divided into blocks known as Promised Land, Broadway, Lodden and Wakefield and quickly planted with vines. Land acquisitions now crept well into the several hundred acres. But one particular, most desired property to the north – St. Andrews, remained out of reach.
The long, long wait
From the very first day that brothers Bill & John Taylor strode onto their newly acquired Clare Valley property in 1969, they knew that the adjoining St. Andrews land (firmly held for decades by one local family) presented some of the best wine-growing potential around. Yet trying to persuade the owners to offer St. Andrews for sale… well that was a job for a very patient family! Bill would politely enquire every now and then – but no deal. It wasn’t until,more than a quarter of a century later, the northern neighbour agreed on a price and finally, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. Of course, when the opportunity finally arose for the Taylor family to acquire the St. Andrews property there was no debate about what to do. Never mind that funds had dwindled. The family just had to find a way and thanks to an understanding bank manager, were finally able to add the crowning jewel to their estate vision!
In terms of potential grape growing, winemaking and sheer beauty, St. Andrews was destined to be worth every penny – and every minute of the wait. St. Andrews really has become something very special to the Taylors – a chance not only for the family to resurrect a piece of Australian winemaking history, but also to showcase all that they’d been able to achieve over the years, via a select range of ultra-premium wines. These wines have become exemplars not just of the signature winemaking style, but also of the overall philosophy at Taylors. And it all started when Bill Taylor got the keys to the entrance gate of St. Andrews.
Understanding the past
Part of making great wine is understanding the history of a wine growing area, which means getting your hands dirty – literally! When the boys were first wandering around the St. Andrews paddocks, there was plenty of rock kicking and soil sifting – getting a feel for the land as it trickled through the palm. The beautiful old winery buildings were a site to behold as well and we were struck by the ability of our forefathers to create these amazing structures that stand the test of time.
The St. Andrews property is truly blessed with the rare terra rossa soil that is coveted by winemakers worldwide. This unusual soil type (literally translating as red earth) occurs most often in Mediterranean regions where prehistoric maritime landscapes once existed. Forming slowly across time, the original limestone eroded away and a rich red soil remains. Terra rossa-raised vines are able to balance perfectly on the knife edge where they are not too comfortable. It is on this knife edge that the magic happens and the grapes that are produced display extraordinary character.
As well as paying attention to the soil, they also took their time to become deeply familiar with the topography, taking in sun paths, wind direction, rainfall history and frost patterns. These are all components that make up a wine’s unique terroir, or the subtle expression of its origin. Although the original vines had been removed by the time the land was purchased, Bill’s hunch as to why the historic owners had first chosen to plant grapes here back in 1891 proved spot-on, and the family now had the opportunity to create something special with their new plantings.
They were delighted to find discrete pockets of perfect growing conditions for a number of diverse varieties within the St. Andrews precinct. Rich, fertile soils for Chardonnay, sheltered east-facing patches for our cabernet and chill-loving riesling, and gentle western slopes for the sturdy shiraz – it was a vintner’s dream come true.
So it’s fair to say that before they got onto crafting any wine, the family gave these blocks a whole lot of quiet consideration. It’s a good idea to start at the beginning and let your winemaking journey evolve from there. And as they dreamed, they saw the growing potential for the St. Andrews range to become a true flagship of Taylors distinct winemaking capabilities.
Respecting the fruit
So much happens before the St. Andrews fruit arrives at the winemaker’s door. Precision pruning, careful frost monitoring and incredibly exact harvest timing are just some of the pre-vinification factors that ensure the delivery of pristine grapes for each variety and potential vintage. Even as the grapes grow, our winemakers are watching and noting pre-harvest factors to determine the very best and most nuanced manner in which to proceed with vinification.
Timing is crucial for fruit integrity and maintenance of flavours (we’ve been known to go like the clappers in order to get grapes from the St. Andrews blocks to the winery in about 10 minutes). Swift and gentle handling is the key preparation for a carefully composed fermentation sequence follow.
Our winemakers simply want to do justice to the grapes – plus to the land, climate and the hands that formed the fruit. For us, the grapes are royalty, and we greet them with the respect they deserve.
Quality and integrity
Sometimes we’re asked why certain vintages haven’t made an appearance in the St. Andrews range. The answer is simple – we just won’t skimp on quality. If conditions aren’t perfect, or a certain block doesn’t quite meet expectations, then a wine won’t be forthcoming from that year’s harvest. We insist on excellence and precision in the wines that we craft.
To truly be our signature range, St. Andrews wines necessarily embody our philosophy: understand the past, know the place you’re in, and respect the fruit. If any of these factors aren’t honoured within a given vintage – well we’d rather wait and get it right. And if there’s one thing we have in spades, it’s patience! Whether it’s waiting for premium Clare Valley land to become available or holding off picking until just the right moment, it’s the Taylors way to allow all the time in the world whenever quality is involved. Via our flagship St. Andrews range of premium wines, we’re delighted to provide you with the heart and soul of the work that we’re carrying out here this unique corner of Australia.