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Alkina - A Challenging new Barosa Player

The Real Review, Huon Hooke, October 4, 2022

Winemaking is becoming super fussy. Initially, blended wines gave way to regional wines, regional wines led to individual vineyard wines, which led to single-block wines. Now, individual berry selections, micro-ferments, and so on are commonplace.

This inspired a joke a little while ago, that someone would inevitably make a wine from a single grape berry, the wine to be sold at some fantastic price!

Soil mapping has enabled winemakers to isolate very small slices of their vineyard according to geology, with a view to capturing minute terroir differences in separate wines. As far as I know, nobody has done this to the same extreme as Alkina in the Barossa Valley.

Alkina is a new venture owned by billionaire Argentinean wine entrepreneur Alejandro Bulgheroni, who owns 21 wine properties in six countries, including two in Bordeaux and one in Napa Valley. He employed globe-trotting Italian oenological consultant Alberto Antonini and soil scientist and terroir expert Pedro Parra to advise on the geology of the vineyard, which includes an established block of vines in the Greenock subregion, planted in the 1950s. The team has since added new plantings. Bulgheroni bought the 60-hectare farm in 2015, retained Parra and Antonini and employed South Australian Amelia Nolan as winemaker and manager of the property.

The property, named Alkina—a first nations girl’s name meaning ‘moon’—now has 43 hectares under vine, 28 of which have been certified organic/biodynamic by NASAA since 2018, the rest in conversion.

Now to the ‘micro-terroir exploration project’.

Pedro Parra uses electro conductivity mapping to identify changes in the soil. ECM sends electromagnetic impulses into the ground which deliver soil reading data at two depths, 75cm for topsoil and 150cm for bedrock. The next step was to dig pits in the ground, 3m long by 2m deep, so that Parra could study the soils. In the first step, the 3ha of old vines were divided into nine individual micro-terroir parcels named polygons.

Some of the polygons supply grapes whose wine can be bottled alone; others are at their best when blended.

The wines are fermented variously in tulip shaped concrete fermenters, Nomblot concrete eggs, Italian amphorae, Georgian qvevri, and large oak vats from the sought-after coopers Stockinger and Gamba. No commercial yeasts or bacteria are used, and a high proportion of whole-bunch is employed with some terroirs.

Here’s an example of the diminutive volumes of the top Alkina bottlings.

Polygon No 3 Grenache is from a single polygon of 0.27 hectares whose soil is dominated by limestone and schist. 70-100% whole-bunch is used.

Polygon No 5 Grenache is from a single 0.37ha plot based on schist with clay and iron. 80-100% whole-bunch is used.

Polygon No 1 Shiraz is from a single 0.34 ha plot characterised by fractured schist. 100% whole-bunch.

Alkina Old Quarter is a blend of grenache, shiraz and mataro, the grenache being from Polygon 4 which is on clay and degraded schist. 70-100% whole-bunch.

There are several wines produced from newer plantings, which are good without being as exciting as the old vine wines, which are simply outstanding.

I especially liked the Polygons 1, 3 and 5 from the 2019 vintage (all a breathtaking AUD $295 a bottle), Spice Garden Shiraz 2020 (AUD $100) and Old Quarter GSM 2020 (AUD $100).

These are cracking wines, with prices to match. The cheaper wines from younger vines are substantially less impressive but also substantially cheaper at AUD $35 to AUD $48.

Key to the project is the land itself. Bulgheroni was fortunate to be able to buy the property, on the northern edge of Greenock town, which included 6 hectares of vines planted by a member of the Kalleske family 70 years ago. There’s grenache, shiraz, mataro and semillon. Another 18 hectares of the same four varieties has been planted since.

After dividing the vineyards up by soil and rock type, Pedro Parra asked Nolan to vinify the individual parcels separately.

“He said: ‘You could put these lots of wine together and make the best wine possible, but that would be a waste of my time’.”

Nolan says Parra had never seen a combination of limestone and schist like Alkina’s anywhere in the world. The soils are derived from 700 million year-old Pre-Cambrian rocks, an extremely old terroir. There is clay—degraded schist—with patches of calcrete, a type of limestone. “Clay soils are the most mineral.”

“Pedro has helped us understand how the rock and soil impact with wine flavour and structure,” says Nolan.

She adds that it is still something of a mystery why old soils are so different and so interesting. However, mature vines of the right varieties on the right soil will have deep root systems, and “vines feeding at depth are more likely to make complex and interesting wine.”

The project is still young—2022 was only the fifth vintage of making the wines separately.

Alkina has been getting enthusiastic write-ups and reviews in the international press. It’s an exciting new player in the Barossa, pushing the boundaries—so far with arresting results.

Alkina Polygon No. 3 Grenache 2019 

Medium-deep red-purple, bright colour; sweet raspberry grenache fruit on nose, a hint of iodine and peppercorn. The wine is full-bodied and infused with masses of drying tannins, the palate rich and full-bodied and lingering, with lovely balace and roundness, discreet fruit sweetness notwithstanding the drying tannins. A very smart grenache indeed. (Old vines. A single barrel, fermented in concrete tulip and then aged in a single puncheon. 70% whole bunch. 40 cases bottled) 95 points   

Alkina Polygon No. 5 Grenache 2019 - #1 of 53 2019 Grenache from Barossa Valley

Medium-full red-purple colour with a savoury, ironstone-like bouquet, an earthy, rocky minerality, the palate immensely powerful and focused, concentrated and long, with masses of mouth-coating tannins. A stunning wine of great character and drive. (Old vines. 80-100% whole bunches. Fermented in a Nomblot concrete egg. No oak. 500 litres made) 97 points

Alkina Polygon No.1 Shiraz 2019 

Deep bright red-purple, not too dark, but pellucid. Lots of pepper and spices on the nose, with underlying dark berries. A hint of iodine. The palate is tremendously rich and concentrated, fleshy and gorgeously textured, with high extract and masses of supple, silky tannins. An outstanding wine that already drinks magnificently and should age long-term. (Old vines. 100% whole bunch fermented. Mainly made in concrete plus one seasoned puncheon) 97 points

Alkina Old Quarter Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2020

Medium-deep red-purple colour; iodine and crushed peppercorn aromas, the palate full-bodied and firmly structured, the colour and body weight slightly lighter than the Night Sky, the greater grenache proportion is evident. Softer and more savoury with the higher grenache and lower shiraz contents in evidence. (Old vines. All fermented and aged in concrete tulips and eggs, except the mataro was fermented in an old cuve. 60/20/20 percentages. 70-100% whole bunch) 94 points

Alkina Spice Garden Single Vineyard Shiraz 2020

Very deep red-purple colour, iodine, pepper and assorted spices to sniff, while the palate is full-bodied and firmly gripping with lively acidity too. The wine is powerful and penetrating, firm and tight and long. Lots of mineral aromas and flavours, tight and bunched-up, a touch astringent just now and needs time to relax and unfurl its wares. Sweet fruit submerged in power and structure. (Mostly made in concrete, plus one seasoned puncheon) 95 points

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