Torbreck Tasting Brings out the Winemaker in Us All

I think nearly everyone in the wine trade secretly wants to be a winemaker. Why else would you find people arriving early to a tasting of the vineyards that make up Torbreck’s high-flying Runrig wine. Not many will admit it, but everybody made their own Runrig blend on the day and had the chance to compare their effort to the final wine.

James Young, the manager behind the tasting, and winemaker Craig Isbel, share a belief that the Barossa region should be seen as world-class fine wine, sitting on the same stage as great wine regions such as the Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux.

A key similarity between the French regions and the Barossa is the multi-generational families of grape growers who have been running the vineyards, contributing a human influence to the land and the vines. Like all great viticultural regions, people are part of the notion of taste of place, or terroir. The soils are aspects that add to the weave of shiraz expression.


A key difference between the French regions and the Barossa is the use of different vineyards from subtly different soils, aspects, and locations within the Barossa to create a Grand Vin or top wine. The equivalent in my eyes to the vineyards we tasted in this tasting would be for Bordeaux to blend from the best and oldest vineyards in Margaux, St Julien, Grave, St Estephe and Pauillac for sale in one wine. Our tasting was a pure expression of what can be done with very old vines when the rules allow viticultural freedom and the freedom to follow the path to the best wine by not limiting the human imagination with unnecessary regulations.

The backbone of the Runrig style is the vineyards from which it is drawn. The fruit shows an intelligent combination of the southern elegance and tightness of Lyndoch, and the more northern mid-palate richness and power of the Western ridge.


The winemaking is geared to enhance the taste of the fruit, hence the taste of place. It is well known in wine circles that Torbreck uses very low preservative levels during the maturation of its wines.

To quote Craig Isbel: “The low sulphur levels, while maturing the wine in oak, are about natural development”. Craig justifies his approach by saying a more sterile environment through high sulphur, (although still low by world standards) will produce less complexity.

It seems to me that this technique is a ‘shades of grey’ style moment. A slight exposure of the fruit flavour, with shades of volatile acidity, means you can smell it aromatically at around .8 or .9 grams per litre, snuggling into the fruit aromas to make the wine more expressive. In this manner, each barrel finds its own path of evolution to develop near aldehyde levels that are risky, but with the aim of less control and more vineyard expression. As Craig says: “When I’m doing my job, I hardly doing anything at all.”

Our tasting was the key vineyards that go into Runrig, being the 2012 Runrig assemblage.


A 1880s planting, east facing mostly southerly, so it is cool and the soil full of ironstone. Craig believes this ironstone soil gives fine tannins and aromatics and a fresh tight structure and finesse to the aromas, which became more evident as the tasting progressed. The wine shows its alcohol in youth. It is approx 33% of final wine.

Rowland Flat

Not an official sub-region but nearly deserving of the status, in the hills of the side planted in 1880 in the sandy top soils near the Novotel Hotel above the Jacobs Creek winery. Aromas are roasted fruits, toffee, caramelisation, darker fruits, and a sweeter nose leading to the spicy roasted fruits, charcuterie and a depth in the mouth of more elegant flowing fruits.



The winery is a region of its own and part of the famed western ridge of the Barossa. Here the vine age is younger, so winemaker selection is an element. In the same year, their wine “The Factor” gets the fruit that shows more olive, with dark and powerful flavours and The Runrig gets the fruit with more fresh fruit filled aromatics and fruit driven, silky tannin flavours. The clay soils here contribute power and depth with a lead a pencil aroma that smells oak like with dried spices and dark chocolate. The palate has depth, roundness and richness with mocha and dark olive spectrum flavours and silky tannins to close. It demonstrated that clay has silky tannins, while iron stone is bolder tannins.


A region best for Grenache in Craig’s mind. We tasted wine from a 1860 planting of 1 ha in size. The more fertile soils create darker fruit characters with dark chocolate aromas while the upfront fruit and tannins were felt on the outside of the tongue but falls away through the mid palate. An aromatic spice element that adds a lot of interest to the final wine.


Another ancient vineyard planted in 1860 on a mix of sand, lime stone and granite. When planted, the German farmer left the sandy soils for Mataro and the hard soils at the top of the hill were reserved for Shiraz, an early example of site specific planting based on common sense. A little raucously Craig opined it is only a very small region that gets extended by marketing to produce more wine than the vineyards are capable. The wine has wow factor with a textural middle palate, caramel, plum extension and length. Very fresh and aromatic with good acid, great depth of flavour, evenness and length with class. Energy from the tip of tongue with expressive fruit drive.


From the Adrian Hoffman vineyard, one of the great grape growing families. Curious complex aromas of olive and gherkin, almost herbal with dark chocolate and coffee aromatics. The flat site allows the vines easy access to the water table underneath and that gives wines with power, depth and texture. A very full bodied and super generous palate with awesome depth and richness, almost succulent. A wow wow factor here.

Writer:Rob Geddes MW             Editor&Translator:赵娜         Photo provided:Torbreck



Rob Geddes MW has been immersed in every aspect of the wine industry for more than 30 years as reviewer, author, consultant, presenter, judge, educator and entertainer. He was the 3rd Australian to become a Master of Wine and is part of judging panels at numerous national and international wine shows. He is the author of “Australian Wine Vintages” book and app as well as “A Good Nose And Great Legs: The Art Of Wine From The Vine To The Table”.

Through all his work, he aims to turn the complex science of wine simple-to-grasp concepts. He educats and entertains with an affable, raconteur style that makes people laugh.