Winemaker focus: Who is Ox Hardy?
The Hardy family have been pioneers in the area since the early days, with Thomas Hardy’s efforts in the 1800’s making him known today as the Father of South Australian Wine. Nowadays, his great-great-grandson Andrew ‘Ox’ Hardy runs the show at his own label, you guessed it...Ox Hardy.
Andrew 'Ox' Hardy, fifth generation Winemaker Ox Hardy wines.
History of the Ox Hardy vineyards
South Australia’s McLaren Vale has been an ancestral home for Australian Shiraz since the 19th century. A warm to hot mediteranean climate which is close to Adelaide. Their first generational grape growers made the area initially a fortified wine hub with Tawny Ports being shipped across the British Empire. Wow.
As the years went on, Australian winemakers began to look towards table wines as tastes across the empire changed. Shiraz became synonymous with quality for this region, only a short drive from Adelaide. With Andrew being the fifth generation winemaker, shiraz runs in his veins. Something very special comes out of their portfolio - the great Aussie shiraz done in three unique styles.
Legacy of the Ancestor.
'Ancestor' 1891 Shiraz, Ox Hardy.
The flagship of the brand is the Ancestor Shiraz. Planted in 1891 by Thomas Hardy, the Ancestor vines grow on just 2.54 acres (around 2 football fields) yielding under 1000 bottles each vintage. They’ve been borrowed by neighbours seeking the clonal beauty of this vineyard, cared for meticulously for generations and nowadays sits as living history of the region.
The wine has all the hallmarks of a high-end product. Old vines (which give more concentrated but low yielding fruit), hand-harvested (so only the best are selected), fermented with indigenous yeasts only for 10 days (believed to by more expressive of the region than store-bought yeasts, but more unpredictable) and then treated to post-fermentation maceration for another 14 days.
Like ripping up $100 bills in the shower.
No step was easy. When they started in 2008, Andrew likened it to ‘ripping up $100 bills in the shower’. They meticulously learnt their grape, the style and what produces a world class wine. After such a viticultural effort the 1891 Ancestor Vine Shiraz is only released when the wine when he believes it is ready - after almost 2 years maturing in French Oak barrel, the 2010 only hit the shelves in 2019. This allows the wine to settle, the tannins to soften and the flavours to integrate with bottle aging.
So, while similarly priced wines are valued on name alone (and it’s up to you to look after it), this treasured wine has been stored and cared for already - ready to drink. With great fruit flavours still, and deep colors bordering on purple, this wine can be aged longer if more tobacco and earth is what you desire on the palette.
Down to the grit of Ox Hardy wine.
Andrew 'Ox' Hardy, getting down into Ox Hardy vintage.
Of course, the Ancestor Shiraz is a special wine for special occasions, which is why Ox Hardy has a selection of the shiraz grape for all price points. Next in line is the ‘Slate’ Shiraz, a 2018 full body dry shiraz which is going for $480HK. The name ‘Slate’ comes from their unique locally sourced slate fermenters, which gives an incredibly unique local feel to this wine - much like Romans using terracotta amphores thousands of years ago.
'Slate' Shiraz, Ox Hardy.
Disused for 90 years, the open slate fermenters are incredibly unique in the wine world. After fermenting, the wood in the barrels become very stained with the red colours of the grape, but Andrew noted on his first vintage how the slate had next to no discolouring - the wine took it all, which produces a very deep colour, lots of flavour and minerality from these natural rocks. The fermenters are small, and the rocks do not heat up during fermentation so it’s a cool, long fermentation - a delicate extraction of all things delicious.
Ox Hardy Wines uses the cultured yeast strain QA23, which is used mostly in the wine world for fruity whites. Cooler ferments take longer, aiming to produce a fruitier wine (volatile aromas of some fruits are wiped out at high temperatures). This 12 day (long) ferment in slate (cool) after cold soaking (brrrrrr) with a cool fruity yeast strain means a very fruity shiraz. On top of that, the grape must (crushed skins) were mixed through the fermenting juice 3 times a day, extracting even more colour and flavour.
All of these techniques make such an interesting shiraz. At 14.5% alcohol you’d expect it to be just another Aussie blockbuster - but it’s so nuanced with intricate flavours developing as the wine opens up. Aged in oak for 18 months for chocolate and spice notes; the wine is young, and can be enjoyed now or some years down the line - this baby will age. As with the Ancestor, decant for half an hour at least, but taste a little straight away to see how this deep, purple hued shiraz opens up.
'Upper Tintara' Shiraz, Ox Hardy.
This Shiraz is much more in the ‘typical’ Aussie style - no cold soaking prior to fermentation, but draining then repumping during fermentation to mix the must. It’s a gentler method than with the Slate, but still with aging in oak for 18 months (no expense spared, this isn’t a bargain basement wine).
Delastage was used for this wine, where it is racked into another vessel during fermentation and then returned, aerating the yeast for more fermentation and softening the tannins, leading to a more drinkable wine earlier on than compared to the 1891 Ancestor (intended to be aged). The process is gentle - floral notes take hold whilst the bones of the wine are still strong and punchy.
Of course, there’s good tannin in any McLaren Vale shiraz, and the 2016 comes with a few years of bottle aging as well - these tannins have softened, the colour is more ruby than purple and the herbs and licorice are shining through. Enjoy with barbecued meat as the Hong Kong Summer creeps upon us!
It’s so great to see Aussie winemakers experimenting and showing their portfolios are not simple one trick ponies. If you are having a winetasting of shiraz from around the world keep Ox Hardy in mind because this trifecta is proof there is no longer just one style of Australia’s favorite grape.Nick Willcock