The Buyer
Meeting Yangarra’s Peter Fraser: Rhône ranger of South Australia

Meeting Yangarra’s Peter Fraser: Rhône ranger of South Australia

Retired Michelin star chef Roger Jones gets up close with Peter Fraser, winemaker and general manager at Yangarra, McLaren Vale to discover his love of Rhône Valley wines, hear how US Jackson Family transformed the winery’s fortunes with a similarly held belief in old, bush vine Grenache, and to taste through the newly-released wines.

Roger Jones
23rd January 2024by Roger Jones
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

“Is this South Australia’s answer to Chateau Rayas or Beaucastel? Time will tell,” writes Jones about the Yangarra High Sands Grenache 2019.

Yangarra winemaker Peter Fraser

You could say that Yangarra winemaker Peter Fraser’s journey has been quite easy with the Jackson Family buying into not only the estate he worked at (Normans Wine) in the McLaren Vale but also into his concept and vision for producing Rhône style wines in South Australia.

However, the idea of pushing the Grenache grape as the ‘new gold rush’ back in 2000 seemed a risk. Was the son of a poultry farmer going to get himself and the mighty Jess Jackson covered in chicken shit or would he end up making the Australian version of Château Rayas?

Historically, Grenache was originally used in Australia for fortified wines and, after the end of World War 2, vineyards were planted in South Australia with plots of Grenache, given to returning soldiers at discounted prices. For many years the fruit from these vines went into bulk and homemade wines, however, these vineyards are now highly sought after due to their age and quality.

According to Giles Cooper MW, recent sales of Grenache vineyards in the area have reached four times the price of Pinot Noir vineyards.

Fraser as a young lad wanted to be a vet, but soon realised that academic qualifications were needed, so studied agriculture instead and, whilst at University, joined the Army Reserves, where the officer’s mess introduced him to wine, including the Henschke 1987 Hill of Grace.

A winemaking degree soon followed, with stints at St Hallet in both 1996 and 1997 (under the guidance of Stuart Blackwell and Bob McLean). Fraser then became assistant winemaker at Normans Wine whilst still at University then had to take over when the winemaker left in 1998. A meeting with the Jackson Family in 2000 resulted in Fraser being employed by them and sub-contracted back to the Norman Winery, before the Jacksons purchased the winery.

Yangarra’s old bush vine Grenache – now highly prized due to their age and quality.

Fraser said that when Jess Jackson visited him at the vineyard in 2004 he explained his thoughts and ethos in promoting these aged Grenache vines sourced from the Blewitt Springs sub-region of McLaren Vale and Jackson, a true visionary himself, was soon on board and agreed to plant a further 10 hectares of bush vine Grenache rather than pull out the old vines, which was the norm by other winemakers in the region.

Fraser was into biodynamic agriculture and working with the environment long before these words became marketing tools, he was perfectly aware that nature does not need synthetic chemicals, and nature itself has plenty of natural remedies.

Going back to his family roots he introduced chickens to run around the vines because, being herbivores, they eat weeds. These chickens became quite famous for their flavour too. To get wines to give a sense of place it has to be as natural as possible, synthetic fertilisers cause rapid growth and kill natural bugs, microbes and worms that enrich the soils, thus using chickens was a natural way of doing things – since then he uses sheep to tend to his vines, as they are better behaved.

It is not only Grenache that ‘gets Fraser going’, but also his vision for white Rhône varieties (which is being realised), and innovations such as his prized ceramic eggs which he uses for making his Roussanne and Grenache Blanc in.

These ceramic eggs give purity, ensure that the wines do not get oxidised and slows the vinification process down to a gentle and relaxed extraction, highlighting the minerality in the wines.

Our tasting and meeting seemed far too short with so much knowledge and history to grasp from Fraser so we had no time to discuss: his time in Spain where he made Grenache (at first a difficult sell to the UK market but then became a star buy for ASDA); His numerous vintages in California; His working relationship with Jackson Family’s Barbara Banke (who was instrumental in purchasing the sought-after Hickinbotham Estate in 2012); Nor his numerous awards and his Shiraz wines.

The wines

Jones tasted these over a range of tastings including the one to one with Peter Fraser, The Continents of Grenache Master Class & Matthew Jukes Top 100 Roadshow.

Yangarra Ovitelli Blanc, 2021

73% Grenache Blanc, 27% Roussanne, Vineyard Block 9 & 6

Fermented and aged with skin contact in large ceramic eggs, this has texture and crunch, bright clean and focused, it is all about freshness and focus. RRP £66.00

Yangarra Roussanne, 2021

Delicate aromatics with clean-cut stone fruit, fresh with delicate white floral notes, hints of pink grapefruit pith – I loved the elegant, restrained perfume. RRP £34.00

Yangarra Roux Beaute Roussanne 2020

55% is fermented and aged on grape skins for 134 days in large 675L ceramic eggs, 45% whole bunch basket pressed into ceramic eggs without skin. The blend is then matured in ceramic eggs. Honeyed thyme on the nose, delicate spice with a tingling sensation, quite stunning. Delicate, peeled white stone fruit, bright and clean – but as you allow the wine to breath it opens up giving a textural feel, brings a glow to your day. Sourced from the Block 6 vineyard that was planted in 1999. RRP £64.00

‘Roux’, incidentally, is the French word for ‘russet’ and refers to the reddish tinge that forms on the yellow-green skins of the berries. ‘Beaute’ is a take on Aussie slang.

Yangarra Roux Beaute Roussanne 2015

This was hand-picked from the 1999 Block 6 vineyard, de-stemmed and mechanically sorted then put into two 675L eggs; Egg #1: foot trod, wild yeast, fermented on skins and left for 160 days before pressing. Egg #2: whole berry pressed using a basket press, wild yeast and fermented on skins. The final blend had 60% of Egg 1.

Textures, quince, willow, hints of lanolin, delicate yellow stone fruit, floral notes, the purity and texture on this is mind blowing, this is quite outstanding, a real joy to try. Every sip gives new insights, ginger gel, creamy vanilla curd, honeysuckle, and hints of beeswax, royal jelly just perfect. RRP O/A

Yangarra High Sands Grenache 2019

This vineyard was planted in 1946, this has sensitivity throughout, seamless with bright freshness balanced with spices and savoury notes. Cranberry and cherries, herbaceous – as the wine opens up on the palate there is a wonderful mouthfeel, this really does show just how good Grenache can be, evolving beautifully on the palate.

Is this South Australia’s answer to Chateau Rayas or Beaucastel? Time will tell, it has that perfect mix of blue and red fruit perfume on the nose which continues onto the palate highlighted by a crunch, then hints of green thyme, citrus orange zest and saline, it’s pretty perfect to me. RRP £150.00

Yangarra Ovitelli Grenache 2020

The purity and focus on this wine is immense – elegant, vibrant and luxurious, classy silky Pinot feel, with a touch of rose water and intense raspberry, there is a mineral background, layers of excitement and a beautiful finish. RRP £78.05

Yangarra Old Vine Grenache 2021

This wine has won the latest James Halliday Wine of The Year, (also won Red Wine of The Year and Grenache of the Year).

Delicate perfume, fresh and focused, lilac, dusty, tiny clusters of precise red berries, sweet seductive scent, sourced from 1946 Blewitt Spring bush vines. A true bargain for quality and an insight into how good South Australian Grenache can be. RRP £37.75

Yangarra Old Vine Grenache 2015

Maraschino cherry, gripping, seductive, plums, delicate savoury notes, sweet bacon, juicy, the perfume lifts it, still fresh and youthful, a glorious seamless wine. RRP O/A

The wines of Yangarra are sold and distributed in the UK by Fells Wine