Championing Langhorne Creek, introducing several new wines to his portfolio and bringing malbec into the spotlight brought Paul Hotker to the attention of the judges.
With three finalists in the past four years, the Winemaker of the Year judges have embraced Langhorne Creek. The latest of these, Paul Hotker, has revitalised the region’s oldest winery, which began growing grapes in the 1850s and making wine in the 1880s, and shone a light on one of the region’s most distinctive varieties: malbec.
Hotker’s path to senior winemaker at Bleasdale was somewhat circuitous. After growing up in suburban Perth, he worked as a jackeroo in the Pilbara before spending two years as a vineyard hand at Olive Farm in the Swan Valley. After what he describes as an extended gap year (from 1993 to 1997) in Europe, he returned to Australia. A spell in the vineyard at Margaret River’s Voyager Estate and some viticultural studies at the local TAFE led Hotker to enrolling in Adelaide University’s Bachelor of Agricultural Science. He started by focusing on viticulture and finished in 2002 by graduating in oenology.
Hotker married Sharon Hooey (daughter of Yalumba’s Alan Hooey). They moved to New Zealand in 2003 where Hotker had been offered a winemaking/viticulture job at Marlborough’s Nautilus. They returned to Australia where Hotker worked as a viticultural consultant (in particular with Shaw + Smith) and as a winemaker at Bleasdale in 2008 before being appointed senior winemaker in 2017.
Langhorne Creek has become renown- ed for the ultra-concentrated dark fruit styles beloved by Robert Parker Jr and the American market for many years. Hotker turned his back on these styles, looking for fresher, more vibrant fruit flavours. The emphasis in the vineyard is to preserve natural acidity by picking earlier and avoiding overripe characters. Viticultural improvements include maximising air flow through the vineyard, careful bunch positioning and managing the temperature of the fruit on the vines to avoid shrivelling. Tonnage has been reduced and oak sourcing has become more rigorous. Gentler handling of pumping over and siphoning rather than pumping out of barrel have shown good results.
The 2011 vintage saw the introduction of three whites (sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, chardonnay) from Adelaide Hills to the portfolio. They now sell 10,000 cases per year. The sourcing of the fruit benefitted from Hotker’s knowledge of the Adelaide Hills vineyards while the making of those wines was enhanced by his experience in Marlborough. Texture has been built with a proportion of old oak (barriques) fermentation and solids work: bright primal fruit dominates with a touch of complexity making a difference.
From 2013, Bleasdale’s show results have been exemplary and offer further evidence of the improvements in quality for which Hotker and his team have been responsible.
The budget-priced Heritage range remains at the heart of Bleasdale’s portfolio with the 2016 Mulberry Tree showing floral notes, a medium body, fleshy texture and juicy blackcurrant flavours while the 2016 Second Innings Malbec has some violet notes, plummy red skin flavours, smoothness and good length. Great value.
Until recently, the Frank Potts Cabernet Blend has been the Bleasdale flagship: in 2016, it remains an impressive complex red with balance, attractive softness and fine well-integrated tannins giving a long, gentle grip to finish. Age-worthy.
The new flagships are the 2015 Powder Monkey Shiraz and 2015 The Iron Duke Cabernet, which are impressive: bright, deep and memorable. These wines extend the legacy of the Potts family which established Bleasdale, and are still involved, while the Bleasdale fortifieds have been freshened and continue the tradition.
Perhaps the most obvious evidence of Paul Hotker’s influence at Bleasdale is in the range of sublime malbecs. There is the multi-vineyard 2016 Generations Malbec which shows power with restraint, mulberry and blackberry flavours and a soft, fleshy finish that is long and fine. There are single vineyard malbecs – the Islander (from Kangaroo Island) which is fresh and light, the Mullianna, medium-bodied and juicy and the Riparian which is more muscular and tannic. The 2016 Double Take is a rare barrel-select malbec from grower, Rick Eckert’s vineyard. It is finer, and more seamless than the others and admirably balanced.