Stonewell Shiraz – first made in 1987 – has one guiding principle: to be Peter Lehmann’s best shiraz of vintage. The name Stonewell was chosen in recognition of the high quality shiraz grapes being grown around Stonewell Road in the Marananga district of the Barossa.
The story of Stonewell was summed up by Wigan as “a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.” Having formally established his eponymous winery in 1982, Peter Lehmann wanted to make a “Show Dry Red” in 1987. After all the red wines had been made, the best lot was picked out and put into American oak. The first two vintages of Stonewell were “made after the event, a selection of barrels after the vintage,” explained Wigan, though for subsequent vintages fruit selection became an important aspect of the wines’s philosophy. “As far as we were concerned, until 1988, grapes grew on the back of trucks,” he quipped.
Stonewell Shiraz is, said Wigan, “by definition, the greatest Shiraz of the vintage at Lehmann.” The grapes are drawn mainly from old, low-yielding vineyards in the drier western areas of the Barossa Valley. The oldest contributor to Stonewell is the Schrapel vineyard in Ebenezer, planted in 1885. The youngest vineyard belongs to John Russell and was planted in 1992 in Kabininigie. Different growers are used each year because, said Wigan, “different vineyards come up in different years… We want to make our best expression of Barossa Shiraz, whatever that might be.”
From the 1996 vintage, French oak was used increasingly, settling on 90 percent from 2001 on. It has always been released at five years age. As Wigan pointed out, “it’s an expensive wine to make—French oak casks and five years of ageing.” Lehmann pays A$8,000 per tonne for Stonewell grapes compared to $1,500 for non-Stonewell, “so it is a great incentive for growers to pursue quality.”
A thousand dozen-bottle cases were made in the first three vintages, with production increasing to 3,500 cases in 1991 after the Jimmy Watson Trophy win for the 1989. 5,000 cases were made in 1998 and 2002, with the average about 2,500 in recent years.
Even Wigan admitted, “the early wines are quite simple and lack the complexity that we had from the mid-1990s on.” The older wines oxidized in the glass, losing any freshness they might have had at first, but there was not time to retaste. Overall, though, the wine was never over-extracted, over-alcoholic, or jammy.
Lovely nose, fresher and more youthful than the 1988, with dark fruit aromas. Big, plump palate, much richer than the previous two wines, with a better balance of fruit and acidity, though there is a bit of an acidic kick on the finish. Perfectly mature—drink now. Winner of the Jimmy Watson Trophy for “best 1 year old dry red” at the 1990 Melbourne Wine Show and deserving of its reputation. This was the first vintage of Stonewell to be barrel fermented.