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Heaven Sent: A Fond Farewell to Paradise IV

Heaven Sent: A Fond Farewell to Paradise IV

‘I think the first thing is relief. It is what it is.’ Paradise IV Winemaker Douglas Neal is saying goodbye to the Geelong vineyards he started tending back in 2003. The vines that yielded the fruit for the wines have been uprooted from the vineyard first planted by Swiss immigrant James Henry Dardel in 1848. The final vintage for Paradise IV—2018—is finally out in the world. Access the Paradise IV Range.

Paradise IV has always been something of a poorly-kept secret. The wines (in particular the flagship Dardel Shiraz) are easy to obsess over, but boutique-enough in scale to make sure they always sell out to diehards before hitting the general market. Neal attributes this to the heaven-sent site that was once, not very long ago, a vineyard. ‘It makes highly perfumed, ageable wine. The site is very good.’

There’s also Neal himself, though. A highly instinctive winemaker, he fell into the industry working part-time at a wine shop in 1980s Armidale. From here, wine importer Gary Steel (who, at the time, was importing the likes of Ravaneau and Chapoutier) took young Doug under his wing.

‘Then I met this scruffy bloke that came out and showed us his very first vintage,’ recalls Neal. ‘I fell in love with the wines and I would sell them to anyone that would listen to me. That was Rick Kinzbrunner from Giaconda.’ Neal did vintage that year with Kinzbrunner. The pair ended up working together for several years.

I’m not interested in making wine just to make wine. It’s got to be something special.

 

It wasn’t luck that led Neal to the blessed Paradise IV plot at Batesford, near Geelong, but circumstance. Back in 2003, while working for Lethbridge, he decided to take a drive with a mate to scope out where to find some good fruit for a new project. The pair passed by several good-enough vineyards, but Neal wasn’t impressed. ‘I’m not interested in making wine just to make wine. It’s got to be something special.’

The day was coming to an end, and Neal’s friend was ready to head home. ‘There is one other guy, s’pose I could take you there. It’s close by here but the wines aren’t very good.’ As the car made its way down the driveway, Neal looked at the vineyard to his left–it was the best site he’d seen all day. ‘It was perfect,’ he says. ‘Neat slopes, protected, it doesn’t face North, it faces North-East, and look at the manicured nature of the vineyard.’

Neal bought his fruit from the owners, Graham and Ruth Bonney, then went away and got to business making some wine. The end-product was so special that the Bonneys suggested a partnership, with Neal as chief winemaker. He agreed, under the condition that Moorabool Estate would be rechristened under its original name, Paradise IV. He encouraged Graham Bonney to reduce yield from four to five tonne of fruit per acre to just over two tonne an acre. ‘The quality improved substantially,’ says Neal.

It was perfect...neat slopes, protected, and look at the manicured nature of the vineyard.

‘The funny thing is, that vineyard had been sitting there. It was originally planted in 1988, and then they did the main planting in 1994. From 1996 onwards, you could buy fruit off that vineyard, but no-one had worked out what it was. They hadn’t worked out that if you dropped the yield, then you’d get this amazing quality of fruit. That’s all I did.’

‘I have a passion for making Shiraz that has the ethereal qualities of Pinot Noir.’

 

These days, Neal is keeping busy, wine wise. He’s making good stuff at Hesket in the Macedon Ranges, and has his own project on the go. It’s called Altera Terra, and it’s another lucky find, this time at Murrumbateman (Canberra Districts). Think rolling green hillsides and rich, granitic soils, ready to indulge Neal’s quest to make Shiraz that echoes the unique character of… wait for it… Burgundian Pinot.

‘I have a passion for making Shiraz that has the ethereal qualities of Pinot Noir,’ he says. ‘I don’t subscribe to this view that Pinot Noir is the great holy grail of winemaking. I’m chasing the idea of perfumed, ethereal wines using Australian Shiraz.’ He says the 2019 vintage will be Altera Terra’s first.

In the meantime, there’s the final Paradise IV vintage to collect. The end may be bittersweet, but the wines? Far from it. They are a triumph, and a fitting legacy to a memorable era in Australian wine that—if the historical longevity of Paradise IV wines is anything to go by—will be recalled, glass by glass, well into the future.

The critics have already deemed the final cuvées exceptional. As seems to be the theme, Neal defers his 2018 success to the land and the vines. ‘As every year goes by, and the roots are down a little deeper, you’ve got these beautiful, mature vines.’ He name-checks the flagship Dardel as his pick of the vintage. ‘The Chaumont is beautiful,’ he adds. ‘It’s got more Shiraz in it than I’ve ever put in that blend but it looks to me like… well, not a Pomerol, but it has that same impact.’

‘...the vineyard could come back to life again in the not too distant future and potentially be even greater.’

In partnership with Paradise IV owners Graham and Ruth Bonney for close to 15 years, Neal has mixed feelings about this chapter closing. The Bonneys chose to pull the vines when they sold their property. ‘They’re in their 70s, they’ve worked a long, long time, so they were exhausted,’ he says. ‘From that point of view, I’m disappointed that the vineyard isn’t going ahead.’

'Anyone who is going to come along and buy the land now has a blank canvas to do that, so the potential is that the vineyard could come back to life again in the not-too-distant future, and potentially be even greater. That’s the exciting thing. The fact is that we aren’t actually done with that site.'

I ask Neal if he’d ever return to do the replanting himself. ‘I’ve left Geelong,’ he says. ‘I’ve left it emotionally. For me, for a time, I was lucky enough to have the greatest terroir in Geelong to work with.’

Paradise IV 2018, the final vintage, will be released on Monday 27 April. Register your interest to be alerted as soon as these remarkable wines are available.

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