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McLaren Vale Wine Functions – Unearthing Grandfathers (DeadReds) Wine Dinner

Charlie-Helen Robinson had the vision – lets have a wine dinner with a group of people from Adelaide coming to a venue in McLaren Vale to celebrate the knowledge and experience that our grandparents have and what this role means to on-coming generations.  In particular in the McLaren Vale wine scene and what role this older generation means to today’s wine industry.

Within what seemed like a short period of time the big day was upon us and the Cellar at The Victory Hotel was descended upon by a 30 strong group of keen and enthusiastic people from diverse backgrounds all brought together by Charlie.  Great job Charlie!

The Victory Hotel Cellar

The venue was well set up and when the bus arrived it was all go.  The first course soon arrived.  The chicken and seafood was matched well with a 2008 Karra Yerta Eden Valley Riesling, that was full of limes – particularly lime zesty.  The second course of rabbit pie came with a 2010 Kay Brothers Mataro.  2010 was an excellent vintage and this wine was no exception with flavours of cherry and plum with hints of violets and a meatiness that I tend to find with this variety.  The tannins were a little grainy but this is part of what Mataro is usually about.  Without letting Colin Kay, the current head of Kay Brothers, finish his rabbit pie he was standing up and sharing with us some of the rich history of the Mataro grape in Australia plus the even richer history of the Kay family in McLaren Vale.  We were all delighted with his stories and also delighted that Colin was willing to share with us copies of his family daily records from the late 1890’s.  These documents had me convinced on how well their fortified sales were back then – only to be told that Tawny was the name of one of the family cows and the volume mentioned was not the volume of Tawny “Port” sold but how much milk Tawny (the cow) produced daily.

Colin Kay at Unearthing Grandfathers

The third course was for me a steak and I enjoyed the Rudderless 2006 Grenache which is made from the vines surrounding the hotel.  As a fan of McLaren Vale Grenache I was looking forward to and was not disappointed.   The perfumed red fruits combined with fruit strength and mid weight tannins was just what we were looking for.

A wine options game with 2 wines was an interesting venture during the night.  Each person was given their own stash a fake Deadred Dollars and were able to bet on 1 of 3 options for the category of what vintage did the wine come from, what grape variety the wine was made from and lastly what winery the wine came from.  There were 2 wines that were covered to ensure nobody could cheat.  The wines ended up being a Zinfandel from the Inkwell stable from 2009 and 2010.  These wines are so different and so it was interesting to see the reaction when people were told the 2 wines came from the same winery, same vineyard and same winemaker.

The Vintage Cheddar with dried muscatels, quince paste and crackers went down a treat mixed with the Graham Stevens Wines 2010 Vintage Shiraz.  This wine is just essence of Shiraz mixed with clean spirit.  It is interesting that the Vintage fortified style is not a big seller however almost all in the room were delighted with the finishing wine of the night.

A big thanks to all that attended that made the night something to remember but special mention must be made for Colin Kay for the generous giving of his time and experiences, for Ron who was the bus driver and had to sit and watch most of us indulge in good wines and to Charlie for bringing the night together.

I already look forward to the next Unearthing Dinner……


  1. I really enjoyed the whole affair and would love to do it again! However, there was one big surprise [to me a little disappointment]; I thought we were going to be TASTING some McLaren Vale grandfathers, ie. old wines. The much more recent offerings presented were pleasant enough, but to me not exactly characteristic of the traditional McLaren Vale we know & love. I guess it was not what I expected because I didn’t plan it or own it! Thank you Charlie & Shane for making it the dinner it was.
    My favourite “thing” of the evening was the presence of Colin Kay! I would love to sit next to him at dinner and extract some more tales related to establishing the vineyards and evolving the wine styles that led to such gems as Kay’s Amery Shiraz. I was also pleasantly surprised that a winemaker at 72 was in such fine mental and physical shape, as some I have known have been just the opposite! It is encouraging when I think of my friend’s son, Chris Thomas [Thommo], who is not of huge physical stature, but seems to be heading towards a long life in the winemaking business! He’s currently maker at Dowie Doole and I was worried that all the alcohol was going to ruin his liver before forty, but Colin Kay has reassured me there’s hope for the little guys yet! [Sorry Chris- you’ve always been slapped in the face with the fact you’re no Brendan in the size department!].
    As for the food- perfect choices by the planners & chef. I want the rabbit pie recipe, please chef! Apart from the choices, there may have been a little under catering with the spring rolls and the cheese. Several (four at least) didn’t get any spring roll, although others were sharing out plenty of remaining baby octopus at the end of entrees. When the cheese came along, there was plenty of accompaniment (yummy quince paste, muscatels and delicate apple slices) but the cheese itself disappeared far too quickly compared with the generous second glasses of port! My partner is still suffering from the second port (it’s Monday morning & he has that reflux thing).
    The wine options game was a lot of fun BUT, Mr Tasting McLaren Vale…most of the attendees were NOT sophisticated nor experienced wine buffs- more enthusiasts. Therefore, demonstrating that two different years of Zinfandel from the same (small, as yet not widely known) maker, was a bit beyond us. Sure, some people who had visited the Vale recently knew about Inkwell, but some of the older, less regular visitors had never heard of it, let alone appreciated their Zinfandel. Let’s face it, Zinfandel is not something we are expert at consuming from McLaren Vale. Maybe 3 of us knew that Cambrai had done some Zinfandel many years ago. But there is a sharp division in the ages of people at the dinner- oldies who are 50 or more and maybe have had good personal cellars in the past but may have eased back now & youngsters who are either experts on new wines or who drink mainly for pleasure, not enlightenment! Most of us know McLaren Vale for its Shiraz and more recently for GSMs. The older peeps like me also still love the old ports, whether Tawny or Vintage, but youngsters may have never tried them! There are also some lovely young whites happening that people might like to explore as well!

    Finally, if I was doing another wine dinner for Unearthing [whether it was featuring grandfathers human or vinified], I would feature wines more generally agreed as characteristic of the region at the core of the tasting line-up, perhaps provide some tastes (not full glasses) of contrasting/educational wines and I would tell people about why each wine has it’s particular characteristics. For instance: what about the seasons or earth in the vineyard produced the differences? Guide people to where the taste might be happening, eg. can they taste the difference in length of palate, acidity, tannins, as well as the colours you pointed out.
    So, having done the full crit, I must now prepare myself for a visit to the Vale to get re-educated about what it’s doing these days; (apart from drowning myself every Wednesday & Saturday in wines made by Chris Thomas from his time at Fox Creek, Serafino, Boars Rock & Dowie Doole)!
    Are you up for it, Shane?

    1. Kay,
      Thanks for your comments. Details such as these are what we need to make improvements. Just getting feedback that it was all good does not get us far. I certainly agree about the food, or lack there of. I even missed out on the first course altogether, and I think it would be the first time anywhere I have missed out on my food share.

      We will use this information to ensure the next dinner will be a better experience.

      In terms of am I up for it – I am not sure if this is to go on a wine tour with you or to improve on the next dinner. If it is the former then I would be happy to catch up with Chris at Dowie Doole or to see my friends at Fox Creek Wines as I worker there as well. Just let me know….



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