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Metala - some unanswered questions

On Sunday we opened this bottle to go with our special meal for David - Pan-seared steaks in a stroganoff sauce - a Coles Mazine recipe which was actually a rip-off of a Shannon Bennett recipe, which he called Seared flank steak with mushroom stroganoff sauce in delicious magazine. I'm not going to talk about that today - maybe tomorrow. Suffice to show you the two dishes and how they were supposed to look - Coles on the left, Shannon Bennet on the right.

It was pretty nice by the way, but the focus today is the wine, because what David had asked me to do was to serve something to go with red wine. Specifically the red wine that he chose, which was this one:

It was a Metala 2012 White label Shiraz Cabernet. Yes it had gold medals but they were Langhorne Creek Wine Region ones so I don't know significant they were. It was pretty nice, but I can't say I could taste all the things I was supposed to"

"intensely fragrant with spice, white pepper, violets and blackcurrant supported by hints of eucalyptus and liquorice. The palate is full bodied and rich with dense blackberry flavours, soft tannins and great length of flavour."

I looked for ages to see what this particular wine would go with but was somewhat unsuccessful so I just went with beef. Initially I thought pepper steak but decided that this was not different enough for a David 'special' meal. Hence the stroganoff - mushrooms too I thought would be good. And they were.

Before I talk about the wine itself I should say something about its label. It was designed by Bryan Dolan the General Manager and winemaker of Stoneyfell in the 1950s (more of that later), I guess it's not a particularly spectacular label, but the interesting thing is that each bottle is numbered - ours was 305826, and there is normally a signature of the winemaker where the number on ours is. I do not know why ours does not have a signature. Was this when the then winemaker Shavaughn Wells moved to Penfold's? Don't think so. Our wine was a White Label Metala, which is the most common, but there is also a black label and a grey label. I think the black label is made from the original old vines, but I have been unable to work out what the significance of the grey label is.

But back to Metala. Being pretty ignorant when it comes to wine I thought that Metala was an actual vineyard (well it is - more later) and was a bit shocked not to find it in our James Halliday year books. No mention of Metala as a vineyard. So I went back to the label and there in small print on the back was 'produced by Saltram Wine Estate'. But this is a Langhorne Creek wine and Saltram is in the Barossa. I know because we went there shortly after our arrival in Australia. We did a tour up to the Murray, along the Murray, down to Adelaide through the Barossa and back along the coast and via Coonawarra, and maybe Langhorne Creek too, sampling - and buying - from all the vineyards we visited along the way. At that time the wineries were shipping very cheaply, so we would write out a cheque and continue on our way. Not until we got home and boxes and boxes of wine started arriving did we realise how much we had bought. It was the foundation of our wine 'cellar' and it is entirely possibly that in there somewhere lurk a few of those original wines - now entirely undrinkable I would think.

I remember very clearly our visit to Saltram's in Angaston because just after we got in there it started absolutely pouring with rain. There were very few visitors, if any, and so we stayed in there for a long time, chatting and sampling and eventually buying. But Metala would not have been one of them.

So when I started delving into the history of Saltram's and Metala I found that wine-making is a small world - almost incestuous in fact.

But my first mysteries are two names - Metala and Saltram. Metala is named after the Metala Homestead - this beautiful house shown below that was built by an eccentric Prussian immigrant Herman Daenke in the mid 1880s. Why it was called Metala I have no idea. All my efforts have led nowhere. Is it an Aboriginal word, a German place name or word? As I said, I have no idea.

What I do know though is that in 1882 it was bought by William Formby, another horse breeder, whose son planted the first vines in 1891 - some of which still exist and which, I think, go into the black label Metala - and that his descendants - the Adams family now own the property and produce their own wines under the Brothers in Arms label, as well as, it seems, providing Saltram with grapes for the Metala label. Those cabernet sauvignon and shiraz vines are amongst the oldest in the world.

At roughly the same time, one William Salter bought property in the Barossa Valley in 1844, having arrived from England in 1839. So his name is Salter - how that got converted to Saltram is another mystery that I cannot guess at.

Then follows a really complicated story of intermarriage and friendship, business partnerships with the Stoneyfell vineyard (Martin family) and various other winemakers including Wolf Blass, and winemaker Bryan Dolan who made the first Metala, which went on to win the first ever Jimmy Watson trophy in 1962, and Peter Lehmann as well. Then in the 70s it was bought by Dalgety's who seem to have made a bit of a mess of it all. Nowadays Saltram is part of the Treasury Wine Estates conglomerate. The Saltram website gives a pretty comprehensive history as does the Brothers in Arms website. And a few interesting sidelines are covered in an article on Best Wines Under $20.00. It should also be noted that Metala used to be attributed to Stoneyfell which I think owned Saltram really. It's all very confusing about who owned who back then.

The current Saltram winemaker is Alex Mackenzie but at the time of our bottle's making - 2012 the winemaker was a woman - Shavaughn Wells, who in 2017 was inducted as a Baroness of the Barossa - an award given to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the Barossa. I think she now works for Penfolds - another Treasury Wine Estates label. Although it is also possible that she is still responsible for the Metala wines.

Another, not unanswered question, but an oddity, is that there is no creek at Langhorne Creek. There are two rivers - the Angas and the Bremer. The Metala estate is on the Bremer. It was originally called Langhorne's Crossing after two brothers - the Langhorne's, who were cattle drovers who drove their cattle across the Bremer in the 1840s.

Final interesting thing - the vineyards in Langhorne Creek are naturally irrigated by the annual flooding of the rivers!

And I also saw somewhere that at a dinner at which both Grange and Metala were served, the Metala was the wine that virtually everyone thought was the better wine. Admittedly some years ago but still ...


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