Bon View Vineyard, Barossa Valley Ralph Schrapel

Top Vineyards

The Bon View Vineyard has been in family hands since it was first planted in the 19th century. Those original shiraz vines still make wine today, though the bulk of the vineyard was planted in the 1960s by current viticultural custodian Ralph Schrapel’s father and grandfather. With the farming practices evolving over the generations to a less interventionist and more balanced approach that centres on soil health and water management, the fruit is pitched towards the premium and ultra-premium end. A four-decade-long collaboration with Peter Lehmann Wines means good homes for that juice, filling bottles such as the legendary ‘Stonewell’ Shiraz and ‘Mentor’ Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Our subregion now has become an area renowned for cabernet and shiraz due the climatic conditions,” says Ralph Schrapel. “Cabernet, shiraz and grenache really suit our soil type, and we can grow these varieties to a high standard. We are on sandy soils over clay, so we are different to the other soils in Ebenezer. Because of that, we are in an area where we don’t make the real big ballsy reds. We still make a good high-end wine, but it is typically more elegant.”

The vineyard has shiraz vines that date back to 1885, and they were planted and have been cared for by the Schrapel family over the generations (the road that fronts their Ebenezer property is Schrapel Road). Riesling was planted in 1963, with more shiraz along with grenache and merlot the following year. The shiraz vines were supplemented over the years, and semillon was planted in the 1980s. Later plantings of cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo, along with more shiraz, complete the mix across the 22 hectares of vines.

The fruit is sold to Peter Lehmann, and it has been since the early 1980s when Lehmann helped preserve Barossa heritage by paying a fair price for fruit and honouring contracts that large companies would not at an economically tricky time. It was the era of the notorious ‘vine pull’ scheme where growers were paid to remove unprofitable vines. Since then, that relationship has grown in a very synergistic way, with the Schrapels working alongside the Lehmann team to achieve high-quality results.

Opposite: Ralph Schrapel and Sean Schrapel, the current custodians of vines planted in the 1960s by Ralph’s father and grandfather. Above: A Barossa tradition – a group of growers having a drink with Lehmann at the weighbridge (1980s). Bon View Vineyard fruit has gone into Peter Lehmann wines since the early 1980s.

Indeed, the Bon View Vineyard is very much tilted towards making super-premium fruit for the pinnacle Lehmann wines. That includes the ’Stonewell’ Shiraz, ‘8 Songs’ Shiraz, ‘Mentor’ Cabernet Sauvignon, ‘Black Queen’ Sparkling Shiraz and Very Special Vineyard ‘1885’ Shiraz from their Ancestor Vines, along with contributing to other Lehmann wines. Angela Schrapel also works in the Lehmann cellar, while her and Ralph’s son Sean works alongside his father amongst the vines.

“For some years now, we have been focused on the Schrapels growing at the super-premium end, and they have adapted vineyard practices to improve fruit quality year on year,” says Jade Rogge, viticulturist and winemaker at Peter Lehmann Wines. “They’ve worked with different viticulturists and winemakers over the years, and each one of those people has worked with them and been part of the shaping of where they are now. They have been part of the journey and story, going right back to Peter Lehmann himself.”

“The relationship goes way back, and it’s built on trust,” adds Ralph, who notes that Angela’s father and Lehmann were friends for a good 50 years. “There’s loyalty on both sides, which is reflected in how we work together. They trust that we have the skill and understanding to produce the best possible fruit in any given vintage, and we understand the winemaking style and ensure what we produce will be exactly what they need. We’ve worked together on things like clonal selection and pruning techniques – for example we put significant time and effort into hand pruning each block.”

“You can see the outcome of the organic matter being put back into the soils and the reduction of chemical use from different under-vine practices. A lot of our soils were a white beach-sand colour when we first started working them, now over 20 years later of doing what we’ve been doing, we are seeing some darkness in the soil which shows our soil health practices are working.”

That clonal selection saw new clones of cabernet planted, which Rogge says have significantly elevated the quality. “It has resulted in more parcels of super-premium cabernet, which are then fermented separately at the winery. It’s a driver because it is something unique and specific to the Schrapels – they’ve got some of the oldest vines with these new clones. …We are going from these quite herbaceous varietal cabernets, and taking a direction to more fruit-driven, lifted cabernets, which is a result of what’s happening in the vineyard. …That’s what we are seeing in the evolution of Mentor in the last five years. It still displays hints of herbaceous varietal character, but it’s not being led by those characteristics.”

That clonal material experimentation also extends to shiraz, with a pursuit to target the best material for sections of the vineyard and give the winemakers more options. “With our shiraz, we now look at what is best and what suits our soil types,” says Ralph. “We can pretty much harvest them all individually as well. This means that if the winemaker wants to separate them – all these clones – that they are able to, and they can pick the noticeable difference between each one.”

Insecticide hasn’t been used for over 20 years, says Ralph, and that the viticultural processes have evolved over the generations to be more sustainable and less invasive. “When we first took over running the vineyard, we changed the approach to vineyard health from really working the ground in the early years to being much more hands off and letting the fruit truly express itself. That has evolved, so now there is minimal work in the vineyard with a focus on soil and water management and our soils are continuously improving, which is a long-term thing.”

That process is also a constantly evolving one, adds Sean, who says that they are always looking at ways to be more sustainable. “Soil health is really important to us,” he says. “I set up a large worm farm and the worm tea is injected straight into the irrigation line, allowing for targeted fertigation and adding micronutrients back into the soil. We also produce our own organic compost for use under vines from straw, chicken manure and grape marc and other by-products. …We have also introduced the use of probes for targeted and concise irrigation.”

Noting that they have been using a lot of composts for the last ten years to help build the structure, organic matter and nutrients in the soils, as well as sequestering carbon and enhancing water-holding capacity, Ralph says the difference in both soil and vine health is palpable.

“You can see the outcome of the organic matter being put back into the soils and the reduction of chemical use from different under-vine practices. A lot of our soils were a white beach-sand colour when we first started working them, now over 20 years later of doing what we’ve been doing, we are seeing some darkness in the soil which shows our soil health practices are working. It’s a long process, but we have some of the oldest soil in the world. They do produce a balanced vine. So, that’s tangible evidence.”

Bookmark this job

Please sign in or create account as candidate to bookmark this job

Save this search

Please sign in or create account to save this search

create resume

Create Resume

Please sign in or create account as candidate to create a resume