The Hoffmann family’s Dallwitz Block is one of the Barossa Valley’s most renowned fruit sources, with the old vines planted between 1888 and 1912. After purchasing the vineyard in the ’50s, hard times almost saw the site lost in the ’80s, but a revival started by Jeff Hoffmann and extensively expanded by his son Adrian now sees the family vineyards – with the Dallwitz Block as the centrepiece – as some of the region’s most distinguished. With shiraz the lead variety and a focus on increasing soil health, the Dallwitz Block supplies fruit to top makers, including Chris Ringland, Torbreck, John Duval and Sami-Odi.
Adrian Hoffmann is a sixth-generation farmer, with his family having worked the soils in the Ebenezer district of the Barossa Valley since their arrival from Prussia in 1857. A move into grape-growing as part of a mixed farming enterprise around the 1880s saw wine grapes take centrestage, with the family’s vineyards supplemented by the purchase of a vineyard in 1954 that they had managed for over a decade.
“The Hoffmann family has managed the Dallwitz Block, as it’s now known, since 1941 when a young Alfred Gordon Hoffmann helped Maria Dallwitz on the property with the day-to-day farming,” says Gordon’s (he went by his middle name) grandson Adrian. “Planted in the 1880s, the rows were extended into the horse stable paddock in 1912 of which a few remaining strainers still exist.”
“When picked early, the shiraz fruit is complex with a mix of red and blue berries, with soft tannins,” says Hoffmann. “Picked a little later, brooding dark forest fruits with hints of dark chocolate can be found with powerful but still elegant tannins…”
Adrian Hoffmann worked closely with his grandfather while growing up, eventually signing on fulltime at the family vineyard in 2002, alongside both his father, Jeff, and grandfather. It was not long before that, though, during the tough times of the 1980s due to widespread oversupply, that the land under vine for the family had shrunk to less than 15 hectares. The Dallwitz Block was put up for sale, but it wasn’t exactly an attractive prospect at the time.
“The vines were not bearing much fruit,” says Hoffmann. “No-one wanted to buy the vineyard as it was in the vine pull era… luckily no one did buy it.” His father agreed to pick what fruit there was for Rob Gibson, who had come to view the block but said he was interested in the grapes, not the land. A deal was struck, and it was enough to hold onto the block. “From then on, there was no question that the vineyard should stay.”
As Adrian Hoffmann took increasing control over the family’s vineyard operations, he started evolving a mindset that was built on focusing on small individual blocks, with a nuanced approach to variations in geology and mesoclimate, while also cutting loose contracts with larger producers to focus on smaller premium makers.
“These are the oldest surviving vines on all of our properties – the jewel in our crown,” says Hoffmann of the Dallwitz Block, which accounts for 20 hectares of the 135 hectares under vine, with shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, carignan, lagrein, malbec and zinfandel in the ground.
“I’m proud of building on what past generations have done to provide current and future generations,” says Hoffmann. “My management has paid off, as we have become a much larger company under more hectares. We have built a reputation as some of the most sought-after fruit in the Australian wine industry.”
Today, fruit from the 20-hectare Dallwitz Block goes to some of the Barossa’s most revered names, making wines both traditional and on the cutting edge, with Chris Ringland, Torbreck, Glaetzer, John Duval and Fraser McKinley’s Sami Odi all on the roster, with wines selling north of $100 and up to $500.
“We use best practice in the vineyard... We are very much hands on, trying to keep the tractor passes through the vineyard at a minimum to reduce soil compaction. It has everything to do with the management of the land, the idea of monoculture in agriculture is outdated and agriculture systems need to be fully integrated going forward.”
In his time managing operations, Hoffmann has revolutionised the farming, while still supplying to the lessons that his grandfather taught him over the years. In the Dallwitz Block, with its “loamy brown-red earth over red prismatic clay with seams of limestone,” he is adopting a more environmentally sympathetic approach with the aim of improving the soil health.
“We are not certified organic, but we use best practice in the vineyard, whether that be biodynamic or organic principles. We are very much hands on, trying to keep the tractor passes through the vineyard at a minimum to reduce soil compaction. It has everything to do with the management of the land, the idea of monoculture in agriculture is outdated and agriculture systems need to be fully integrated going forward.”
Hoffmann notes that his approach to climate change is one that was instilled in him many years ago, as a survival readiness no matter the conditions. “My grandfather taught me we are in an ever-changing climate anyway, so it’s our ability to adapt to the climate of the season – this separates the wheat from the chaff.”
That preparedness, though, doesn’t make shifting patterns less of an obstacle. “Change in environment is our biggest challenge,” says Hoffmann, “frost, water availability, groundcover management… We are managing by the use of frost fans, less chemical inputs to the soil, shoring up water and having a more rigorous sustainable water-management system.
“The organic matter has increased by greater than 0.5 per cent over the last 20 years. We used to have a scorched earth policy on account of frost, but by leaving permanent swards, rye grasses, medics and clovers in the block, this makes sure we have the biodiversity within the vineyard. Over time, we have improved trellis management, introduced frost mitigation and improved general soil health.”
With shiraz the key variety, the advances in the vineyard have made the Dallwitz Block one of the most respected fruit sources in the Barossa. However, the wines that come from the site all vary greatly, with Hoffmann working hand in glove with makers to achieve the right results for them. This adaptability, rather than having a fixed view on what kind of wines the grapes should make, is another vital component to the success.
“When picked early, the shiraz fruit is complex with a mix of red and blue berries, with soft tannins,” says Hoffmann. “Picked a little later, brooding dark forest fruits with hints of dark chocolate can be found with powerful but still elegant tannins… In 2020, we supplied 20 different wineries with fruit from this vineyard going into a myriad of wines. The wines produced show the diversity of the vineyard, with wine being made by carbonic maceration at Sami-Odi and wine being made with heading down boards by John Duval.”