The Hoffmann family are some of the Barossa Valley’s most celebrated growers, with a precious resource of old vines ideally situated in the subregion of Ebenezer. But Adrian Hoffmann farms many young vines, too, with the 20-hectare Mickan Block already showing promise as a source of top-shelf shiraz. Although it’s only three seasons in, the fruit has already been in high demand, going to such makers as Travis Earth, Glaetzer, Soulgrowers and Torbreck, as well as filling bottles for Hoffman’s collaboration with Chris Ringland, North Barossa Vintners.
Adrian Hoffmann has been farming his family’s Barossa Valley vines fulltime since 2002, being the sixth generation to do so. It was a legacy that was almost lost during the infamous “vine pull” scheme of the 1980s, with the Hoffmann’s area under vine shrinking to 15 hectares. The other family businesses of mixed farming and engineering could have seen a permanent pivot, but they stuck with grapes, and with some striking old vineyards.
When Adrian Hoffmann took the viticulture reins from his father, things were looking a little more positive, but it has been the younger Hoffmann that has developed the grape-growing business to now occupy 135 hectares across a variety of sites, including the legendary Dallwitz Block, which was first planted in the 1880s. But though those venerable vines get a lot of the spotlight, many of the newer plantings will generate considerable excitement in the years to come.
One of those vineyards, known as the Mickan Block, in Ebenezer, was first planted in 2016, with further vines going in the ground up until 2019 to now make up 19.8 hectares under vine, with the majority shiraz, and smaller amounts of cinsault, durif and trebbiano planted. Those vines may be young, but the site is one of significant family history, says Hoffmann.
“From the outset, wines from these vines have produce bright expressions of red and blue berries with soft tannins and velvety mouthfeel.”
“Originally granted the land in 1852 by the Young Lieutenant Governor Sir Henry Edward, Johann Kleinig and family farmed the property with a successful chaff mill until the 1920s. Johann Peter ‘Sam’ Mickan purchased the property in 1926. The property was the childhood home of Avis Mickan who later married a young farmer from the other side of the block called Alfred ‘Gordon’ Hoffmann.”
That piece of land was subsequently sold, with Adrian Hoffmann’s grandfather eventually buying back the childhood property of his wife in 2014, some 41 years after it was sold by the Mickan family. “Keeping with the history of the property and the family, the main source of the planting material has come from massal selections from old local vineyards to preserve the DNA of some of these gnarly old vines,” says Hoffmann.
“The whole vineyard was planted with no contract in place for the fruit but has generated a lot of interest within the winemaking community… even in the first couple of years, the vineyard is producing premium-quality fruit. We have planted this vineyard for the future, it has been carefully thought out with regard to trellis, soil and canopy management.”
Hoffmann says that he employs “a minimal intervention attitude,” but “this does not mean we do nothing; it means we do what is necessary for that given year – it is a best practice model.” He notes they have installed frost fans to maintain both yield and quality, and has a strong focus on soil health. “We have mulched and composted this vineyard in the last few years, and the cover crop is crimp rolled once per year to prevent tillage but to keep the organic material in the soil.”
Reducing chemical use is key to Hoffmann’s approach, with an increasing emphasis across the whole operation to work more closely with nature. “We have a creek running along the side vineyard where we have started to plant some beneficial native species to create an insectarium,” he says. “We use best practice principles in the vineyard, whether that be some 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. We assess the vineyard at each stage, to understand what needs to be completed as opposed to what can be done.”
While Hoffmann’s methods – and results – are widely celebrated, growing some of the country’s most sought-after fruit, he is at pains to point out the quality of their sites. The Mickan Block is in a sweet spot in Ebenezer, with the soil ideal for shiraz, in particular. “A shallow layer of red brown sandy loam covers a rich crimson and dark chocolate clay, which regulates the water usage of the vines,” he says.
“From the outset, wines from these vines have produce bright expressions of red and blue berries with soft tannins and velvety mouthfeel. With the oldest vines only coming up to their third harvest, there are distinct differences between the plantings in bunch composition and ripening. With detailed mid-row and soil management I can see that we can continually produce high-quality fruit for many years to come.”