When delving into the world of Australian winemaking, one name consistently rises to the top: John Duval. Hailing from a lineage deeply entrenched in the wine-growing industry, John is the first winemaker in a family that grew grapes for five generations. His roots trace back to a historic farm in South Australia, established in the 19th century in Morphett Vale, located to the south of Adelaide. For well over a century, this family farm flourished not only for growing grapes but also for sheep farming.
The Duval family, with their commitment to viticulture, provided Penfolds, a renowned Australian winery, with Shiraz grapes and cuttings. The relationship set the directional markers of John Duval’s future – to become the first family member to transition from growing grapes to making wine.
His ascent through the ranks was nothing short of impressive and he was named the third winemaker of Penfolds when he was 32 years old. After honing his skills and expertise, John found himself at the helm of Penfolds, serving as the custodian and Chief Winemaker for an impressive 29 years. During his tenure, he oversaw the production of some of the most iconic Australian wines, including the legendary Grange and several of the portfolio wines. Additionally, he played a crucial role in managing the assets that would eventually become the Treasury Wine Group.
In 2003, John made the decision that he wanted to get back in the vineyard and get his hands “dirty” again. He started his own label, John Duval Wines, with the goal of showing the diversity of Barossa Valley’s low-yielding, old vine vineyards and terroir. The Barossa Valley, known as the center of the Australian wine industry today, has one of the most interesting histories of any Australian wine region. Settled in the 1840s by English and German emigrants, many of the first vineyards are still farmed by sixth-generation winemaking families. He also serves as a consulting winemaker for Ventisquero and Long Shadow.
His son, Tim, who was then serving as a lawyer specializing in wine for his practice, joined the company because of his passion and the opportunity to work with his dad in 2016. In honor of the 50th anniversary, John and Tim went on a several-week roadshow to talk about the anniversary of John’s milestone harvest and to showcase three of their wines in a vertical format. John contacted COVID in New York, so Tim told us the story (John’s back on the mend). It’s also notable that while they have worked together for years, this is year that John officially hands the reins to Tim.
Tim told us he was trying to show “a different expression of making wines from Barossa.” And went on to add that “grenache delivers what pinot noir promises.”
We started by trying the current vintage of Plexus White and two new wines yet to be released:
- 2020 John Duval Plexus White Marsanne Roussanne Viognier – a blend of 69 percent Marsanne, 16 percent Roussanne and 15 percent Viognier. I tasted peach, pear, ginger, citrus, and honey with a great aroma. The translation of Plexus from Latin is the “sum of whole and parts.”
- 2022 John Duval Concilio Grenache – made from 75-year vines, this is a grenache with a soft texture intentionally made in a lighter style than expected from Barossa. I tasted cherry, plum, a potpourri of spices, earth, and herbs.
- 2021 John Duval Compono Cabernet Sauvignon – this small lot production was not yet released, but Tim hand-labeled them and brought them for us to try. This was an interesting Cabernet grown in a cool place and I’m looking forward to trying it again with more time in the bottle.
The rest of the tasting was conducted in two flights – twelve wines in total.
- 2019 John Duval Annexus Grenache – made from Old Vines with notes of red fruit, spice and floral that Tim referred to as a “winemaker’s spice rack.”
- 2016 John Duval Annexus Grenache – it had notes of flowers, cassis and herbs and it was juicy and fresh.
- 2021 John Duval Annexus Mataro – the name in Latin translates to “attached, linked or joined to; it highlights exceptional elements of Plexus from outstanding vintages.” I tasted lots of blackberry, plum, spice, earth, licorice, and a touch of oak.
- 2010 John Duval Plexus Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre (SGM) – Plexus is a combination of grapes with lots of fruit and spice with a great balance.
- 2012 John Duval Plexus SGM – I tasted notes of sage, herbs, black fruit, and purple flowers. You could taste this wine was different since it was grown in the cooler season.
- 2020 John Duval Plexus SGM – this one would shine with the “gift of time.” It was very aromatic, and I tasted red and black fruit, Asian spice, and oak. This was a vintage that was considered hard due to the drought conditions.
- 2008 John Duval Entity Shiraz – I tasted blackberry, mocha, chocolate, spice, and vanilla. This was a refined wine. This was first released in 2004 and is a blend of 13 different Syrahs. The “Entity” label is the flagship wine of the winery.
- 2010 John Duval Entity Shiraz – made with some Eden Valley Shiraz, this showed black and blue fruit, spice, vanilla, chocolate, violet, and candied fruit.
- 2021 John Duval Entity Shiraz – this one had lots of spice, a meaty texture, dried herbs, licorice, and violets. You can tell this comes from old vineyards. It’s powerful and well-balanced.
- 2008 John Duval Eligo Shiraz – I tasted notes of black and blue fruit, spice, crème de cassis, chocolate, licorice, and cedar. This is the first vintage to include fruit from Eden Valley.
- 2013 John Duval Eligo Shiraz –The fruit was sourced 58/42 from the Barossa and Eden Valleys. I tasted blueberry, boysenberry, cherry, violets, cloves, licorice, and flowers.
- 2018 John Duval Eligo Shiraz –I tasted a meaty texture, black fruit, blue fruit, anise, spice, licorice, and mocha.
And a quick shout out to Mister Charles for a great lunch.
Drawing from five decades of experience in pioneering Australian wine, John Duval remains dedicated to emphasizing terroir, ensuring that each bottle reflects its origin. With a family history deeply rooted in viticulture, they blend traditional winemaking with minimal intervention. The focus is on capturing the authentic character of the Barossa and Australian wine, creating bottles that are true expressions of the land and its unique qualities. John Duval’s journey epitomizes the enduring appeal of Australian winemaking, evident in every glass of his wines. It is clear his son, Tim, will keep the legacy and commitment alive.