In a momentous milestone for the McLaren Vale winery, Chapel Hill is celebrating its 50th vintage, marking the occasion with the unveiling of its 2024 Icon Releases, including its new flagship The Devil Shiraz 2020.

Just eight barrels of wine were produced for the inaugural release of The Devil Shiraz 2020, which is crafted from the winery’s oldest vines and its name a reference to the idiom “the devil is in the detail”.

Michael Fragos, Chief Winemaker, said: “When it comes to crafting a fine wine, success is down to even the tiniest of details being executed perfectly. I feel that we’ve done that with The Devil Shiraz, and it’s a fitting tribute to celebrate our 50th vintage.”

Completing the 2024 Icon Release collection is The Vicar Shiraz 2021, Road Block Shiraz 2021 and Gorge Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2021.

To mark the occasion, Chapel Hill held an exclusive dinner at Hinchcliffe House in Sydney on Wednesday 5 June. Presented by Fragos and Senior Viticulturalist Rachel Steer, guests were guided through a tasting of the winery’s latest vintage releases.

Reflecting on his experience as a winemaker at Chapel Hill, Fragos said: “For me, our philosophy impacts everything we do at the winery. It starts and ends with a winemaking philosophy and it’s something we have in our minds as a mantra.

“At the winery, we have a really strong respect for the land and vines, because this along with our history really inspires our vision to handcraft wines with purity and balance.”

Fragos, who joined Chapel Hill in 2003, spoke about his preference for small-batch, gentle winemaking, and shared some of the traditional techniques used by the winery such as open top fermentation, gentle plunging and basket pressing.

“As a winemaker, when you get to that point where you really learn to trust your grapes and yourself, it’s quite a special moment when you get there, as corny as it sounds. With that belief, there is less to fear, and that’s when you start making your best wines,” added Fragos.

After the 2007 vintage, following a severe drought, Steer joined Chapel Hill and supported the team with the management of their vineyards and their approach to sustainability.

The Devil Shiraz 2020
The Devil Shiraz 2020

As guests enjoyed a first taste of The Devil Shiraz 2020, Steer shared some background on the House Block vineyard from which the grapes were picked for this release. When Steer joined Chapel Hill, she says the vineyard was looking shabby, but after many years spent nurturing and building the soil health back up, the block has now reached a point where it is uniform.

“There has been a lot of attention to detail in this block, […] and it really is looking spectacular. The vines have been brought back to a point where they’re yielding really well and they look really healthy,” she said.

Fragos added: “A major focus for the team over the last 10 years has been on improving our vineyards’ soils and, more specifically, the soils and vines in our House Block. It’s a tiny block, just 0.8 hectares, but it always had huge potential The geology of the block is a very humbling 550 million years old.

“The excellent work of Bryn Richards, our Senior Winemaker, and Rachel Steer, our Senior Viticulturalist, has resulted in what is now a wonderfully even and healthy block. Specifically, age-old techniques we’ve implemented have brought new life to our vines.”

Chapel Hill Founder Tom Nelson, who released the winery’s first wines in 1975 after stumbling upon the derelict ironstone chapel and surrounding paddocks in 1971, also joined guests to share some of his own stories from years gone by.

“What did I know about winemaking? You might say the whole gambit, but I didn’t know nothing, except being an older boy I knew that it tasted good,” he joked.

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