Why are so many people talking about Whitebox? Is it because of co-owner Jeff Fenech’s outspoken passion for the wine, is it because it represents the best value for money in the market for a top quality Heathcote shiraz, or is it because it’s just so bloody good? For whatever reason, word-of-mouth praise for the wine is sweeping the market.
Whitebox was created as a family vineyard venture to produce wines from two of Australia’s finest wine regions, Heathcote and the Yarra Valley. The name Whitebox is taken from the rare White Box eucalypt, one of the largest remaining stands of which surrounds the winery site at the base of the Mount Camel Range; in fact a winery-funded project has seen the area declared a White Box conservation site. All trees on the property have been numbered and tagged, and a massive regeneration scheme is now underway.
The Whitebox winemaking team bring passion and experience to their wines. Peter Wilson has over 20 years of winemaking experience in the Yarra Valley and has spent seven years as part of the Whitebox Heathcote group. Ben Osborne has been with the team for 5 years, following vintages in Bordeaux and New Zealand.
Heathcote is renowned for its Shiraz, and deservedly so. Perfect ripening conditions result in balanced wines, which tick all the required boxes: rich fruit, ripe tannins and balanced acid. When all of this is combined with sensitive use of French oak, the results can be stunning. Whitebox wines are celebrated for their versatility, equally at home around the barbeque as they are at a dinner party.
2006 was a drought vintage in Heathcote. Late winter was cool and dry with low rainfall. Warm conditions through January and February gave excellent levels of ripeness, and this combined with the reduced quantity of fruit per vine has given extremely concentrated flavours, making the 2006 Whitebox Shiraz the best vintage yet produced.
Fruit from each vineyard block was fermented separately, and given varying levels of maceration to enhance complexity and give a wide array of flavours and textures to the final blend. Malo-lactic fermentation and maturation in new and old French oak for periods varying from six to eighteen months (dependent on wine structure) followed, prior to assemblage of the finished wine.
Deep purple in colour, with intense aromas of blueberry and plum seamlessly integrated with high-quality French oak and chocolate secondary characteristics. Impressive fruit-sweetness is underpinned by soft, approachable tannins, yielding a powerful yet elegant wine showing both varietal and regional typicity.
Jeff recommends serving with rich red meat dishes or strongly flavoured cheeses, although the combination of fruit intensity and completely ripe tannins makes this wine extremely versatile as a food match.