On the Trail

Redemption in the Barossa Valley

David Driscoll

In 2013, a bitter dispute between Torbreck winemaker Dave Powell and the winery's owner Pete Kight resulted in a separation of church and state. Powell, the winery's original founder had preached the virtue of Barossa shiraz and cabernet since the inception of Torbreck in 1994, but Kight had apparently decided that the administration was headed in a new direction. The move came as a surprise to many of us in the industry who considered Powell the face of the brand, having built the company from scratch over the previous two decades and acted as its ambassador. In a quote to the press, however, Kight stated: "It's a classic example of a business that has outgrown its original founder." Yet, those of us in the business had seen this scenario play out before. Powell had been forced to sell his majority stake in Torbreck in 2003 due to financial constraints and a series of power plays behind the scenes had essentially ousted him from his own company. Powell was incensed, but not defeated. "They can take the company I built," Powell responded, "but they can't take my passion. The future holds better things." Only a few years later that future is here, and it's better than any of us ever expected. Dave Powell has started a new label with his son Callum called Powell & Son that has set a new bar for Barossa. Perhaps even more exciting is that our Aussie buyer Ryan Woodhouse has established a relationship with Powell that allows us to buy the wines directly.

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While Powell made his name with Torbreck, his experience dates back well beyond that project. He had spent time at Rockford before that (one of Australia's iconic shiraz labels) and along with his wife had worked vintages throughout Italy and France's Rhone Valley, gaining a classical perspective that later would be applied back home. The Barossa Valley is planted with dry-grown Rhone varietals and understanding the way in which they interact with the soil is paramount. In 2014, after leaving Torbreck, Powell and Callum chose six vineyard sites where they believed the story of Barossa could be best told, while also planting their own shiraz, grenache, and mataro (the Aussie name for mouvedre, just like shiraz is their name for syrah). The boys took a minimalist approach to the vineyard work, letting the honest expression of each site shine through in the wines, and the result was a series of incredibly pure and dynamic wines that were fresh in their flavor. Some of those releases were bottled as single vineyard expressions, whereas others were regional blends of various parcels. The critics went wild for the initial offerings and Ryan made sure to lock down everything he could get from Dave and Callum when they met. After a quick trip across the ocean, the first batch of wines from Powell & Son have arrived at K&L.

Having tasted through the wines with Ryan, I can tell you that we have something very special on our hands. But—as LaVar Burton always said on Reading Rainbow—you don't have to take my word for it. The 2014 "Loechel" single vineyard shiraz got a whopping 97 point review from Parker's Wine Advocate that praised the concentration of fruit from the fifty year old vines in the Eden Valley site. The publication also scored the standard shiraz and GSM expressions in the nineties, adding instant credibility to the project and a buzz within the industry as to the quality of the wines. Ryan and I have been sipping on these babies for the past two weeks, practically drooling at the opportunity to unleash them onto the public. Just this week, however, we got the word that the Wine Advocate has scored the upcoming 2015 vintage, handing out a stunning 99 point score to the single Kraehe vineyard Marananga shiraz, and setting the stage for increased market hype. At the moment we're working with very small allocations so supplies are limited, but we're also introducing an entirely new brand to the American market. The label is currently under-the-radar with most domestic drinkers and, even with the rave reviews, there are precious few are know the back story with Powell and Torbreck in the states. I'd advise anyone who routinely enjoys Barossa Valley wines to get in early; especially given our direct import pricing. 

The legendary Dave Powell is back making great wine once again—on his terms and his dime—and this time it's a family affair. We're thrilled to be a part of that extended network.

-David Driscoll