Geoff Merrill


Business, Lifestyle | Food & Wine, Motivational

Geoff Merrill was born in 1953 and was raised on a sheep station in the far north of South Australia until he was 11 years old. The Merrill family then moved to the Barossa Valley where Geoff’s first links with the wine industry were formed.

His formal education was gained at local Barossa Valley Schools and the Institute of Technology in Adelaide.

From 1970 to 1973 Geoff undertook a winemaking traineeship at B Seppelt & Son. A position as Experimental Winemaker with Stellenbosch Farmers Winery lured him to South Africa for a year in 1974, after which he traveled through Europe.

By the end of 1975 Geoff was back in Australia and had joined Chateau Reynella as Assistant Winemaker. In 1977 he was promoted to Senior Winemaker, a position he held until 1985. Whilst working a Chateau Reynella Geoff also managed to find the time to make wines under his own “Geoff Merrill” label. These wines were first released in 1983 with the 1980 Cabernet and 1981 Semillon.

When Thomas Hardy & Sons purchased Chateau Reynella in 1982 Geoff stayed on, continuing to make the Chateau Reynella wines. By 1985 he had become a Consultant Winemaker for Hardy and Chateau Reynella’s red wines. At the same time he was on the lookout for a winery where he could base his own operations. He found the beautiful, but run-down, Mount Hurtle Winery in 1985, which he restored and by 1988 Geoff had left Hardy’s to run his own operation.

Since 1988 Geoff has concentrated on the winery and his wines. He has continued to gain national and international recognition for his distinctive style of winemaking and his zest for life. September 1993 marked a new stage in Geoff’s winemaking career as he took up a position as a Consultant Winemaker in Italy to UK supermarket Sainsbury and Gruppo Italiano Vini in Italy.

THE COMPANY

Geoff Merrill (and partner) established Stratmer Vineyards in 1980. It is under this company that the Geoff Merrill, Owens Estate and Mount Hurtle Wines are made.

During the company’s establishing years the Geoff Merrill Wines were made at various locations in the winemaking districts of South Australia including Chateau Reynella, Pirramimma (McLaren Vale) and Peter Lehmann Wines (Barossa Valley).

In 1984, Geoff Merrill built a modern processing plant at McLaren Flat in a joint venture with winemaker, Goe DiFabio.

In 1992 Alister Purbrick, of Chateau Tahbilk, bought out Geoff’s partner and owned 50% of Stratmer Vineyards until 2005. Geoff is now, sole owner.

THE VINEYARDS

Geoff Merrill Wines has vineyards in two of Australia’s classic viticultural regions, “Pimpala Vineyard” and “Wickham Downs” in McLaren Vale, and “Graymoor” in the Coonawarra.

The individual growing conditions of each site affords us the unique opportunity of being able to blend wines highlighting the best of what each region has to offer or as is often the case with McLaren Vale Shiraz and Coonawarra Cabernet, release single regional wines.

THE WINERY

Its history begins over 100 years ago when it was built by a young Englishman, Mostyn Owen, who purchased 200 acres of prime Reynella hillside and built a winery in 1897. It was set in the Hurtle Vale Ward just behind Reynella (Hurtle Vale was named after Sir James Hurtle Fisher, the first Mayor of Adelaide). Of these 200 acres, 150 were planted with vines. Mostyn Owen ran the winery and vineyards until he passed away in the mid 1940’s.

The winery itself was innovative for its time, using the principles of gravity to feed wine throughout the cellars. Because of this, the building is now state heritage listed.

Today, Mount Hurtle Winery is an oasis among suburbia. Nestled in four acres of vineyards and landscaped gardens, it is hard to believe when Geoff purchased Mount Hurtle Winery in 1985 it was a derelict building, run down and dilapidated, and had been used as a stable for many years. It required two years of love, hard work and a special vision by Geoff and his supporters to restore the winery and vineyard to its former glory.

While retaining an almost Tuscan charm, the original winery and the 1500 square metre barrel maturation cellar, completed in 1998, now perfectly copes with the rigors of modern day winemaking.

A large family of geese, ducks and swans also inhabit the winery grounds and dam near the front entrance to the estate.

THE PHILOSOPHY

The Geoff Merrill winemaking philosophy has been and always will be to make wine that allows regional, varietal and vintage expression, without excessive winemaker intervention.

Great wine is a matter of balance, and our passion for subtle, elegant and harmonious flavours in wine is well documented, and hence, the use of a set of scales as part of our corporate logo. We believe that maturation, both in cask and particularly in bottle, at our cellars prior to release, plays an important role in achieving this aim.

The premium red wines from Geoff Merrill will generally be released 3 years after harvest, while our reserve selection and Henley will be held in our cellars for up to 5 – 6 years prior to release.

WINE SHOWS

Geoff Merrill’s Wines have been successful at Australian and International Wine shows.

Including the coveted Jimmy Watson Trophy at the 2005 Melbourne Wine Show with our 2004 Reserve Shiraz, the Dan Murphy Trophy at Sydney Wine Show 2006 for The best varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in the show with the 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, The Wine Society Trophy for the best aged red wine at Melbourne Wine Show 2006 with our 2001 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and The Great Australian Shiraz Challenge in 2006 with our 2002 Reserve Shiraz.

Since 1980 Geoff Merrill Wines have won 27 Trophies, 143 Gold, 373 Silver and 1181 Bronze medals.

THE PERFECT BALANCE – THE STORY BEHIND THE SCALES

When I first wrote winemakers notes for the early Geoff Merrill Labels, I often referred to the balance of my wines. Great wine is a combination of fruit, tannin, acid and sometimes oak, all being in balance. It was these references which prompted me to use a set of scales, depicting balance, as our corporate logo.

THE VARIETAL SELECTION

A selection of fruit driven styles made from fruit grown mainly in McLaren Vale, that is either un-oaked in the case of Grenache Rose, or the lightly oaked premium red blends of Cabernet Shiraz and Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre, that have been sealed in stelvin screw caps, to preserve the varietal flavours of the harvest.

THE PREMIUM REGIONAL SELECTION

Selected parcels of fruit from our estate vineyards that highlight the influence of the region under Australian conditions are selected. The range consists of the classic red wine of varieties of McLaren Vale Shiraz and Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon from a blend of the Coonawarra and McLaren Vale Regions. All three wines are aged in French and American oak casks for 18 – 24 months prior to bottling and further aging in our cellars prior to release 3 – 4 years after harvest. These too, are now sealed in stelvin screw caps. Recently added to this premium selection are the Wickham Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay which include fruit off our Wickham Downs Vineyard.

ESTATE GROWN – SINGLE VINEYARD

The Pimpala Vineyard is a small 3 acre vineyard surrounding the Mount Hurtle winery, using cuttings from the old Chateau Reynella nursery. The vineyard was planted in 1985 to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon (Reynella Clone) and 40% Merlot. We believe that the Reynella Cabernet clone is the oldest in Australia and is renowned for bunches of small berries and a strong varietal mint character, which is evident in the wines of Pimpala Vineyard. The well established vineyard, now over 20 years of age, gave us our first estate grown wine from the 2000 vintage and was rated 5 stars by James Halliday in his 2006 Wine companion -  “5 stars - Pimpala Vineyard Cabernet Merlot 2000. A complex mix of savoury, black currant and dark chocolate fruits lingering tannins, good French / American oak; 450 cases made. Rating 94 points – drink 2010”.

THE RESERVE SELECTION

Since 1980, we have selected our superior barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and then later, Shiraz, that we believe to be the best of vintage. The reserve selection takes place 12 months after harvest and we look for parcels of wine that show exceptional varietal and regional character.

These wines are then held in bottle or returned to oak casks, for extended maturation in our cellars, before labeling as our limited release Reserve, which in the case of the red wines amounts to 5 – 6 years after harvest.

HENLEY SHIRAZ

Late 2001 saw the release of the 1996 Henley Shiraz in New York and San Francisco followed by London and Melbourne in 2002. Only 146 dozen were made in the first year. Henley is a strict barrel selection of our best of vintage McLaren Vale Shiraz and is named in honour of Geoff’s Grandfather, who passed away at the ripe old age of 102. This wine is the best of the best of our McLaren Vale Shiraz and only 10 barrels of the Vintage are set aside for Henley.