If you grow grapes, you will eventually want to make wine- and that is what happened to the Thorn Clarke family in Australia’s Barossa Valley. For six generations the family had been farming with grapes as its principal crop. They developed an enviable expertise in viticulture and their grapes were in high demand from local winemakers. They had a special interest in geology and this prompted them to explore areas where various grape varieties would realise their full potential. Where they saw promise, they bought and cultivated the land, so that by the end of the 20th Century they owned more than 700ha of vineyards- very sizeable even by Australian norms.
A new century brought a new departure for the family and in 2001Thorn Clarke released its first wines to the world.
‘It was the culmination of decisions taken some years earlier’, says the company’s ceo Sam Thorn, when we meet in Bray. ‘We knew that we grew some of the best grapes in the Barossa and it was a natural progression to convert them into wines. It involved a lot of planning and investment in a modern winery- but it decided the future of our family business.’
Sam lives on the family’s Kabininge vineyard near Tanunda with wife Helen and daughters Hannah and Jasmin. An accountant by profession, he worked in industry before joining the family business which he co-owns with David, Cheryl and Nicole Clarke
Thorn Clarke took a decision to enter export markets from the very beginning. ‘We launched on the home and export markets simultaneously’, says Sam. ‘We needed to establish our brand in the major markets and we did this by seeking out successful distributors of quality wines. Our initial target markets were in North America and Europe where we achieved success, but we have found the UK market to be very tough.’
With a large new winery and extensive vineyards Thorn Clarke is in the volume end of wine production, but it also places a strong emphasis on quality and delivery value to the consumer. ‘We specialise in selling through the on-trade and our wines are featured on restaurant menus in all of our export markets’, says Sam.
The wines have been available in Ireland since 2003 when they were imported by Dennison Wines with the agency moving to Febvre in 2007. Currently Febvre lists four Shiraz wines from the Thorn Clarke range – Milton Park, Terra Barossa, Shotfire and the flagship William Randall Shiraz as well as the Shotfire Quartage blend (Cabernet, Petit Verdot,Merlot, Malbec). Whites available here include Milton Park and Terra Barossa Riesling, Terra Barossa Pinot Gris and Mount Crawford Riesling and Pinot Gris which are new to the list this year. Trade prices range from €10 to €17 per bottle with the William Randall Shiraz weighing in at €32.
Tasting a selection of these wines confirmed the commitment of Thorn Clarke to quality and the importance of terroir. The 2010 Shotfire Quartage had those long smooth tannins to be found in Bordeaux blends with blackcurrant aroma and some spice. The 2009 Shotfire Shiraz was a manly affair with an intense aroma and plumy taste, characteristics also to be found in a 2009 Terra Barossa Shiraz. Among the whites the 2009 Terra Barossa Riesling was outstanding. This is a single vineyard wine from Eden Vale and is everything an award-winning Riesling should be- pale straw colour, lime and perfume nose, crisp clean taste of lemons and limes and a memorable mouthfeel. A 2011 Mount Crawford Riesling also ticked all the boxes.