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While new faces come and go in the wine business, David Pike thinks a couple of old faces with a new venture may be in for the long haul.

IT seems that barely a week goes by without a new label announcing itself to the market. In many respects I find this astounding, considering that it’s hard enough for the established wineries to sell established labels. Tough economic conditions aside, the fact is liquor stores can only find space for a certain number of wines, and most liquor stores across the country are controlled by just two players. So for new players the chances of making an immediate impact are pretty slim.

It was with a little trepidation and a whole lot of curiosity, therefore, that I met with one of the “new kids on the block” from South Australia.

I use the term “new kids on the block” with tongue firmly planted in my cheek, as David O’Leary and Nick Walker have more than 40 years of winemaking experience between them. Any doubts about this new label were quickly dispelled upon meeting the two winemakers, whose reputation, experience and passion were obvious from the start, let alone the fact that there is not a new vine in sight.

It became clear during my discussion with David O’Leary over a tasting of the first release of their range that this was without doubt the most exciting new label I had seen in a very long time.

These two guys met while studying winemaking at Roseworthy College, around the time Abba was hitting their straps and Grease was the word. After completing his degree, David O’Leary joined Geoff Merrill at Chateau Reynella, where he was responsible for making the reds, even picking up a coveted Jimmy Watson award. He then decided he needed a further challenge and started making white wines. In 1995 his new employer at Mildara Blass put him in the position where he was to set up and nurture the ‘Annie’s Lane’ label.

Nick Walker began his winemaking days with Krondorf and remained at the winery when Mildara Blass gained control. It was during the time both men were working for Blass that they forged their partnership, later deciding it was time to leave the volatile corporate world behind. Thus, the O’Leary Walker label was launched.

I get the feeling that the combined experience at O’Leary Walker and their access to old vine material will allow these wines to stand out from the crowd.

The tasting indicated they should be able to consistently produce wines with that certain “wow” factor. Based until next year at the Skillogalee winery, O’Leary Walker sources fruit from regions that offer them the best material for the styles of wine they wish to make.

O’Leary Walker plans to open a new winery towards the beginning of 2003 at Leasingham in the Clare Valley.

O’Leary Walker 2001 Watervale Riesling rrp $17.50 rating 18/20

Produced from 45-year-old dry grown vines that have become self-regulating and produce about two tonnes per acre. The challenge will be to find better. Distinctive varietal aromas with pronounced lime, citrus and mineral characters and some floral notes. The palate is seamless with drying acidity, yet it shows very good integration with the lively citrus fruit. Plenty of aging potential. The aim is for this wine is for it to become the benchmark wine for O’Leary Walker.

O’Leary Walker 2001 Watervale Semillon rrp $17.50 rating 17.5/20

Again, this is produced from vines around 45 years old, so it has plenty of pedigree. At the recent Semillon and Seafood weekend at Amberley, this was sold out mid way through the Sunday simply due to its popularity. Showing intensity of aromas with a slight nuttiness and lemon citrus touches, the palate is lean, almost austere, showing mineral and lemon citrus with a creamy roundness and plenty of life to look forward to.

O’Leary Walker 2001 Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc rrp $18.50 18.5/20

Talk about aromas that leap out of the glass! Pungent gooseberry, passion fruit and guava seem to be pole vaulting up at you. The palate again impresses with stacks of ripe fruit and touches of spice that combine with a slight herbal note. With a powerful finish that has finesse and plenty of zing, this will have you singing for more.

O’Leary Walker 2000 Clare Valley Cabernet Merlot rrp $19.50 17.5/20

Soft, supple, seductive and definitely one you will want to take home. Enticing blackcurrant and bramble aromas with a tad of cedary oak that combine to lure you on to a palate that is jam-packed full of flavour. Ripe rich blackberry fruits dominate the palate that has well entwined oak, is showing some spice and a finish that will last long into the evening. For protection I would suggest having another bottle on hand, you’ll love it.

O’Leary Walker Wines are available through T3 Fine Wines 9248 4911.

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