Sometimes I have really great ideas. Driving into New York City, by myself, during rush hour, on a Friday afternoon, did not happen to be one of them. I’ve never driven into the heart of Manhattan before, at least not by myself. Now that I’ve done it, though, I think I can pretty much conquer the world. If you find yourself having to do this, I found that blasting classical music helps to keep tempers calm.
But let’s get to the important stuff. Like why I was driving into NYC, by myself, during rush hour, on a Friday afternoon. It was because I was on my way to meet with Paul Smith, winemaker at Wirra Wirra Vineyards in McLaren Vale, Australia. I’d met Laura at the Wine Bloggers Conference out in Lodi earlier this year and she works for Negociants USA, an Australian-focused wine negociant and distributor. They brought Paul in to New York to do some tastings and events, and I was lucky enough to meet up with him before he got back on a plane to head back Down Under.
Our meeting was supposed to be at 4 p.m. I had snuck out of the office left work early to drive in to the city and when I left, Waze told me I’d arrive by 3:00. That would give me enough time to check in to the Library Hotel, freshen up and make my way to Flinders Lane, an Australian restaurant in NYC. Well, time passed and the traffic increased, and soon my ETA was 4:45. I let Laura know I’d be a wee bit late, but they were very understanding. My arrival time ended up being around 5:30; I was a bit stressed, but once I arrived, caught up with Laura, met Paul and started tasting the wine, all was well again in the world.
Founded in 1894, the winery was started by an eccentric cricketer named Robert Strangways Wigley. His wine business lasted until the early 1920s but then fell into disrepair after his death. Cousins Greg and Roger Trott revived the vines and began making wine again in 1972 after rebuilding from the ground up. Since then they’ve become a household name in Australia, with their Church Block red blend becoming the number one by-the-glass wine in Australia.
As you may have guessed, the Church Block vines are grown around a little church; with such a long running history, it has become a tradition for families to come to the winery each year to taste and purchase each vintage. The blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot spends 15 months in a mix of French and American barrels. The result is a luscious, smooth and velvety juice. The nose on the 2013 Wirra Wirra Church Block is almost flowery, the mouthfeel is gorgeous, and at $21.99, it’s not going to break the bank. So far so good, Wirra Wirra.
The storytelling that accompanied the wine was top notch and next up was the 2014 Catapult Shiraz. With a drawing of a catapult on the label, I knew the story was going to be good. Founder Greg Trott had the brilliant idea to build a medieval trebuchet, or catapult, for a very important and serious purpose: to hurl wine bottles at neighboring wineries for a bit of good fun. He figured that if he built one, so would his neighbors, and they could build a bit of a tourism draw to the catapulting wineries of the McLaren Vale. Surprisingly, none of his compatriots thought it was a good idea and the plan never materialized. His Wirra Wirra successors, however, revived the idea and built a three story high Catapult in 2010. While no wine bottles have been flung, watermelons are tossed with regularity.
The 2014 Catapult Shriaz was lovely. A bit of raisins and berries with a slightly spicy finish. A gentle and delicate Shiraz that was a very easy drinker. Interestingly 1% of the blend is Viognier, which may play a part in the delicacy of this wine. Paul told me how these grapes are pressed before the tannins get too hard and then spend 12 months in French oak.
I asked Paul how he got into winemaking, and another enchanting story ensued. He started out as a young man wanting to be a sheep herder, so he packed his bags and moved far away from home. Paul tried to get into vet school but didn’t have the grades, he also didn’t have the money to get home. His friend found him a job with Francois Jacquard, a well-respected Australian winemaker, pruning grapes before the harvest. His friend told Francois that Paul knew what he was doing, which was a bold faced lie. After observing Paul’s work for a bit, Francois took him aside and said, “You should be called Edward Scissorhands, you cut everything!” From there, Francois took Paul under his wing and taught him to prune. Paul fell in love with the agricultural process and wine has been part of his life ever since.
We tasted several more wines, including the Dead Ringer Cabernet, one of their flagship lines. A delicate nose, definitely not a fruit bomb. A hint of tobacco with dark, deep plum fruit and nice chewy tannins. Great texture and structure. Leathery with a long finish. This wine spends 18 months in a blend of new and old French oak. The history of the name Dead Ringer peaked my lawyerly interest. This line of wines started out in 1989 being called Angelus, and it is still known this way in Australia. But Château Angélus in Bordeaux took exception to the similar sounding name once it made its way over to mainland Europe. Lawyers were hired, a cease and desist letter was sent, and Wirra Wirra’s Dead Ringer was born, because it was a proverbial “dead ringer” for the wine formerly known as Angelus.
We wrapped up our tasting and said our goodbyes. Laura and Paul were both flying out early the next day and I was tired from my strenuous journey. I headed back to my lovely abode at the Library Hotel.
I was able to catch the tail end of their evening reception in the Reading Room with free flowing wine, bubbly, cheese and sweet treats. My inner book nerd went crazy for the hotel’s collection of 6,000 books, organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. Each floor of the hotel is a Dewey Decimal category, and each room features a collection of books on a unique subject.
We stayed in the Money Room, appropriately placed next to the Law Room. Bookmarks Lounge, the hotel’s rooftop bar, overlooks the New York Public Library and served up lovely bubbly concoctions that Younger Sissy and I thoroughly enjoyed.
A trip to the Library Hotel simply wouldn’t be complete without a book nerd photo shoot in the rooftop lounge. Sissy found an old edition of Mark Twain and we had a ball.
Thanks so much to the Library Hotel for hosting us!
Until the next glass, wine friends!
 It didn’t, however, help with the sweaty palms.
 The girls from Negociants USA hosted what I heard was a wild Aussie wine tasting after-party back at their house during #WBC16. Unfortunately, my lameness factor was on high though and I missed it. #SleepyHead
 It also told me that I’d only have to make TWO turns off the West Side Highway in order to get to the parking garage. TWO. Not TWENTY TWO. TWO. #RushHourReDirect
 This may have slightly exceeded the “Fashionably Late” concept.
 Officially added to the Wine Bucket List.
 The folks at Wirra Wirra like to say it’s the “one church that unites us all”. #cheeky Over the course of our wine tasting, it quickly became apparent to me that having fun at Wirra Wirra is a top priority for everyone, winemaker included.
 Their website suggests pairing the Church Block with “Beef, mushroom and red wine pie.” WHAT IS RED WINE PIE AND WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF IT BEFORE?! Don’t worry, I found a recipe. You’re welcome. Husband will be making this for dinner in the very near future. I’ll let you know how it goes.
 Such a good idea.
 With some inspiration from this crazy English Lord who likes to muck about by catapulting flaming pianos and CARS on his estate. What?! #NBD
 Something about dangerous broken glass … #liability.
 A tour of the vineyard will apparently reveal random divots here and there, evidence of past watermelon tossing.
 This in itself is so awesome.
 The name Angelus, of course, had its own history. Back in the 80s, a Wirra Wirra winemaker had swapped a few cases of wine for a ¾ ton bell that came out of a church in Adelaide. They hung the bell at the vineyard to signify the start to the work day.
 ANOTHER twist to the story is that in China, one of Wirra Wirra’s bigger markets, the wine is known as the Golden Bell, because apparently anything with “Dead” in the name won’t sell. #InternationalBusiness