The Shape of Shiraz

There is something quite spectacular about shiraz from the Canberra region.

A far cry from the robust styles Australia is perhaps traditionally-known for, shiraz in the Canberra District, as well as our neighbouring wine-producing areas like the Hilltops and Gundagai, is a product of cooler climates, where the growing season is long, and cool ripening conditions produce shiraz with perfume, delicacy and depth of flavour.

With this, we’re provided with fruit brimming with beautiful natural acidity, suede-like tannins and heady fragrance. The resulting wines are typically elegant, aromatic, savoury and exceptionally balanced – and it’s this style of shiraz with which we’re enamoured.

For some, the first encounter with Collector might have been through our chardonnay, or sangiovese.

But from the beginning, shiraz has always been our backbone – and we are fortunate to work with some incredible sites, whose terroir helps us convey the diverse beauty of this versatile grape.

All about balance

“The country here is just right, to help us achieve equilibrium in the wines,” explains winemaker Alex McKay. The soils around Canberra are lean – almost notoriously so – and with shiraz being naturally vigorous, no bad thing. Simply put, it results in fruit with intensity and balance.

"Canberra is great for shiraz," says Alex. In fact, it’s world-class. “The soils we do have, like granite, and shaley loam, produce nicely structured wine,” he says. “Granite tends to produce wines that are more floral, while the shaley red loams result in something more ferrous and muscular, with firmer tannins.”

“They are two great blending options for us,” he enthuses, pointing, in particular, to our flagship Reserve Shiraz, but also to the elegantly 'Canberran' Marked Tree Red.

The upshot is that our shiraz wines are, almost by default, built for longevity. They are approachable when young, defined by tension and quiet confidence. Over time, much like the grapes’ time on the vine, they slowly develop into something extraordinary. Shiraz is at home here in Canberra.

Where it started

It took some time for Canberra producers to realise just how much potential there was for shiraz in the region. Alex saw it during his years with the Hardy Wine Company in the early 2000s, familiarising himself with the distinctive terroirs across sub regions like Hall/Wallaroo, Lake George and Bungendore, Murrumbateman, Yass and the Hilltops.

The "relentless benchmarking" Alex was involved in as a winemaker helped identify the sites, soils, aspects and potential of the region, and when the Hardy Wine Company left the Canberra District, Alex was in the fortunate position of being able to identify and select some of the best parcels of the region. This formed the modest beginnings of Collector’s first wine, the Marked Tree Red Shiraz 2005, which was awarded the NSW Wine of the Year in 2007.

Alex is also quick to admit that without the influence of another local producer, things could very well be different. “Quite early on in the piece, Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk imposed a bit of a template [for Canberra shiraz], and without that, Canberra might still be making fairly amorphous wines that don’t have a lot of meaning." Plenty of wine regions, and many styles of wine, don’t enjoy the benefit of a flagbearer, or being able to work collaboratively towards something that might be considered the greater good.

“To put forward such a persuasive case, for a particular style, is unique,” smiles Alex. “And I think that has gotten us a lot further, in a much shorter space of time, than other regions of a comparable age.”

The art of the blend

While single vineyard wines have their beauty, and their place in our range of wines, Alex appreciates the blending of individual sites to create something that is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts.

This is especially true when it comes to Canberra shiraz. Each sub-region of the Canberra District has distinctly different soil profiles and microclimates and it’s these differences, expertly assembled and layered by Alex, that result in balanced wines that profoundly speak of the region.

For instance, the vineyards we work with in Hall, Wallaroo, and Murrumbateman are heavily defined by granitic soils, which result in shiraz that tends to be floral and pretty. The slightly warmer Yass Valley, on the other hand, is home to deep red loam soils that produce structured wines with an attractive ferrous, slightly iron-like character.

Further east, heading towards Lake George, there’s lots of shale, which results in particularly intense fruit and lends a muscular, almost meaty profile to the wine.

When you open a bottle of Collector Reserve Shiraz or Marked Tree Red, you’ll immediately notice the fresh, rose-petal aromatics and perfumed floral lift. On the palate, there’s a core of vibrant red fruits and moreish savoury undertones. There’s structure and weight, without sacrificing the fruit profile, and a distinct mid-palate succulence, thanks to the inclusion of stalks and stems during fermentation.

The Cherry Orchard Shiraz 

In 2023, we released our first shiraz from the Hilltops, our neighbouring wine region near the town of Young, on Ngunnawal and Wiradjuri country, just over 90 minutes’ drive north-west of Canberra.

Hilltops is perhaps best-known for its cherry production (in fact, orchards surround many of the vineyards), but despite the region’s wines often flying under the radar, it produces some incredibly high-quality grapes.

The Cherry Orchard Shiraz 2022 is defined by a stellar combination of perfume, complexity and elegance. It is medium-bodied and fragrant with a heady mix of violet and red berries and a touch of spice. Thanks to the beautiful balance of fruit and whole bunch structure it will also be a solid bet for the cellar (as satisfying as it is to drink now).

The vines range between 45 years and 22 years of age, and with its combination of altitude (around 500 metres above sea level) and deep, granite-derived red sandy loam, there’s some great pedigree on offer here. We are very excited about the potential of Hilltops shiraz.

The future

It looks good. The Canberra District – and southern New South Wales in general – is firmly on the map for world-class shiraz, and the myriad individual expressions across the region is arguably proof of producers’ comprehension of the region’s many nuances and intricacies. Along with continuing vine age and a uniquely quality-focused, boutique wine scene, we can only expect more great things to come.

Alex has always maintained that ultimately, our wines have to stand on their own two feet. It's the constant collection and curation of the best parcels of fruit which helps us create a wine that sings in the glass - but which also distinctly expresses its variety and place.

Explore our range of shiraz here.