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Drawn to the dirt: Hickinbotham's Chris Carpenter on the winery's 2016 museum release

By Halliday Promotion

9 May, 2024

Wine Companion spoke with Hickinbotham winemaker Chris Carpenter about making wine in Clarendon, as well as the winery's 2016 museum release.

They don't call Chris Carpenter the ‘cabernet master’ for nothing. But while Hickinbotham’s Chicago-born, Napa Valley-based chief winemaker only earned the title officially after two of his wines won gold in the Global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters 2023, it’s a moniker he’s proudly worn much longer. His love of the grape – as well as shiraz and merlot, among others – is what drew him to make wine in Clarendon, a revered high-elevation district at the northern end of McLaren Vale

“Hickinbotham is an individual expression. The winemaking for my Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder [Napa Valley] wines is almost identical – what separates them is the place, not me,” Chris says. He’s worked with winemaker Peter Fraser and vineyard manager Michael Lane since the Jackson family established the Hickinbotham label in 2012.

Chris Carpenter Chris Carpenter with the 2016 museum-release wines. 

It’s named in honour of the Hickinbotham family – notably Alan Robb Hickinbotham, Australia’s first wine science lecturer at the famous Roseworthy College, and his son, viticulturalist Alan David Hickinbotham, who planted the dry-grown vineyard in 1971. The vineyard – for years a source of fruit for some of Australia’s most important wines, including Penfold’s Grange and Hardy’s Eileen – is characterised by its elevation, ancient soils, and cooling breezes off the Saint Vincent Gulf, “ideal conditions” which Chris says helps maintain acid, develop structure of tannins and moderate sugars.

“When Peter asked me to come over here, he knew I wasn’t going to make Cali-style wines in Australia,” Chris says. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was just how much Australia would influence his winemaking.

Hickinbotham vineyard Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard contour blocks. 

“The floral notes, the subtle savoury notes and gentler tannins of Clarendon fruit are much better preserved with restrained oak choices,” he says. “The decision to let the vineyard shine made my Californian wines better, too.”

“We know that Hickinbotham wines express themselves best at around eight years of evolution, which is why we keep a library for museum releases. The 2016 vintage, the only one we’ll release this year, is singing now, but they’ve got the tannin structure to continue to evolve if you want to wait. I’m really excited to show the world these wines.” 

Hickinbotham's 2016 museum release wines

Hickinbotham The Peake

2016 Hickinbotham The Peake Cabernet Shiraz

The Peake Cabernet Shiraz is a celebration of the history of the Hickinbotham vineyard and the famous Australian blend. Fruit is sourced from prized 1971 plantings for this pinnacle expression, which oscillates from tobacco to blackberry pie and milk chocolate, with perfect oak balance.

RRP $250

Hickinbotham Trueman

2016 Hickinbotham Trueman Cabernet Sauvignon

Layered complexity, lengthy tannins and delicate rose petal florals star in this sensational cabernet sauvignon. A living expression of elevation, aspect and ancient soils, it’s perfectly poised now, with years of age-ability still to come.

RRP $95

Hickinbotham Brooks Road

2016 Hickinbotham Brooks Road Shiraz

This higher-elevation shiraz is a great example of the separation between Clarendon and McLaren Vale. Here cooler growing conditions create a high spirited and energetic wine with blue fruit, spice and perfect balance highlighted by hints of black pepper.

RRP $95

Hickinbotham The Revivalist

2016 Hickinbotham The Revivalist Merlot

The merlot block at Hickinbotham shines. The fruit from these old vines creates great intensity with depth of flavour and layered complexity, with soulful earthy aromas, ripe fresh plum flavors and fleshy tannins.

RRP $95

Visit Hickinbotham Tasting Room at Yangarra to explore the current releases. The 2016 museum release wines will be available from mid-June 2024. For more, visit hickinbothamwines.com.au.

Cabernet Masters dinner with Hickinbotham's Chris Carpenter

To celebrate the 2016 museum release, on June 11 at Sydney's Quay and on June 12 at Melbourne's Vue de Monde, Chris Carpenter will host two very special wine dinners. Guests will experience vertical tastings of some of Hickinbotham's most coveted wines, including The Trueman and The Peake. Tickets to the Melbourne event are on sale now.