Murdoch Hill has been in the Downer family since 1939 but vines were first planted here only in 1998. The farm is on the eastern side of the Adelaide Hills in the Onkaparinga Valley, with 21 hectares of vineyard on shallow red loam soils packed with schist and limestone and up to 516 metres above sea level. Since taking over the winemaking reins in 2012, Michael Downer has taken the farm’s wines to similar heights.
The 2020 Artisan Series Rocket Chardonnay comes from the best parcels Michael can lay his hands on across three vineyards: two high in the Piccadilly Valley from 35-year-old I10V1 and C76 clones, directly below Mt Lofty summit, the other from a 20-year-old vineyard in Lobethal planted to the Bernard Clone 76.
2020 was a traumatic year for many growers and winemakers in the Adelaide Hills, many parts of which bore the brunt of that year's bushfires. Some producers, like Vinteloper, lost their entire vineyard to the fires that began in late December. Mercifully not everywhere was equally badly affected, and some areas, particularly the Piccadilly Valley, avoided both fires and smoke taint. While yields are down across the board, Chardonnay retained high natural acidity and great flavour intensity as a result of the cool finish to the year and many winemakers are quietly confident that 2020 is a fine vintage in the Adelaide Hills, even if there isn't much wine to go around.
Michael's 2020 Rocket is a forceful, driven and elegant wine, displaying that trademark natural acidity of the Adelaide Hills, showing a lime and melon fruit profile and a saline, nutty complexity with a fine mineral finish. This is perhaps his best vintage yet and rightfully rated top of the tree in a recent Decanter panel review of Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, garnering 98 points.
Michael names his Artisan Series wines after different carriages in tribute to his grandfather T.E. Downer (1913-1984), a passionate collector of horse drawn vehicles. Each wine is named after a carriage type that reflects the style.