Blending your own wine is harder than you might think. In the sleek private tasting room at the new home of St Hugo in the Barossa Valley, a high bench is covered with unlabelled bottles of red wine, each marked with handwritten numbers and dashes signifying different batches from contrasting vines.
It's easy to doubt your own palate when you're sniffing and spitting alongside chief winemaker Dan Swincer, even though he insists there are no wrong answers.
Swincer is on hand to personally guide VIP guests through the process of blending the perfect one-of-a-kind wine.
"This is exactly what we do in the winery, bringing in all the options from individual barrels and asking which are the best components to make the wine," he says. "We're offering people the opportunity to make a wine which suits their personal flavour profile."
In the Sainthood
The blending afternoon is the centrepiece of the exclusive St Hugo 'Sainthood' experience, a three-day, $150,000 premium package which includes a chartered flight to the vineyard in Coonawarra to name a row of vines, followed by the creation of a bespoke blend to be stored in the St Hugo vault at Rowland Flat for safekeeping and maturation.
"St Hugo is most famous for its impeccable Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon," Swincer explains. "The key to making great cabernet sauvignon is in finding the perfect balance of fruit and intensity, [then] the wine promises to last decades. St Hugo is all about power and elegance ... intensity of fruit, vibrancy of fruit, an elegant structure and drive and the ability to age."
The Sainthood also includes transportation in shiny Maybachs and accommodation at the five star hotel The Louise, with finer details customised according to the taste of the client.
It's all part of a new push by St Hugo owners Pernod Ricard – heavyweights behind the nearby Jacob's Creek winery – to elevate the brand to top shelf status. The company invested over $5 million in the new restaurant and cellar door, which opened in September at the location of the original 1854 winery.
"It's been a five year project from start to finish, from design to build, so it's been a long haul," says Pernod Ricard's Greg Stirling. "We had a local Adelaide architect JBG, and the guys from Studio Gram working on the furniture and joinery, so it was a collaborative effort. A big part of it is thinking globally, and thinking about [St Hugo] in a global context. A lot of our customers are going to be well-travelled, and looking for great experiences."
The saint in question is Hugo Gramp, the legendary winemaker behind Gramps & Son's winery who died in a plane crash in 1938 with two other leading winemakers, Tom Hardy and Sidney Hill Smith.
"Having a dedicated home for St Hugo has given us the opportunity to showcase some more unique, sub-regional, single vineyard wines," says Swincer. "Plus it's great to experience the brand and wines in a really nice environment."
The perfect match
Just over an hour outside Adelaide, the new flagship home is a split-level, steel and glass fortress highlighting the original gravity-fed ironstone structure at the end of an imposing driveway lined with cork trees. A fireside lounge room offers tastings of the complete range while the elegant dining room takes in sweeping views of the Barossa countryside.
Executive chef Mark McNamara runs the kitchen, with four and eight-course degustation menus designed to complement the depth and complexity of the wines.
The Sainthood package invites guests to match a 2010 St Hugo Vetus Purum Shiraz with a wide range of different ingredients – from salty anchovies to sweet raspberries – to come up with a signature dish, perfectly suited to the individual.
Expect duck cooked two ways with black sesame and molasses, grilled saddle of kangaroo, lime cured kingfish or citrus, avocado, macadamia and burnt butter tart.
Sign us up
Has anyone signed up for an official Sainthood experience? Well, not yet, says Stirling, but there has been plenty of interest from overseas.
If $150,000 is out of your price range, St Hugo also offers a $30,000 two-day Prestige Experience or a $10,000 Legacy Experience including a helicopter flight over the region.
Failing that, you can always book in for a $50 tour and tasting. The wines may not be your own personal blend, but they're still some of the best reds of the region.
The writer was a guest of St Hugo.