Value goes upmarket

In its anniversary year, the family-run Angove wines is shifting direction.

The managing director of Angove, John Angove, is weary of hearing people say, and write, that his wines are ''good value for money''. He would prefer to hear them described as ''good wines''. Sorry, John, but that is their station in life, at least until now.

They are good, sometimes exceptional, value for money because they are inexpensive wines that are simple and often over-deliver.

Angove Family Winemakers, formerly Angove's, has its headquarters at Renmark in the Murray Valley, South Australia, and most of its wines are based on Riverland grapes. That puts a ceiling to their quality.

But, for the past few years, it has been spreading its net, sourcing grapes from many other South Australian regions and expanding the repertoire. The Vineyard Select label, at a very affordable $15 to $18, has offered some tasty regional varietals, such as Clare Valley riesling, Limestone Coast chardonnay, McLaren Vale shiraz and Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon. These wines often find their way into my Bargain of the Week tastings review in these pages, as do the Long Row wines: witness this week's $10 riesling.

It's not hard to fathom why the family company is stretching out. The Riverland has been doing it tough lately, with drought and water shortage - at least until this past season of ridiculously high rainfall. The wine industry is being encouraged to hold off irrigation, cut yields and focus on quality rather than quantity.

And Angove Family Winemakers, in its 125th-anniversary year, has unveiled its latest move upmarket: this year it will open a cellar door on a vineyard it bought in 2002 in McLaren Vale. It's making some superb, upmarket reds from the region.

At a series of 125th-birthday events throughout Australia and Asia, an Angove team including John, his winemaker-marketer son, Richard, and chief winemaker Tony Ingle has been showing off a series of McLaren Vale reds it hopes will launch a new era for Angove.

There's a 2009 single-vineyard shiraz grenache (60 per cent:40 per cent) and '09 single-vineyard shiraz.

The blend comes from the hotter, north-facing side of the steeply sloping vineyard and the straight shiraz from the cooler, south-facing slope, so it is more spicy and elegant in style.

They will be sold at the cellar door, probably from December.

Then there's the big-noise wine: a pure '08 McLaren Vale shiraz ($50) called The Medhyk, blended from three growers' vineyards. It's a full-bodied, powerful and oaky wine that will be available to restaurants and shops.

The name harks back to the founder, Dr W.T. Angove, a Cornish doctor who migrated to South Australia with his family in 1886 and planted vines in the outer Adelaide suburb of Tea Tree Gully. Like doctors Penfold, Lindeman and others, he made wine for his own and his patients' use.

The Tea Tree Gully vineyard was compulsorily resumed for housing in the 1980s but the family was ensconced in the Riverland by then.

John Angove likes to say the wheel has come full-circle, as the family is moving back to dry-land viticulture and the McLaren Vale site is only 40 kilometres from the Tea Tree Gully site.

Despite the Riverland's problems, Ingle insists the family believes the region has a future and will remain the core of their grape-growing activities. He has quietly spent about $10 million replanting half the company's huge 500-hectare Nanya vineyard to raise quality. They changed the direction of the rows to better control irrigation and avoid the gullies, which get too much water, and the ridges too little. The rows now follow the contour of the land.

At the same time, they got rid of unwanted varieties and substituted desirable varieties and best clones. Nanya now has 100 hectares of organically managed vines for Angove's organic wine brand.

The other boost to Angove's stocks is its distribution company, which wholesales not only Angove wines and its famous St Agnes Brandy but also Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne and a dozen other companies' wines and spirits.

And with Richard Angove and his sister, Victoria, now involved, the continuity of the family lineage is assured for at least a fifth generation.

This article Value goes upmarket was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.