McLaren Vale is a wine region in south Australia about 20 miles from “Australia’s Wine City,” Adelaide. Vines were first planted here in 1838, but things didn’t really get going until about 40 years later. By the turn of the twentieth century, McLaren Vale was established as one of Australia’s premier wine regions, a position it holds until this day, with over 80 wineries and 13,000 acres under vine. This coastal zone sits between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the tempering sea. The growing season is long and warm, and features good air drainage to prevent frosts.
It was here that Andre Bondar decided to set up shop. He originally got the wine bug in 2001 after working a vintage in Oregon. Following that, he worked at Tyrrell’s, in the Hunter, and historic Hardys Tintara, in McLaren Vale, as well as at Padthaway. He credits a vintage with Northern Rhône legend Alain Graillot with being hugely influential, particularly in respect to the impact of whole bunch fermentation. “It changed the way I made wine,” Bondar says. Finally came formal training, and Bondar took a postgraduate winemaking degree at Adelaide University in 2005. He then worked at Nepenthe, in the Adelaide Hills, from 2006. He started as a cellar hand and left seven years later as the senior winemaker.
Bondar and his wife Selina started their own winery in 2012 with a ton or two of shiraz grapes picked by family and friends. That was the first ‘Violet Hour’ they made, a homage to the sky at the time once the work was done. But Bondar wasn’t satisfied with the resulting wine, so the first public release had to wait until 2013. The Bondars bought the lauded Rayner Vineyard in Blewitt Springs the same year, and have grown their brand from a solitary shiraz to nine selections now.
“Our vineyard sits at the southern tip of Blewitt Springs in McLaren Vale, right on the border with the Seaview District. Shiraz and grenache plantings date back to the 1950s when the property was owned by the Rayner family. The eastern side of the road is a huge sandhill, part of the Pirramimma sandstone geology that stretches right up to Kangarilla. I am in the process of converting our vineyard to organic management and lots of new plantings of varieties that are late ripening and ideal for a warming region – cinsault, counoise, mataro, carignan, touriga and sagratino. These should bring some exciting new propositions to the Bondar suite,” he says.
Bondar picks earlier than many, and uses an array of vessels for fermentation and ageing, including ceramic eggs, as well as judicious use of whole bunches and sometimes very long periods on skins, depending on the fruit, to build layers and detail. “Subtlety, nuance, complexity – something I try to achieve in all my Bondar wines,” he says.
Bondar Violet Hour 2019
This 100% Shiraz comes from vines in the Rayner vineyard, some of which date back to 1947. The color is dark purple, with a nose of rich, dark fruit. On the palate, cherry dominates with a hint of cocoa, plum vanilla, and blackberry, all supported by well-balanced acidity and tannins. There is a velvety mouthfeel, plus an elusive fruit-pie richness. ABV is 14%.
Another Shiraz from Rayner, and much like the Violet Hour. The primary difference is the cherry notes are more tart, and there are some bitter tannins on the finish. The Violet Hour is a better bargain. ABV is 14%.
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