Chapel Hill’s 50th vintage + 2024 collection release

05 June 2024

In 2024 we are celebrating its 50th vintage with the release of a new Icon wine – The Devil Shiraz 2020. 


Named as a reference to the idiom “the devil is in the detail”, The Devil Shiraz 2020 is crafted from fruit from our oldest remaining vines planted in its House Block vineyard, with just eight barrels of the wine produced for its inaugural release. The Devil Shiraz joins three new vintage wines to complete Chapel Hill’s 2024 Icon Release: The Vicar Shiraz 2021, Road Block Shiraz 2021 and Gorge Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2021. 


“When it comes to crafting a fine wine, success is down to even the tiniest of details being executed perfectly. I feel we’ve done that with The Devil Shiraz, and it’s a fitting tribute to celebrate our 50th vintage,” our Chief Winemaker Michael Fragos said. 


Chapel Hill founder Tom Nelson released the winery’s first wines in 1975, having stumbled upon the derelict ironstone chapel and surrounding grazing paddocks in 1971. Tom originally envisioned using the site for his wife’s horses but changed plans and planted a vineyard. Of note in our history was the engagement of winemaker Pam Dunsford, a pioneer in Australian winemaking. Under Pam’s stewardship, Chapel Hill became one of Australia’s most respected names in wine, renowned for its classic and approachable wine styles. 


Michael Fragos joined the team as Chief Winemaker in 2003. Fragos immediately focused on implementing sustainable practices in the vineyard, aiming to make wines ‘of purity and balance’ that express the McLaren Vale region and the vineyard sites they come from. 


A major focus for the team over the last 10 years has been on improving our vineyards’ soils and, more specifically, the soils and vines in our House Block. It’s a tiny block, just 0.8 hectares, but it has always had huge potential. The geology of the block is a very humbling 550 million years old,” Fragos said.  


“The excellent work of Bryn Richards, our Senior Winemaker, and Rachel Steer, our Senior Viticulturist, has resulted in what is now a wonderfully even and healthy block. Specifically, age-old techniques we’ve implemented have brought new life to our old vines.


One of these techniques is a concept called layering, which Senior Viticulturist Rachel Steer implemented in rehabilitating the House Block vineyard. 


Here, a long shoot from a healthy vine is buried near where an old vine has reached the end of its life cycle. The shoot gradually produces a new vine, supported by the old vine, so both vines work harmoniously to produce better-quality fruit. The 2020 vintage was the first year these layered vines were established enough to blend with fruit harvested from the old vines, resulting in this exciting and powerful wine,” Steer said. 

Like all of Chapel Hill’s fine wines, once the fruit reached optimum ripeness, the grapes were hand-harvested and gently crushed before fermentation took place in an open fermenter. These fermenters were hand-plunged to facilitate subtle tannin extraction. 


After 12 days on skins, the fermenter was basket-pressed, and the free run and pressing fractions were combined. The wine was then aged for 20 months in 100% tight-grained French oak. The proportion of new oak was kept low to encourage the continued expression of the vineyard site in the wine. Little was added or done to the wine after that, with the wine allowed to clarify naturally without the use of fining or filtration. 


The resulting wine is opulent, with layers of dark berry fruit sprinkled with roasted spices. It exudes a silky mouthfeel with moreish complexity, sublime balance and graceful poise. 


“The wine epitomises our meticulous approach to everything we do. Everything has been done to ensure the most characterful and expressive wine possible. It’s fitting, then, for this wine to act as a symbol for our 50th vintage celebrations,” Fragos said. 

The Gorge Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 comes from the Gorge Block, a vineyard bordered by the Onkaparinga Gorge. The location plays an important role in influencing the vineyard’s microclimate, with cool breezes flowing through the gorge to temper the temperatures during the growing season.


The fruit was fermented on skins for 12 days before being basket-pressed. The free run and pressing fractions were combined with the wine aged for 20 months in 100% tight-grained French oak, with only 20% of new oak used the preserve the rich McLaren Vale terroir in the finished wine. The wine is both powerful and graceful, with the site expressed in a complex array of fruit characters and a mouth-watering fine-grained tannin structure. 

The Road Block Shiraz 2021 is the ‘sensitive beast’ of the 2024 Collection. The site’s heavier soils and large slabs of ironstone over the sandstone result in a generous expression of shiraz with a rich palate and a tightly wound tannin structure. 


After hand-harvesting and gentle crushing, the juice is fermented on skins for 13 days. The wine is similarly basket-pressed, and the free-run juice and pressing fractions were combined. The wine is aged in 100% French oak hogsheads for 20 months, with 20% new oak being implemented again to retain the expression of the site in the finished wine.


The Vicar Shiraz 2021 showcases Chapel Hill’s ability to bring together select parcels of the most outstanding shiraz fruit available from the winery’s long-standing grower partners. The 2021 release features fruit from the Lacey Branson Road vineyard in central McLaren Vale and the Lacey Watilla Block at the foot of the Willunga Hills. 


These vineyard blocks were harvested and fermented separately in small-batch open fermenters. Gentle plunging was utilised for cap management, and all ferments were left on skins for 13-22 days. Following gentle basket pressing, the free run and pressing fractions were combined. During the subsequent 21-month oak maturation period, the barrels were periodically racked and returned to ensure the integration of tannin back into the structure of the wine. The result is an inky black wine packed with blackberries, plums and dark chocolate with a hint of aniseed. 


“The Vicar embodies our commitment to the region, our deep appreciation for the growers we work with, and the gentle and patient winemaking on display at Chapel Hill. It’s wonderfully expressive, rich, and powerful, just as we’d expect from a fine McLaren Vale wine,” Fragos said.