Viv's son, Ben Thompson, is now the fifth generation custodian of the winery and vineyards that date to 1867. In a wonderful little booklet that Ben prepared and gives to cellar door visitors, he writes: "I know that we are farmers, but we are also wine growers, representing rich stories of the land and the people who call the Great Western region their home." He points out that this region is highly favorable to Shiraz because of the climate and soil: warm days, cool nights and a terroir that produces "Shiraz wines with lots of spice and complex aromatics." Finally, of course, there are Best's gnarled 147-year-old vines and a historic cellar that reminds me of those I saw at Chateauneuf du Pape: large old foudres and hogsheads of various sizes, labeled by hand and carefully tended. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the cellar, and I recommend it.
The flagship Bin 0 Shiraz was not on the tasting list, but our energetic, knowledgeable hostess, Joyce, pulled out a bottle from under the counter and gave us a taste anyway. It was smooth, elegant, yet powerful and intense, reflecting the low yielding old vineyards from which it is produced. It is most definitely a "wine of place." I had the 1994 Bin 0 last September and posted notes on this blog.
I was also impressed by the less expensive Bin 1 Shiraz, which won the Jimmy Watson trophy two years ago and has a wonderful peppery, spicy personality. It's made from a combination of fruit from Best's and other area growers. There is also a Thomson Family Vineyard Shiraz that is made in very small quantities. At the tasting, I also enjoyed the traditionally made Riesling, matured in foudres.
It's not all history at Best's, of course. The winery has evolved since the 1980s with fresh ideas, new oak, up-to-date technology and recent plantings including a 1992 block planted on white gravel. Wine made in 2010 from this Hill Block, according to Ben Thomson's booklet, "displayed more overt, pungent aromas of pepper and sweet, fragrant tannins combined with medium-bodied fruit to create a complex Old World style, similar to Syrah from France's Rhone region."
I've never been able to locate a U.S. distributor of Best's wines, and that is a shame. These wines represent the very best traditions of Australian winemaking coupled with qualities that would please the most stubborn Europhile.