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Wine Tasting – By Farr Wines

Recently I attended a wine masterclass with Nick Farr of By Farr and Farr Rising (hosted by Randalls Cellar.) This is the sort of event that I, as someone with more than a passing interest in wine, absolutely love. A chance to talk to winemakers about how they make the wine, what they intend for it and where it will go in the future. I hate it when you go to a cellar door and you are told what is written on the tasting notes of the wine and not about what was involved in making it. Thankfully the focus of these sessions is very rarely about the wine itself and more so about the wine as a journey.

Nick was going to be a sports teacher until his father Gary sent him to an industry wine tasting before he started university. He cites the unlimited supply of oysters, beer and wine as what turned him onto the track of winemaker. Gary was the perfect mentor for a young winemaker, sending him straight to the United States and Burgundy to be taught in what he considered to be the wineries of the best Pinot Noir producers in the world. You get the impression that after countless vintages around the world and his own label from the Geelong area, Gary has finally handed over some semblance of control to Nick. He has headed overseas for a holiday and has only called to have more money put in the account.

Nick’s passion for wine is captivating. He has a great grounding in the new and old worlds of winemaking and shares his knowledge of wine and his own vineyards with ease. So much of the focus on wine today is on terroir and this case is no different. The sites for the vineyards have been carefully selected for their soil, aspect and locations and it wouldn’t surprise me if Nick has walked every inch. The particular site that Nick was most excited about was their “Tout Pres” vineyard. This site has 3 types of soil and 3 different slopes each with different facings.

The By Farr winemaking style is particularly standoffish, with the least interaction from the winemaker. Pinot Noir grapes are fragile and overworking them will make the wine tired. Instead, the winemaking is done in the vineyard tending the vines. The hand picked grapes are whole bunched pressed, and very little is done after the wine is barrelled. The whole bunches add tannins (hopefully not too much herbaceousness) creating a wine with great structure and funkiness (sic).

This structure, perfume and funk is evident in the flavours of all of the wines. The Pinot Noirs are rich and complex with great tobacco flavours throughout. The “Tout Pres” is particularly interesting with the quartz in the soil bringing through a minerality rarely tasted in Pinot Noir. My choice however was the “Farrago” Chardonnay/Viognier. This white has exceptional mineral flavours and an oily but not overdone mouthfeel. Interestingly, the blend is 50/50 but the apricot flavours of the Viognier are surprisingly subdued.

This introduction to the By Farr winery has me really interested in Geelong Pinot Noir and anything that Nick Farr is involved with. The prices on this label ($50-$90 a bottle) are sadly well out of my price range and having this opportunity to taste them was amazing; given the chance I would love to buy a case or 2.

Sustainable Winery or Profitable Business

Yesterday at the Shiraz wine appreciation session at the Cellar Door in the Crown Palladium we had an interesting discussion with Matthew Barry of Mount Avoca about how climate change is affecting business. A prominent theme throughout the session was how climate change has moved picking forward 6-8 weeks over a period of 5-10 years. I asked Matthew after the session how he saw that affecting his business going forward, his answers were very interesting.

He, and the other winemakers were not particularly worried about climate change itself as a threat to their winemaking. They suggested that Australia’s climate has been through a number of changes this century alone and it is up to them to adapt to it. This isn’t to say they aren’t doing their part to reduce pollution and improve the environment though. Avoca Winery has “gone organic”, started mulching it’s vineyards to reduce it’s reliance on water and planted a crop of trees to provide cardboard and mulch to reduce their reliance on external parties. The net result of all of this work, (that has been going on for a number of years) is what would be referred to as a sustainable business. The hippies would applaud these moves as moves toward solving climate change, but Matthew’s focus is far more self-involved. As far as he is concerned, it is good for business.

It just so turns out, that reducing his winery’s externalities makes for better wine which is in turn good for business. Reducing chemicals means there are more earthworms and lady beetles in the vineyard. The soil is more fertile and the yield, although possibly smaller is of higher quality. It doesn’t take a scientist to realise that all of these are signs of improved wine making. It isn’t just the grapes though, every part of the business is being affected. Producing their own cardboard (from recycled cardboard and self-produced woodchips) reduces their reliance on outside packaging companies. Everything has a positive impact on their bottom line.

Matthews other comment was that many wineries are not going towards sustainable because they can’t afford to. However,the ongoing negative affects of pesticides and herbicides on soil quality and crop quality makes him believe they can’t afford not to. Going forward I believe that it is stories like these that will help have a positive effect on global warming and climate change, not advocating change without highlighting economic benefits.

It is clear that we need to solve this problem, but businesses still need to make a dime, and I still want to drink great wine.

Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

I’m a huge fan of cheap good wine, happy to drink good quality boxed wine and certainly not turned off by a $4 bottle – so long as it tastes good. But currently I have a glass of Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 in front of me, and let me tell you I’m not that impressed. It’s one of the “premium cask wines” just like the Banrock Station wine I’ve written about before and it might be harsh on the Yalumba, but it just doesn’t match up against the Banrock.

Before I start talking about the wine itself I think it’s important to mention that by all reports the 2007 vintage in the Barossa valley was extremely hard for the growers, with a late frost and some heavy rainfall damaging a great amount of the harvest. This may well explain the low quality – especially because this box is of the 2007 vintage, as compared to most cask wine which is blended.

On the nose there is a definite smell of blackcurrant, and a slightly unwelcome hint of menthol. The taste is not what I have become used to from cheap Australian wines, which normally provide a somewhat balanced taste. It lacks body, tastes young (yes, I realise it is young) and has a touch of alcohol aftertaste. It’s not all bad though, it is quite easy drinking which isn’t always the case for cheap cabernet sauvignon’s and definitely is very good value drinking.

Banrock Station Wine

As far as dinner goes, there isn’t a better drink to accompany it than a glass of red. That is of course if the source is tomato based or the meat is red, otherwise white wine is preferential. Now let me start by saying I’m definitely no expert on wine, but I know what I like and first of all I like cheap. When you talk about cheap wine there is 2 types of cheap, cheap and goon. This classification is pretty down the line, goon comes in a bag (sometimes disguised as a box) and cheap wine comes in a bottle. Until recently this differentiation was pretty clear cut with nothing in a bag being worth more than $3 a litre and bottles starting at about $10 a litre.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter, for about $20 you can pick up a box of Banrock Station red (or white). They come in a range of blends, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, and my personal favourite cabernet merlot. This isn’t any normal goon bag, I consider it to be in the class of “cheap wine,” or at least that’s what I tell myself. I suppose a sign that the box isn’t going to be horrible is the specification of the actual blend of grapes, rather than “dry red” or “crisp white,” another sign is that the grapes are all sourced from the same place, rather than from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and Chile.

The beauty of buying 2 litres of cheap wine to have over dinner is it’s flexibility you have enough for tonight and tomorrow night, can drop a splash of it in your cooking and you aren’t too worried if you leave a glass that needs to be thrown out at the end of the night. While you might not believe me, by forking out the extra $10 your head might not ache so much tomorrow morning.