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Vinography in Australia

One of my favourite wine bloggers, Alder Yarrow, is currently in Australia checking out a few of our wine regions (the trip is sponsored by Wine Australia and Tourism Australia). I’ve long been a fan of his writing, the focus on people and place is something I believe is sorely missing in the traditional wine media and I’m really excited that it is Australia’s turn. From his Twitter account and inital post, it seems he started in the Yarra Valley, has been to Heathcote, Beechworth, King Valley, Mclaren Vale and is now in the Barossa Valley.

If you are interested in his adventures in Australian wine, I will keep the following list up to date.

Confused Governor General doesn’t know what to do with Wine

Update: I have just published the full list of wine in the Governor General’s wine cellar.

An article in The Age today discusses the problem that Governor General Quentin Bryce (who doesn’t drink often) and her teetotalling husband have with their inheritance of a pretty amazing wine cellar. The article suggests that they are thinking about selling it, donating some of it to charity or something else. They also don’t want to serve it to guests because they don’t want to be seen to be extravagant.

Personally, I don’t see the problem here. Let me put it this way. Wine is meant to be drunk. If you don’t want to serve a nice bottle of wine to your guests then don’t. You are only going to come across looking cheap and promoting the idea to your international guests that Australian wine is cheap and shit. Doesn’t sound like something most people would do, given the choice.

This wine isn’t going to go bad, in fact it’s only going to get better. It’s not yours to sell, but it is yours to drink. Stop whinging like a kid that can’t spend your inheritance fast enough. Either enjoy it, or leave it for the next person.

Teusner Wines

Another week, another wine tasting. This week Randall’s hosted winemaker Kym Teusner of Teusner (Toys-ner) Wines who are a small northern Barossa winery, based around Ebenezzer. They make a small number of Rhone style reds and are slowly adding some whites with some serious character to the lineup.

One thing that distinguishes Teusner from a lot of wineries is that they are not vignerons. They buy all of their fruit from a few carefully selected vineyards, the owners of which are treated more like business partners. Their largest supplier of fruit is the Riebke brothers, this family have been growing grapes in the Barossa for generations and were slowly being made to pull all of their old growth, but unprofitable Grenache and Mataro vines and replace them with Chardonnay. Forced by big corporations and the government and their big bank accounts.

Kym overheard the Riebke’s at a barbecue talking about this predicament and quickly raised enough capital to buy a small portion of the fruit. This, along with a lot of patience and financial assistance from the Riebke’s saved the vines and neither the Teusners nor the Riebke’s have looked back.

The story doesn’t stop there, not long after – Kym was working at Rolf Binder wines while trying to get his own label off the ground when one of the Riebke’s showed up with a truckload of fruit and asked Kym if he wanted some more fruit. Kym told him that he would come out tomorrow and have a look at the vines, the Riebke’s reply was that tomorrow wasn’t soon enough, the fruit was in the truck, they didn’t want to take it to the big guys down the road and Kym could pay him when he could afford it. Turns out the fruit was great, the wine was amazing, the bill was paid, the vineyard was picked and taken to the Teusner’s each year, not Fosters.

This process of taking good, old vines that are being “wasted” in massive mass produced wines is a common theme, their Woodside Sauvignon Blanc is from growers in a similar situation. The wine was being all taken to a “big” producer and being mixed into whatever was seen fit, the grower offered his wines to Teusner, who decided they could make great wine with a bit of helpful guidance and good winemaking. The Woodside Sauvignon Blanc is like very few Sauvignon Blanc you will have tasted. Full of character and minerality and very little of the crazy acidity and citrus flavours.

This wasn’t Teusner’s only gain at the loss of the big guys. The Grange Hermitage fruit is taken from a number of vineyards around the Barossa. For this fruit to be used in the Grange it needs to meet the Foster’s quality levels this amongst other things involves maximum vineyard yield and in 2006 this was too high. Turns out the fruit was amazing and it went into the Astral Series Riebke FG Shiraz, a wine that at $130 is worth every cent (this coming from a guy that can’t afford it)

The Joshua, Avatar and Riebke are Teusner’s staple. The first 2 are both Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and both completely different. I’m pretty sure I ended up with 2 of the same glass and only got to taste the Avatar. This was a complex, savoury blend that would match well with spring rolls, a rich red curry or a rare steak. I’m told the Avatar was a much different beast, a much more not over-ripe fruit driven wine made in a northern-Rhone style.

The Riebke is one of the best valued bottles of wine you will find, priced around $20 this is a perfumed, fruit driven shiraz without a hint of raisins or sultanas. The oak-driven spices hold up perfectly against the fruit and is carried perfectly by the soft tannins. This will sit perfectly against a meaty lamb or duck dish.

All Saints Rutherglen – Wine Tasting

Randalls Albert Park hosted yet another wine tasting masterclass this weekend, presented by Nick Brown and Dan Crane from All Saints Rutherglen. All Saints is a family owned and run winery with a tragic modern history. It was bought by Peter Brown and his 2 brothers about 10 years ago and subsequently the brothers shares were bought from them. Peter then met an untimely demise in an motor bike accident while out on his Sunday ride. This left Nick and his sisters with the winery and a quandry about whether they should hold onto the business or sell. Rutherglen seems like a pretty small place and apparently people were asking the siblings when they were going to sell up.

They didn’t, and the 150 year old winery couldn’t be in better hands.  The first priority was refreshing the brand, making the packaging a more contemporary and appealing in style while making the wines a little more approachable. You can see the results of this refresh with the new silver labels appearing modern and fresh, yet still showing respect to the century old winery. The fortified labels have also been refreshed and the bottles are now capped with a very classy glass stopper. It is amazing how something so simple as a nicer cap and a new label can improve the whole feel of the bottle and the brand.

Unfortunately for those working in the winery, this brand refresh hasn’t gotten around to refreshing the winery itself. Winemaking is a tedious task using 100 year old technology (for want of a better word.) The basket presses are all manually operated, with pressing being a hand cranked operation and then once complete the pressed grapes are manually shoveled out. The open fermenters are also dated and require a rewaxing each year, something that involves Nick, a flame thrower, a paint brush and a new bucket of wax.

Nick’s priority was to make wine that he could convince his friends to drink – something winemaker Dan Crane has achieved beautifully. The 2009 Moscato is a light, fresh and grapey breakfast style wine, the sort of wine that can actually replace a beer. Aside from the Moscato, I wasn’t a fan of the whites. I felt like they weren’t doing enough to warrant the $15 – $25 price range. The Chardonnay/Viognier was clean but too subtle, and the fresh taste of the Marsanne wouldn’t stand out in a crowd, though I suspect this may change as it develops with 2-5 years of age.

The reds, however, are amazing. The 2006 Sangiovese/Cabernet has a beautiful blood red colour and great savoury notes, $19 a bottle seems too cheap for such a great wine.The 2006 Shiraz is a little bit young. A touch of alcohol and the fruit flavours haven’t developed yet, but time will definitely open this up. The 2006 Durif is solid but young. It’s medium tannins, rich flavours will develop and will be much better drinking in 2 years time.

The All Saints flagship is the fortified wines and they are something Nick is particularly proud of. One of the major reasons the winery was purchased by Nick’s father was for the massive stock of aging fortified wine. They are aged in a solera system and each year a certain amount of wine is bottled and sold. With this system the wine can essentially age forever, allowing them to release a variety of aged wine every year. They have 4 releases of the Muscat and 3 of the Tokay. As the age of the wines increases the richness, complexity and smoothness develop. The Grand Muscat has a lovely smooth butterscotch flavour and tastes like it should be chilled and poured over icecream, though I’m not sure that would do it justice.

All Saints has recently released their “Museum” Muscat, this is made with fruit of an average age of about 80 years. Bottled in what looks more like a perfume bottled and individually numbered it sells for $1000 a bottle. Thankfully we had the opportunity to taste it. It’s hard to actually describe the flavours, but it is extremely rich and perfectly integrated. The liquid itself is extremely syrupy, a result of the 80 or so years of evaporation.

All in all, it was a really educational experience. Getting to know Nick was a please, he is a young wine producer on a course of action he wouldn’t have chosen. The decisions they are making for the winery are well measured and visionary. With the Browns and winemaker Dan Crane this century old winery couldn’t be in better hands.

More All Saints information

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.

Hawke’s Bay Wine Region, New Zealand

Surrounding the towns of Hastings and Napier Hawke’s Bay is a unique part of New Zealand. Driving through New Zealand you start to grow accustomed to the site of vineyards and wineries on all sides, but you certainly won’t get used to the geometric ornaments and motifs of the Art-Deco style of architecture. Rebuilt almost from scratch after a 1930s earthquake, Napier (and to a lesser extent Hastings) gives you the feeling you are in the Truman Show. This strange feeling continues when you seemingly the majority of restaurants and bars are closed for business.The places that aren’t shut are busy until late at night despite them being expensive, pretentious and in my experience the service being below par.

In stark contrast to the City of Napier, the wineries in the surrounding area all emit a vibe of passion and love of wine. Great red wine is the order of the day in Hawke’s Bay with wineries growing Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah) and the odd Pinot Noir. The region is not without its Whites with award-winning Chardonnay and complex aromatics (Mainly Pinot Gris, Riesling and Viognier). The climate provides great wine-making for the rich flavoured reds with hot summer temperatures, low rainfall and long sunlight hours.

Add to this a large number of micro-regions which provide the wines of this area a great deal of diversity. The most renowned of these micro-regions is the Gimblett Gravels region which has very gravelly soil providing a perfect fast-draining basis for the Bordeaux varieties. A number of wineries in the area own vineyards in this small apellation and produce single vineyard and reserve labels from them with amazing results.

We only spent an afternoon and a morning tasting wines in the area but we left wishing we had a whole lot more time, more space in the luggage and some sort of expense account. The wineries we stopped at were:

  • Elephant Hill
  • Clearview
  • Kim Crawford
  • Craggy Range
  • Te Mata
  • Vidal
  • Matariki
  • Trinity Hill

Having spent a fair bit of time in and around Central Otago wineries and seeing a small part of Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay’s wineries really were something special. Each of the wineries was unique, the staff were passionate, the wines were beautiful and there was a feel of history and of something special in the air. While it may not be the major draw card of New Zealand wine, it for me is what I will remember when thinking of the people and the feel of New Zealand wine.