The idea of offering a one day wine school event in London first came from the talented Yvonne May, head of Wine Australia for UK & Ireland. Sadly her battle with illness cut her inspirational and tireless work short but her legacy championing Australian wine continues.
The aim of this compelling event is to make UK wine professionals aware of the diversity of Australian wines and provide them with up-to-date knowledge about new vineyard and winemaking techniques as well as a concise overview of todays developments, challenges and potential. As we can’t all fly to Australia, this is the next best thing.
So who better to guide us through the day than charismatic and knowledgeable Tim Atkin MW, UK wine journalist and the straight-talking and accomplished Steve Webber, chief winemaker at De Bortoli in Yarra Valley. The tasting flights were organised by Emma Symington, UK events and education manager, who had the tough job of selecting wines that demonstrate best the typicity of the key regions and their distinctive styles.
The challenge for the speakers was not only to captivate the diverse audience but also to summarise the entire Australian story within one day. It would seem that Australia has had a complete personality change so regardless the level of knowledge or experience in the room, there was plenty to learn. And if you have missed it, here are the highlights.
Australia boasts some of the oldest vines in the world (Tahbilk still has ½ hectare of un-grafted pre-phylloxera Shiraz vines from 1860). Despite only 0.025% of the land being planted under vine, you can find any climate and type of soil here. The diversity of wine styles has few limits. The finest quality wines are produced between 30 and 40 South latitude but you may be surprised to know that you can find wineries pretty much anywhere in the country (for example Granite Belt in Queensland). But some of the best wines come from cooler parts of warm climate regions. This is achieved through either higher altitude (Orange, Canberra district, Pyrenees) or going south with proximity to ocean (Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania).
Australian wines have come a long way since 1845 when the first bottle was exported to the UK. Then the majority of wines were fortified and it was not until the 1970’s that table wines took over the reign. Thanks to introduction of temperature control, the focus on international varietal styles and an open-minded attitude towards marketing, brand Wine Australia established its reputation in the export market for high quality table wines by the 1980’s.
However, as with best things in life, success did not last forever and today Australia is being challenged by a strong Australian dollar hindering its export markets, an imbalance between demand and supply skewed to over-production, limited water access and risk of droughts (it is impossible to establish new vineyard without irrigation) and the seeming lack of strong big brands as the market diversifies.
According to Steve, reducing the vineyard area to 120 000 ha from the current 150 000 ha would help to reduce the overproduction. Furthermore, in order to maintain sustainable profitable growth for producers, limiting their production to wines that can achieve retail value of at least £7 per bottle is advisable if not essential.
Comparing wines from a decade ago to those made in the last couple of years shows obvious changes implemented in the vineyards and wineries. So when was the last time you had a glass of Australian wine? And if you have to think more then five seconds to answer this then you had better visit your local independent wine shop, right?
Many boutique wineries are focussing on organic and biodynamic farming with notable attention being given to the vineyards. Despite the new technology and possibly because of it, producers find it challenging but inevitable to let go and move towards minimal handling. Spontaneous alcoholic fermentations are slowly replacing or complementing the use of cultured yeasts. Earlier picking and only token use of new oak (more French less American) is being reflected in fresher, more balanced, lower alcohol wines.
Riesling is no longer only produced in cooler higher altitude sites of Eden (500m) and Clare Valley (400-570m). But new ventures have proven successful in Tasmania (Josef Chromy) and Western Australia (Plantagenet in Mount Barker) thanks to their proximity to the cooling ocean breeze. Also Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria with its unique granite soil is starting to be known for its fine Rieslings (Mac Forbes), some fermented in old French casks for richer texture (Fowles Wine). There is a move towards slower alcoholic fermentations especially at the end of the ferment in order to reach balance between acidity and residual sugar. The majority of styles are dry but a few are starting to experiment with residual sugar, Grosset from Clare Valley being one the earliest pioneers (try his Alea with RS 12g/l).
Chardonnay, love it or hate it, is Australia’s best grape according to Tim. First planted in South Australia in 1937, it has transformed from a peachy and buttery spotty teenager to more sophisticated elegant grown-up. The trend now is towards extracting more phenolics and focussing on dryness away from sunshine ripeness. The ability to access more suitable and a wider variety of clone material is improving the quality. The combination of earlier picking, more use of whole bunch press followed by spontaneous ferment and minimal oak treatment (more old than new French) is reflected in crisper, delicate Burgundian styles.
Chardonnay is produced almost everywhere from warm & humid Hunter Valley (Tyrrell’s), high altitude Orange (600m) to cool coastal regions in Yarra Valley (Oakridge Wines), Mornington Peninsula (Kooyong), Tasmania (Derwent Estate), Margaret River (Leeuwin Estate) and Adelaide Hills (Shaw & Smith). However, there are strong differences in opinion on what Australian Chardonnay should taste like. Some are manipulating flavours by purposefully oxidising must, using wild yeasts or experimenting with different vessels whereas others prefer minimal intervention and focus on terroir, letting the wines speak for themselves.
Pinot Noir is everyone’s darling. Numerous winemakers are obsessed with this variety and as a result produce some of the best examples reaching the heights of Cote d’Or. Gone are the days when Pinot Noir was boosted with a small portion of Shiraz. Balance and lower alcohol (sometimes managed by using open tanks which blows off some of the alcohol) is aspired for. The focus is not on creating a particular style but to reflect an individual terroir/vineyard site which is what Pinot Noir does best. Unconventionally, use of whole bunch in order to exaggerate perfume and stalky freshness has a strong following despite being rarely used in Burgundy. Maybe it is all that inspirational and extensive drinking of DRC or Dujac who use 100% whole bunch as a textural component, jokes Steve.
Most Pinot Noir is planted in Yarra Valley (De Bortoli) as it thrives in this relatively free draining clay/silt/limestone soil. However, there are great Pinots made in many areas with cooling influence. From Mornington Peninsula (Ten Minutes by Tractor), Gippsland (Bill Downie), Geelong (Farr), Tasmania (Stefano Lubiana), Southern Fleurieu (Tapanappa).
Semillon used to be called Hunter River Riesling. There is definitely a resemblance to German Riesling with its high acidity, lower alcohol, lemony zestiness and occasional kerosene aromas. Three distinctive styles are produced in Australia. Hunter Valley Semillon (Brokenwood) has low alcohol (10.5% abv) and is dry, fresh and lean thanks to the warm humid climate, very early picking, no MLF and no oak. Their potential to age is timeless (Tyrrell’s). Barossa Valley Semillon (Peter Lehman) is richer but despite being picked early its alcohol resembles classic white wine. Margaret River Semillon (Suckfizzle) has more vibrant character thanks to blending with pungent Sauvignon Blanc. Its style resembles Bordeaux Blanc in many respects thanks to similar gravel and clay soils and French oak barrel ageing. But even Semillon is changing now as the tendency is to make early drinking more instantly approachable wines, possibly to re-capture the interest in these undervalued and possibly misunderstood wines.
Shiraz is the signature varietal of Australia. I feel that to state that there are two styles of Shiraz now produced would not do justice to this exceptional and outperforming grape. The trend is towards producing fresher, peppery, lower alcohol styles using a portion of whole bunch and old French cask than new oak. Suitable climates vary from Yarra Valley – Beechworth (Jamsheed), Pyrenees (Dalwhinnie), Heathcote (Greenstone Vineyard), Canberra (Clonakilla) to traditional regions such as Barossa Valley (Penfolds), Eden Valley (Yalumba), Clare Valley (Taylors Wines), McLaren Vale (Wirra Wirra) and Hunter Valley (Brokenwood). But classic rich, dark fruit-flavoured, full-bodied highly concentrated styles are still around, collecting gold medals and being highly sort after (Torbreck).
Cabernet Sauvignon is the work horse of Australia and after Shiraz and Chardonnay the third most planted. It has been entirely transformed, many examples showing the typicity of bright cassis fruit with bitter sweet spice and fresh tannins. Arguably Coonawarra and Margaret River offer some of the best examples. Coonawarra (Wynns) is a unique region full of contrasting climatic conditions with hot temperature on one side and frequent spring frosts and rain at vintage. Margaret River (Cullen) with its terroir and climate resembling Bordeaux produces remarkable quality Cabernets. Clare Valley’s (Jim Barry) cool nights help to preserve fresh acidity and finesse in Cabernets and despite its relative remoteness it produces newsworthy wines.
Sparkling styles are still rare. Some of the best sparkling wines are produced in Tasmania taking full advantage of its cool climate. Both Jansz and Arras are well-established and distributed in the UK but there are many boutique producers that are waiting to be discovered in order to appear on British shores. The tendency is to produce Champagne style blends of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but surprisingly Pinot Meunier has not been planted yet in Tasmania.
Sweet wines have been made in Australia since 1982 and De Bortoli Noble One Semillon was one of the first successful brands. What may surprise you is that back in 1920’s botrytised Semillon was also made in a fortified style. These botrytised styles are now aged in new French oak creating a very similar style to Sauternes.
Fortified wines (rare muscats/topaques and ports) once accounted for almost all production but this has dramatically changed to the extent that only a few remaining producers such as Campbells and All Saints Estate in Rutherglen still excel at this blending art and Penfolds producing limited release ports in Barossa Valley.
Whatever the future holds with all its challenges, I believe that UK and Australia will continue their strong symbiotic relationship. The UK still remains Australian number one export market despite the stick that Brits sometimes give to Aussie wines, historically being too ripe and now for being too lean. Brits seek Australian innovation and their easy-to-understand wines that don’t break the bank. As the worldwide focus thankfully tends to premium wine production with individual site distinction improving quality and profitability, Australia is well positioned. After all I believe that this spectacular country is still at a learning stage and the best wines are still to be made and discovered by us.
What happens when a room brimming full of delicious, authentic and diverse wines coincides with a hipster crowd? You get The Dirty Dozen tasting. True to its name, one of the coolest and beardiest tasting events in London. Amongst all that “I don’t care looks” and skinny jeans, I discovered the new California and learnt a thing or two.
Many Californian producers have been in a pursuit of finesse for years but it has been only recently that this new wave has washed onto UK shores. Mainly thanks to Roberson Wine team, pioneers of new trends and finders of the best regional wines, our perceptions and misconceptions of what Californian wines taste like are being challenged.
A place that was once dominated by rich, powerful and highly alcoholic fruit bombs is now being replaced by newly emerging bright and fresh wines. The reputation for over-ripeness and heavy-handed oak treatments was legendary. However, whereas it’s great for collecting high scores and awards, it results in wines that taste very similar and are more difficult to enjoy.
But thanks to early picking and a focus on diversity and balance, numerous winemakers are producing wines that people would actually like to drink. That is not to say that Californian producers have ceased to produce late-picked concentrated blockbusters but many are reacting to the changing emphasis toward lighter, purer more vibrant wines.
Flowers Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast (The Wine Treasury £48)
The 2011 was picked early showing higher acidity than expected from classic Chardonnay. Yet the low yields ensured full ripeness indicated by fruit richness and texture well-balanced by moderate alcohol (13.7%) abv thanks to the cooling Pacific Ocean influence (2 miles away) and delicate roasted almost nutty notes more reminiscent of flat white than espresso. 100% spontaneous alcoholic fermentation and ageing in French oak barrels for 14 months (only 18% new) ensured elegance and defined fruit vibrancy.
Sean Thackrey “Pleiades” [plee-uh-deez] (The Wine Treasury £32)
This is one of Sean’s famously controversial and experimental non-vintage blends of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Syrah, Zinfandel and Mourvèdre. With pretty aromas of pear, donut peaches and Toblerone white chocolate it is reminiscent of white wine but the taste brings you undoubtedly back to red. Despite its premium price, the wine is labelled as Table Wine due to its unique combination of different regions and vintages. The wine changes every year. Sean is not giving much importance to the terroir element or paying much attention to winemaking rules but the main focus is on sourcing the best fruit. Some suggest that this wine taste better the day after it was opened.
Broc Cellars Green Valley Valdiguié [val-dih-gee-ay] (Roberson Wine £22)
In comparison to Sean Thackrey, Broc wines are vineyard specific. Chris Brockway, the winemaker follows the philosophy of early picking, spontaneous whole cluster ferment with no/or low sulphur dioxide additions and minimal intervention. The Solano County Green Valley AVA is located southeast of the Napa Valley taking advantage of maritime climate with its cooling ocean influence mediating the summer heat. Valdiguiè is quite unique red grape variety, known in California as Napa Gamay, capable of producing fresh scented low alcohol (12%) wines. The 2012 is charming juicy tipple with lovely sour cherry streak and pretty floral brightness.
Wilde Farm Anderson Valley Pinot Noir “Donelly Creek” 2012 (Roberson Wine £39)
This is a single vineyard expression of Pinot Noir. Fresh, bright and beautiful on so many levels. Showing defined complexity full of rhubarb, cherry blossom and wild flower notes thanks to careful selection of Dijon clones. Nothing added nothing taken away this is a pure and magical Pinot.
Copain Syrah “Halcon” 2009 from Mendocino County (Roberson Wine £54)
For Syrah lover like me it only took seconds to fall for Halcon’s charms. Despite the warm and dry summer of 2009, the high elevation of Yorkville Highlands (760m) ensures that the wine achieves balanced moderate alcohol level (12.8%). Wells Guthrie, the winemaker, creates Syrah that shows Rhone attitude yet has Californian roots. The 2009 is perfect to drink now but if it does not match your budget try Tous Ensemble (‘all together’) Syrah 2012 which is available for the fraction of the price (£23). Still delicious but more approachable and blended from selected vineyards within Mendocino County.
Ever wondered what it is like to take the Master of Wine exam? Notoriously one of the most demanding exams in the wine world consisting of three flights of 12 wines tasted blind and 11 theory papers all over four days. It has been two weeks since I attempted this challenge in London but the feeling is still very much fresh and racing through my mind. There is not a day that I am not asked what it was like and how I did. So here it goes.
The first day of this exam marathon is about to start and we (the candidates) stand nervously around waiting to be shown to our tables. Barely a word is spoken. The hall is filled with the future crème de la crème of the wine trade but anxious smiles and tense breathing belie that. Never mind how well prepared we are or how talented we may be, there is a palpable air of barely concealed panic.
We are all aware of the hopeless statistics of acing this exam. There is less than 10% pass rate on the tasting, the theory shows touch more success. Some people are more natural in blind tasting and others are more comfortable writing structured essays but I believe that anyone can learn both skills. I guess if I didn’t I wouldn’t be here.
Sitting at the end of the well-lit but rather soulless industrial room, I have a view of all 40-odd candidates. The overwhelming thoughts of who will be the lucky one this year come to my mind. This is our time to shine but all I can do at this point is breathe in shallow gulps and try and force some positive thoughts.
It seems like a century before we can start pouring our wines and then we are off like racing greyhounds. The wines are cold at first (Paper 1 is always whites) so you hold on to the glasses with your palms as if your life depended on it. I sniff all wines first and quickly assess what they could be. No grids for me. One thing I have learned is that the first initial judgement is usually the best and most accurate.
In order to calm my nerves I start with the flight of questions that I am most comfortable with. This time we were blessed with four lovely Rieslings that were instantly recognisable. Tasty too. A couple of swallows to build some courage, the heart rate starts to slow down and a hint of welcome relief follows. Before you know it we are asked to stop writing and put our pens down.
No doubt if I had more time, this would be so much easier but this exam is about the skill of wine knowledge as much as decision making and fast writing. There are 300 marks to be had and to pass you need to get at least 195 marks. You have a minute or two to decide what each wine is and then spend the rest of the time justifying your decisions on region, grape variety, quality, age, commercial potential, winemaking etc.
Fresh air tastes so good after the first exam I tell you, even with all the traffic heading towards Blackfriars Bridge. A quick cup of tea and a bite to eat and we are back in our seats getting ready for the first theory paper. It’s simple – you have 3 hours to write 3 essays that will be marked with equal importance. This is where true geeks shine.
This year the questions were tough but pretty fair – from management of the vineyard through quality control procedures to brand building and wine industry legislation. They are designed to test our breadth of knowledge but some were very specific so you really needed to be confident about the subject before answering. Choosing the right question is always crucial.
The biggest challenge here is the timing. Three hours may sound like a long time. In that time you could run a marathon if you were fast or half marathon if you were slow. But to write three academically structured essays filled with well-chosen global examples in a confident and critical manner is what gives this that punishing edge.
For the next two days you follow the same format. The pressure and stress lessens somewhat but the fatigue and lack of sleep start to play their toll. On the fourth day, we are allowed to show off our personality tackling more contemporary issues. The final whistle went off just after midday on Saturday, followed by generous helpings of Bollinger.
And how did I do? Well – we will find out in September!
What impact climate change has on viticulture worldwide and how can producers moderate the effects?
Forget what happened in 2012 and 2013. If you want to understand the impact of climate change on viticulture, simply observing yearly snapshots is misleading. Nigel Sneyd, director of International Winemaking at Gallo, argues that “climate change is a along-term phenomenon and people too readily take three-year or at best ten-year trends as unequivocal signs, they should be looking at centuries of data”.
Our climate is naturally variable (some regions getting colder and some hotter) and the change is so slow. Researchers at the University of Southern Oregon carried out extensive research and reported that the average temperature in thirty classic high quality wine producing regions worldwide has risen by 3 degrees in the last 50 years. They also predicted a rise of 2.5 to 4.7 degrees by 2050. Dr Richard Smart, an Australian viticulturist, claimed that just one degree of temperature rise can wipe out an entire grape growing region. However, there is strong evidence that growers are managing to moderate climate change effects successfully through careful vineyard management and location.
For several decades Chilean, Argentinean and South African producers have been taking advantage of unique coastal and altitude conditions that guarantee sustainable production of high quality wines in areas that would otherwise be too hot or arid. Cold ocean currents and cool air coming down from the Andes at night helps to stabilize temperatures and moderate very warm and dry climate with infrequent rainfall.
High temperatures have always been a reality in the Douro. However, Fernando Alves of the Association for the Development of Viticulture in the region warns that “intense exposure to sunlight and repeated periods of drought in recent years have put deep stress on the vine and soil”. One way of tackling this issue is to plant grapes at various elevations. Mr Alves suggests that “one variety that thrives now at 600 meters might be planted at a site 100 meters higher or situated with a different exposure to the sun, and so be coaxed to adapt to its new growing conditions”.
Awareness of climate change on vineyard location is key for sustainable viticulture. For example, on-going research by Prof. Silvia Guidoni of the University of Turin in the vineyards of G.D.Vajra in Piedmont discovered that south facing vineyards that used to have perfect exposure now are too hot in some years. It is west-southwest vineyards that now seem to be more successful as they benefit from the sun taking longer to warm them therefore avoiding reach high temperature exposure.
The way we interact with our environment is directly influenced by climate change. Producers may choose to modify row orientation in order to minimize sunburn. In regions that lack cloud cover, canopy management can be used for better protection and shade with the possibility of overhead trellising. Whereas in cooler climates, open canopy allows required sunlight to reach the grapes and allow full ripeness. For example, in Tasmania, Andrew Hanigan of Derwent Estate chooses to remove leaves at the bottom of the vine in order to reduce methoxypyrazine concentration in his Sauvignon Blanc.
Similarly, delayed pruning encourages delayed budburst, which decreases the risk of spring frost damage. In order to tackle this seasonal damage, Albert Bichot in Chablis uses electric wire in the vineyards and Hattingly Valley, UK sparkling wine producer is experimenting with Frost Guard that can create temperature fluctuation reducing ice crystal formation. In extreme cold temperatures such as in Ontario or Northern China, producers may choose to bury their vines mitigating their bud loss.
By careful selection of clones and rootstocks that are more resistant to extreme temperatures and saline soils, vines can better tackle heat waves or rain storms. Chris Williams of Meerlust in Stellenbosch is experimenting with Paulsen 1103 rootstock for their Merlot as it is better suited to drought conditions and has a very good tolerance to salt.
Adaptation of different grape varieties is also one of the solutions counteracting climate change. For example Touriga Nacional, known for ability to photosynthesize for a much longer period than many other grape varieties, could be planted more widely outside Portugal. Introducing new grape types however could result in a loss of regional character and it may be problematic since many Designated Origin wines are related to the type of grape used. Less restricted areas such as England are already taking an advantage of their freedom. A more Mediterranean climate in southern England has spurred a boom of new plantings of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier which now account for more than 50% of all England’s plantings and are destined for sparkling wine production.
However, for some growers who are short of money following several bad vintages, it may now be too late to act. It is estimated that over 200 Beaujolais producers are in danger of bankruptcy after frost and hail affected the 2012 harvest particularly badly. As a consequence, many are lacking finances to move from the goblet to the trellis system in order to better manage the vines and rely less on chemical fertilizers and pest control.
The impact on the Champagne region is rather more controversial. There are those such as Arnaud Descôtes, environmental manager for the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, that believe that global warming is a good thing. There is a higher number of released ‘great’ vintages as the average flowering is now earlier due to warmer climate, hence the grapes are ripening earlier (14 days earlier according to CIVC) and therefore they are less prone to poor weather at the end of the growing season. It also allows more vines to be planted in the region. On the other hand, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have a very narrow ideal average temperature band during the growing season (Pinot Noir 14-16°C/Chardonnay 14-18°C) and it is likely that any deviation from this range will produce less distinctive wines lacking full-body elegance.
The situation in Piedmont indicates a similar predicament. Whereas rising temperature had a positive effect overall with a string of good to outstanding vintages since 1996 (except 2002) and significant improvement of lower quality Barolo, unpredictable rainfall is causing significant soil erosion. Despite overall rainfall remaining fairly constant, its unpredictable distribution is creating more very dry and very wet periods, with the local silty soil crusts struggling to cope with the extremes.
Philippe Guigal, chief winemaker of Maison Guigal in Rhone is positive but cautious about climate change. He says that there is “a much better correlation between the physiological maturity and the phenolic ripeness of Syrah in the north of the region now”. 25 years ago chaptalisation was a regular procedure but now grapes have a natural potential strength of 13% to 13.5% that is perfectly satisfactory. However, recent research by Conservation International warns that production in the Rhone will decline as warming climate will make it harder to grow grapes here by 2050.
In Bordeaux many producers have also noticed a slow yet significant change in growing conditions. The shift to a compressed growing season is resulting in uneven grape ripening and sugar accumulation, reflecting in unbalanced yield and low-acid wines that lack complexity. It has been proven by recent research by the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation (GWRDC) supported by Treasury Wine Estate. Open-top chambers were designed where temperature was increased by 2°C above ambient to represent warming projections for wine growing regions under realistic vineyard conditions. The key finding was that there was a shorter harvest period, putting logistical pressure on producers and directly affecting wine quality.
Luckily, vines are much more resilient to climate change than we give them credit for. However, the recent rapid spread of new pests and disease is a visible sign of warmer temperatures according to Dr Richard Smart. The multi-coloured Asian ladybird that taints wines with methoxypyrazines is already causing problems in Canada, Italy, Spain, France and England now too.
Dr Smart also warns that Esca, a type of trunk disease linked to climate warming, could pose a far greater risk to our viticulture than phylloxera. It has been spreading rapidly in Burgundy, particularly affecting Sauvignon Blanc as the fungal pathogens affect a vine’s vigour and life span through delayed and stunted growth. Louis-Fabrice Latour of Maison Louis Latour confirms that Burgundy is producing less wine now than in the 80s and 90s as a result. However, climate change is only one factor blamed for spreading this disease. Sodium arsenite fungicides, historically used to kill trunk disease, were banned 10 years ago due to their destructive impact on soil. In addition, electric pruning shears are increasingly used which make bigger cuts when cutting the old wood, creating more infection.
To think that in 20 to 50 years, Champagne will be over-shadowed by sparkling wine production on the coast of Scandinavia or that Southern Rhone producers will grow pineapples and mangoes instead of their beloved Chateauneuf-du-pape, seems far-fetched. There is still no visible proof that countries such as Sweden, with its mere 50 hectares currently under vine, are benefiting from any of these changes. In fact, wine production in these countries is still very much in its infancy.
Of importance are increasingly extreme weather patterns and their unpredictability. Hail, frost, storms, snowballs the size of potatoes, sudden rainfalls, heat waves and prolonged droughts have a direct affect on vineyards worldwide. Whereas change of temperatures can create new opportunities while influencing vine physiology, berry composition and wine attributes, extreme weather conditions have severe consequences. Sudden hails storm can ruin a chateau’s annual production in a few minutes.
Burgundy’s new regional association (ARELFA) invested this year in a new technology to protect the region from devastating hailstorms. Spurred by continuous crop loss over the last 15 years, ground generators were developed in order to control weather patterns in the sky. Test already showed 50% success and is more affordable (€10 per hectare) than anti-hail rockets.
South African and Australian producers are used to heat waves and droughts and are very much aware that access to water will become increasingly important. Whereas South African growers lack the scope to move polewards, Australian growers are exploring cooler regions such as Tasmania, already showing great potential for sparkling wine production.
Soil salinity is also a threat in Australia and the use of saline tolerant vines that are able to absorb water will become significant. This problem, caused by imbalance of the hydrological cycle or irrigation, is particularly significant in Western Australia, South Australia and Murray-Darling Basin according to CSIRO, the national science agency.
Water management and the sustainability of water sources is on everyone’s mind. Permitting irrigation where currently appellation laws forbid it for the production of high quality wines (PDO and PGI) is an obvious change that producers are bound to fight for.
It has been estimated that in order to produce a bottle of wine, 1,500 litres of water is used, therefore conserving water for use in vineyards and cellars will be a key factor in water resource planning. Growers will be competing with another as well as (and arguably more importantly) other agricultural areas. Areas such as California are considering enforcing mandatory water restrictions due to 7 years of consecutive droughts and after experiencing one of the driest year’s on record in 2013. The price of irrigation water in Riverland, Riverina and Murray Valley has tripled in recent years and 40% of producers are struggling to afford it. But there are smart vineyard practices that help to balance the cost increase. Bryson Brothers at Morambro Creek in Australia use mulch cover which protects evaporation and saves 20-30% of water.
Dramatic and unpredictable vintage changes harm individual producers much more then the overall average temperature rise. As more extreme weather conditions occur greater vintage variations appear, highlighting the importance of innovative viticultural techniques. To become sustainable, producers will need to better understand their vineyard locations and their water sources. There is much work to be done in the vineyards and the emphasis will shift significantly towards the vigneron’s work alongside the winemaker’s. However, there will be plenty of new opportunities and plantings in new areas, that should hush any warnings of global wine shortages.
Spring is here and so the love of rosé resurfaces like daffodils. The supermarket shelves will soon be covered by beautiful pink hues and our glasses will be filled with many different shades of blush. For several months, rosés will rule the world yet again.
Rosé wines are becoming very popular and not only amongst the ladies. We are drinking more rosé than we ever did and all the signs point to further growth. Those new to wine are more likely to pick a bottle of rosé as it is more accessible and palatable more than many reds or whites. The figures reflect this trend, the worldwide production of rosé has increased by 13% in the last 8 years becoming an important category now within the drinks business and accounting for 10% of total wine production (CIVP).
French lead the way as they both produce and drink the biggest share. In fact they consume more than they can produce at the moment. But consumption trends differ very much depending on the country. Americans and Germans are said to be fond of residual sugar whereas French and Spanish prefer dry styles.
So what type of rosé wine drinkers are most Brits? The trend is not as one sided here as the stock on shelves suggests demand for both dry and sweet styles. However, the overriding trend is lighter and more off-dry styles at affordable prices. Indeed, it is the style that leads the category as opposed to the region of origin. This is brilliant news to any winemakers that are willing to listen to consumers and create rosé styles that are in demand.
Whatever the style, Brits are becoming very fond of rosés despite the variable weather. In fact, one in eight bottles of wine bought is rosé now and Brits spend close to £700 million per year on this category (Nielsen).
Despite all this success, there are still many, like me, that would rather have a good bottle of white or red. To me, rosés are like movies that never became a blockbuster. A good cast but the plot lacks depth and interest. The fact that rosés are rarely made in their own right, and despite all the best intentions, quality is compromised as generally only degraded/left-over red varieties are used in production.
A recent blind tasting of 32 top rosés has not persuaded me otherwise. The wines consisted of 2012 and 2013 vintages, priced at premium £15 – £30 and the range was 70% from Provence, and the rest from Loire Valley, Rhone, Bordeaux, Navarra, England, Piedmont, Australia and New Zealand.
The first thing that struck me was the amount of reductive notes (rubber, struck match) and even a couple of cases of reduced taint (cabbage, onion) across this range. To me, the reason why rosés are so successful is due to their attractive colour and seductive perfume. Reduction unfortunately spoils the fun.
What also did not help was that the majority of wines lacked fruit. I would have hoped that even serious rosés such these would offer some fruit pleasure. All the wines were dry, but despite my personal preference I believe that just a touch of residual sugar would lift those hidden (or should I say restrained) aromas and flavours.
However, the packaging didn’t disappoint. In fact I think that these days rosés have amongst the smartest and most aesthetically pleasing packaging, with a clear message and presentation. Colours are so versatile from a pale shade of strawberry to bright cherry lollipop so that everyone can find their preferred shade.
All in all, here are my top 5 rosés from the tasting:
1. Sancerre Rose Chavignol, Dom Laporte 2013 Loire Valley – £16.50 – Lea & Sandeman
2. Chene Bleu 2013 Ventoux (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault) £15, Justerini & Brooks
3. Domaine des Diables Rose Bonbon 2013 Provence – £13.95 – Lea & Sandeman
4. Domaine Sainte Lucie L’Hydropathe 2013 Provence – £15.95 – Lea & Sandeman
5. Domaine Tempier 2012 Provence – £23.95 – Lea & Sandeman
My hubby, Ben is an angel. Not many people would put up with their partners spending holidays meeting winemakers and viticulturists, talking about yeast cultures and canopy management and even fewer loved ones would be persuaded to be dragged along to visit wineries instead of well-deserved lie-ins and beach tranquillity. Well, my hubby has been doing just that for the last two years and the recent three-week trip in Australia was the ultimate proof of what a lucky wifey I am.
Being an MW student practically means you are married to the wine industry. From the initial “I do” you breathe wine for better, for worse, in sickness, in health. Holidays are no exception. This time we travelled across five wine regions (Tasmania, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Margaret River, Mount Barker) visited close to 30 wineries and sipped through hundreds of wines. And we are still happily married, I hasten to add.
Let me be absolutely clear about one thing – Australian wine rocks! We were instantly struck by the infectious passion for food and wine here. From delicately roasted, nutty and frothy flat whites wherever you go (from petrol stations to your ordinary corner cafés), the high standard of locally produced ingredients to a sheer stubbornness to create the best possible wines. Melbourne in particular is a true gastronomic destination, full of quirky wine bars and gourmet bistros (see below for our recommendations).
Australian wine producers are very proud of their hard craft and so they should be. What we liked the most is that many are not afraid to have fun, innovate and diversify. They understand the importance of giving people want they actually want. At the same time, many are proud of their land and are realising the regional potential and creating their own distinctive style of wines. It is common sense that is driving winemaking and viticultural decisions here rather than regulations and chasing after specific certifications.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, Hobart in Tasmania with its cool Southern Ocean influence and latitude similar to Nelson in NZ is showing great potential for early-ripening Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs and not only for the production of premium sparkling wines. No wonder Penfolds are sourcing Chardonnay grapes for their Yattarna in Derwent Valley and Shaw & Smith are growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Coal River Valley for their new premium label Tolpuddle.
However, the 2014 vintage will see a very small harvest. Talking to Andrew Hanigan and John Schuts of Derwent Estate and Stefano Lubiano, they all predict a significant loss of yield due to windy and rainy weather during flowering and fruit set. Luckily, the quality of the remaining fruit is bound to be exceptional.
This year’s harvest in Yarra Valley is very similar to Tassie. Timo Mayer and Andrew Marks of Gembrook Hill Vineyard in Upper Yarra had their yield reduced from 40hl/ha to 25hl/ha due to low fruit set. The loss of crop of up to 50% has particularly affected early ripening Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Mornington Peninsula seemed to be affected even more. Lindsay McCall of Paringa Estate and Ten Minutes by Tractor reported only one third of their normal harvest. We saw a noticeable millerandage on Chardonnay grapes at Moorooduc Estate. Luckily, Richard McIntyre uses Mendoza clones, which he believes still achieve good quality crop.
In fact the harvest was so small that Mac Forbes in Yarra Valley was done and dusted by the 3rd of March. Similarly, when we arrived to Gembrook we were greeted with a generous glass of Andrew’s gin (called The Melbourne Gin Company) instead of traditional tank and barrel sampling. Ben was particularly pleased about this outcome as trying half fermented cloudy juice and then trying skilfully to spit it in a gutter is not exactly his forte.
When leaving Healesville I could only reflect upon the change in wine styles I saw compared to my last visit 4 years ago. The intense ripe fruit and opulence was already being replaced with lean and elegant styles then but it is now reaching a point of subtlety and restraint that is reminiscent of Burgundy. Noticeable acidity and reductive character is the trend now but I did wonder whether some producers have gone too far with earlier picking, stressed ferments, blocked malos and pH & oxygen management. All these tricks are making it an absolute nightmare when trying to pinpoint wines during blind tastings.
But the overall quality is high and I must agree with David Gleave MW of Liberty Wines when he predicts that it is the premium regional offering that will pick up strength in the years to come, and not only in the UK.
Many old snobs argue that the New World cannot produce minerality in wines. Well I would suggest them trying David Bicknell’s 2012 Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Yarra Valley (Oakridge), Dom Valentine’s 2012 Valere Riesling (Crisp Wines) from Long Gully Road vineyard or Gary Gills’ 2012 Beechworth Syrah (Jamsheed). It is when we tasted (drank would be more appropriate) wines like these that Ben started to realise that this wine tour disguised as a holiday is not that bad after all.
The willingness to spit lessened significantly after a delicious lunch at Ten Minutes by Tractor. This classy joint in the heart of Mornington was a perfect watering hole and an oasis of calmness and exceptional food. Despite the initial stiffness of this place, the head sommelier and the other waitresses took a shine (possibly pity) to our unpretentious outfits and geeky enthusiasm over their extensive wine list. It was also time to make Ben happy and a couple of glasses of 10XTractor Chardonnay 2007 did the trick, knowing that we have more wineries to visit and more knowledge to absorb in Mornington.
If you ever wanted to learn more about vine grafting and clonal selection but lack an affinity to books about viticulture, like me, then meeting Richard McIntyre of Moorooduc Estate is your best bet. His vineyards are a wealth of carefully selected Pinot Noir clones (some grafted onto original plantings) from the most widely planted MV6 (originally brought here by James Busby), Davis clones selected for their high yields to some of the best Dijon clones 777, 114 and 115. Indeed, Richard spends much of his time in the vineyards and also found a handy and so far successful way of dealing with Eutypa disease (which according to Dr Richard Smart could become as disastrous and widely spread as phylloxera once was).
Moorooduc wines are very unique. Chardonnays are lean and elegant as they are picked early and only about 50% undergoes malo. The Pinot Noirs have distinctive blood orange, anise and wild strawberry perfume. And if you appreciate whole bunch perfumed style, like Ben as it turned out, then try Richard’s 100% McIntyre vineyard 100% whole bunch Shiraz.
Next stop, Margaret River in Western Australia. The most exciting about this region is the sense of change to come. The investment from Perth and the mining industry focussed on Wilyabrup and Wallcliffe has already reflected in rising wine quality and smartly equipped cellar doors.
Despite being so far away from anywhere else, 3,5 hours drive from the most remote city in the world Perth, this place is full of potential. For Bordeaux blends in particular. The ideal soil combination of shallow red sandy and granite loam full of oxidised iron and gravels perfect for drainage and clay subsoil ensuring rainfall retention is not that dissimilar to Medoc. Sustainable water sources are ensured thanks to remaining vegetation deterring salinity and easy access to dams. The region does not suffer annual weather extremes that are so frequent and cause such significant damage elsewhere in the world. Apart from occasional hail and the risk of bushfires, Margaret River seems to be your perfect spot for viticulture.
Much attention is also being given to clonal selection. Rob Mann of Cape Mentelle is bringing sexy back to Merlot by replanting their vineyards with more consistent high quality 181 clone whose origins can be traced to Pomerol. Rob also revealed to us his not-so-well-kept secret. He is making a very intriguing white wine from the first truly Australian grape variety – Cygne Blanc. This extremely rare grape, a seedling of Cabernet Sauvignon, was first discovered 25 years ago in Western Australia and kept under wraps until now. It is reminiscent of its grandparent Sauvignon Blanc with its herbal and floral perfume and has delicacy and waxy notes of Semillon.
To finish off our trip in style, we were treated to a relaxed and private tasting and lunch with the very charismatic Vanya Cullen. As we sipped through her delicious Chardonnays and Cabernets we reflected on our Australian adventure. It has left us super excited about all things Australian. Furthermore, thanks to everyone’s openness and friendly attitude I have gained so much invaluable information that I hope will help me during those 4 crucial days in June.
Delicious Places To Drink & Dine
Speakeasy Bistro in Bondi Beach (with only 5 tables this is the cosiest place, hidden away behind the main tourist promenade – simple yet flavoursome and fresh small dishes will get your taste buds tingling)
Café Sydney at Circular Quay (must book)
The Town Mouse Restaurant on Drummond Street (relaxed high class drinking and dining)
Harry&Frankie at Port Melbourne (shop/ wine bar with $15 flat corkage for any wines – heaven for wine geeks)
Innocent Bystander at Healesville (your perfect chill-out place in the heart of Yarra – everything here is locally brewed, fermented, toasted, baked or churned)
Healesville Hotel & Restaurant (great place to stay and dine)
Ten Minutes by Tractor Restaurant in Mornington Peninsula (outstanding high quality, well-crafted dishes worth the pennies (not cheap) and a wine list you could spend hours admiring)
Sidecar Bar at Hobart (a cosy natural wine bar in the city also offering simple yet tasty snacks)
Garagistes Restaurant at Hobart (ever-changing five course dining with matching Sake or a choice of organic, biodynamic or natural wines from round the world)
The Source Restaurant at Mona in Hobart (modern French cuisine + fantastic wine list) – the modern art museum is amazing
Smolt at Hobart (great food but service could have been more attentive)
Settlers Tavern in the centre of Margaret River (Spectator awarded this place World’s Best Wine List and rightly so – you can buy wines here that you will not find anywhere else thanks to hard work by the owners – Karen and Rob)
Leeuwin Restaurant in Margaret River (must-visit for lunch)
Cullen Restaurant in Margaret River (great for biodynamic produce and tranquillity)
Gnarabar Pub in Margaret River (simple pub but with a great location and some huge portions)
Maleeya’s Thai Café in Mount Barker (this place may not sound much but we had the most authentic and tasty Thai food outside Thailand – tucked away in the middle of nowhere this place is a real treat – many of the ingredients are grown and farmed on the premises)
Raats Bar at Middleton Beach, Albany
Wines worth trying
Moorilla Estate (not in the UK)
Derwent Estate (not in the UK)
Pooley Wines (not in the UK)
Stefano Lubiana Wines – Whirly Wine
Shaw & Smith Tolpuddle Vineyard – Liberty Wines
Gembrook Hill Vineyard (not in the UK)
Timo Mayer – Les Caves de Pyrene
Mac Forbes – Clark Foyster
Luke Lambert – Les Caves de Pyrene
Innocent Bystander – Liberty Wines
Oakridge – Matthew Clark
Jamsheed – Indigo Wines
Yabby Lake – Swig Wines
Moorooduc Estate – Coe Vintners
Ten Minutes by Tractor – Bancroft Wines
Ocean Eight – Hallowed Ground
Paringa Estate – Hallowed Ground
Moss Wood – Laytons
Leeuwin Estate – Domaine Direct
Cullen – Liberty Wines
Cape Mentelle – Moët Hennessy
Woodlands Wines (not in the UK)
Plantagenet – Liberty Wines