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