A Young Man with a Dream.
February 23rd 1939-May 8th 2018
Between 1963 and 1966 a young man already well travelled began teaching in Lyon and Stuttgart.
This was a unique time in Europe when the regions had their own personality and there was a freedom and openess to western Europe.
While teaching in Lyon he would venture north to Burgundy and Beaujolais and south to the Rhone valley. These adventures would lead to a fascination with the vineyards and wines of France. So to in Stuttgart he would visit the vineyards and wineries of Baden-Wurttenberg and from then on he was hooked.
What fed this obsession with the grape was fourfold. The beauty of the regions he visited the fascinating people he would meet like Louis Garoux in Burgundy , the wonderful wine and food he would be introduced to and the fun of making the wine itself.
In 1966 he returned to Australia and met Heather his soon to be wife.
By 1968 they began looking for a suitable place to grow grapes and make wine around Toowoomba where he was raised and set up his law practice. That same year they came down to Stanthorpe and were introduced to Dick De Luca a gentle giant of a man of Italian heritage that poured for them a muscat wine made from his vineyard.
John and Heather shared the passion for wine and during this time John read extensively about wine and winemaking. From Max Lakes "The Flavour of Wine" from 1969, "Progressive Winemaking" by Peter Duncan and Bryan Acton from 1967, "Scientific Winemaking" by J.R.Mitchell from 1969 and "The Wines of Bordeaux " by E.Penning-Rowsell from 1969 .
One of the books "Australian Wine The complete Guide" by Dan Murphy (the man not the supermarket chain with his name) published in 1966 may well have sparked the interest with particular passages underlined.
One poinigant passage is that wine " promoted peace and relaxation and stimulated conversation and prompted ideas that produced paintings and sculptures and theatre and literature". John being an avid painter himself and gaining an appreciation of the arts having returned from Europe.
From his tasting and research and with Heather they decided to buy a property in 1968 and planted vines in 1969.The first vines planted were Shiraz after the fashion of what he had seen in the Rhone valley where the grapevines were also planted on granite soils.
Having met Max Lake on a few ocassions he ventured to Lakes Folly to do a vintage in 1971. Here they would bunk down in a loft above the winery before helping with the vintage.
From the exposure at Lakes Folly, although 1971 was a very wet vintage, John saw the potential of Chardonnay first planted at Lakes Folly in 1969.
Coming back to Stanthorpe he brought with him cuttings of the Mudgee clone of Chardonnay (the original source of Chardonnay in Australia) from Pieter Van Gent now known as the Penfolds 58 clone. Planting Chardonnay along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir to compliment the Shiraz plantings. He made his first wine in 1974 called "The Family".
By 1975 his first commercial wine a red blend of Cabernet Shiraz and Pinot Noir won a Gold in the Brisbane Royal National Agricultural Show. In 1976 he made his first Chardonnay at that time amongst only a handful of wineries making Chardonnay in Australia it too winning a Gold Medal and White Wine of the Show at the local Stanthorpe show and a Silver in the 1978 Brisbane National Agricultural Show . The 1976 Pinot Noir also receiving a Silver in the Brisbane Royal National Agricultural Show. He also spent some time studying under Brian Croser and Tony Jordan at what has now become Charles Sturt University at Wagga Wagga.
From the early seventies to 1986 John was to bring his flair of winemaking to bear on successive vintages. The vintages of 1974,1979,1980,1981,1982 and 1986 all being standouts in terms of quality and staying power. I have tasted many of these wines some thirty years after they were made and can attest to the elegance, complexity and length. Some truly remarkable wines like the 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon (one of the greatest red wines I have tasted) and the 1981 Shiraz Cabernet that was voted amongst the to ten top wines of the country at the time by a particular wine writer.
John bought a quiet confidence and his talents to share with all around him. A gentle man in the best sense. With many great ideas from the introduction of the first appellation system in Australia "Ballandean Nouveau", to the Sanctuary Cove "Wine Race" , Bay Cooler , the first 'methode champenoise' Sparkling wine in Queensland and the first satellite cellar door. He was a true innovator and pioneer. He will be missed and cherished by all who knew him.
In the past many wine books have been written about the regions around the world where grapes are grown and thrive for the production of wine. From the days when Winkler separated the regions by heat degree days and through to growing degree days and ripening temperature suggested by Gladstone.
Having worked all over the world to say one particular climate is more suited to a grape variety than another ignores the complexities of wine. For at every stage their are so many different combinations and possibilities that to say region A makes better wine than region B with a variety is sometimes more about marketing than actualities.
What can be said, that if your starting template for high quality wine is balanced fruit , sugar, acid and ripe tannin accumulation low disease and freshness. Then comparing your region , or ideally your site, with different regions and sites around the world can give an indication into what will grow well. In some regions there may be many varieties that grow well in others there may be a few based on limiting factors like temperature, rainfall and suitable sites.
So where do you start?
1/Find out where the closest or most representative climate station in your region is located and obtain the information from the latest 30 year period (1981-2010).
Steer clear of any major city information as invariably they tend to be heat sinks and will have a higher temperature than surrounding farmland.
2/ From this data get the following figures:
A/ Heat degree days latitude adjusted :
# this is the mean temperatures of the seven months of the growing season (Oct-Apr or Apr-Oct) minus ten degrees
# then multiplied by a day length factor (See Gladstones) above and below 40 degrees latitude (40 degrees being one)
# then multiply each monthly figure buy the days of the month
# add the monthly figures together to get HDD latitude adjusted
B/ Mean temperature of the warmest month
# this will tend to be mid summer unless you are in a strongly maritime region where sometimes late summer will be warmer.
# This is useful in ranking the apex heat load of the region in comparison to other regions
C/ Maximum Temperature of the warmest month
# This is important in differentiating between a milder acting climate and a more extreme one with similar mean temperatures. The vines can 'shut down' in higher temperatures typically above 35 degrees compared to being actively photosynthesizing at lower temperatures particularly if their is low water availablility.
# higher temperatures will require more moisture demand and typically regions with higher maximums to mean temperatures have much lower relative humidities so are more likely to suffer damaging stress unless soil is a mitigating factor.
# Colour development can also be delayed in the berry skins with higher temperatures.
D/ Average growing season rainfall (mm)
# the mean rainfall is the most readily available figure for comparison
# however the median rainfall is the better indicator of moisture status
# regions with similar rainfall will more than likely have similar disease pressure if not accounting for wind factors
3/ Collate these figures together and compare it to the table below.
#The HDD figure is more involved but is critical in placing your region in the right heat zone (including daylength).
# Use the HDD as Temperature (HDD / no. of days in the season plus 10) match the regions within 1 degree
# match regions within 1 degree of your region for MTWM and Maximum temperature of the warmest month
# Match regions within 100mm of rainfall to your region
# Regions with three to four matches are similar
4/ The closest matching regions to yours will be a useful starting point on what is suitable to grow in your region.
# The first three indices A, B and C are more critical in regards to wine style being about temperature, but D (rainfall) is important in regards to disease pressure and can be useful in deciding what soils are appropriate for what varieties.
How do you taste wine and learn about flavour?
Many scribes have covered the basic See Sniff Swirl Spit scenario for tasting wine. So let's take another approach. How do you get the most out of your wine tasting experience. How do you become an avid wine taster and can you train for the event.
Get the SSSS info and put it into practice. Buy two wines of the same variety and even the same region or producer. Buy the cheap and cheerful $10-15 bottle (below ten at your own risk) and a $20-30 bottle ( more if your feeling indulgent). Now try them side by side. In theory the cheaper bottle should be fresh light simple and easy to drink, generally better slightly chilled (even red). The more expensive bottle should have more flavour mouth feel and richness and may change and develop in the glass. One is for quaffing the other for taking your time to enjoy.
Quaffers are fit for purpose and are not really there to reflect on so just enjoy the wine at your Sunday lunch barbie or like minded occasion. Other wines however can be tasted with more patience. If you prefer the quaffer all power to you.
Anyone can learn how to taste. It's about using all your senses and paying attention. If you have Attention Deficit Disorder then maybe not ( I am surprised you have read this far), but otherwise you can learn the skill.
Take the time to notice the flavours in your everyday eating and drinking. The acidity in your lemon or grapefruit juice, the firm drying bitterness in your mouth when you drink a strong cup of tea, the sweetness and viscosity of a spoonful of honey around your tongue, the smokiness and saltiness of some well cured ham, the heat in your mouth when you try a strong whiskey/vodka/gin etc, the creaminess of that vanilla yoghurt. All these tastes are relevant to wine tasting.
Different people have different strengths in tasting the five basic building blocks of taste.
Sweetness: Easy enough for most people but don't confuse this with fruitiness. This confusion is probably due to many aromatic lifted fruity whites having some level of sweetness but they are not exclusive to each other. Mainly from sugar levels but a sweet perception can come from the alcohol and glycerol.This is usually an immediate sensation that subdues over a short time.
Area: the front tip of the tongue.
Sourness: Is due to the acidity of the wine. Too high and the taste will be tart (bite into a lemon), too low and the taste may be soapy ( don't bite into the soap). Just right and the taste will be refreshing. Acids can also taste a little different , try lemons versus granny smith apples (citric(fresh) versus malic acid (green)). Usually acidity is an immediate sensation that stays longer than sweetness.
Area: The sides and just underneath the tongue.
Bitterness: Certain compounds found mainly in the skins and seeds of the grapes and absorbed into the wine depending on the level of time the skins and seeds have been in contact with the juice/wine. So generally speaking red wines will have higher levels of bitterness.
Try the tea trick, or lemon lime and bitters,tonic water or the skins of some fruits will have elements of these compounds. Strongly hopped beer like an IPA is another option.The sensation is usually slow to develop but persists longer after spitting out.
Area: usually at the back of the tongue.
Salty: self explanatory. Usually an immediate sensation that also stays longer than sweetness.
Area: Also the edges of the tongue
Umami: A savoury flavour common in asian cusine, try fish or soy sauce dishes, cured meats, soft cheeses even Vegemite (any fermented products) .Usually an after taste that lingers can give an impression of furriness on the tongue.
Area: Mainly the back of the mouth and roof.
These building blocks are usually playing together in your mouth and are not an island. Similar to the visual flow across the colour spectrum. Where different sensations star at different times and in combination.
Some people are more sensitive to one and less to another. Based on how your taste bud receptors interpret the taste. So when someone tells you they can't taste that bitterness you can taste it may mean they are not sensitive to bitterness but you are. So individually you are both correct just perceiving differently. Totally Subjective.
Find out your strengths and weaknesses by playing around with levels of sugar, acidity,saltiness,bitterness and savoury flavours in your foods.
Get into the language of wine by taking what you have learnt in the previous rounds and building upon it. Get a copy of an aroma wheel from a wine site or reference book on wine. Now cover the outside descriptors and just work with the very inside of the wheel with the basic descriptors.
As an example using the UC Davis aroma wheel (see Oxford wine companion), the basic descriptors are as follows: Chemical, Earthy, Woody, Caramelised, Nutty, Vegetative, Fruity , Spicy, Floral, Microbiological, Oxidized and Pungent. Now smell and taste the wine and based on your perception try to class the wines major character into one of these descriptors. Once you are able to do this move on to the next layer of descriptors and then the third layer. As you do this more often you will be able to describe the wine with much more confidence and it can also be fun.
If for instance I was tasting an unwooded Chardonnay I might start as Fruity as the first descriptor and then perceive Tree Fruits and Tropical Fruits and Citrus in the second layer. Looking at the third layer I can then better describe the wine as peach (tree fruits), melon (tropical fruits) and grapefruit (citrus).
As you get better there are terms and descriptors related to balance , structure and mouth feel that you can tackle. But for the moment concentrate on the more aromatic and basic flavour descriptors.
Now come out swinging and get together with friends and organise your own wine options night.
Everyone brings a wine to the event but no one else knows what you have taken along. Each person gives the others three options about the wine they are tasting and everyone hazards a guess. Do this on several levels and the winner has bragging rights.
Even the best wine judges in the world can get this wrong so don't worry about the result the fun is in the tasting. Use questions like grape variety, country of origin, region, vintage and producer.
Talk about the wines descriptors and the more you do this the better you will become. The beauty of doing this with friends is you all have a good time learning how to taste wine.
Cheers Happy tasting!!!
For further research in tasting;
Beginner-Intermediate taster try 'HOW TO TASTE WINE' by Jancis Robinson (no relation)
Food and Wine matching I love 'THE SIMPLE ART OF MARRYING FOOD AND WINE ' by Malcolm Gluck , Mark Hix
For the winemaker/wine judge or seasoned taster 'THE TASTE OF WINE the art and science of wine appreciation' by Emile Peynaud. A invaluable resource on the subject.
Following On from the previous Article in Part one of the Granite Belt. Here is my take on some great examples of wines in the Granite Belt.
Not Gospel there are many other tasty titbits on offer. Make your own mind up
GRANITE BELT WINES
( I have to declare that I have a long association with the region at Robinson's which will not be included in the discussion other than the 1979 Cabernet below)
What they do well.
Chardonnay, Semillion, Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot , Shiraz , Petit Verdot , Red Blends from these
I have tried many great wines over the years from the exceptional vintages of the early 80's through to the modern day. What has proven to excel are the reds. From blends like the traditional shiraz cabernet through to 100% petit verdot. But if you were ever lucky enough to try the old semillion of Rumbalara back before it became unfashionable to drink semillion it was a grape to admire. Chardonnay receives a mention simply because so many have done so well over the years from national wine of the year in Winestate magazine (Heritage) to trophy for best white wine at a National show (Robert Channon) along with the numerous gold medals around Australia. With the milder days and nights during ripening many wineries under appreciate just what can be done with Chardonnay on the Granite Belt.
I know the list above isn't exciting and new and fashionable but when you try a 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon that your father made forty plus years after he made it and it blows you away it's hard to go past these proven performers. Merlot , in the right hands, can be better than anywhere.
What they claim to do well.
Don't like the variety , never have. This is probably more a reflection of my taste than anything. It just fails to excite me with a mid-palate awkwardness that I don't admire. Friends will bring along a bottle of verdelho for me at wine options just to stir me up. It's a popular drink for many others. And many wineries have a fresh example. Enough said.
What Shows promise
Tannat , Mourvedre/Mataro/Monastrell, Fiano,Vermentino,Durif
Some producers are making some really exciting wines out of these varieties. Where interesting aromas,flavour and texture really come to the fore.
One producer makes Chenin.When you see some of them with a bit of age around 7-10 years they really come into their own. Reminiscent of some of the old Houghton's White Burgundy where Chenin was a major player, it ages so well. That said, it is probably challenging to forge the best out of it every year.
After doing a vintage in Tuscany I know how fickle this variety is to different soils and aspects even within the same vineyard. With so many clones and the vineyard variability it is hard to know where to start when introducing a new variety like this. But I have tried a few fine examples of this variety in the Granite Belt, which came as a surprise to me. The makers must have worked hard to bring out its best.
One producer has made some fresh citrus and floral rieslings that are of a very high quality. The variety should do well in the region in regards to temperature and granite soils but rainfall during ripening is the major challenge. With a variety that has sensitive skin.
The region has many different grape varieties planted and if it's in Australia chances are its in the Granite Belt. The strange bird symbol on the regional map highlights the wineries that have something different. Look out for Graciano and Albarino as something on the horizon.
For My Taste:
Sauvignon Blanc :
Masons wines Cellar Collection, Girraween Estate
Herbaceous Tropical fresh lifted
Elegant modern Style: Ridgemill Estate
Old School : Ballandean Estate
Unwooded: Girraween Estate
The Estates have it.
There are many other great examples.
Top three for me
Harrington Glen (in a good year)
Mason Wines Cellar collection
The wines need cellaring to truly appreciate the length and elegance like a good Bordeaux but if you have them young just match it with a lamb roast or barbecued rib eye fillet.
Tannin Ripeness and ripe fruit is key. Some higher elevations in the region can sometimes struggle to ripen Cabernet fully. Can't over crop if you want quality.
Merlot: Ridgemill Estate
I have had some great merlot from right bank Bordeaux, Eden Valley, Coonawarra and even the Yarra. But the ripe fleshy character and black fruits possible in a ripe example in the Granite Belt can rival anywhere.
Shiraz: Too many great examples
Bigger Style: Golden Grove, Bungawarra
Medium Bodied : Pyramids Road,Whisky Gully
Elegant spicy: many producers do an elegant style with a black pepper spice and black fruits , in a cool year like 2008 or 2009 this can sometimes even be more white pepper.
Others are introducing some whole bunch/berry elements to create a lighter fresher ester lifted easy drinking style.
Mataro: Pyramids Road
Has that rustic tannin firmness and big fruit that ages particularly well.
Red blend: Ravenscroft Waagee or Bungawarra's Paragon
Ask him at the Cellar door about the name. He tells it so well.
Fortified: Ballandean Estate Muscat
Verdelho: I am not qualified to comment.
But just about everyone makes one. Freshness is key.
Petit Verdot: Mason wines Cellar Collection
Dense good length firm tannins inky has that typical (what I call orange rind) spice on the nose, this variety generally needs time for the tannins and acidity to soften but has all the building blocks of a great wine. It's cabernet sauvignon on steroids.
Fiano: Ballandean estate or Heritage
Super concentrated jubey juicy
Marsanne: Marsanne/Rousanne at Bents Road
Tannat: Just Red Wines or Boreiann
Big tannin dense fruit
Savoury and round
Nebbiolo: Ballandean Estate
This variety is typically tannin city without the dense fruit of Tannat needs time.
Fresh and punchy fruit
Riesling : Ridgemill estate
Durif : Golden Grove
best in a dry year
Malbec : Golden Grove
Big and brooding
Chenin Blanc: Casley Mount Hutton
With age gets an attractive honey toast with tree fruits
Best Older Vintages on Tasting: Casley Mt Hutton
2008 Shiraz probably the pick of them
Golden Grove or Boreiann both good examples depending upon oak level preference
Most Underrated Winery:
Readily Available outside region
Sirromet, Witches Falls, Symphony Hill
Hipster/Modern/Funky: Bents Road (La Petit Mort Range)
Wine styles and Story targeting the younger drinker
Wow Factor Cellar Door: Savina Lane
Napa Valley comes to the Granite Belt great views over the vineyard
Hidden Gem: Bungawarra
Small cosy with good quality reds
Head in the clouds.
Climbing above the misty morning fog heading west towards the sun. Rising up, constantly ascending ,you come to a elevated garden where the food table is diverse, and the air is thin above the clouds.
Obtrusive rocks are spread through the landscape like a giant toddler has forgotten to put away his marbles. A place unlike any other where the seasons tussle for domination each bringing there own coloured personality. Summers with green and earthen brown, Autumns rustic reds and oranges ,Winter, a cloak of ice and snow whites and greys, Spring a welcome start of floral bliss a burst of colour.
In winter nights are cool and days are clear,with mountain peaks casting gentle shadows over each other as they bid the day adieu and prepare for the brisk evening. The moon soon emerges from it's hiding place from behind the mountains , reflecting the glory of her big brother while granite monoliths reveal themselves in the fractured light.
As the moon descends the true glory of this region is revealed, a stellar cast of glittering white, a vision into the past of a distant galaxy that may no longer exist.
This is the land of Kambuwal , Thunderbolt and Geronimo , of Mackenzie and Fletcher. A land of tin miners,graziers,farmers and forgotten soldiers. A land of Granite.
My father first came to the region in the late 1960's after spending sometime teaching English in Europe. He was searching for land that was familiar to him that spoke of a sense of place. Like the vineyards he had visited in the Northern Rhone and Burgundy while teaching in Lyon, here in the highlands he had found what he was looking for.
From the days of Fletcher and Father Geronimo the vineyards were worked to supply eating grapes to masses. With muscat too ripe for market finding it's way to the Italian communities of the north as vino de tableau to refresh/numb the Ingham cane cutters.
By the late1970's the wine bug had become contagious and all manner of tribes were setting up shop to toil in the soil for their golden elixir.
And as we reach over fifty years since the first wine grapes were planted ,the Granite Belt region has more diversity on offer and sheer quality than ever before.
GRANITE BELT REGION
When you travel from Brisbane or the coast it can be deceiving just how high you climb. The gradual rise in elevation culminates at the summit (928m) and Eukey (1000m). For every one hundred metres you rise the temperature drops over half of a degree. So the region can historically be between five to ten degrees cooler than the coast and with a relative humidity around 50-60%.
Comparing the region to other wine regions around the world and Australia the Granite Belt has most similarities in temperature to Margaret River and Bordeaux particularly during ripening (both in average and maximum and minimum temperature). Rainfall is more evenly spread over the year than the southern Australian regions, comparing well with quality European wine regions like Bordeaux , The Northern Rhone and Burgundy during the growing season. Average mid summer temperatures are around 21 degrees with the maximum temperatures being particularly mild when the south easterly weather arrives typically in February. The region normally has ripening temperatures from late February to mid April in the range of 17-20 degrees and maximum temperatures between 22-25 degrees.
TEMPERATURE COMPARISON (Degrees Celcius)
Mean Temperature of the warmest Month
Average Maximum Temperature of the warmest month
Early Autumn (March/September) Mean Temperature
Early Autumn (March/September) average maximum temperature
Bordeaux/Merignac , Bordeaux France *
Cape Naturaliste , Margaret River WA *
Applethorpe , Granite Belt Qld *
Witchcliffe Margaret River WA*
7 month Growing Season Rainfall Mean (mm)
Applethorpe , Granite Belt Qld *
Bordeaux/Merignac , Bordeaux France *
Witchcliffe Margaret River WA*
Cape Naturaliste , Margaret River WA *
*Information from www.bom.gov.au for Margaret River and Granite Belt .
* Information from www.meteofrance.com for Bordeaux and Bergerac
The landscape is rugged with boulders of granite spread throughout the district. Some farmers have resorted to dynamite to blast the surface rocks to increase the soil depth (with the odd farm shed coming off second best). On the extreme south east rainforest pockets hide in shaded areas of Girraween National Park while on the western edge the region has a much dryer climate where Ironbark trees become more numerous. Most of the hills remain as native bushland due to the many steep rock slopes making them unsuitable to all but a mountain goat or some adventurous cattle. The rolling farmland below these slopes is covered with apples,stone fruit, salad greens, tomatoes , capsicum, strawberries, grapes,sheep, cattle and the odd lama. The soils for the vineyards are derived from the granite parent rock with sand, sandy-loam and clayey-loam bleached soils similar to some soils in both Alsace France and the Beaujolais cru villages just north of Lyon in France.
On the southern end and more picturesque part of the region lie two National Parks the more rugged Sundown National Park on the western edge and Girraween National park on the south eastern section where dominant granite domes give a picture of the parent rocks underneath the whole region.
The elevation makes the temperate climate more suitable to berries,vegetables and fruits more typical to Tasmania than the pineapple,bananas and mangoes associated with tropical queensland. Here olive groves , cheesemakers ,wineries and vineyards vie for sites amidst the usual suspects (tomatoes,capsicums, salads, apples, stone fruits,strawberries and the grazier crew).
Modern: Try Varias at the QCWT
French style Rural: Food Project on Mcgregor a MUST DO
Winery: Ballandean Cafe
Coffe Jam Doughnuts: JAMWORKS
Art in the Mill on the May Day long weekend provides eclectic pieces of pottery,sculpture and paintings to enjoy in the old Ballandean Timber Mill.
The Regional Gallery has some diverse exhibitions throughout the year and is a vibrant regional art space.
Apple and Grape Harvest Festival
A bi-annual festival that triples the population. Originally a celebration of the apple orchards and table grape vineyards (2000 acres in 1950) that has given way to the wine grapes. A unique celebration of the fruit and vegetables that grow in the region along with the wine.
Brass monkey Blue cheese at the Granite Belt Dairy or cocktails at Viscosity
smoothed granite stones washed and eroded over millions of years
Eucalypts or acacias in flower or the fresh clean minerally forest floor lifted scents after a rain storm.
The many bird calls as you trek throughout the National Parks in the early morning keep an ear out for the black cockatoo screech. If your lucky the lyrebirds, here at their northern limit, might disturb you with their mimicry.
#Night Sky (where did all those stars come from) ,check out the globular clusters from a local telescope.
#Wedgetail eagles circling above the valleys, on those clear calm sunny April days.
#Get a selfie with the Fruitasaurus at Ballandean
Climb up Slip Rock with views to the Pyramids below. Or hike through the many great walks in Girraween National park.
Check out the eclectic old school cafes in the historic town of Tenterfield just across the border.
There are over sixty wineries now apparently. With many different styles on offer. When one considers they have less than 1% of the industry, the regions wines do incredibly well in awards and wine reviews. With many high accolades and medals being continually won from as far back as 1975 through to today. When the wines are tasted on their merits they perform. Try it yourself, grab a known southern producer that is well regarded and try one of the wines listed in the next article against them in the same style and price category. Here's the trick though, get a friend to show you the wines blind without knowing which is which then pick your preference. My money is on the Granite Belt producer.
What Makes Great Wine?
Like anything subjective this is an absurd question.
It's as if you were turning up to a blind date and the woman you meet bombards you with her list of questions. What's your favourite movie? What's your favourite food? If you were stranded on a deserted island with one other person who would it be?
All valid questions , but if you had not already run for the hills, everyone's answer would be different and to gauge the “right answer” for the suitor you would need a degree in psychology. Let alone restricting your answers to a single response.So to with wine one persons Chateau Margaux is another persons overly drying red wine.
So to break it down despite the subjectivity clause, what is great? And how does the fermented grape juice rise above it's humble beginnings?
To be great things need to be above the ordinary. Really Sherlock!!
Ordinary wine is simple, lacks
intensity, easy to drink but hard to savour.
It is defined mainly by what it lacks; balance , length, texture, structure, aroma, bouquet, mouth feel, complexity, varietal definition , typicality, terroir and above all flavour ( I know that some of these terms sound like a construction sites glossary but in a way great wines have layers).
So how do you rise above and make extraordinary wine?
Well there are two types of 'Great' wine. The wine on the page and the wine in the glass.
The wine on the page is about pedigree, awards, tradition, price, fashion, marketing hype, capital expenditure, press and scale. Some are valid guides to 'Great' wine but by no means infallible. For at the end of the day these things can fail to equate to the most important criteria. GREAT WINE IN THE GLASS.
Great wine in the glass takes you to another place the floral,citrus and honeyed toast of an aged riesling, the complex flavours of a great Bordeaux blend that gives you violets and cassis framed in a firm savoury elegance, that changes in the glass as you get towards the bottom of the bottle. Great wine when matched well with food can heighten the experience of both. Where the flavours and characters of the food dance with the wine on your tongue. To pass these things off as wine snobbery ( more about wine on the page), really means that you have yet to experience such delights. If this is not your thing cool. But if you are interested in food and wine it means you have some fun things to discover.
Making 'Great' wine comes down to capturing something in the bottle that speaks to you.
That makes this wine much more enjoyable and memorable than what you normally quaff.
A winemaker/vigneron/vintner does this by bringing an expertise and passion to what thy do. For at every stage of the grape growing to wine making to maturation there are forks in the road where choices can be made to dictate the quality and style of the wine. What choices are made and how they are executed ultimately dictates the quality and greatness of the wine.
These days many wine industry people comment on how wine is made in the vineyard. This is partially true. For great wine to be made the grapes need to have the right balance of acidity, tannin, sugar, flavour and colour for the style of wine intended. And to do this the vineyard needs to provide the right climate, soil and management to deliver the grapes in these optimum conditions.
How is this done?
#Do your research.
#Matching climate to particular grape varieties.
Planting the right grapevines in the right site can make a huge difference to the balance of the grapes. Their are optimum conditions for temperature and moisture status for particular grape varieties, And more suitable aspects and soils. Sites within a region or even a vineyard can be quite different.
# Don't rely heavily on so called experts.
Many 'experts' do not have local knowledge. You will gain much more insight into a site or a region by talking to locals who have been growing crops for years than relying on the high flying consultants for advice. In my experience many 'gurus' bring unintended bias to the table.
# Growing grapes for yield versus quality
Some grape varieties have a more forgiving tolerance for higher yields than others when it comes to delivering quality. However, generally speaking 'Great' wine comes from vineyards in balance where the leaf to fruit ratio is kept in check either naturally or by management practices.
Growing grapes where acid,sugar and yield are delivered is very different than growing for flavour and balance.
# Management practices
Techniques to optimise the conditions for ripening the fruit can delivery quality into the winery. Consistant, clean, ripe balanced fruit can be achieved based on manipulating canopies and soil conditions and the timing of certain practices for light infiltration, cropping level, disease control and microclimate stability. Practices on one site vineyard or region may not be suitable in a different place. Know your site.
Once the vineyard delivers optimal fruit on the vine it is quite critical to harvest this fruit in the right window of opportunity and at the right temperature and urgency and condition so as not lose any characters.
The process once in the winery takes on many avenues depending upon the style of wine. But certain criteria hold true for making 'Great' wine.
# Know your fruit
An understanding of the vineyard and where and how it has grown is almost essential. Some winemakers may get away with a lack of familiarity but will not be able to make truly great wine year in and year out from this vineyard without being familiar. Certainly to make improvements they will need to have a control from which to tweek management practices. A communicative and open relationship with a vineyard manager on the same page if a larger operation would be critical.
Knowing the level of ripeness and how that equates to wine style. Let the fruit reach it's full potential in complementing it with the right techniques to get the best out of what you have. Particularly in regards to acidity, extraction, oak, tannin,alcohol potential,colour, flavour , definition and mouth feel.
# Know the potential
Get a handle on the age ability and maturation spectrum of the wines your making and how certain techniques are more suitable to making extraordinary wine for particular wine styles.Taste as many different styles as possible.
Experience in how wines age from everywhere as well as your own vineyard and region is helpful in choosing which path to follow.
# Find your Niche
While having a burgudian like Pinot Noir you may get a following. Be different, don't follow the crowd. Do what you do well. Right now alternative varieties are all the rage and are a point of difference. But if everyone has them they lose their panache. By matching the site suitability and marketability of a wine with your passion and uniqueness you will make great wine that should sell. But don't sacrifice the last two for the first two as then you become just another winery/food technologist. Truly 'Great ' wine is unique even within one region.
# Bring passion to the table
# Do your homework
To truly deliver extraordinary wine you have to have a full arsenal of wine making techniques at your disposal. If you are making traditional wines in a traditional region and are following traditional methods. Understand why they work so that when troubleshooting you become a valuable part of the team. Innovation in traditional areas puts you ahead of the game. In a region where more modern processes are followed don't be afraid of low tech old world solutions but understand what they bring to the table. For the minimalist low interventionist organic winemaker. Being hands off requires a very extensive knowledge of the risks involved. Like Miles Davis, you have to know all the notes before knowing what not to play. To pretend otherwise is just a sloppy approach and speaks more of marketing than true intent or even worse ignorance. Great wine doesn't have a caveat it speaks for itself.
# experiment and give yourself options
Try new approaches within the scope of doing your homework and give yourself options to blend. Learn to adapt to what the vintage delivers.
Maintain a focus while still giving yourself options to create. Don't try to be all things to all men.
Make something you are proud of.
# Goes without saying it must have the 'BIG YUMS' factor.
Doing a vintage with an English bloke who used to work at Odd bins I remember him saying that this wine has the 'BIG YUMS' factor.
The wine in the end has to taste delicious for the style intended. The enjoyability factor is vital. Would you want to drink a bottle of this wine. Don't let artefact get in the way.
Finally 'Great' wine needs to be shared. For to truly appreciate it, you need to see how others react and how you react in their company. Sure you can truly appreciate it on your own. But the experience will be or the more richer in good company. I do stress good company, don't waste it on your relative that only drinks Rum. You need to have a people filter and that is probably the hardest choice knowing who to share it with.
Still it's not like your pulling teeth.
The first time you visit the Margaret River Region you are struck by the expansive beauty of the coastal beaches and inlets. With many different wineries and as many surf breaks the region unveils itself slowly to the new visitor. Great galleries , forests and food along with the rolling beauty of grazing cattle and vineyard country interspersed between Karri and Marri forests.
My first visit to the region was back in the early days working for Houghton's a winery in the Swan valley which garners grapes from all over the state. I was lucky to get an invitation to a tasting at Cullen's called 21 great chardonnay's of the world because the winemakers at the time couldn't go. It was a great introduction to the quality of wines from the region. With the Cullen"s Chardonnay at the time being the pick of the wines.
Some years later I have returned to do a vintage at Vasse Felix and working in the region gave me plenty of time to absorb the culture and get around to the many wineries of the region.
Margaret river lies on the far south western corner of Australia it is surrounded on three sides with Ocean. The Ocean and its breezes and the direction of air drainage play an important role in determining the warmth of each vineyard site with sub-regions being warmer if the ocean influence air drainage and breezes are from the north versus cooler if southerly influences dominate. The area varies quite a lot in terms of temperature with the more southerly influenced sites being up to two degrees cooler during the day and with a higher annual rainfall than the northern part of the region.
The region has a Mediterranean climate with only around one hundred and fifty to two hundred milimetres (150-200mm) falling during the growing season. The ocean influences give the region a maritime climate with the temperature range from day to night being quite mild compared to many other Southern Australian regions. It has similarities to Bordeaux in regards to temperature but is slightly warmer particularly in the traditional northern sections of Willyabrup. The rainfall is however much lower than Bordeaux (500mm) but the average seasonal afternoon relative humidities are similar.
The many wineries in the region cater for all manner of visitor.
If you want to seek out Quality smaller producers that make great wine the following are a great way to start Windance, Woodlands, Flametree and Brown Hill estate.
For medium to larger producers that give a great experience with very high quality wine try the following Chateau Xanadu, Cape Mentelle, Howard Park, Vasse Felix and Voyager Estate.
For traditional styles and founding producers try Cullens , Leeuwin Estate and Pierro.
For large commercial cheap and cheerful where you just are out for a good day and are not looking for anything to complicated try 3 Oceans, Watershed and Swings and Roundabouts.
What they do well:
Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab blends, Petit Verdot and Semillion Sauvignon blanc both in the grassy style and the more complex barrel lees style.
What they claim to do well:
Everything. If you meet a local you will soon realise that all things Margaret River are the best in the world. Surf, people the wine and anything else from the region. According to them anyway. They claim to live in the best place on earth even the people who have not ventured outside Western Australia hold this view. The reality is close to this, it is a pretty good place to visit, but there are great wines elsewhere great beaches and surf elsewhere although not many together (Chile, Southwest France , New Zealand and Portugal come to mind). The small town syndrome is far outweighed by the positives with great food wine and surf. If your visiting you get to taste and experience the best it has to offer. Just avoid the winter wet season.
Mosswood, Ashbrook estate, Mchenry Hohnen, Cape Grace
What only the select few do well in the region
Shiraz (Windance,Brown Hill Estate, Churchview)
Favourite: Brown Hill
Best maker of
Big full malo style: Leeuwin estate; Pierro
Elegant style: Fraser Gallop and Vasse Felix,
Fruit lift between big and elegant: Woodlands.
Favorite: Woodlands Chloe.
Sauvignon Blanc Semillion blends
fresh grassy style: just about everyone,
textured style : Stella Bella Suckfizzle and Vasse Felix
Flametree, Woodlands,Mosswood, Houghtons Gladstones
Tassell Park, Chateau Xanadu and Cape Clairault
Favourite: Chateau Xanadu
Mchenry Hohnen, Cullens, Cape Mentelle
Food and Beer
Food:The Studio Bistro, The Margaret River Bakery (Breakfast), The Common bistro, Cafe Boranup , Blue Ginger Fine Foods(coffee, deli),Bunker bay
There are about seven breweries in the region with quite different styles catering to families or more about food. Most look over the rolling cattle grazing country and are a welcome palate change to the wine.
The Studio Gallery, Boranup and Yallingup Galleries
I liked surfing around Gracetown and some of the small beachy's off Margarets as well as some power waves at Margarets, Yallingup has some great breaks. Depending on conditions you will find a wave that suits unless the winds have picked up. The choice for waves is prodigious and other than surfing near seal populations in the north its wise to surf in numbers. Every local has a shark story, and with the big waves coming from deep water to shallow it also brings in the great whites. I was lucky but a few weeks after I left the region there was an attack right at the break I regularly surfed.If your brave enough head out to the Cow bombie for some of the biggest waves you are ever likely to see.
Mammoth jewel or lake cave are all worth a visit these ancient hidden gems are scattered below the Karri and Marri forests in the local national parks
On the southern end of the region south of the Margaret River township around Boranup there are small stretches of local karri trees climbing up to 60m above the forest floor take a nice drive south along caves road and you will stumble across them. The remaining forests are made up of mostly the Marri trees.
Contos or Hamelin Bay are great places to camp and can be serene not attracting the same crowds as the more northerly sections of the region.
TASTE:roasted nibs of cocoa beans before the chocolate is made at one of the local chocolaterrias
SIGHT: Watch armies of kite surfers do their aerobatics when the wind and the waves reach epic proportions at Margarets.