Tag Archives: Yarra Valley

The importance of being inspired

Sitting in an office day after day it is easy to get caught up in a seemingly endless cycle of emails and spreadsheets and to forget about the bigger picture. Certainly no one enters the wine trade for the day to day minutiae of working life – but rather for a joy of wine itself. And every now and then we all need to be reminded of that.

I have just spent ten days travelling around some of Australia’s wine regions with a bunch of UK and Irish independent wine merchants. It’s been a fantastic trip and I will report on it in due course, but for now I just want to express my thanks to everyone we met along the way who shared their time, experience and passion for wine with us. It has certainly filled me with a renewed energy and enthusiasm.

And it’s not just those of us that sit in an office that benefit from a change of scene. Steve Flamsteed, winemaker at Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley, told me about going over to Central Otago to make wine which imbues him with an extra energy – and that he comes back home afterwards buzzing and with a renewed excitement for what he does. And that is exactly how I feel now.

We met so many wonderful people on our travels and to spend some time chatting to them and hearing their stories has been truly inspiring.

Standing in Bernard Smart’s Grenache vineyard in Clarendon in McLaren Vale and hearing about how the oldest vines were planted by his father in 1921, another block was planted by Bernard and his brother in the 1950s and the youngest block was planted by Bernard’s son in 1999 was quite extraordinary. The fact that Bernard at 84 years old is still managing the vineyard himself is just a testament to his family ties to that patch of dirt.

Bernard Smart in his family's vineyard dating back to 1921

Bernard Smart in his family’s vineyard dating back to 1921

Then there was Ken Helm at Helm winery in Canberra, a true raconteur who had us all in stiches within minutes of arriving – and who taught us the meaning of the word ‘trivia’ alongside tasting his delicious Rieslings. An anecdote that will stay with all of us for a long time to come.

In the King Valley the Dal Zotto family’s hospitality was fabulous. Inviting us along to join in their local salami festival, where father of the family Otto Dal Zotto cooked spit roasted porchetta for the 200 or so guests whilst their wine flowed freely was a special experience and made this bunch of poms feel right at home. The fact that we got thrashed by a bunch of aussie kids in a post-lunch cricket match should perhaps be glossed over though.

Otto Dal Zotto's porchetta

Otto Dal Zotto’s porchetta

And then up in the Adelaide Hills we had another long lunch with the Basket Range producers and their various low intervention/natural/organic wines. Of course that’s just one side of the incredibly diverse story of the Hills, but again it was the generosity and back to basics nature of the crowd that struck a cord.

As Steve so eloquently expressed to me, having time out in the vineyards and talking to so may different characters I now feel a renewed energy and excitement – and suspect the rest of the group would say the same. So, I have to say a huge thanks to all of the wonderful winemakers, viticulturists and winery owners we met along the way for reminding us of what a wonderful business we all work in.

Emma

 

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Exploring Yarra Valley Chardonnay

My first impressions of the Yarra Valley were of lush greenness and rolling hills. Think of the Shire and you won’t be far off. I wasn’t quite prepared for how pretty it is with the larger mountains surrounding, the regimented vineyards on the lower slopes and cows and sheep grazing in the fields of the plains. But we weren’t here for the view, pretty as it is, but for the wines.

Yarra is renowned for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but in the last 5 or so years these wines have both gone through some stylistic changes – with Chardonnay winemakers flirting with (or in some cases having a full-on affair with) reductive aromas and Pinot Noir makers experimenting with whole bunch winemaking. The issue of reductive flavours in Chardonnay particularly cropped up throughout our tastings and created lots of interesting debate both between winemakers and between my guests.

As any high school chemistry student will tell you, reduction is the opposite of oxidation. In chemical terms reduction occurs when a molecule, atom or ion gains an electron – and is always balanced by the opposite reaction: oxidation, which is the loss of an electron.

Whilst this is also true of wine, in wine tasting terms these words are used to describe a certain variety of flavours. In the case of reduction, at the lesser end of the scale aromas such as flinty or matchstick are called reductive – I also often detect this by a slight prickle at the back of the nose. Or to put it the Aussie way, as quoted by Tim, the winemaker from Giant Steps: “it’s like smelling your own farts and that slight pleasure you get from that”!

This then runs the whole gamut through to full-on reduction with really quite stinky rotten egg and cooked cabbage notes: a faulty wine. The level at which a reductive wine (showing these matchstick characters but them adding complexity and not dominating the wine) becomes a reduced wine (where these characters dominate and render the wine unappealing) is a completely personal one, hence the amount of heated debate that arose.

Until just a few years ago Chardonnay winemaking in the Yarra proceeded much as in the rest of Australia, and indeed in much of the rest of the world. The cool climate gave the bright acidity but the style was geared towards the soft peachy fruit character of the region. In no way the big, blowsy Chardonnay of yester-year, but also quite different to the more linear style of today. It now seems unclear where the trend towards more reductive styles started, but is likely partly due to young winemakers increasingly doing a vintage in Burgundy and being influenced by styles there and also due to the inherent interest in experimentation that Aussie winemakers have.

The end result has been more restrained, mineral wines with dialled-back fruit character, often a more prominent acid backbone and lifted matchstick aromas adding another layer of complexity.

At least, that is the idea. The reality is probably a little more mixed.

For sure there are those wines that get the mix between fruit roundness, acid zest and just a touch of reductive aromas bang on, and these are truly exciting wines and world-class Chardonnays. However, there are also those wines where the reductive notes overwhelm the fruit and edge into the realm of faulty reduction. I found this, perhaps surprisingly, a particular problem at the lower end of the scale for some wineries where the fruit just didn’t have enough concentration to balance the what-seemed-to-be house style of intense reductive aromas.

The other issue that came out of the tastings was with some wines acid-fruit balance where the quest for leanness and restraint seemed to have edged worryingly into hard green acidity rather than zesty lemon acidity. This seemed a particular issue for the cool 2011 vintage. Interestingly, many of these wines hadn’t gone through malolactic fermentation which would have softened this harsh green acidity.

Darren, winemaker at Yering Station, said this was because they get such high malic:tartaric acid ratios in the juice that MLF gives too high diacetyl characters to the wine – adding too high a level of popcorn-style aromas: not something he wants in his wines. However, if you compare this to Chablis which has the same high malic acid issue, those wines routinely go through MLF and do not show these aromas – so I wonder if it is more a case of them not using/having access to the right bacteria to inoculate with to manage diacetyl levels, or just not managing their MLF right. At any rate some of these very lean wines could do with a little more fruit ripeness to balance this firm acidity.

But for all that, tasting these wines really showed what the Yarra Valley is doing with Chardonnay these days. Listening to the winemakers and understanding their desire to keep perfecting their wines, experimenting and creating new styles is exciting and could be easily seen in the Chardonnays we tasted. And as a winemonkey, the best tastings are those that create debate and where some people like some wines and not others and vice versa. Everyone has different palates and so everyone has different preferences and tastes – and discussing these tastes is part of the fun of enjoying wine.

Wines tasted:

Mac Forbes Hoddles Creek 2010

Yering Station Reserve 2010

Yeringberg 2011

De Bortoli Reserve 2011

Punt Road Napoleone Vineyard 2012

Phi 2011

Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard 2012

Giant Steps Arthur’s Creek Vineyard 2012

Oakridge Over the Shoulder 2012

Oakridge Lusatia Park 2012

Seville Estate 2012

Airlie Bank 2012

Rob Dolan 2012

Yering Station Reserve 2012

Yering Station Reserve 2005

Yarra Yering Chardonnay 2011

Of these, my particular favourites were the mac forbes, De Bortoli Reserve, Giant Steps Arthur’s Creek and Phi (which handily for me are all available in the UK) – but there were certainly people in the group who would argue for other top picks, so my suggestion would be to get out there and grab a bottle to see for yourself.

Emma

Disclaimer: One of the great treats of working for Wine Australia is that every so often I get to lead a trip to Australia taking a group of trade and media around some of the wine regions. Sadly this time I wasn’t able to squirrel along either of my fellow monkeys to join me, so it is solely up to me to coalesce some of my thoughts and feelings for the regions into a readable blog post. So, whilst I am here for my job, this is very much me writing as me and not as a Wine Australia employee.