Te Whare Ra Gewürztraminer 2009

Te Whare Ra draws on one of the older vineyards in Marlborough, some vines having been established in 1979 and the rest of the vineyard over the following two decades. To have a reputation for great Gewürztraminer isn’t perhaps an accolade sought after by many producers, but Te Whare Ra’s version is highly regarded, and this was my first taste of it.

Really gorgeous aromas, robust and spicy, fruit expressing in a tropical spectrum and showing good ripeness without tipping over into too much tinned lychee. It’s an immediately complex wine, which isn’t something I was expecting, although I wouldn’t describe it as especially elegant either. It’s too forthright and changeable to communicate any sense of poise. It also throws savoury, somewhat challenging aromas that are a nice counterpoint to the varietal perfume that initially dominates the aroma.

The palate shows more of these slightly unfriendly flavours, adding some shade to a flavour profile that is even more complex than the nose suggests. There’s a bit of sweetness on the palate that pumps up a core of fragrant fruit, all surrounded by spice and other more floral notes. This, like good perfume, moves past individual flavours drawn from nature into a more interesting realm of abstract notes and flavour accords. And always, it has a sharper edge that never quite yields to the prettiness evident throughout the rest of the wine. Mouthfeel starts slippery and progresses to a chalky, slightly grippy after palate, phenolics fine and without bitterness. Slight heat coasts over the finish.

This is a fascinating, delicious and challenging wine.

Te Whare Ra
Price: $N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Making wine in a very cool climate

There have been a few surreal moments over the past two weeks, not least during the drive to work each day, the backdrop to which is a landscape that seems more properly suited to a fantasy film or, at the very least, an extreme sports holiday. Central Otago is surely one of the most spectacular wine regions I’ve visited, brushing aside the prettiness of intensive viticulture for vast mountain ranges and pristine lakes. As a tourist, I’ve enjoyed three visits here, but this time I’m hard at work, doing vintage at Terra Sancta.

Having grown out of an acquisition of Olssens Garden Vineyard by prominent New Zealand businessman Mark Weldon, Terra Sancta now draws on three estate vineyards in Bannockburn, including the oldest planting on Felton Road. A range of aromatic whites grace the portfolio, but the main game is Pinot Noir, in both rosé and red forms. The winemaking team comprises Jen Parr and Jody Pagey, while viticulture is headed by Len Ibbotson. I’m one of three cellarhands. Working in a small team is wonderful in that I’m able to have regular chats with Jen, Jody and Len, getting great insights into their approaches and experiences.

A couple of days in, Jen asked me to put blankets on some Chardonnay barrels so they’d start fermenting. The idea so tickled me that I couldn’t resist taking a photo. Going from McLaren Vale, with its high-thirties days to Central Otago, where autumn frosts are a real threat to harvest, is like entering another winemaking world. Warming is a real issue, and we’re often having to warm tanks to prepare them for innoculation. Fruit comes in at fifteen degrees at two in the afternoon. Acids are stratospheric. There’s a tub in the winery marked “sugar.” I regularly wear three layers, two of which are made of merino, and my terry towelling bucket hat is completely without use.

There’s no question that New Zealanders take their Pinot Noir very seriously. This is my first experience of making Pinot, and the process does seem somewhat more finicky than the rough and tumble of McLaren Vale Shiraz. Terra Sancta’s winery is of a sufficient capacity to allow extended time on skins, so we’re cold-soaking, gently plunging during ferment, leaving wine on skins post-ferment and generally allowing each parcel to go through a fairly disciplined winemaking process. The condition of the fruit coming in has been spectacularly good, due no doubt to sound viticulture but also a dry growing season. Although the winery is state-of-the-art, tonnage isn’t huge and cellar practices are firmly artisanal (no must pumps, for example) so there’s a lot of manual handling along the way.

Even as I become more knowledgeable and confident with cellar operations (though I still come across new things every day), landing in the world of cool climate Pinot Noir has thrown my sense of wine and it’s been an educational challenge to get my head around not only the vastly different berry composition of the fruit here but the sensory aspects and how these influence winemaking decisions. These aren’t shallow considerations; it would take years to get comfortable with a region and its styles, to master the vinification of fruit from specific vineyards. I like the idea of that deep dive, and it’s something that appeals to me when I think of my own plans, even as the urge to see more regions and different fruit remains.

For now, though, I’m excited to taste all the batches we are working on each day, some ultra-fragranced, some dark and more structured, yet others rich and fully fruited. Maximising extract isn’t the game; it’s more about gentle management and getting enough structure from the fruit while preserving the delicacy of the variety. As with my experience in McLaren Vale, some parcels have looked stunning from day one, and I’m especially enjoying their transformation through fermentation, seeing which characters persist through that process and which morph into something else. The aromatic whites are fun to make too, particularly off-dry styles, and I’ll be very interested to see how they compare with those I’ll be working on in the Mosel later this year.

Most of our fruit should be in by the end of the week, and we’ll soon start pressing the first of the reds. As always, a huge amount for me to learn.

Sineann Resonance Reserve Pinot Noir 2009

Pinot Noir drives people to extremes. I’m currently doing vintage in Central Otago, New Zealand, and the region’s renown draws Pinot lovers from much further afield than Brisbane; in Peter Rosback’s case, all the way from Oregon. Vigneron at Sineann, Peter travels here each year to make Pinot at Terra Sancta, the winery where I’m working. I was fortunate enough to taste a couple of Peter’s Oregon Pinots last night, both of which were characterful and delicious.

The most striking aspect of this wine’s aroma is its bright fruit, all candied citrus peel and savoury red berries, textured and expressive. Around this core swirls a range of other notes including a good deal of well-matched oak. It’s a very integrated aroma, youthful still, and has a dark, slightly rustic element that roughs up its edges and drags this firmly into artisanal territory.

The palate structure is what really grabs me about this wine, acid and tannin creating wonderful texture and flow. It’s not one of those silky smooth wines; rather, its irregularities are what make it worthwhile, bright fruit coasting atop this undulating landscape. Flavours are sweet-savoury, with no hint of simplicity to the fruit’s character. Again, oak is a feature.

A lovely wine and a worthwhile expression of Pinot.

Price: $N/A
Closure: Vino-Lok
Source: Gift

McLaren Vale vintage wrap

There’s a point during vintage at which things seem to click. Everyone knows what to do, any quirks in the equipment have been sorted and things just happen, even though the team is tired and a tad over it. It’s a nice moment to reach, and I felt able to move from a focus on learning basic operations to actually looking at each wine, its progression and how it might compare to other ferments in the winery.

Overall, the vintage was characterised by a stop-start rhythm, fruit arriving in waves based on a weather pattern that alternated between scorchingly hot and messily rainy. I saw no parcels of fruit that came in before full flavour ripeness, so although the weather was a bit tricky, everything seemed to fall into place in terms of being able to pick at the right time. Shiraz came in first and was generally full and generous, parcels varying quite a lot in fruit character but everything seeming of good quality. Then Cabernet arrived (more of which later) along with Grenache and Mataro. Some more unusual varieties also passed through the Geddes winery, notably a parcel of Nero D’Avola destined for the Brash Higgins NDV label and some Petit Verdot right at the end of vintage.

One thing I’ll be doing more of in future is branching out from McLaren Vale Shiraz into the wonderful Cabernets, Grenaches and Mataros it can produce. I do love the region’s Shiraz for its generosity and plummy flavour profile, but I saw so many parcels of great fruit of these other varieties that I feel they are due greater attention. Cabernet Sauvignon in particular was a surprise. I’ve enjoyed some McLaren Vale Cabernets in the past but have always tended to reach for Coonawarra or Margaret River when looking for great Aussie Cabernet. Although the Vale’s expression of this variety is quite different, I saw some really exciting, varietal fruit come in and it has reopened my eyes to the potential of this variety in the region. Fruit from Blewitt Springs, with its sandy soils and cooler climate, was especially fragrant and intense.

A lot of winemakers in the Vale are excited by Grenache and Mataro, although there’s more stylistic divergence between makers when it comes to Grenache in particular than for the other red varieties. It ranges from a fragrant, Pinot-like wine to more Shiraz-inspired expressions. The best ferments I saw seemed to fall between these extremes, preserving the fragrance and bright fruit of the variety while ensuring sufficient density, intensity and structure. Mataro continues to baffle me a little. It’s talked up a lot amongst wine writers and makers and, to be fair, I’ve had some really nice Aussie Mataros, but its dark, challenging flavour profile will have a hard time stealing the easy drinking crown from Shiraz. No matter; it’s a variety worthy of attention and I hope makers in the Vale continue to experiment with it, in blends and on its own.

Outside of the fruit, I developed enormous respect for the team I was working with and feel very lucky to have done vintage with them. Dowie Doole’s winemaker, Chris Thomas, managed a hectic vintage without really breaking a sweat. I love it when people move through stressful, constantly changing environments with seeming ease and Chris has that talent. He patiently showed me all the required cellar operations (sometimes more than once) and did so with clarity and patience. What a great teacher to have. Tim Geddes, in whose winery we worked in most days, is even more laid back and assembled a spectacularly fun and diverse vintage team comprising Julian Forwood, Tina Deng and Jack Christie. I’ve not laughed so hard in years. I’ve written about Amanda Geddes’s lunches before, and these provided pleasure and sustenance right to the end.

Time outside the winery was also fantastic, albeit necessarily limited. McLaren Vale is a real gourmet area and my host, Leigh Gilligan, ensured I was able to experience most of what the region has to offer in this regard, including via his own delicious cooking. It always mystifies me when wine regions have no food culture; when these things come together, as they should, pleasure is exponentially increased. A particular highlight was seeing Lulu Lunn, partner of Dowie Doole’s charming Drew Dowie, stretch mozzarella and hand me a portion, all warm and fresh and juicy. What a pleasure.

I’ll be popping back in early May to have a look at the wines we made, most of which will be in barrel. I’m fascinated to see what’s changed, how malolactic fermentation has affected each wine, which parcels have remained my favourites and which will surprise me.

So good was the experience that I feel strongly I’d like to do it again. Could this be the beginning of the end?

Geddes Wines Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2008

Petit Verdot seems to come and go in Australia. If it has a home, it’s McLaren Vale, with some makers (notably Pirramimma) highlighting it momentarily as a varietal wine before it disappears again, declared or not, into blends. I’m not aware of it being consistently associated with another Australian wine region. Tim Geddes plays with Petit Verdot quite a bit, as did Wayne Thomas before him, and it appears as part of his eponymous label’s range with regularity.

Although he produces a varietal Petit Verdot, which I may review later, Tim has here combined it with its traditional partner, Cabernet Sauvignon. What’s really successful about this wine is its combination of intense flavour, generosity, detail and refinement. These aren’t traits that always go together, but the push-pull of this wine’s density and its fine structure makes for an ultimately elegant wine. The nose shows Cabernet notes, thicker and juicier as they sometimes can be in McLaren Vale, combined with an assortment of dried herbs and higher toned, floral notes. Berry flavours are dark and oak is assertive, positioning this wine firmly at the fuller end of the Bordeaux blend spectrum.

The palate is incredibly juicy, with masses of black fruits and herbs, underlined by black tea tannins. Weight and line are both impressive, as is a flavour profile that alternates between fresh fruit and more complex dried herb characters, with an edge of dried fruit adding further interest. Tannins develop firmly through the after palate, with good presence in the mouth and confident dryness. An extended finish.

This is an excellent wine with a complex, attractive flavour profile and a bold, well-formed structure. Although Cabernet is an evident component, I can only assume Petit Verdot accounts for its extra dimensions of floral aroma and juiciness. Certainly a wine worth some serious contemplation.

Geddes Wines
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift