Tag Archives: Chardonnay

Sleight Of Shand

Tim Shand has an alter ego. There’s Tim: Offspring of two teachers, incisive, earnest looking – even a touch of the nerds about him. Logistics whizz; lob a few moving parts at him and he won’t flinch – just knock up something tidy in no time.
And then there’s Shandy: Impish grin, sense of mischief, sub-surface surge of quiet confidence. Bit of a smart-arse; probably rubs a few people up the wrong way. Intuitive, impulsive, and with more flair than perhaps he realises.
Talk to him and you sense the tension between Tim and Shandy, something akin to the counterbalance ‘twixt smooth fruit and acid cut, has always been there. Head winemaker at Punt Road in the Yarra Valley, Shand is palpably intelligent but hardly covered himself in glory in his formative years. Irked by academic parents peering over his shoulder, he squeaked through school and got into an arts degree in his hometown of Perth in Western Australia. Free to get up at midday and drift on down to the pub, he failed everything in the first year – and chucked it in.
Truth was, he didn’t know what he wanted to do, except travel. He had family in Zimbabwe and fulfilled a dream to travel the length of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. Towards the end of a great year, reality hit – “the anonymity of going through Heathrow, horrible hostels and having no money” – and he knew he was coming home to nothing.
“What that taught me was that the world actually didn’t give two shits about me, and if I didn’t get my skates on, I was going to be in deep poo,” he says.
He had no connection to the vine – “bad wine, horrible beer and West Coast Coolers” had been the staples growing up – but knew he wasn’t cut out for academia or a desk job. It was 2000, a time of optimism in the WA wine scene, and he was vaguely aware of a dynamic industry down in Margaret River. He duly enrolled in a winemaking degree at Curtin University, chugging through the course but essentially grounded in his old Perth life, working part-time in a pub and drinking with his old mates.

The change came when he got his hands dirty during his final year at Curtin. “I just went to the Halliday Wine Companion because I didn’t know shit, and looked up 5-star wineries – there weren’t as many then as there are now – and I just called them and asked to do vintage. The only one that got back to me was Leasingham in the Clare Valley.” He had a ball at Leasingham under Kerri Thompson (aka KT) and when he got back to WA, his campus had been moved to Margaret River. Finally he cut the Perth apron strings and became bound to wine.
Shand went back to Hardys-owned Leasingham in 2004 as trainee winemaker and reckons boldness “way beyond my ability” accelerated his learning curve. This chutzpah, part ignorance and part derring-do, cut both ways. “I drove a forklift into their most expensive red ferment – a two-tonne ferment, pierced the tank and it all just pissed down the drain – because I was arrogant and I wasn’t being careful,” he recalls. On the flipside it’s what gave him the nerve to ask KT to sit in on her monthly tasting with the group winemaker, for whom dogsbody Shand had readied 100-odd Cabernet and Shiraz samples. “So I worked night shift, he arrived at 9am and I went into this tasting that was going to take six or seven hours. I must have looked like death warmed up. He kind of looked at me like, ‘What are you doing?’” But Shand managed to make a couple of pertinent comments, and the fact he’d skipped a sleep to be there left the boss impressed. That connection helped Shand secure a vintage in Hardys-affiliated Veramonte in Chile and, when he got back, a place at Hardys’ Yarra Valley sparkling specialist, Yarra Burn.
Sharply contrasting vintage experiences in the Haut-Médoc and the Côte de Nuits may reveal something about the Tim Shand dichotomy. He managed to “bore” the late Paul Pontallier into offering an incredibly rare opportunity at the first-growth Château Margaux. It was a disaster of grand cru classé proportions. Shand grudgingly admired the viticulture but was deeply unimpressed with everything else. “It was awful. I wasn’t allowed to do anything, they all hated me,” he says. “It was three months of torture. I used to call my wife in tears.”
He left feeling utterly rejected by France but gave it another shot with the Seysses family of Domaine Dujac. They took him in the following vintage, and it was a totally different story. “I went in ’08 to stay at the domaine with this lovely family,” he says. “I swear to God, I was there for two months and can almost remember every day and every experience. It was like some sort of blessing. I worry about going back to Burgundy because it was perfect in every way.” Those halcyon days in Morey-Saint-Denis were also instructive in winegrowing generally, and Pinot in particular.  “It was an open palette. It was a conversation rather than a recipe at Dujac. It was so interesting, so terroir-driven, so transparent.”

Like France, Shand’s time at Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley proved intensely bittersweet. On the plus side, he learned precisely what it took to make top-notch Australian Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet. He’s also unstinting in his admiration for the “creativity and innovation” of 2016 Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year Steve Flamsteed. “What it is, is having the courage to put yourself out there and back your talent.” says Shand. “It’s his gut. It’s an understanding of aesthetics matched with high energy and intensity, is where his success lies.”
Ask Shand about his own strengths, and he’s typically candid. He reckons he lacks originality and doesn’t see artistry in what he does. “To me, winemaking is not an art. I think it’s a trade. It’s arguably more like being a 
jeweller or a carpenter. I think if you’re telling people you’re an artist, you’re a bullshit artist.”
Instead, he feels he’s good at the boring stuff and owes his success to his work ethic and high standards. “In terms of wine and vineyard and people, I know what good looks like and I know what bad looks like. I kind of understand the standard and I know how to meet it,” he says. “There’s the right day to pick the grapes, there’s the right way to make it, the right oak, the right bottling date. That’s kind of par; anything below that, you’ve f***ed it up.”
I put it to him that the
tradie analogy doesn’t really hold up. I assume, perhaps naively, that there’s less site and vintage variation in planks than Pinot Noir. The last few harvests in the Yarra have yielded many exceptional wines but could hardly be described as uniform. Many reported being turned inside out by fast and furious, topsy-turvy 2016. Shand, on the other hand, was in his element. “One of my skills is, having all of those factors in my head, I can balance them out to the right outcome. Calculations, priorities – that’s what I think I’m good at: bringing a lot of things together,” he confesses. “And wine is a lot of things. It’s agriculture, it’s marketing, it’s sales, it’s logistics, it’s science. You bring them all together. That’s what I think I like about it, and I just can’t fathom people who don’t bring things together.”
Evidently Shand’s developed a knack for bringing things together nicely. He’s widely credited with winning Punt Road promotion to the Yarra Valley’s premier league, a feat illustrated by its silverware haul at last year’s Royal Melbourne Wine Awards: best single-vineyard wine, best Shiraz and trophy for viticultural excellence. Gary Walsh of independent review site The Wine Front says Tim is “turning out some of the best value, and most interesting, wines in the country” under the Punt Road and Airlie Bank labels. Tim puts it down to having everything in the right place, in moderation. “All of the interest with none of the nonsense, at a good price,” he says, citing his highly original and widely loved Airlie Bank Franc as a case in point. Made with 100% whole bunch carbonic maceration, it’s hardly the most conventional crowd-pleaser.

If that’s the Shand standard, what makes for greatness? “A wine not made to instantly ingratiate itself,” he muses. “When I taste a Wendouree, or a grand cru next to a 1er cru, I taste profundity. I taste a confidence. It knows what it is. There’s a comfort in its own skin. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand about wine: that less is more. My place in it all is to keep doing the boring stuff, and authenticity will shine through.”
Straight-talking and clear-sighted he may be, but perhaps Shand overlooks the role played by his inner rogue. The youthful rebellion, the pierced tank, the misadventure in Margaux – all these point to a non-conformist side that lends tension to Shand’s universe.
Some are apt to use the terms tension and balance interchangeably in tasting notes, but to me they’re not the same. The latter hints at a pleasing harmony, and is a wonderful thing. The former, running closer to the edge, is more daring, more intriguing. And you sense that the two sides of the imperfectly balanced Tim Shand give you the latter.
Dr Tim ensures order and completeness, and the mercurial Mr Shand takes it a little further, deeper.  It’s compelling viewing and can lead to profundity – with the emphasis on “fun”.

***Disclaimer: This article first appeared on the CellarHand website. CellarHand is both the author’s employer and the Australian distributor of Punt Road and Airlie Bank wines.***

To Be Dexterous & Deft

So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact
And remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!

– Dr Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Tod Dexter went a long way to get where he is today, at home on his Mornington Peninsula vineyard this crisp autumn day. And he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for some sound advice from his mum.
Young Dexter had yet to settle on anything serious after leaving school in the mid-70s. He’d “travelled a bit and done a bunch of jobs”, including a stint with one of Melbourne’s best known wine merchants and a weekend in the cellar at Wantirna Estate. His latest escapade was a ski season in the States. His mother asked if he was going to carry on that way for the rest of his life. Dexter thought probably not. “And so she said: ‘Why don’t you go to the Napa Valley and learn how to make wine?’ And I thought: ‘That sounds like a good idea’.”
That was May 1979. Robert Mondavi’s was the first door he knocked on – and the first of many to knock him back. “So I got a job in a cooperage assembling barrels and I figured I’d either take it up as a trade or at the very least meet winemakers coming in to pick up barrels.”
And that’s just what happened. Bruce Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars picked up on the accent and gave him the break he was looking for. Dexter’s drifting days were over; he rolled up his sleeves and remained elbow-deep in Cabernet, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay until 1986, overseeing a crush that grew from 150 to 800 tonnes. “I look back on it now as a seven-year apprenticeship,” says Dexter. “I got involved with every aspect of the business. They more or less adopted me for that period, so it was a really good time.”
During that period he met wife Debbie, and the two of them started to toy with the idea of setting up in Australia in the mid-80s. Back-to-back vintages at Brown Brothers in the King Valley in 1985 and ’86 served as a trial.
The experience – including the jump from Cakebread’s boutique operation to a 6,000-tonne crush – was a good one. “Brown Brothers were fantastic to work with, a really nice family. They were very generous to Debbie and me being ‘foreigners’ from America and it was very good to see the other side of the industry.”

Dexter at Stonier, 1991
Dexter at Stonier, 1991
Dexter came home for good in late 1986 with a six-week-old daughter in tow. Two years previously he’d come back for his sister’s wedding and fitted in a recce of the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. On that same trip he’d met up with the peninsula’s pioneer vignerons. “I was kind of impressed with the wines but it just looked like a small, backyard industry and I wasn’t sure it had the potential to go as far as the Yarra Valley had already come,” he recalls. But when push came to shove, the former ski instructor couldn’t resist the lure of the beach.
He and Debbie bought land on a north-facing slope in Merricks North and planted vines in 1987. That same year he made the wines at Elgee Park. That hotchpotch harvest speaks volumes about the region’s fledgling status at the time. The grand sum of 15 tonnes was crushed, from a quintet of producers with two varieties apiece.
And then came Dexter’s next Cakebread moment. One of those five producers was Brian Stonier, whose winemaker, Stephen Hickinbotham, had been killed in a plane crash the previous year. “Brian realised he could do one of two things,” says Dexter. “He could either stay very small and keep it as a hobby, or he could grow the business. He decided it was time to take the giant leap of faith and build a brand. So he said to me: ‘Do you want to come along for the ride?’ And I said: ‘Sure, why not?’”
Dexter knew where he was with Chardonnay after his time in Napa (his preference for the “unhygienic” practice of barrel fermentation initially raised eyebrows among Morningtonians, mind you) but these were early days for peninsula Pinot Noir, a grape with which Dexter had scant experience. “The first one I made was the ’87 Stonier and it was not very good,” he laments. “It really gave us no clues.”
He got a bit more of a clue about the heartbreak grape when he spent some time working with James Halliday at Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley. “I spent three weeks living in James’s house. We obviously drank a few Burgundies and that gave me some good tips on how to handle Pinot,” says Dexter.
The 1988 Pinot was “lovely” but was followed by the “wet, terrible” 1989 vintage and a thin 1990. But 1991 turned out well, and a further glimmer of hope came when Domaine Chandon selected a Stonier Pinot Noir to serve at its gala opening in the Yarra Valley that same year. Other high points included the shock of winning Best Varietal Red Wine at the Adelaide Wine Show in 1994 and then Best White Wine at the International Wine Challenge in London for the 1999 Reserve Chardonnay.
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“The ups and downs were extraordinary,” says Dexter of the Mornington Peninsula’s learning curve. “A lot of people think it’s always been Chardonnay and Pinot and it’s always been great and it was always an easy decision. In fact it was the pioneers like Brian Stonier, Garry Crittenden, George Kefford of Merricks Estate and Nat White of Main Ridge who did all the hard work and made it easier for the newer players.”
Dexter left Stonier in 2003 to take the reins at Yabby Lake, whose vineyards are a stone’s throw from his own. In 2006, a decade and a half after his site started yielding fruit for Stonier, he turned 50. A friend told him if he didn’t do his own thing now, it’d never happen. The Dexter label was born.
His vineyard is planted to 10 acres of Pinot Noir and 7.5 of Chardonnay, and he makes roughly the same quantity of each. He knows a lot more about Pinot now than when that single barrel of ’87 Stonier – topped up with Cabernet, by the way – dribbled dishearteningly into the glass. What he strives for in Pinot is what he looks for in any wine he drinks: aromatics, prettiness, texture, elegance, line and length.
He’s altered his approach to Chardonnay, too. “In Australia we got stuck in a wave of thinking bigger is better. We were producing many wines that by today’s standards were just too big and clumsy to be enjoyable. But journalists loved them, the show system loved them. It was the way we were. Even the 1999 Stonier Reserve Chardonnay in its day was probably a bit clumsy.”
Now, though, it’s all about elegance and finesse, acid balance, good fruit and a lick of oak. “And drinkability,” he adds. “That’s a word I use more often now than ever before. You’ve got to be able to enjoy more than a glass and not feel like you’ve drunk too much. We’re older and wiser but we’ve also got older Chardonnay vines. What I know from my vineyard is I can pick at earlier sugar levels and still get really good flavours and a nice natural acid balance. I couldn’t have done that 15 years ago. We needed to let the grapes hang longer and get riper.”
So it is that the happy-go-lucky youngster who drifted off to the US ski fields all those years ago has become a sage of this relatively young region. “Those formative years make it so much easier to do what I do now,” says Dexter. “But that was never part of the grand plan. The business plan I wrote in 1984 was to come home and buy the land, plant the vineyard, build a winery and start selling the wine. It’s taken a bit longer than I thought.”

Dexter Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2012

Clear pale straw. The nose is fairly pronounced, a roll call of inviting Chardonnay characters. It has lemon rind, grapefruit, nectarine, grilled nuts, toast and a suggestion of burnt caramel. From the citrus-edged attack flows a medium-bodied, intense palate that wraps in everything that was on the nose. Lively and fresh, the zesty acidity giving it real drive. It’s got beautifully integrated oak and fruit, impeccable line and impressive, delicious length. Exemplary Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay.

Costs $40 direct from the producer – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 27/05/14

Sign Of Life From Soave

This is one of a couple of Italian whites I wanted to write up before the sun set for good on the southern summer. At the end of a cold, blustery day on the Mornington Peninsula, just looking at my glass of Riesling is making me shiver, which suggests I’ve missed the boat. But it’s no big deal; it’s always summer somewhere and anyway this isn’t a mere thirst slaker. It’s a wine for food, and a delicious one at that.
It comes from Corte Sant’Alda, an organic producer from the Mezzane valley in northeast Italy’s Veneto region. The winery sits at an altitude of 350 metres in Valpolicella, where red varieties such as Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara rule. The appellation has a patchy quality record but is capable of turning out wonderful red blends in a range of styles, from light, fresh cherry- and herb-tinged wines through – thanks to the use of berries picked ripe and left to raisin in controlled conditions – to opulent, dry full-bodied Amarone and sweet Recioto.

Marinella Camerani (left) and family
Marinella Camerani (left) and family
In the mid-1980s Corte Sant’Alda’s Marinella Camerani moved to the country, rolled up her sleeves and began transforming the family estate into the dynamic producer it is today. Those reds that run the gamut of richness are her bread and butter. But she didn’t have to look far for a bit of white relief. In fact, she only had to go across the road to quench her thirst for a delicate dash of bianco. “Because I love fresh white wines, I decided to buy a little vineyard in the Soave DOC very close to Corte Sant’Alda, a vineyard still trained with the traditional pergola system for producing a simple, fresh Soave with Garganega, Trebbiano di Soave and a little part of Chardonnay,” she tells me. “I wanted to show that the terroir in this valley is suitable in certain parts also for producing wonderful white wine and that it’s possible to make a good, clean, mineral wine with native yeasts and without too much technology, in a biodynamic way.”
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Like Valpolicella, Soave hardly boasts a rock-solid reputation thanks to the glut of crisp, “inoffensive” whites that find their way onto UK supermarket shelves. I’m pleased to have been shown another side to Soave and I was on the hunt for a bottle when I chanced upon this. I’d been introduced to Camerani’s wines via the Corte Sant’Alda Ca’ Fiui Valpolicella 2008, which I had over Christmas and really enjoyed. So I pounced upon this when I saw it in the bottleshop fridge. It was drunk on the balcony with evening sunshine, good friends and homemade tapenade.
That was some weeks ago now but that summery mood is neatly encapsulated by a line I read on the Corte Sant’Alda website as I prepared this post. “It’s true, the grass in our vineyards is a bit too high, but for me this is a sign of life,” writes Camerani. “You can see colours, smell scents… of mint, arugula, chamomile. I can’t believe that all this would be dangerous for the vines. A tidy grassland is more an aesthetic need than a real necessity. I like to think that all these colours and scents are going to be characteristics of each of our wines.”

Corte Sant’Alda Vigne di Mezzane Soave 2010 Soave DOC

Clear pale lemon in colour with a moderately intense nose of white flowers, peach blossom, lemon pith and fresh mint. Pure lemon citrus, green plum and almond endure across the light- to medium-bodied palate, which has a touch of waxiness to it. The acidity is luscious and superfine, leaving floral notes to linger after the lemony finish. Delicate, lovely wine.

Costs $27 at Boccaccio Cellars* in Melbourne – Alcohol 12.5% – Tasted March 2014 – Cork

*Current vintage is Corte Sant’Alda Vigne di Mezzane Soave 2012

A Cracking Pair Of Bress

“Because it f*@king rocks!”
There’s a pause while Adam Marks wonders whether such language was appropriate and while I wonder what Bonnezeaux Gonzo’s f-word policy is. I’d posed a simple enough question: Why is Pinot Noir his favourite wine to drink and make? But I realise the empathic recklessness was the most telling aspect of the response. That’s why the expletive must stay – even if it needs silly symbols to sugarcoat the pill for my older readers (aka ‘dad’).
I haven’t met Marks in person; he wasn’t at the Bress winery when my wife and I popped in for an Easter Monday tasting. But you can feel the crackle of energy on the phone; he’s excitable, impulsive, impish. It’s not altogether a surprise. You poke around the premises of this biodynamic producer and its all laidback, hippyish rusticity, but the wines themselves have a certain exuberance about them. And a bit of bravado is a bloody good thing when there’s skill and soul in the mix.
A 2001 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir was the first wine Adam made when he and wife Lynne returned from their honeymoon and started Bress. For the first few years they ran it like a négociant business, choosing good fruit from good vineyards in good regions and juicing it up in mates’ wineries.
Then in 2004 they started looking for a permanent place. They thought about setting up shop in the Yarra Valley, where Marks had fond memories of working under Rob Dolan at Sticks, but they couldn’t quite stretch to the cost. Instead they settled on some granite-strewn hills just south of Bendigo in Victoria, a stone’s throw from Harcourt Valley Vineyards where Marks started making wine in the late 80s. “It was squalor. The property was just a rundown shithole,” he recalls.
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Ten years later it’s a lovely home complete with cellar door, market garden, wood-fired pizza ovens and working winery, as well as a bunch of free-range chickens strutting about. The label is a homage to the tasty birds of Bourg-en-Bresse in France, a place where proud artisans nurture a delicacy valued for its provenance, integrity and deliciousness.
The property also came with what was then Australia’s largest cider apple and perry pear orchard, from which Bress now turns out excellent traditional-method fizz. Elsewhere, the négociant ethos lives on, with Marks putting together a relatively broad range of wines. Edited highlights include a silky, nectarine-and-nougat Macedon Chardonnay 2012 ($35) and floral, pure-fruited Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($25), in addition to those below.
But back to my initial question: Why Pinot Noir? “It’s the crown jewel,” says Marks. “It’s captivating, it gets you excited and it makes you want to go and make a better wine.” So far, so familiar. But then: “The first one that set me on the way was a Hungerford Hill Hunter Valley Pinot Noir from the late 80s or early 90s made by Ralph Fowler. People may pooh-pooh me for that, but it was just a revelation to me.”
That love of Pinot Noir went up a notch in 1996. Marks calls the Yarra Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir from that vintage “a smoker” and “the most pleasing wine I’d ever made”. That was also the year Rob “best boss in the world” Dolan sent him to Beaujolais and Burgundy.
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Marks reserves great admiration for a range of great Aussie Pinot makers, reeling off the likes of Dan Pannell at Picardy, Michael Glover at Bannockburn, Steve Flamsteed at Giant Steps, Nat White at Main Ridge and Phil Moraghan at Curly Flat.
But nothing inspires him like France, a land that encapsulates the timeless qualities he’s after: savoury, textured, nuanced, complex wines. Marks looks to conjure a quiet strength in his own creations. “I want the wines to be a little understated, especially on the nose, then open up and compel you to think.”
As you might expect, there are no hard-and-fast winemaking rules here. It’s all instinct and freedom, which pretty much goes for the business arrangements too. There are no contracts with suppliers or growers; you give your word and that’s that. “You care for people and they care for you back,” says Marks. “We’re just one big, happy kumbayah here at Bress. We just want to keep things nice and simple because there’s just too much in this world that isn’t that way. I hope this is a place where people can come and learn more about the things they enjoy. Wine is a very good vehicle for sharing things.”

Bress Gold Chook Macedon Pinot Noir 2012

Bright medium garnet. The nose is a fairly dense fog of possibilities, thanks largely to the inclusion of about 80% whole bunches in the ferment: wild berries, plum sauce, gingerbread, mixed spice and some bloodiness too. It’s the fresh fruit that hits you on entry, though, and this floods through to a berry-rich medium-bodied palate, with truffle and spice along for the ride. Firm blood plums and red cherries zing through the longish finish. It’s a gorgeous Pinot with generous fruit, a good dose of enigma and structure to frame its boldness.

Costs $40 from the winery website – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 21/04/14

Bress Gold Chook Heathcote Shiraz 2012

Marks used 50-70% whole bunches for this, the kind of Shiraz I could drink over and over. Clear dark ruby with a pronounced nose of black cherry, damson compote, ginger root, black olive, earth and vanilla bean. Ripe red cherry and plum mark the attack with cracked black pepper sprinkled around the sides. It’s supple and not much more than medium bodied, but there’s striking concentration to the juicy, fresh fruit. It’s also nicely layered, with bright red berries, firm plum, tapenade and almost a pleasant prickle to its spice. Firm, chalky tannins bolster its presence and it finishes fairly long.

Costs $40 from the winery website – Alcohol 14% – Tasted 21/04/14

Wonky Canberra Angle

Bryan Martin is a brainy sort. It speaks volumes that the high-IQ winery where he does his real job has this this to say about him: “He brings wisdom and intellect to the question we constantly ask ourselves at Clonakilla: ‘What can we do to make better wine?’” The cool thing is that the wines Martin makes under his Ravensworth label are first and foremost a sensual, rather than cerebral, affair.
His background as a chef, a profession he practised until 1997, helps explain his heightened sense of a wine’s tactile and savoury qualities, as does his authorship of a Canberra Times food column (so yes, both my prose and palate are under the microscope when he reads this). “When Tim (Kirk, Clonakilla chief) and I taste wine, Tim always talks about aromatics and I always talk about the flavour and shape of the palate,” he tells me. “For me what happens with texture is the most important thing. I’m always thinking about how we can modify texture and what we can do next year to influence the shape.”
And Martin’s using his head rather than inputs to answer those questions. He adds no yeast, bacteria, enzymes or nutrients to the wine, while the cool, high vineyards of the Canberra District chip in with essential acidity. Not everything is a riddle, though. He plays it straight and pristine with his Riesling, which in 2012 fended off more than 400 competitors from six countries to be crowned best wine of show at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge. The Shiraz Viognier is likewise made in the mould of the peerless Clonakilla – cofermented fruit, 20% to 30% whole bunches, three to four week maceration and a preference for puncheons (30% new oak) for maturation.
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Aside from those regional classics “anything else is fair game for experimentation” – and grape skins are a key part of the puzzle. “A lot of places don’t think of skins at all, but I love this idea of soaks and macerations with whites and reds,” he says. Take the Chardonnay for example: the 2013 was made in two separate parcels, the first with 24 hours’ skin contact and the second fermented with 50% whole bunches and on skins for about 14 days. When I tasted the wines I couldn’t bring myself to cut short the sensation of its delicate folds furling and unfurling across the palate, like sun-dappled lace billowing in the breeze. Yeah, I know he’s a writer and he’ll read this; I’ll bear the shame of that sentence because it’s true.
Martin, who lives with wife Jocelyn and their three children on a 650m-high vineyard in Murrumbateman, began working at Clonakilla in 2004 after six-odd years studying viticulture and wine science at Charles Sturt University. It all adds up to a solid platform from which to launch experiments, especially when you chuck in his employer’s well-appointed winery. Martin also seems to relish a bit of mental sparring, bouncing ideas off a visiting Kiwi and Israeli during vintage 2014 and finding himself “very much at home” among the wide-horizoned winefolk of Sydney’s Rootstock festival, where he hosted a session on hunter-gathering. “If you’re not careful you can get insular in your own winery,” he says. “Just by tweaking and playing around at the edges, you can find something that can fine-tune a wine. I’m just really happy to have the time and the interest to go ahead and try things out. I’m always playing around with food and I’m inclined to do the same with winemaking.”

Ravensworth The Grainery 2013 Murrumbateman

A field blend from Martin’s own vineyard comprising Marsanne, Roussanne, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Traminer and Sauvignon Blanc. “The idea is a Rhone blend with some aromatics to give it lift and acid. I’ve tried to make a style based on varieties, not techniques.”
Clear pale lemon, fairly pronounced on the nose with grass and nettles prominent; beyond these are murmurs of citrus and orchard fruits, with no one voice rising above the rest. From a juicy, lemony attack it broadens as white stone fruits and citrus fan out on the mid-palate, the zesty acidity working to keep it trim. It’s a touch more than medium bodied, creamy and velvety in the mouth with orange and gingery spice in there too. It tapers to a lingering finish of white flowers, stone fruits and nettly zing.

Costs $27 from winery website* – Alcohol 12.5% – Tasted 18/03/14* (*applies to all)

Ravensworth Chardonnay 2013 Tumbarumba

Clear medium lemon in colour. The nose is a touch herbaceous, with white flowers, citrus notes, creamy lees and nutty oak. From there it’s an essay in mouthfeel and harmony. Citrus zest drives the palate and the oak feels really good – a firm guide but not the least intrusive. Savoury, soft and lacy on the palate. Grapefruit, white peach, nougat, cinnamon and vanilla skip over each other to a delicate but persistent finish.

Costs $30 – Alcohol 12.5%

Ravensworth ‘Le Querce’ Sangiovese 2013 Canberra District

Sangiovese was the first variety Martin planted, and this is the 10th vintage he’s made. The fruit comes from a few different sites, following Martin’s belief that the variety works best in the lower (circa 500m) vineyards.
Pale ruby and with a pinkish rim. Nose of cherry, dusty herb, fresh plum too. The juicy attack sets the tone for a sprightly, mid-weight wine with soft blood plum, blood orange, sour cherry and earth across the palate. It has the fresh acid and dusty tannins you’d expect and finishes with a lovely cherrystone tang. Immensely pleasurable.

Costs $24 – Alcohol 13%

Ravensworth Nebbiolo 2013 Hilltops

Martin decided “not too go too wild” with his four tonnes of Young-grown grapes in 2013, since this is the first Nebbiolo to appear under his label. The two batches were given three weeks and six weeks respectively on skins.
Pale to mid ruby and pink-orange at rim. Red and black cherry, smoked meat and a bit of earth and tar on the nose. It’s medium bodied and silky smooth, with sweet red cherry offset by orangey sharpness. Racy acidity and intense, scratchy tannin on the finish complete the picture. The varietal signs, feel and price are spot on but I felt the palate came up short on depth and complexity.

Costs $27 – Alcohol 14%

Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2013 Murrumbateman

Medium to deep ruby/garnet. Terrific nose: pronounced perfume of violets and roses swirling above a deep well of pepper, plum and cherry. Lithe and textured, with a mid-weight palate of great complexity and concentration – sappy red fruits, star anise and gingerbread. You sense a lot more tightly bound up within a core framed by firm, ripe tannins and tangy acidity. Great wine – time will be kind to it, and it will be a friend to food.

Costs $32 – Alcohol 14%

The Good Grump’s Gamay

If you want to read a gushing review of this post, don’t look to David Lloyd. I remember him telling me some time ago that he’d read a feature I’d written for the literally titled Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine. I’d agonised over the piece and was pleased with the result. I gave Lloyd about a minute to follow up with the inevitable compliment.
Not a word.
“And…?” I dumbly enquired. “Bit fluffy,” came the reply.
You can see where the Mr Grumpy moniker came from that adorns his favourite mug and t-shirt. But really that’s all show. It was his kindness that first brought me to Eldridge Estate, the beautiful, eight-acre vineyard he and wife Wendy have called home since 1995. He didn’t know me from Adam but still let me loose on the vineyard, indulging my curiosity with some “work” leading up to the 2013 vintage.
Perhaps a better measure of his goodness was the way he dealt with my wrapping his tractor around Row T of the Pinot Noir. He didn’t even take the piss. Maybe he forgot.
If you cut David Lloyd he would bleed Pinot, and the fact he refers to Wendy by the acronym QoC – Queen of Chardonnay – tells you almost all you need to know about their devotion to the Burgundy grapes so prevalent on the Mornington Peninsula.
Almost, but not quite. When they bought the Red Hill property, they glimpsed an extra opportunity. “We were standing, looking at the hills and imagining Beaujolais, where the vineyards face due south with rolling hills. And we thought, ‘Let’s put Gamay in because we love it’.”
That affection dates back to a trip to France in the 80s. Travelling around on “ill-gotten (gambling) gains” he had no qualms about spanking some francs on fine wine. The gay abandon with which he worked his way through a “cheat list” of top Burgundy left him somewhat blinkered. “It was only at the end of the trip that I’d look around and think, ‘What’s everyone else drinking?’,” he recalls. “You’d be amazed. There was Beaujolais everywhere. It was always Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent, and the odd Fleurie. So I tried it and it was more food friendly that just about any other wine I’ve come across.”
This attribute seems to have won Gamay a lot of fans among young sommeliers I know, who seem to come at it untouched by the Nouveau nausea that seems to have afflicted older generations. Likewise they seem not to subscribe to that most irrational of wine prejudices: that a drink-young drop, no matter how delicious, is somehow less valid than a venerable, ageworthy Pinot Noir.
Now Lloyd may be as pious about Pinot as the next Morningtonian, but this man of contradictions commits what many round here would hold to be a sacrilege. Since 2011, he’s released a Pinot/Gamay blend he calls PTG, modelled on Bourgogne Passetoutgrains. The exact make-up of the blend is not predetermined but every year it’s ended up a 50:50 split, while Lloyd tends to select the Gamay and Pinot batches that show up lightest from his hotchpotch of clones. It’s then aged in 30% new French oak to give it a bit of oomph. “The key factor is I want the PTG to be light and fresh,” says Lloyd. “I want it zingy, with a bit of acid kick. I also like it to have a slight hint of spritz.”
For my money, it’s a lovely, bright-fruited summer wine with slow-burning depth. But tell him I found it a bit fluffy.
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Eldridge Estate Gamay 2012 Mornington Peninsula

Clear crimson purple in colour, with a nose of cherry, plum, kirsch and geranium. It’s dry and medium-bodied, with nicely defined cherry and blueberry fruit plus a hint of cherry cheesecake. It has a pleasing plum-skin texture and grip, with cracked black pepper coming in to offset the juicy fruit. Firm acidity pushes it out to moderate length with lingering plum and sour cherry aromas. This vintage shows plenty of spice and brooding depth; drink with Chinese duck pancakes or chorizo and serrano ham.

Costs $38 at the cellar door – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 03/02/14

Onannonward Journey

“Wow. This is my first interview,” jokes Will Byron. As we watch my one-year-old son clamber over barrel racks towards the sulphur dioxide, I think it’s fair to say Byron hasn’t hit the big time yet. But I’m honoured to catch him near the start of Onannon’s journey. The three lads behind it have “proper” jobs at wineries of fine repute. But this too is a serious venture that’s turned out some seriously good wines.
Charming, cheerful and hardworking, Byron’s the kind of bloke at whom mums would gladly fling their daughters – or themselves. The same could be said for the other two Onannoners, Kaspar Hermann and Sam Middleton, grandson of Mount Mary legend Dr. John Middleton. The three of them kicked off Onannon with a three-barrel production of Gippsland Pinot Noir in 2008. By 2012, the range had grown to three releases, taking in a Mornington Peninsula Pinot and Gippsland Chardonnay.
When I first heard the name it immediately called to mind the peerless Longpigs song On and On, while it seems those of a less romantic bent have linked it with a seed-spilling sinner from the Bible. It is, in fact, an amalgam of the last letters of the boys’ surnames. Whatever, it seems assured that the story of Onannon will run and run.
Gippsland likewise appears to have a bright future. The likes of Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip have put it on the map but that map remains sketchy. “I think it’s still an untapped resource. It’s going to take people to go out there and make definable wines from specific sites for Gippsland to become a region that people can taste and recognise,” says Byron. “It’s nice to feel like you’re at the forefront of a region getting discovered.”
For those who don’t know, Gippsland is a zone to the east of Melbourne’s suburbs, with well over 200km separating its westernmost winery from its counterpart in the farthest east. The latest edition of James Halliday’s Australian Wine Encyclopedia has the area’s winery tally at 56, but it’s a fair bet a few new ones have sprung up since.
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Onannon makes its wines on the Mornington Peninsula, home to the bolder but equally good Pinot Noir the trio makes. Their Gippsland wines, meanwhile, betray the coolness of the zone with their fresh, almost crunchy fruit. “We’re not afraid of having some acid in our wines,” says Byron. “To my mind, Chardonnay and Pinot are wines that probably should be a little bit edgy when they’re young. You’re waiting for the flesh and personality to go around the skeletal stuff that you prepare when you’re making it.”
Fruit for the 2012 wines came from East Gippsland. Byron says the Chardonnay here shows stone fruit characters reminiscent of classic Yarra Valley, while the acid line reminds him of the Mornington Peninsula. On top of that, there’s an elusive dimension that sets it apart. This particular one was fermented and aged for 10 months in French oak barriques (25% new), saw a little lees work and didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation.
The 2012 Pinot hails from another vineyard close by, where Byron sees “gameyness, purity and prettiness” as hallmarks. The future 2013 release, on the other hand, is made from South Gippsland fruit, noted for the structure and ageworthiness of its wines.
Byron and his partners are “bloody busy doing a lot of other things” but they’ll somehow find time during vintage to put together some more head-turning wines. The plan is for one of them, most likely Byron, to take a lead and build it into a two to three thousand-case production over the next couple of years.
“We’re just really good mates and we wanted to make wine together,” says Byron. “It’s a bit like being in a band. We could all go off and release our own solo albums but we thought that with the three of us coming together, it just ticks all the boxes.”

Onannon Gippsland Chardonnay 2012

Gleaming medium lemon in colour with a somewhat muted nose of lemon peel, peach and banana skin, plus some nuttiness. It really grabs your interest on entry, with pure, zesty lemon zinging around a core of firm white nectarine. Tightly structured and focused, with bracing, citrusy acid driving it to a white-grapefruit finish of moderate length. Drink now to 2018+.

Costs $38 direct from producer – Alcohol 13.3% – Tasted 22/12/13 – Diam

Onannon Gippsland Pinot Noir 2012

Crimson pink and perky, a touch hazy too. Lovely, fragrant nose of strawberries, red cherries, fennel and spice. Fresh, crunchy red berries are there on the silky palate, which has good intensity, too. The tannins are fine, the acidity cleansing with a tangy sharpness. The finish of wild strawberry with a faint whiff of rose petals leaves the mouth watering for another glass. Beautiful, summer-drinking Pinot Noir. A revisit a few months later showed greater complexity and depth to the wine; I expect the next five or so years to be very kind to it.

Costs $38 direct from producer – Alcohol 12.8% – Tasted 03/09/13 – Diam

Quealy’s Daring Gambol

Pobblebonk. I know what you’re thinking: Wacky. Wait till you hear the ingredients. But this inauspicious start heralds an experience as joyous and carefree as a frolic in summer meadows. And then there’s Rageous. Odd name again, the label displeased my eyes and the ménage à trois – Sangiovese, Shiraz and Pinot Noir – seemed a tad far-fetched. The woman behind it admits her friends tried to save her from herself. “When I made Rageous, everyone said ‘You shouldn’t make that wine’. But it’s like the Pobblebonk. To make it, you have to commit from the beginning; you can’t just whack it together later on.”
Few would dispute the fact that Kathleen Quealy’s committed – though some might wonder if she should be committed. These are wines that undoubtedly inspire curiosity. I had to know more.
Fittingly it developed into something of a quest, in spite of the fact they were concocted a stone’s throw from my home. Part of the problem was the holiday season, part of it communication issues. “So where do I find your blog? Is that an internet thing?” she asked when I tried to set up an interview.
I was pleasantly disoriented on arrival at Balnarring Vineyard. It was like landing in a foreign country, an extreme version of Australia, possibly some time in the past. Quealy was hanging out washing on the garden fence, with five bikes lined up like family outside the shed. She still hadn’t seen my blog. “I went on the internet last night to try to figure out how to use the washing machine,” she explained. “That kind of broke me.”
Quealy started the business in 2006, three years after selling T’Gallant, the Mornington Peninsula winery she’d built up with winemaker husband Kevin McCarthy. The wines I’m dealing with here, Pobblebonk and Rageous, were the first made under the new venture, though the range has expanded to include varietal wines from Pinot Gris, Friulano, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.
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Pobblebonk is a nickname given to a number of species of Australian frog of the genus Limnodynastes. Their call, according to the Frogs of Australia website, is “a short musical, explosive note producing a resonant ‘bonk’”. When the billabong banter really gets going, it’s apparently quite a rousing chorus.
The name was chosen to evoke the symphony of grapes: Friulano, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Moscato Giallo. The inspiration for the wine was twofold: the Pinot Grigio blends of Friuli in Italy, and whites such as Houghton White Burgundy, the humble but brilliant Aussie wine which always had a good splash of aromatic grapes.
Pobblebonk is a field blend, which is important because “it has to be like a problem that you solve”. Friulano was chosen as the dominant component because of its high acidity and scent of meadow flowers. The Friulano and Moscato are given 24 hours’ skin contact for texture, and these pile on the aromatics alongside the Riesling.
The Rageous, on the other hand is Quealy’s “rip-off of the super-Tuscan”. It’s a blend of roughly 50% Sangiovese, 30% Shiraz and 20% Pinot Noir and is only made in years when the peninsula – a Chardonnay and Pinot haven – ripens the less-common black grapes well.
The Sangiovese and Shiraz are co-fermented, the Pinot added as soon as possible in order to keep its tannin. It spends 30 days on skins, with only the free-run juice used for the wine, which then spends 18 months in a mixture of French and American oak.
The label bears the Ogden Nash-penned couplet: In the land of mules, there are no rules. The Latin rendering of this (‘Mundus
 mulorum/non est regularum’, in case you’re rusty) was once handed to Quealy by a former colleague. “It kind of means that if you do it yourself, you can do whatever you want,” she explains. “That’s all it is really, just a bit of fun.” There are diehard Rageous fans out there – and I’ve met a few – but then plenty of others who won’t go near it.
So do we call it a cult wine? Quealy laughs at the suggestion. “Maybe it is a bit cult, but not with the heavy hitters. I think I’m going to miss the heavy hitters in my lifetime.”

Quealy Pobblebonk 2012 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
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Pale straw in colour, it has a super-fragrant nose of chamomile, citrus blossom and honey, alongside apple, pear, apricot, lychee and slightly soapy Muscat grapeyness. Medium bodied with good flavour intensity, those orchard, citrus and stone fruits skip over each other through the slippery mid-palate. Even with that range, it’s nicely bound and harmonious, with some stone-fruit kernel savouriness too. The fine natural acidity and phenolic grip leave the perfume and a hint of sweetness lingering on the finish. A lovely wine showing great flair, probably best enjoyed over the next three years or so.

Costs $28 from the cellar door – Tasted 11/10/13 Alcohol 13.2%

Quealy Rageous 2012 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
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Clear pale ruby in colour with a fairly pronounced nose of sour cherry, plums, fennel and dusty earth. The palate is bursting with sweet cherries and plums with layers of earth, black cherries and vanilla creeping in beneath. It’s exquisitely soft but the real joy is how nicely framed the wine is, with tannins ranging from fine to dusty and chewy shepherding the fruit to a long and very moreish finish. This offers well-judged generosity, and Sangiovese rightly gets its chance to shine. Drink with lamb backstraps. I’d expect it to develop nicely over the next five years.

Costs $35 at Merricks General Wine Store – Tasted 11/01/14 – Alcohol 13.5%

Suck A Punch Pet Nat

I couldn’t keep this bottled up. Not at this time of year.
The Friends of Punch Rurale Chardonnay 2012 is a social beast, a sparkler to celebrate – but not one that demands pomp and ceremony. Not a cheers-and-small-talk bubbles, more a sit-down-and-stay-a-while affair. “It’s not supposed to be a formal wine; it’s supposed to be a delicious wine,” says James Lance, as if reading my mind.
James and wife Claire kicked off Punch on 1 January 2005. That’s when they started leasing Lance’s Vineyard and Winery in the Yarra Valley from James’ parents, David and Catherine, who founded renowned Pinot and Chardonnay producer Diamond Valley there back in 1976.
Classic Yarra Valley Pinot, Chardonnay and Cabernet from Lance’s Vineyard remain Punch’s bread and butter. But from the ashes of the Black Saturday bushfires, which destroyed the 2009 crop, rose a phoenix or two from further afield. Friends wrote to ask what they could do to help. The response: Sell us some grapes.
Hence the Friends of Punch range which includes this unusual beauty, the fruit for which came from Beechworth’s celebrated Warner Vineyard. It’s a pétillant naturel wine – “pet nat” to the cool cats – made using the méthode rurale (aka méthode ancestrale), described by James as “the oldest, simplest, and purest way to make a sparkling wine”. In this case, it meant fermenting Chardonnay juice most of the way to dryness (leaving about 18g/l residual sugar) in stainless steel before transferring to bottle to complete the fermentation, with the resulting CO2 trapped for a natural fizz. The wine spent about 18 months on yeast lees, so what you’re left with is a bottle-conditioned sparkling wine – a slightly turbid, rustic thing that’ll throw a crust. But when all’s said and done, it merits two important and aimed-for epithets: “delicious” and “wine”.
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Friends of Punch Rurale Chardonnay 2012 Beechworth, Victoria

Cloudy straw in colour, the nose bears the expected stamp of its yeasty upbringing but there’s plenty of orchard fruit and biscuit enticing you to tuck in. The bead is creamy and relatively coarse and the texture across the palate thickish, though the wine has intensity and depth without being the least bit lumbering. Good fizz livens up the gorgeous Chardonnay fruit, apples and peach wrapped in brioche, culminating in an apple danish send-off. Drink with hog roast or scallops with pancetta.

Costs $22 from the Punch website – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 23/09/13 – Crown seal

Salo To The Angels

Each night, I bury my love around you
You’re linked to my innocence

A little creepy? Don’t worry: nothing creepy about this wine. Intriguing, yes, but really this lyric from the Interpol track Say Hello to the Angels serves only to provide a clever-looking headline. If you read this far, no harm done. If you listen to the song – and, even better, drink this wine – much good done.
We had this Chardonnay at a blind tasting for friends curated by Cameron Hogarth of Chateau Yering. Cam chose as his theme leftfield acts by Yarra Valley winemakers, and this was my white of the night.
One half of Salo is Steve Flamsteed, who can’t put a foot wrong at Innocent Bystander. And don’t even get me started on Giant Steps; if the feeling ever sets in that single-vineyard wines are a me-too exercise, return to these. The sites have something to say and are beautifully articulate. In fact the Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 probably spoke to me more persuasively than any other Aussie red this year.
The other half is Dave Mackintosh, a winemaker of Kiwi/Scottish extraction who used to tread those Giant Steps. Mackintosh now spearheads Ar Fion, which translates as ‘our wine’ in Scottish Gaelic. He was last month a Young Gun of Wine finalist, in recognition of his vision and vino.
This wine was a joy to share. If you wanted to think about it, there was substance. But if you shut up and let go, it led you a merry dance. Great, gut-feel winemaking.
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Salo Chardonnay 2011 Yarra Valley

I found a lot of noise on the nose, with lemon curd and cashew wafting through a lees-and-banana funk. Then a clean and intense palate of apple, lemon, spicy melon, fleshy nectarine, nuts and marzipan. The mouthfeel is silky with generous curves, and it’s shot through with a beam of acid and minerality. Alive and dynamic, a wine to keep you guessing and drinking. Excellent Chardonnay.

Price: $40 from Barrique Wine Store, Healesville – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 04/11/13