James Hal­l­i­day re­flects on the achieve­ments of Cupitt’s Win­ery

Halliday - - Contents -

Rosie Cupitt has a sense of hu­mour cou­pled with unas­sum­ing modesty, mak­ing the es­tab­lish­ment and achieve­ments of Cupitt’s Win­ery seem easy to the point of in­evitabil­ity. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. I’ll skip from the start to to­day, with Cupitt’s mak­ing 12 va­ri­etal wines from six re­gions in three states, all in an 80-tonne win­ery with a 120-seat restau­rant com­plex.

Any­one who has had con­tact with one of Aus­tralia’s 2000-plus small win­ery op­er­a­tions will know how fraught it is to de­cide when to pick the grapes. Is the weather about to change for bet­ter or worse? Have the grapes reached the de­sired baume? Is the acid­ity still suf­fi­cient? Does the grapevine canopy al­low some flex­i­bil­ity, or is it say­ing the grapes need to be picked re­gard­less? Neigh­bours are con­sulted and much time is spent walk­ing up and down rows look­ing for signs of downy or pow­dery mildew. But that’s not all. You have to de­cide on a pick­ing se­quence for blocks and va­ri­eties, be sure the tank and bar­rel ca­pac­ity is suf­fi­cient, and the press is al­ways a traf­fic jam, par­tic­u­larly when the yield is higher than ex­pected. That can be hard enough for one site, let alone six.

So, back to the be­gin­ning… Rosie was a qual­i­fied hor­ti­cul­tur­ist with a land­scap­ing busi­ness. She and hus­band Griff lived in Bowral and ran sheep and cat­tle. They bought a ho­tel in town, which prompted Rosie to en­rol in the wine science de­gree at Charles Sturt Univer­sity.

Time passed, and they de­cided to sell the ho­tel and graz­ing prop­erty, ‘re­tir­ing’ to their hol­i­day home at Nar­rawallee on the Shoal­haven Coast. Rosie had an itch to plant some vines to make wine for home con­sump­tion, while Griff wanted to run a few cat­tle. They found a prop­erty be­tween Mil­ton and Ul­ladulla, its vol­canic soils suited to both pur­poses, with a circa-1851 stone build­ing also ap­peal­ing.

Rosie had set about build­ing a net­work of wine and Slow Foodor­i­en­tated friends in France and Italy. The geo­graphic epi­cen­tres of her Euro­pean trav­els were the Loire Val­ley for wine and Pied­mont for Slow Food and, of course, wine too.

She met Alphonse Mel­lot of Do­maine de la Moussiere 20 years ago and has vis­ited his Do­maine ev­ery year since. Even though son Tom spent a vin­tage there in 2013, Rosie has not made wine at the Do­maine – al­though that’s not the of­fi­cial story. “Alphonse tells ev­ery­one I have [made wine there] when he in­tro­duces me to peo­ple. I feel like one of the fam­ily,” she says.

Rosie did, how­ever, work a vin­tage at Touraine in 2003, also in the Loire Val­ley, with Philippe Oudin. “He needed the help,” she says. “It was hands-on and fran­tic, as I was the only other wine­maker with him.”

Rosie’s in­volve­ment with Slow Food made Pied­mont an an­nual visit, which led to mak­ing in­valu­able con­tacts who con­nected her with wine­mak­ers, in­clud­ing some house­hold names. Oth­ers in­cluded Roberto Da­monte of Malvera, whose fa­ther was the first to re­vive the for­tune of arneis, a va­ri­ety Rosie is par­tic­u­larly fond of drink­ing as well as mak­ing.

So, how has she achieved such mir­a­cles? The win­ery and restau­rant came on stream in 2007. Rosie had crushed 12 tonnes that year and, ex­cept for un­trained help dur­ing vini­fi­ca­tion, she did it alone. When the restau­rant opened in June that year, they gave the wine away for sev­eral weeks as the liquor li­cence hadn’t come through.

She may have trod­den where an­gels fear to tread, but has made it all look easy. Be­tween the vine­yards, her travel time, each way, to Or­ange is five hours, Hill­tops is four and a half, and a mere two hours to Wam­boin, near Can­berra.

A string of early vin­tages lead­ing up to 2017 – which was very late and cool – com­pressed the pick­ing win­dows and dis­torted the the­o­ret­i­cal pro­gres­sion from early- to late-ripen­ing grapes. And vin­tages such as 2016, which had larger-than-usual crops, seemed to ripen at the same time, send­ing wine­mak­ers in Eastern Aus­tralia on a des­per­ate search for ad­di­tional fer­men­ta­tion and stor­age equip­ment.

Hand­ing over wine­mak­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to 36-year-old son Wally was one thing. It took an­other two years for him to also co-or­di­nate the in­take of grapes for vin­tage and vine­yard in­spec­tions through the grow­ing sea­son. The suc­cess of the han­dover is best mea­sured by Cupitt’s recog­ni­tion as one of the 10 Dark Horses in the 2018 Hal­l­i­day Wine Com­pan­ion. This ti­tle is awarded to winer­ies break­ing through the start­ing gates, mark­ing the first time they have re­ceived five stars.

The Cup­pitt’s Win­ery range is from Hill­tops (ries­ling, pinot noir rosé, shi­raz, mer­lot, neb­bi­olo, caber­net sauvi­gnon, viog­nier), Can­berra (pinot gris, pinot noir), Or­ange (sauvi­gnon blanc, arneis) and Shoal­haven Coast (sauvi­gnon blanc).

And what of the fu­ture? The plan is for their crush to in­crease to 100 tonnes, in large mea­sure to cover the gap be­tween pro­duc­tion and de­mand. Run­ning out of stock is a real con­cern if your sub­stan­tial restau­rant doesn’t have some of the most pop­u­lar vin­tages avail­able. The same ap­plies for cel­lar door and the win­ery’s 650 wine club mem­bers, so 90 per cent of the wines sell out be­fore the next vin­tage is ready for re­lease.

Since hand­ing over man­age­ment of win­ery op­er­a­tions to

Wally, Rosie has di­ver­si­fied. After spend­ing some of her time in France and Italy un­der­tak­ing cheese­mak­ing cour­ses, she now op­er­ates a com­mer­cial fro­magerie. Rosie mainly makes goat’s milk cheese, but also uses some cow’s milk for her brie and comté. The cheeses are sold from the cel­lar door, restau­rant and a cou­ple of other out­lets. “It’s a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion from wine­mak­ing as there’s lots of mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy and chem­istry in both of these fer­men­ta­tion pro­cesses that are sim­i­lar, and it’s still quite a phys­i­cal oc­cu­pa­tion,” Rosie says.

A string of early vin­tages lead­ing up to 2017, which was very late and cool, com­pressed the pick­ing win­dows and dis­torted the the­o­ret­i­cal pro­gres­sion from early- to late-ripen­ing grapes.

Rosie Cupitt with sons Wally (left) and Tom.

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