Ga­may has come a long way in Aus­tralia

Ga­may may have a trou­bled past, but this grape is find­ing its place in Aus­tralia and pro­duc­ing some de­li­ciously drink­able wines.

Halliday - - Contents - by Daniel Honan

MOCKED BY MON­ARCHS, dis­liked by dukes, yet beloved by the bour­geoisie through­out his­tory, ga­may is the peo­ple’s grape. Well-made wines pro­duced from ga­may blast out of the glass all youth­ful, fresh and vi­tal. They are pretty and ea­ger to please even the most boor­ish devo­tee of Bur­gundy – the place where ga­may was long ago once made an out­law.

Ga­may is the off­spring of pinot noir and gouais blanc, and a sis­ter to chardon­nay. But through­out the his­tory of wine in Bur­gundy, ga­may has never been any­where near as revered as chardon­nay. When com­pared to its most no­ble par­ent, pinot noir, ga­may was con­sid­ered by some to be pos­i­tively vile.

Ac­cord­ing to the long-de­ceased Duke of Bur­gundy, Philippe le Hardi, aka Philip the Bold (1342-1404): “A very bad and dis­loyal va­ri­ety called Gaamez [sic] is of such a kind that it is very harm­ful to hu­man crea­tures, so much so that many peo­ple who had it in the past were in­fested by se­ri­ous dis­eases, as we’ve heard; be­cause said wine from said plant of said na­ture is full of sig­nif­i­cant and hor­ri­ble bit­ter­ness.” (Ros­sig­nol, 1854)

The au­da­cious duke was not a fan of ga­may be­cause it threat­ened fur­ther cul­ti­va­tion of the more del­i­cate wines made from pinot noir, which hap­pened to con­sti­tute the main source of his land’s wine sup­ply. He there­fore or­dered the re­moval of ga­may vines from Bur­gundy, ex­il­ing them to Beau­jo­lais, where they have flour­ished ever since. How­ever, the de­ri­sion for ga­may didn’t stop once it landed in its adopted home.

In Beau­jo­lais, the wine­grow­ers who rushed their grapes through the cel­lar typ­i­cally turned them into light, thin and fruity wines that of­ten tasted like straw­ber­ries, ba­nanas and even bub­ble gum. Of­ten un­com­pli­cated and one-di­men­sional, these wines would go on sale just a few months after har­vest in Novem­ber. They would be­come known as the fun and friv­o­lous wine Beau­jo­lais Nou­veau. Nev­er­the­less, for those in Beau­jo­lais who take the grape se­ri­ously, they are re­warded with a fine, age­wor­thy wine that is ad­mit­tedly more play­ful than its pro­found parent­age, yet can be just as dis­tinc­tive and de­li­cious as any Bur­gundy cru.

In Aus­tralia, plant­ings of ga­may are lim­ited, but some sites have been qui­etly grow­ing it for many years and pro­duc­ing a se­ri­ously charm­ing drink. Barry Morey from Sor­ren­berg has been grow­ing the grape in the granitic soils of his Beech­worth vine­yard in Vic­to­ria’s north-east for more than 30 years. “Ga­may is an un­pre­ten­tious va­ri­ety,” Barry says. “It’s a grape that can be de­light­fully fun or make a se­ri­ous wine that I reckon would give

some of Bur­gundy’s a run for their money. We hand­pick and crush into open fer­menters with a lit­tle whole bunch, de­pend­ing on the sea­son.” Barry’s aim is to make a wine to com­ple­ment food, so he strives for struc­ture, fin­ish and fi­nesse. At Mead­ow­bank Wines in Tas­ma­nia, the Ellis fam­ily has been grow­ing ga­may by the banks of the Der­went River since 1987. Wine­maker Peter Dredge says he’s been in­spired many times by a bot­tle of Sor­ren­berg and was ex­cited to learn that ga­may vines were grow­ing among the pinot noir rows at Mead­ow­bank. “I love ga­may wines that are bright and fresh. They’re just lovely, easy-drink­ing wines,” Peter says. “The ga­may grown here is a su­per-bright pur­ple colour that re­tains an in­cred­i­ble amount of nat­u­ral acid­ity. We tend to pick on flavour, aim­ing for that fresh, lower-al­co­hol, easy-drink­ing style, which we en­hance by not adding any preser­va­tives.”

“It’s a grape that can be de­light­fully fun or make a se­ri­ous wine that I reckon would give some of Bur­gundy’s a run for their money.”

Per­haps bet­ter known for his gor­geous ex­am­ples of pinot noir, Phillip Jones of Vic­to­ria's Bass Phillip also has sev­eral rows of ga­may grow­ing among the pinot in his South Gipp­s­land vine­yard. “We’re slightly cool for ga­may in Gipp­s­land, but that means we get re­ally good nat­u­ral acid­ity, which is vi­tal for the grape,” Phillip says. “It never has the length of our pinot noir, but it cer­tainly has the fresh­ness, with a lovely wild berry fruit char­ac­ter that will find a sat­is­fy­ing place at a ta­ble of cold meats and ter­rines.”

Fur­ther north in the Hunter Val­ley, it’s per­haps sur­pris­ing to learn that ga­may has been grow­ing here since the 1960s. “I started look­ing around for ga­may around the mid­dle of

2016,” says Chris Tyrrell of Tyrrell’s Wines. “[Viti­cul­tur­ist] Liz Ri­ley pointed me in the di­rec­tion of Len Evans’ fam­ily vine­yard. He’d planted ga­may some time in the late ’60s from cut­tings we think he got from Ruther­glen.”

With one eye on the past and an­other on the fu­ture, Chris is tak­ing the fam­ily win­ery into un­charted ter­ri­tory with a ga­may in the range for the first time in the win­ery’s 160-year his­tory. “Ob­vi­ously our rep­u­ta­tion is built on semil­lon and shi­raz, and Bruce [Chris’ dad] was pretty against the idea, which might be a gen­er­a­tional thing,” he says. “But I think we should al­ways be want­ing to chal­lenge and rein­vent our­selves while re­spect­ing the achieve­ments we’ve had in the past. For me, ga­may is a pretty no­ble va­ri­ety and one that I be­lieve fits well with our phi­los­o­phy. The Hunter is his­tor­i­cally known for mak­ing light, dry, re­fresh­ing reds, and I think the ga­may we made fits the bill nicely.”

“The Hunter is his­tor­i­cally known for mak­ing light, dry, re­fresh­ing reds, and I think the ga­may we made fits the bill nicely.”

Sor­ren­berg’s Barry Morey.

Chris Tyrrell of Tyrrell's Wines.

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