WINE WITH ALTI­TUDE

Beechworth vi­gnerons have tapped alti­tude and as­pect to make great wines on a small scale. Their third spring tast­ing of­fers a rare op­por­tu­nity to savour the fruits of their skill.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents -

Beechworth vi­gnerons have tapped alti­tude and as­pect to make great wines on a small scale.

SI­MON Grant looks from his liv­ing room to vines win­ter­ing in the rain on a rise that lifts away be­hind his fam­ily’s Beechworth house. It is a chilly Indigo day. He is tall, broad-shoul­dered and thought­ful, and he is un­stitch­ing the ‘Cham­pagne para­dox’ – the play of power and ele­gance that de­fines al­most all of the world’s great wines. It is not an es­o­teric ex­er­cise. Mr Grant has been five years a com­mit­tee mem­ber of Beechworth Vi­gnerons’ As­so­ci­a­tion and pres­i­dent for four. He talks ge­ol­ogy, as­pect and va­ri­ety, canopy, root mass and vine bal­ance – key busi­ness on the plateau, per­haps the smallest of the ‘Ge­o­graph­i­cal In­di­ca­tions’ by which each of Aus­tralia’s wine re­gions are de­lin­eated in law. It is thought to be home to Aus­tralia’s great­est num­ber of vi­gnerons in a sin­gle in­di­ca­tion – those who grow grapes on their own land for the pro­duc­tion and sale of all wine un­der their own la­bels. The vine­yards are small be­cause avail­able land is scarce and not all land is suit­able. But it is a pair of qual­i­ties avail­able to few of Aus­tralia’s other wine re­gions, if any, which dis­tin­guishes it and yields op­por­tu­nity. The Beechworth mas­sif – in the old French sense a dis­placed clus­ter of high hills, ridges and eroded moun­tains in which the struc­ture was re­tained when the crust moved – rises from an alti­tude of about 280 me­tres at Ever­ton Up­per to 1050m at Mount Stan­ley’s peak. “We have this re­mark­able sce­nario where we have the cool of the Great Di­vid­ing Range, we have the warmth of the in­te­rior – the con­ti­nen­tal cli­mate, we are sort of mono­lithic with no river, so our en­vi­ron­ment is per­haps not unique but com­pared with what’s around us it’s very dif­fer­ent,” Mr Grant says. “And it turns out that it’s a ter­rific place to grow grapes.” These are the things that brought Mr Grant and part­ner He­len Mur­ray to Beechworth. They are among few more than two dozen owner-vi­gnerons, as in­di­vid­u­als or fam­ily part­ner­ships, who make up the mem­ber­ship of the Vi­gnerons’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

They have just re­leased ‘Beechworth rosso’ un­der their Traviarti la­bel, the first bot­tling of the nebbiolo that grows be­yond the win­dow. A smart Mel­bourne wine bar placed an ini­tial or­der and has now placed another. It’s a good sign.

Gi­a­conda’s Rick Kinzbrun­ner – the for­mer en­gi­neer long recog­nised as the cat­a­lyst of Beechworth’s en­vi­able wine rep­u­ta­tion – is also grow­ing nebbiolo be­yond the rise.

The Grant-mur­ray part­ner­ship and Kinzbrun­ner came co­in­ci­den­tally to a pos­i­tive de­ci­sion about the suit­abil­ity of dirt be­low Red Hill on Beechworth’s east­ern town bound­ary for nebbiolo. That’s a good sign, too.

Cut back a step to Jan­cis Robin­son, to Fe­bru­ary 2016. The Bri­tish writer and Master of Wine has done much in a long ca­reer to ad­vise peo­ple who en­joy drink­ing wine about the way in which wine grapes grow, how wine works and why it tastes as its does. She con­sis­tently heads any list of in­ter­na­tional wine crit­ics. She also coun­sels the Queen’s cel­lar­mas­ter, which con­firms why.

The Fi­nan­cial Times has pub­lished Ms Robin­son’s reg­u­lar col­umn. Her sub­ject is the an­nual ‘Aus­tralia Day Tast­ing’ of wines hosted by Aus­tralian vi­gnerons, wine­mak­ers and Bri­tish im­porters in Lon­don’s Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural Halls.

Ms Robin­son wel­comes the ex­hi­bi­tion. She re­marks its con­tin­u­ing steps away from wines pro­duced and sold by cor­po­rate brands that have long dom­i­nated Aus­tralian wine. She notes a de­cided move to­wards di­ver­sity, ele­gance and dif­fer­ence.

The “small, of­ten earnest, scale” of vi­gnerons’ art emerg­ing in North East Vic­to­ria – in Beechworth, Ms Robin­son writes – is em­blem­atic of fresh out­breaks of what she de­scribes as “ambition and ap­ti­tude”.

Here, she says, a group of “rel­a­tively re­cently-es­tab­lished pro­duc­ers, typ­i­cally with only a few hectares of vine­yard, are mak­ing some quite ex­cep­tion­ally good wines”.

She is not sur­prised by the ex­cel­lent chardon­nay of­fered at the Lon­don tast­ing, for she has long fol­lowed Kinzbrun­ner’s star and those in his or­bit. >>

But un­ex­pected are “sev­eral truly ex­cit­ing wines based on the sup­pos­edly finicky nebbiolo grape, the one re­spon­si­ble for Barolo and Bar­baresco” – two of the truly great Ital­ian wines.

Chardon­nay and shi­raz have long de­fined Beechworth’s rep­u­ta­tion, but nebbiolo, tem­pranillo, san­giovese and ver­mentino are grow­ing in the field.

Ms Robin­son lists as par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive 13 new-wave Aus­tralian wines from a range of re­gions and grape va­ri­eties. Seven are from Beechworth.

Across the At­lantic, seven months ear­lier, a pre-emi­nent in­ter­na­tional mag­a­zine called Saveur – which ex­plores and re­ports the cul­ture of food and wine around the globe – de­scribes the un­am­bigu­ous elo­quence of Kinzbrun­ner’s Gi­a­conda vine­yard es­tate chardon­nay 2012 vin­tage: “It smells like burnt matches, and then peaches and smoke, and then wal­nuts. Like no other chardon­nay in the world.”

Mr Grant says ac­claim for Kinzbrun­ner’s achieve­ment of “se­ri­ousend, world-class wine” is not limited to the opin­ions of a hand­ful.

“You can point to al­most any of these (lead­ing) wine writ­ers in­ter­na­tion­ally, and in Aus­tralia, who will ac­knowl­edge, yep, the wines of Gi­a­conda have been, at var­i­ous times, bench­marks…and you can’t dis­miss these things in the world of wine,” he says.

“That level of cred­i­bil­ity builds great, great in­ter­est be­cause it is such a dif­fi­cult, un­known thing – be­cause how do you make such great wine?”

Any con­sid­ered an­swer has nu­mer­ous el­e­ments – soil, vine, va­ri­ety, cli­mate, alti­tude, vine and fruit man­age­ment and pick­ing time. All con­trib­ute to the whole. Some can be tem­pered by de­gree and oth­ers not at all. But the thing that ap­pears to have be­come the key in Beechworth’s suc­cess, Mr Grant says, is that it “at­tracted peo­ple who wanted to make great wine, not just peo­ple who wanted to grow grapes”. “And in some ways that’s the legacy of Kinzbrun­ner,” he says. “His achieve­ment in­spired many of us to say ‘If he can do it, I’m go­ing there. The gold’s in them there hills’.”

And so there is.

“His achieve­ment in­spired many of us to say ‘If he can do it, I’m gold’sgo­ing there. The in them there hills’.” SI­MON GRANT

Beechworth Vi­gnerons’ As­so­ci­a­tion’s spring tast­ing will be held in Beechworth on Novem­ber 19 and is open to the pub­lic from 2pm. Ticket: $30. See beech­worthvine­yards.com.au for more in­for­ma­tion nearer the date.

words Jamie Kronborg pho­tos Marc Bongers and Jamie Kronborg

PROSPECT / The rolling hills of Indigo Vine­yard are typ­i­cal of the western lee of the Beechworth wine re­gion.

EL­E­MENTS / Sor­ren­berg’s Barry Morey ( left) and Beechworth Vi­gnerons’ As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Si­mon Grant in Traviarti vine­yard.

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