Judge points to North East ‘gold’
LEADING wine judge Jane Faulkner has described North East wine grape growers’ and vignerons’ pursuit of alternative varieties as ‘zeitgeist’ – emblematic of the spirit of the time.
The Australian Alternative Wine Varieties’ Show judge last week in Myrtleford made the observation at the end of the two-day North East Wine Challenge, in which wines from the wider region’s five geographical indications, or wine districts – Alpine Valleys, Beechworth, Glenrowan, King Valley and Rutherglen – are ranked by style.
Ms Faulkner chaired a panel of five to assess 213 entries – an increase of 50 on the number submitted for last year’s competition.
Fellow judges included Bests Great Western winemaker Justin Purser and Bellarine Peninsula’s Oakdene Wines’ winemaker Steven Paul and, as associates, Gapsted Wines’ winemaker Blair Jensen and Ringer Reef’s Julie Holm.
“Often these regions are really good in one particular thing – like the Alpine Valleys’ tempranillo is fantastic and Beechworth chardonnay is outstanding,” Ms Faulkner said.
“But when I looked at the results it’s clear that something’s going on.
“It’s zeitgeist. The number of entries and quality are at a higher level right across the board.
“It’s incremental year-on-year and it demonstrates that producers are saying ‘Well, we think this show is really worthy of us putting our wines in’.
“That’s an effort and always an expense. But the numbers are increasing – and the result is better wines.”
Ms Faulkner particularly remarked the quality of a Beechworth Fighting Gully Road chardonnay made by Adrian Rodda for Mark Walpole, for which the panel awarded a gold medal.
“At 95 points (one point below the 2016 Brokenwood Indigo Vineyard chardonnay ‘wine of show’) it’s a truly beautiful wine,” she said.
“Chardonnay is a stand-out in all these regions and Beechworth steals the show with this variety.
“Alpine Valleys does well, too, and just a matter of time before they get more recognition.”
But Ms Faulkner said it was with alternative grape varieties, such as tempranillo, vermentino and barbera, that vignerons and winemakers in the wider region were “making a mark”.
“These are varieties in which the Alpine Valleys, in particular, are doing so well,” she said.
“For example, the chief of judges’ trophy went to a tempranillo.
“It’s gone beyond being a wine to watch – it’s truly making its mark.
“There was a 2016 tempranillo in the (judging) that I felt was so good – complex, with such beautiful fruit, balance and length. “It was quite spine-tingling. “It’s exciting, it’s lovely and it was from Mayford Wines at Porepunkah.
“It was just so good and needed to be recognised.
“There was another really fantastic wine, Billy Button’s ‘The Affable Barbera’, one of Joanne Marsh’s wines.
“It’s probably one of the best barberas I’ve had in a long time and made faithfully to variety and style.
“And what I love is that when you look at these so-called alternative varieties you know that there’s not a lot of plantings, but what’s coming from them is so good - and that’s what makes this show so exciting.
“We’re tasting the best of what these varieties can be.”
Ms Faulkner said the Challenge demonstrated that the wider North East was becoming what could be described as an ‘alternative varieties’ capital’ of Australian wine.
Adrian Rodda took silver in the chardonnay class with his ‘A. Rodda’-labelled Smiths Vineyard chardonnay from fruit grown just south of Beechworth.
Indigo Vineyard ‘Secret Village’ viognier was awarded gold and its rousanne bronze in the white Rhone varieties’ class.
Fighting Gully Road’s 2016 pinot noir won the pinot noir class with 95 points and a gold medal and the A. Rodda cuvee de Chez, with 96 points, won gold for the Bordeaux varieties and blends’ class.
Fighting Gully Road’s 2015 shiraz and Haldon Estate’s Haldon shiraz from the same vintage shared the gold medal in the shiraz class.
The North East Wine Challenge 2017 regional shield went to Alpine Valleys.
PRAISE: North East Wine Challenge and Australian Alternative Wine Varieties’ Show chief judge Jane Faulkner with Beechworth winemaker Adrian Rodda (left) and Fighting Gully Road principal Mark Walpole – who was subsequently named Gourmet Traveller Wine viticulturalist of the year 2017 – at the Challenge trophy presentation in Myrtleford last week.