THE OLD COUNTRY
SUBTLER ITALIAN VARIETALS ARE STEALING THE SHOW AT THIS ADELAIDE HILLS WINERY.
There is change happening in Australian wine and its pace is quickening by the day. In vineyards around the country the old guard is under threat, but not in a bad way. Shiraz, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc used to rule the shelves and the wine lists, but no longer, as the alternative varieties make their presence felt. In many vineyards dotted around Australia our best winemakers are going off-piste from the well known French grape varieties and into the hundreds of others that flourish around the world.
And while some wineries stick to the tried and true there are others that go in, boots and all, planting numerous varieties, testing the water and the land to measure their suitability for local climates and experimenting with a range of wine styles.
At Macclesfield in the Adelaide Hills, south of Mount Barker, Longview Vineyard is very much in the latter camp. Here a fruit salad of grape varieties can be found, from the classics of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay to pinot grigio, grüner veltliner, barbera and nebbiolo.
There is a distinctly Italian edge to the emphasis of Longview Vineyard towards the great wines of Italy, particularly with those last two grapes. And it comes as no surprise that the current custodians of the property, the Saturno family, have strong Italian heritage, with liquor almost running through their veins. Brothers Peter and Mark Saturno, who oversee Longview with their sister Kate Walters, were born in a pub and spent much of their early years working in the bar or bottleshop and hearing the stories of winemakers who dropped in to visit. This gave Mark in particular a love of hospitality; he worked in restaurants in New York before returning home to the family business, which perhaps influences the food-friendly and generous nature of the Longview range.
These wines are not international copycats, however, but a very Australian and in some cases a unique take on these classic varietals. Barbera is blended with cool-climate shiraz, which makes for a moreish, spicy, subtly fragrant and juicy red wine with an immediate, Beaujolais-like appeal. A more serious barbera, aged in large, old French oak puncheons, will hopefully be released next year.
It is with nebbiolo that Longview does much of its finest work, clearly with plenty of underlying passion. “Oh yes. Nebbiolo is by far our favourite wine to drink and the fact that nebb was planted here was a massive factor in our decision to buy the vineyard,” Mark says.
There is no doubt that his passion brings with it significant rewards. Nebbiolo is a notoriously difficult grape variety to get right: laborious in the vineyard, very picky in its site suitability and only subtly fruity, requiring great attention and care in the winery. Longview has some of the oldest plantings in the country, dating from 1995, with up to four expressions available at any one time. While some earlier releases lacked well defined varietal character, the last handful of nebbiolo releases have seen great leaps forward, in two very different styles.
At one end of the spectrum is the dry rosato. Very European in style it manages to display the prettier elements of fine nebbiolo while retaining exceptional drinkability, making for a unique Australian rosé. Longview also has a classic and traditionally Italian riserva nebbiolo, long bottle- and oak-aged in style and made for the cellar although already drinking beautifully. Distinctly savoury, it is an admirable example of this varietal that will quite easily live for a decade or more, as do Italy’s finest.
While non-traditional grape varietals are a great success at Longview, one of the leading wines in recent years has been their classically styled Macclesfield single-vineyard chardonnay. Adelaide Hills is one of Australia’s leading regions for the modern local, almost Burgundian style of chardonnay, Longview being outstanding at leaner, acid-driven wines. The Macclesfield chardonnay with its wild yeast ferment, extended lees ageing and barrel ferment characters illustrates not only a great understanding of the classics but also a lightness in the winemaker’s touch, allowing grape variety and local conditions to come to the fore.
Managing such a wide variety of grapes and styles and adding Australian flair is no easy task. The Saturno family does an admirable job in keeping all these styles true to form with significant quality and there is a strong sense that they will only get better with time.