No muck­ing about when Duck gets down to busi­ness

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

WILD Duck Creek Es­tate took the long road — a very long road — to be­come what it is to­day. David and Diana An­der­son bought a block of land in Vic­to­ria, 4km south­west of Heath­cote, in 1972 but it was not un­til 1980 that the first vines were planted.

Be­fore as well as af­ter the pur­chase, An­der­son built vine­yards for oth­ers through­out Vic­to­ria and south­ern NSW, chiefly in the Yarra Val­ley and Mace­don Ranges, dur­ing a 30-year pe­riod.

It was al­most in­evitable that he would start wine­mak­ing as a hobby in his back­yard shed at Hurst­bridge, on the east­ern out­skirts of Melbourne.

Un­til the plant­ings of caber­net sauvi­gnon, caber­net franc, mer­lot, mal­bec and petit ver­dot (the five Bordeaux grapes) came into bear­ing, An­der­son sourced small batches of fruit from vine­yards close to Hurst­bridge.

‘‘ Be­ing a fenc­ing con­trac­tor, I barely had time to do any­thing by the book, so I chained our small stain­less steel fer­menter to our trailer and drove it around the pad­dock in or­der to plunge the fruit. Per­am­bu­la­tory fer­men­ta­tion, I called it,’’ An­der­son says.

This mix­ture of highly rus­tic and care­fully thought-out grape grow­ing and wine­mak­ing car­ried through the next 20 or so years. It is a mis­take to see Wild Duck Creek Es­tate solely through the prism of its most cel­e­brated wine, Duck Muck.

The grapes for Alan’s caber­nets (named af­ter his fa­ther) come from four dis­tinct blocks within 2.25ha of the planted area, each with its own char­ac­ter­is­tics. The low-pH buck­shot gravel soil ripens the grapes slowly, with per­fect acid re­ten­tion and a baume of about 13 per cent, re­sult­ing in el­e­gant wines with a fin­ished al­co­hol of about 13.5 per cent (which David would like to see lower still).

The wine spends 18 to 24 months in 100 per cent new French oak, mainly from the Nev­ers for­est.

The sweet cas­sis, blackcurrant and mint of the ’ 04 (still avail­able in lim­ited quan­ti­ties from the cel­lar door for about $40, 90 points) will ma­ture well for a decade or more, as a par­al­lel tast­ing of the ’ 99 proved.

The pride of the fleet (though not the most ex­pen­sive) is Spring Flat Shi­raz, born from the 1ha block at the win­ery planted in 1988 and used ex­clu­sively up to 1996. Since then, five other nearby vine­yards have con­trib­uted to Spring Flat Shi­raz, lift­ing pro­duc­tion to 1800 cases (frost per­mit­ting). It’s here that the sub­ject of al­co­hol raises its head: the ’ 04 is a mas­sive wine, weigh­ing in at 16 per cent, yet has about 7.5g a litre of acid­ity and a pH of 3.4.

Those num­bers speak of a wine in bal­ance, and David says the grapes are picked with­out any shrivel; if picked ear­lier, the acid is too high and the juice with in­ad­e­quate flavour. Ma­tured in a 50-50 split of French and Amer­i­can oak, it is a lus­cious, vel­vety wine with no jammy/con­fit fruit flavours. Ac­cept­ing the style, this $55 wine scores 94 points.

Re­serve and Press­ings shi­raz are next in the price tree but it is Duck Muck, about the most un­likely name for a stand­out wine, that made Wild Duck Creek fa­mous in the Amer­i­can mar­ket and, by re­flec­tion, here. It had an un­likely ge­n­e­sis.

In 1994, sev­eral rows in the Spring Flat Shi­raz block were left un­picked when all the fer­menters were full. They were forgotten about un­til, two weeks later, An­der­son and long-time friend David McKee stum­bled across the rows, which looked some­what the worse for wear.

With­out much hope they picked the grapes and found the must was a mind-bog­gling 17.5 per cent baume with 8g a litre of acid­ity. The search for a yeast that could fer­ment a wine with so much po­ten­tial al­co­hol suc­ceeded, and McKee scrawled Duck Muck on the end of the new Amer­i­can oak hogshead in which the wine was ma­tured.

It caused a sen­sa­tion in the US, al­though for a range of rea­sons Wild Duck Creek is not ex­ported there any more. Only six vin­tages have been re­leased (’94, ’ 95, ’ 97, ’ 00, ’ 02 and ’ 04), each of no more than 200 cases.

Even at $300 a bot­tle there is a queue of res­tau­ra­teurs, a few fine wine re­tail­ers and long-term cus­tomers who don’t blink at the price tag . . . or the name.

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