No mucking about when Duck gets down to business
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.