His­tory scholar rewrites the clas­sics of viti­cul­ture

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - FOOD DETECTIVE - James Halliday

IHAVE come across wine­mak­ers with de­grees in atomic science, doc­tors with spe­cial­ties rang­ing from on­col­ogy to plas­tic surgery, lawyers, bankers, ac­coun­tants, sculp­tors, artists and ge­og­ra­phers, but Rory Lane is the first with a de­gree in an­cient Greek lit­er­a­ture.

Af­ter com­plet­ing his de­gree at Monash Univer­sity and ‘‘ des­per­ately want­ing to de­lay an en­try into the real world’’, he stum­bled across a post­grad­u­ate wine tech­nol­ogy and mar­ket­ing course, where he ‘‘ soon be­came hooked on . . . the won­drous con­nec­tion be­tween land, hu­man and liq­uid’’.

Two vin­tages in Ore­gon in the US fol­lowed, the first at the well-known Adelsheim Win­ery, the sec­ond with a rapidly grow­ing ne­go­ciant-style op­er­a­tion, A to Z Wineworks, buy­ing bulk pinot noir, blend­ing, bot­tling and sell­ing it for less than $20 a bot­tle.

Vin­tage work in Aus­tralia led him to the Grampians, and specif­i­cally shi­raz. With his post­grad­u­ate de­gree and ex­pe­ri­ence in small-batch wine­mak­ing, he leased a mod­est fac­tory shed, in­stalled a cou­ple of open fer­menters, a one-tonne bas­ket press and some bar­rels.

The first vin­tage, in 2004, re­sulted in a crush of 2.5 tonnes but, Lane says, ‘‘ I drove thou­sands of kilo­me­tres . . . be­tween the win­ery where we (he and part­ner Anita McCarthy) made it in Morn­ing­ton and home in St Kilda twice a day, and to my job in be­tween, and then to the vine­yard on week­ends to check grape ripeness. The Volvo was slept in, kicked, sworn at but still much-loved: like bordeaux, ’ 82 was a very good year for 244GL Volvos.’’ McCarthy still drives it.

The an­nual wine make has in­creased to eight tonnes, or about 550 cases, up from 400 cases in 2006. Even if the wines were sold at Robert Parker-blessed prices (and they are not), a real-world job is needed.

Lane spent two years as mar­ket­ing man­ager for Shelmer­dine Vine­yards and is now tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor for Aus­tralian Wine­mak­ers equip­ment sup­plies, deal­ing with cus­tomer queries and equip­ment de­vel­op­ment. This oc­curred through his per­cep­tion that he needed to in­crease his tech­ni­cal knowl­edge, more of­ten the ter­ri­tory of large winer­ies than small (or, in Lane’s case, very small).

In typ­i­cal Aus­tralian fash­ion, he threw him­self in at the deep end and I have no doubt he will suc­ceed. My con­fi­dence stems mainly from the qual­ity of the wines he has made but also from his fo­cused and highly suc­cess­ful pur­suit of the best grapes he could buy in the Grampians, a story he told in de­tail on his in­ter­net blog, at times with alarm­ing frank­ness as he broods about prob­lems in the fer­menters or bar­rels (that all ul­ti­mately re­solve them­selves).

He ac­cepts in a mat­ter-of-fact way the loss of grapes from Moys­ton Hills be­fore the ’ 06 vin­tage (Mount Langi Ghi­ran bought the en­tire crop) and sim­ply per­suaded Bruce Dalkin of West­gate Vine­yard to in­crease his al­lo­ca­tion to four tonnes. (West­gate has shi­raz dat­ing from 1969 and pro­duces very high qual­ity of its own.) Grapes from Con­con­gella Vine­yard fur­ther north and Gar­den Gully com­pleted the in­take in ’ 06. He also ex­plains how the ’ 06 West­gate Vine­yard Shi­raz (see From theRe­gion ) came into be­ing. He starts with the propo­si­tion that there are three pos­si­ble des­ti­na­tions for his wine in bar­rel: it can go into a sin­gle-vine­yard re­serve wine, or into the main Grampians blend, or down the drain.

He tastes all the bar­rels with a clear idea of how he wishes the sin­gle-vine­yard to be, and along the way ‘‘ culls the nasty bar­rels’’. In ’ 06 he had two to three bar­rels of West­gate old vine ma­te­rial that had ‘‘ an al­most re­fresh­ing light­ness to them: power with­out weight’’.

He tried a blend with quite tan­nic Con­con­gella wine but that de­tracted from the bal­ance, and ended up with 7 per cent Gar­den Gully, which ‘‘ seemed to fill the mid­dle out nicely and give more depth’’. In the end, three bar­rels of West­gate Vine­yard Shi­raz were pro­duced.

Any­one think­ing of mak­ing 400 cases of shi­raz (or any other wine) would do well to care­fully pe­ruse www.thes­tory.com.au with a glass of The Story West­gate Vine­yard in hand.

www.winecom­pan­ion.com.au.

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