History scholar rewrites the classics of viticulture
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.