New kid on old block

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

IT was pure co­in­ci­dence that the day be­fore I left Aus­tralia for my usual month in Bur­gundy three mis­sives ar­rived, two be­ing emails, the third a bot­tle of pinot noir.

The first email was an of­fer by Syd­ney’s Ul­timo Wine Cen­tre of two new sin­gle-vine­yard re­leases by Krug. The first is the 1996 Clos du Mes­nil Blanc de Blancs, com­ing from the 1.87ha walled vine­yard bought by Krug in 1971 (and re­planted with 100 per cent chardon­nay). Ul­timo had one bot­tle at a spe­cial of­fer price of $1795 com­pared with the rec­om­mended re­tail price of $1995.

The sec­ond Ul­timo of­fer was two bot­tles of 1995 Krug Clos d’Am­bon­nay Blanc de Noirs. It is the in­au­gu­ral re­lease from a 0.7ha vine­yard bought in 1994, re­al­is­ing a long-held dream of mak­ing a sin­glevine­yard pinot noir to sit be­side Clos du Mes­nil. Only 250 cases were made, hardly sur­pris­ing given the mi­cro­scopic vine­yard, and dwarfed by the 700 dozen-plus bot­tles and 600 mag­nums of Clos du Mes­nil.

The price of the two bot­tles was $4995.95 each, re­duced to $4495. This for a clos owned for only 12 months by Krug and which had no prior brand ex­is­tence.

The sec­ond email was the sec­ond is­sue of Tap­pen­ings, the ever so slightly kitschy name of the Ta­panappa news­let­ter writ­ten by Brian Croser. His fam­ily is one of three who own Ta­panappa, the other two be­ing the Bollinger (Cham­pagne) and Cazes (Bordeaux) fam­i­lies.

My eyes locked on a para­graph on page two. ‘‘ The prob­lem for Aus­tralia in at­tempt­ing to gate­crash the global fine wine mar­ket,’’ Croser writes, is not that we are be­ing too elit­ist by iden­ti­fy­ing our dis­tin­guished sites’, but rather that we are not elit­ist enough in send­ing un­equiv­o­cal sig­nals about the spe­cial qual­i­ties of our fine-wine re­gions, and the best sites and wines pro­duced from them.’’ What­ever else, Krug could not be charged with un­der­valu­ing its dis­tin­guished sites.

This con­cept of dis­tin­guished sites has been pur­sued by Croser for more than a decade, and Ta­panappa is the re­al­i­sa­tion of that cru­sade or, more crudely, a case of putting his money where his mouth is, an un­equiv­o­cally Aus­tralian approach.

Ta­panappa has three sites, two of which have been pro­duc­ing grapes for some time: the Whale­bone Vine­yard in Wrat­ton­bully, South Aus­tralia, planted in 1974, and the Tiers Vine­yard at Pic­cadilly in the Ade­laide Hills, planted in 1979.

Th­ese are not old plant­ings by Aus­tralian stan­dards, but the soils have some lin­eage. The mix of lime­stone and terra rossa of Whale­bone is es­ti­mated to be 34 mil­lion years old, and the Tiers Vine­yard has a hefty 1800 mil­lionyear-old calc-sil­i­cate ge­ol­ogy.

Both have pro­duced high-qual­ity wines with an un­de­ni­able sense of place: Whale­bone a caber­net sauvi­gnon, caber­net franc, mer­lot and shi­raz blend, Tiers a su­per­refined chardon­nay.

When I heard of the third vine­yard and the plans to plant pinot noir on it, I re­mem­bered the old say­ing, ‘‘ You’ll never re­gret say­ing noth­ing.’’ I also re­mem­bered the one Petaluma Tiers Vine­yard pinot noir which, to put it mildly, was dis­ap­point­ing. The site cho­sen was on part of a Croser­ac­quired sheep and fat lamb-graz­ing prop­erty on the south­ern tip of the Fleurieu Penin­sula, look­ing out to South Aus­tralia’s Kan­ga­roo Is­land.

Foggy Hill Vine­yard, as it is called, was planted in 2003 at Parawa, at the high­est (350m), wettest and coolest part of the penin­sula, on 67 mil­lion-year-old soil. Three Bur­gundy clones, 114, 115 and 777, se­lected by Ray­mond Bernard, a pro­fes­sor at France’s Di­jon Univer­sity, were planted at a very high den­sity of 4440 vines a hectare.

As the near­est vine­yard was 10km away and there was no his­tory of pinot noir suc­ceed­ing in SA out­side a few spe­cially favoured sites in the Ade­laide Hills, it is small won­der Croser gnawed a few fin­ger­nails, even if (on his fig­ures) this was the coolest site on the South Aus­tralian main­land.

This week’s FromtheRe­gion sug­gests nail-bit­ing can cease for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

www.winecom­pan­ion.com.au

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