Big or small, crafts­men aim to cre­ate the best they can

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

IN the Septem­ber WineBusi­nessMonthly , young pinot noir spe­cial­ist wine­maker Bill Downie let loose with an all-too-fa­mil­iar ti­rade against the large cor­po­rate wine com­pa­nies.

‘‘ I think we need site-fo­cused in­di­vid­u­als in Aus­tralia, not port­fo­lios,’’ he said. ‘‘ The whole world knows that we can do in­ex­pen­sive ho­mogenised prod­ucts, but the world doesn’t quite re­alise what is pos­si­ble.’’

Warm­ing to his task, he adds: ‘‘ They con­tinue on a daily ba­sis to make ap­palling de­ci­sions. They have a pool of amaz­ing tal­ent and all they seem to do is stand on them and say: do not do any­thing in­ter­est­ing, do not work to the best of your abil­ity.’’

By chance, I had just spent two days with the wine­mak­ing team at Con­stel­la­tion Wines Aus­tralia (aka Hardys) when I read Downie’s words. On the other side, as it were, I had spent the pre­vi­ous two days with Wirra Wirra and Ro­man Brata­siuk of Claren­don Hills in South Aus­tralia.

It did not change my per­cep­tion of the big pic­ture: for bet­ter or worse, more than 80 per cent of Aus­tralia’s wine pro­duc­tion (hence sales) em­anates from the big com­pa­nies. Th­ese wines are sold on price, in­vari­ably dis­counted, and store po­si­tion. The con­sumers of th­ese wines sel­dom, if ever, read this wine col­umn or any other and have no in­ter­est what­so­ever in the dreams or frus­tra­tions of the wine­mak­ers who are re­spon­si­ble for them, even less in the niceties of wild yeast fer­men­ta­tion, and would pre­sume ter­roir comes from some­where like Afghanistan.

When you turn the coin, both Foster’s and CWA have nu­mer­ous sin­gle-re­gion wines in their port­fo­lios made by wine­mak­ers who, without ex­cep­tion, seek to make a bet­ter wine next vin­tage than the one be­fore. One of the ap­proaches is to push the en­ve­lope, to try new meth­ods. (Thus Foster’s wine­mak­ers from across the coun­try have an an­nual in­ter­nal com­pe­ti­tion to pro­duce the funki­est sin­gle-bar­rel white bur­gundy looka­like wine.)

Of the 107 CWA wines I tasted, 92 were from a sin­gle re­gion and more than 30 of th­ese were from sin­gle vine­yards. Where re­gional blends are made, it is be­cause the wine­mak­ers are looking for the sort of syn­ergy achieved by Pen­folds Grange and Yat­tarna, us­ing mul­ti­ple re­gions across more than one state in some vin­tages. Thus Hardys’ Eileen Chardon­nay is typ­i­cally 50 per cent Ade­laide Hills and 25 per cent from each of Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley and NSW’s Tum­barumba: three re­gions from three states. It so hap­pens that most of th­ese top-flight wines are also sin­gle va­ri­eties, but this does not mean they are in­her­ently bet­ter than multi-re­gion, multi-va­ri­etal wines. One of Aus­tralia’s great­est wine­mak­ers post World War II was Hardys’ Roger War­ren, a mas­ter blen­der who in the 1950s cre­ated shi­raz-caber­net blends from NSW’s Hunter Val­ley and Goul­burn Val­ley (Tah­bilk) and SA’s McLaren Vale, with the oc­ca­sional as­sis­tance of SA’s Coon­awarra.

It is in def­er­ence to those wines that the CWA wine­mak­ing team has cre­ated the HRB range, or Her­itage Re­serve Blend. But to re­turn to the main theme, that team is headed by Paul Lap­s­ley, who has a steely will that al­lows no com­pro­mise: just look into his eyes, don’t bother read­ing his lips.

At his side are Ed Carr, without ques­tion the great­est Aus­tralian sparkling wine­maker of his gen­er­a­tion, ar­guably of all time. Rob Bowen knows West­ern Aus­tralia like the back of his hand and is re­spon­si­ble for Houghton and Brook­land Val­ley wines, the lat­ter my Win­ery of the Year in the 2009 Wine Com­pan­ion.

Group white wine­maker Tom New­ton, I sus­pect, has won more show tro­phies and gold medals for his wines than any other wine­maker to­day.

Fiona Don­ald has moved from Foster’s to CWA with a fully de­served rep­u­ta­tion.

If you put those wine­mak­ers in a room with the Wirra Wirra team headed by Sa­man­tha Con­new, and with Brata­siuk, you might find spir­ited de­bate, but it would all come from deeply held con­vic­tion about the gen­e­sis of great wines.


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