Use ex­pe­ri­ence to min­imise risk in wine­mak­ing ven­tures

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

START­ING a win­ery? Look be­fore you leap. Work­ing in the wine­mak­ing in­dus­try as an em­ployee can (and does) have two op­pos­ing out­comes. One is a ra­tio­nal de­ci­sion never to jump the fence and take on all the risks of own­er­ship: drought, bush­fires and fair-weather bank man­agers lead­ing a bri­gade of chal­lenges.

The other is to stare down those prob­lems with an un­quench­able de­sire to make wines that re­flect per­sonal wine­mak­ing philoso­phies. Here ex­pe­ri­ence is worth its weight in gold, for there can be ways of min­imis­ing fi­nan­cial risks without com­pro­mis­ing the de­sire to make the best pos­si­ble wine.

Rob and Mee­gan Pee­bles es­tab­lished Buck­shot Vine­yard in Heath­cote, Vic­to­ria, in 1999. Rob al­ready had six vin­tages at Ruther­glen un­der his belt, the first with Mick Mor­ris in 1993, and af­ter that what he calls ‘‘ week­end vin­tages’’ with a smaller Ruther­glen win­ery.

A stint at Cold­stream Hills cel­lar door in 1993 pro­vided an­other per­spec­tive but 11 years with Do­maine Chan­don (pri­mar­ily in a com­mer­cial ca­pac­ity), where he con­tin­ues to work, has been of the great­est im­por­tance.

The Pee­ble­ses run the ul­ti­mate vir­tual win­ery. The shi­raz grapes come from a sin­gle 2.5ha block, part of a 40ha vine­yard (planted in 1997) owned by long-term friends John and Jenny Davies.

It is sit­u­ated on an east-fac­ing slope just to the south­west of Col­binab­bin on the prized Mt Camel Range. The 500 mil­lion-year-old Cam­brian bedrock of Mt Camel was bro­ken down over more than 400 mil­lion years into jasper, green­stone, gran­ite and the buck­shot iron­stone peb­bles that gave birth to the name of the Pee­ble­ses’ ven­ture and to the vivid red colour of the soil.

The Davies’s vine­yard grows shi­raz for a who’s who of clients, in­clud­ing Bindi, Two Hands and Do­maine Chan­don. The block ded­i­cated for Buck­shot is at the top of the slope, with par­tic­u­larly deep soil. Yields are de­lib­er­ately re­stricted to five tonnes to seven tonnes a hectare, keep­ing pro­duc­tion to fewer than 800 cases, in­clud­ing a small amount of zin­fan­del (with a vary­ing per­cent­age of shi­raz) sold as The Square Peg.

Hav­ing solved the prob­lem of find­ing cap­i­tal to start a vine­yard (in this in­stance sev­eral hours’ drive away from the Pee­bles home and from Rob’s work­place) the need for a win­ery was solved by park­ing a hand­ful of two-tonne open fer­menters in a spare cranny at Do­maine Chan­don.

The aim in han­dling the grapes from this point on is to make a red wine of fi­nesse, with lively aro­mat­ics, pure and in­tense fruit flavours and a long, silky fin­ish.

A re­cent tast­ing of the sold-out 2004 Shi­raz (96 points), ’ 05 Shi­raz (93 points) and the still avail­able ’ 06 Shi­raz showed re­mark­able con­sis­tency with wines that fell con­vinc­ingly within the Buck­shot style tar­get zone.

Given that the vine­yard sailed through this sum­mer (no smoke, no fire, no heat dam­age) you might think it’s all too easy. But the ’ 07 Shi­raz has caused much angst: three bit­terly cold nights in late spring (wide­spread frosts across much of south­east­ern Aus­tralia) re­sulted in what Rob de­scribes as bon­sai bunches, the tiny berries mainly skin and pip.

De­spite all ef­forts, the wine is still very hard and tan­nic; whether it will be sold re­mains to be seen. So the ’ 08 will be re­leased later this year, giv­ing the ’ 07 a sec­ond chance. Even then it will be out of the main­stream of the Buck­shot style if the de­ci­sion is taken to release it some­where down the track.

The mere pos­si­bil­ity of not re­leas­ing any wine from a vin­tage is hor­ren­dous for a small pro­ducer. But it lies at the core of the ra­tio­nale for tak­ing on this chal­lenge in the first place. It’s your wine and it’s your de­ci­sion. Come what may, it has to turn on the qual­ity of the wine, not the fi­nan­cial hard­ship that fol­lows.


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