The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING - An­gus Hugh­son

There are few peo­ple who know more about mak­ing wine in Tas­ma­nia than An­drew Pirie. Hav­ing founded Pipers Brook, Ninth Is­land and Pirie wines af­ter com­plet­ing a PhD mea­sur­ing Tas­ma­nia’s viti­cul­tural po­ten­tial, there are few oth­ers who have spent as much time work­ing with and re­search­ing its wines. For a wine­maker 40 years into his ca­reer, you could be for­given for think­ing that plant­ing an­other vine­yard and launch­ing a new wine from a scratch would be stretch. But not for Pirie, who reck­ons he has fi­nally cracked the se­cret to great Aus­tralian sparkling wine.

Pirie has al­ways taken a novel ap­proach to match­ing the great wines of the world: im­i­ta­tion. That is, iso­lat­ing what makes them great and try­ing to iden­tify where in Aus­tralia he could repli­cate the con­di­tions, al­though al­ways with a lo­cal bent. The method be­gan with Pipers Brook, which he founded with his brother, where Pirie was look­ing to match the great wines of Europe from a small patch of land north of Launce­s­ton, close to Bass Strait. In part it was trial and er­ror – mea­sur­ing re­sults and then adapt­ing to the con­di­tions. The wines were at the time lead­ers in cool-cli­mate Aus­tralian wine­mak­ing, and cer­tainly helped to put Tas­ma­nia on the map. For many wine con­sumers Pipers Brook was their first foray into the viti­cul­tural par­adise that is Tas­ma­nia.

But Pirie is not a man to stand still. He is driven by the aca­demic lit­er­a­ture, keeps up with the mod­ern viti­cul­tural re­search and its ever-grow­ing un­der­stand­ing of fine wine. His­tor­i­cally cli­mates have been mea­sured by tem­per­a­ture and grape qual­ity by the heat of the sea­son, as in Pirie’s early re­search. But over time our un­der­stand­ing of great wine has evolved, with not only tem­per­a­ture but also hu­mid­ity tak­ing a lead­ing role in wine qual­ity. Hu­mid­ity in the air helps to main­tain a grape skin’s in­tegrity while cloud cover avoids sun­burn and the for­ma­tion of hard tan­nins. Great wine re­gions need not only a tem­per­a­ture range that matches their va­ri­etal mix, but also the right hu­mid­ity set­tings and level of cloud cover dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son to pro­tect grapes from the peak of sum­mer. This is cen­tral to the Pirie phi­los­o­phy in Tas­ma­nia and his new­est win­ery, Apogee.

While Pirie’s main fo­cus for Piper’s Brook were the great dry wines of Europe, his new­est ven­ture was con­ceived with a strong fo­cus: to cre­ate sparkling wines that could match the fine wines of Cham­pagne. And he did not need to go far to find the right prop­erty for sale, just 15 min­utes’ drive fur­ther south and in­land from Pipers Brook, and 100m higher in al­ti­tude. This would be the site for the new ven­ture, only a stone’s throw from a well estab­lished leader in Tas­ma­nian sparkling wines, Clover Hill.

Though it is only a short dis­tance away from Pipers Brook, Apogees sits fur­ther away from the ocean and its higher al­ti­tude makes it a vastly dif­fer­ent re­gion for grow­ing grapes. Here only the ear­li­est-ripen­ing grapes can reach ma­tu­rity, and only just, mak­ing it ideal to cre­ate high-qual­ity sparkling wines and, sur­pris­ingly, pinot gris.

Apogee ex­ists not only as a place that closely im­i­tates the cli­mate of Cham­pagne but also the his­toric re­gion’s phi­los­o­phy as a whole. Cham­pagne is dom­i­nated by small wine grow­ers, whose land size was lim­ited to that which his­tor­i­cally could be worked by a sin­gle fam­ily. And Pirie has cho­sen a sim­i­lar model, a small two-hectare plot of land where he can over­see the growth of vines and de­vel­op­ment of fruit dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son. And of course it is only the clas­sic Chama­pagne grape va­ri­eties of pinot noir, chardon­nay and pinot me­u­nier that are planted, plus a small plot of pinot gris.

On the wine­mak­ing side Pirie also closely fol­lows the top tier houses of Cham­pagne. En­cour­ag­ing high-yield­ing vines to re­tain char­ac­ter­is­tic fresh acid­ity, a tra­di­tional bot­tle fer­ment with over three years on lees (as found with the best vin­tage cham­pagnes), ox­ida­tive juice han­dling and some bar­rel fer­ment of base wines, all to add count­less lay­ers of sub­tle com­plex­ity. At the heart of great cham­pagne has al­ways been fas­tid­i­ous work in the vine­yard and in­cred­i­bly de­tailed and nuanced wine­mak­ing, all of which Pirie clearly has un­der con­trol at Apogee.

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