The Interview Series #6
In this interview series, Alex Camatta chats with joint CEO David LeMire MW about our Single Vineyard wines. David joined the team at Shaw + Smith in 2010, as Global Sales and Marketing Manager. He is involved in education with the Institute of Masters of Wine, is a wine show judge, and writes articles for Australia’s Wine Business Magazine.
David, you became a Master of Wine in 2007. Can you tell us a little about the process and what set you on this path?
When I did the WSET Diploma, which I did in London in 1995, I enjoyed the process so much that I knew that going on and doing the MW was the right option for me. I also knew that I needed a break after the Diploma, so it wasn’t until 2002 that I entered the MW programme. I feel really grateful that I did. It was great fun, challenging, and has opened a lot of doors for me. It is a big commitment though – total immersion in the process is what it took, for me. The process is different for everyone – it is largely self-study – but it involved a lot of tasting, reading, writing, things that I still get to do in my current role.
We often hear about the importance of site selection in relation to wine. Can you explain how this differs in single vineyard wines compared to regional wines?
With regional wines the sites are crucial but there is flexibility. A wine might be really interesting but not complete on its own. It might have some elements, like acidity or a particular flavour, that need to be balanced with another wine to tame them or add to them. It’s a great challenge to select sites that can work together, and then to have in mind the end product as each batch of fruit is being processed. You can definitely treat one site with more freedom and creativity if it is going into a blend, rather than standing alone. For single vineyard wines, the challenge is to retain the unique character of the site, but also achieve a wine that is complete, that stands alone and has balance. We are still selecting sites from within a single vineyard for our single vineyard wines, so that allows some freedom.
What factors determine which sites or blocks become Shaw + Smith Single Vineyard wines?
The key is that the vineyard must have something distinctive to say. So those sites or blocks that we feel best express what the vineyard has to say are the ones that we will choose. They might be on the best soil, have an interesting aspect, or be older vines, but there’s no rule that fits every time. What sections of the vineyard are going to be more interesting and expressive of how we see this land, and of what this vineyard can be. It’s great to see the winemakers taking a step back and avoiding the temptation to impose their vision, and instead listening and giving voice to the character of the vineyard.
In your experience, what is it about single vineyard wines that make them so special?
For me it is the connection with the place. With a single vineyard, we can trace the influence of the season, the evolution of the winemaker, and we can get to know the terroir over the decades. This is so much more meaningful than to have just one encounter. We could have a wonderful experience of meeting someone once but we won’t really know them and appreciate all their qualities unless we get to know them over years.
Is there a particular vintage or wine from the Single Vineyard range which stand out to you?
There are a few. For me the 2015 Lenswood Chardonnay is the most complete, with great charm as well as structure, and ageing potential. The 2017 Balhannah Shiraz is such an individual, a great character, it’s uncompromising and doesn’t aim to please, but just is itself. It is polarising but one of the most interesting wines we’ve ever made, and that’s a great trait to have.