Unforgettable Chardonnay Experiences
Recent travel restrictions and lockdown regulations have left many of us at the winery reminiscing about our favourite restaurants and the joyful times we spent in them. As the colder days set in, our daydreams of past European holidays have become even more vivid. Our fondest memories seem to be more important than ever, so we thought we would take the opportunity to ask Michael and Martin about their most unforgettable Chardonnay experiences.
Michael; I’m old enough to remember the pre-Chardonnay epoch of Australian wine. The arrival of the 1971 Tyrells Vat 47 was a game changer and I can clearly remember it and other early wines of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Today modern Australian Chardonnay is unrecognisable when compared to those pioneer wines - wines that do not try to mimic Burgundy, that are sophisticated, distinctive wines that rank amongst the world’s best.
I was first exposed to great Chardonnay aka Burgundy at Len Evan’s Bulletin Place.Those years with Len, often acting as an unpaid waiter at wine dinners, were formative for me. We happily traded our time to taste the wines being served.
So what is the greatest Chardonnay I have ever tasted? Once upon a time I would have said 1978 DRC Le Montrachet – an extraordinary wine. As a young taster I was totally seduced by the sheer power of this wine and drank my last bottle with Jancis Robinson and Nick Lander whilst I was studying for my Master of Wine in the late 80s.
Today however I am less attracted by the power and awe of DRC’s Chardonnay style and now prefer the wines of producers such as Roulot, Leflaive and Bonneau du Martray. Wines that combine flavour intensity with acid line and overall balance.
If I had to pick one producer it would be Bonneau du Martray. I love the wines, I love the estate and I loved spending time with Jean-Charles the then owner. Bonneau is an example of a great estate that moved from more commercial farming practices to organic and bio-dynamic. I remember Jean-Charles saying , “we find that when we farm this way, the wines are better.” That was quite an important moment for me. If someone as serious as Jean-Charles could change the way they farmed then so could we.
A final observation on Chardonnay – whilst I am very proud of the Chardonnay we are making at Shaw + Smith and Tolpuddle Vineyard, I am also proud of the quality of Australian Chardonnay in general and this evolution has been a wonderful thing to have been able to witness over 40 years.
Martin; Soon after I left Petaluma and started my flying winemaker consulting business, I was fortunate enough to be asked to do some consulting work in Burgundy for Domaine Leflaive, when Vincent Leflaive was at the helm. He truly was a great gentleman and a brilliant wine man. In my opinion that was when the Domaine was in its absolute heyday.
When I was lucky enough to visit, Vincent took great time and effort to explain the region and what they do. I spent several days there looking at their vineyards, which are some of the best sites in Montrachet, tasting the wines, and going through their wine making technique in detail.
Afterwards Vincent took me over the road to a very simple little restaurant in the town square of Puligny Montrachet, called Le Montrachet, where he opened some older bottles. This was at a time when Australia was producing much bigger, louder, more alcoholic, and oaky wines than we should have been. To have the opportunity to spend time looking at those beautifully grown, balanced wines, really opened my eyes to what cool climate Chardonnay could and should look like. It was this experience of being introduced in such detail to one of the great producers, rather than just a singular great bottle, that is my most memorable Chardonnay experience. It became the foundation for how I would aspire to make great Chardonnay for the decades that followed.
Fast forward 30 years and Martin and Michael have just bought a parcel of land in the Piccadilly Valley where they will be able to employ many of the same practices as Domaine Leflaive and Bonneau du Martray. From clones, vine spacing and yields all the way through to organic practices. How rewarding.