David LeMire MW
15 April 2013 | David LeMire MW

2013 Vintage Report - Martin Shaw and David LeMire MW

Winter / Spring rainfall - Winter rainfall for Balhannah was 70mm below the long-term average though irrigation dams were full by late July. In Mid-September rainfall virtually ceased. From October through to harvest there was only an additional 80mm recorded.

Flowering – Flowering was underway early, beginning on November 10th, and weather conditions were excellent. This meant 2013 had the potential to be a high-yielding year, and it was important to control yields to achieve ripeness and concentration.

Weather up to and including harvest - The season was warmer than usual with an occasional one and two day heat spike. The positive was the consistently cool nights that tempered the season in general.   It was a year of high irrigation demand to establish adequate vine growth early in the season then to retain it through to harvest. However it was a very easy year in terms of disease risk, with no disease issues at all. Harvest began early on February 16th for clone 777 Pinot Noir, and was underway for Sauvignon Blanc on February 21st.

Stand out varieties  - Some great examples of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. The caveat being that you needed good vine health to endure heat spikes and a moderate yield to allow you to pick at the optimum time. Thinning fruit to achieve our target yields was crucial, and in the case of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, some blocks were thinned twice, and some three times.

Overall quality – taking into account a warmer than average growing season and a compressed harvest window we have been pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of fruit from the 2013 Vintage. The white wines look very solid, but it may be the reds that have the edge at this early stage as they continue to impress in the winery.

Time Posted: 15/04/2013 at 4:36 PM Permalink to 2013 Vintage Report - Martin Shaw and David LeMire MW Permalink
Michael Hill Smith MW
7 March 2013 | Michael Hill Smith MW

Meet the Judges: Michael Hill Smith MW

Meet the Judges: Michael Hill Smith MW (Decanter.com, Monday 25 February 2013)

"To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Decanter World Wine Awards, we're profiling a number of this year's judges, who are some of the world's most renowned wine experts. Our 'Meet the Judges' interview series offers a rare insight into the world of wine and judging from the key industry experts choosing this year's best wines.

Michael Hill-Smith MW DWWA 2013 Regional Chair
Michael Hill Smith MW works in many areas of the wine trade, including at his own vineyard, Shaw + Smith. Find out about one of our two Regional Chairs for Australia in this interview...


Tell us a little about yourself – where are you based and where do you work?
After passing my MW in 1988, I set up Shaw + Smith in the Adelaide Hills with my winemaking cousin and close friend Martin Shaw. After 23 vintages this still remains my major focus – augmented by wine judging, masterclasses, wine consulting (for clients including Singapore Airlines), and an unseemly amount of travel.

Tell us a bit about your expertise and how you got into wine?
As I was born into a wine family, wine has always been part of my life. Yet it was not until my early twenties that I became aware of the diversity and wonder of wine.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while working in the wine industry?
Always be true to your palate – regardless of the reputation or provenance of a wine. Objectivity is creditability.

Who has been your biggest inspiration during your wine career?
Without question, Len Evans - Decanter Man of the Year 1997. His carrot and stick approach gave me the confidence to move to the UK to study for the MW, and to set up Shaw + Smith on my return.

What are your most memorable wine moments from the last ten years?
It’s hard to isolate any one standout [moment] in a myriad of good bottles, fine food and interesting people. As a mate of mine points out - "Working in wine is work – but not as most people understand the concept".

Which kinds of wines do you think should be given more attention in 2013?
Wines from dynamic and talented people, driven by quality not fashion. In Australia this often equates to small-to-medium sized producers making exciting regional wines with a sense of place.

Which wines are you drinking at home at the moment? Is there a strong wine scene in your city?
Burgundy, both white and red; aged Aussie Riesling; top quality Pinot Noir and the best of Australia's 'new wave' Chardonnays.

And yes, as Adelaide is home to many winemakers so it has a healthy and inquisitive wine scene.

What’s your desert island wine?
1978 DRC (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) La Tache for the evenings and Dom Perignon Rosé on tap during the day.

What single piece of advice do you have for people just starting out in wine?
Drink wine mindfully – think about what you are tasting, and take the time to learn about the wine in your glass.

When judging, what are you looking for in great wine?
Balance, length, intensity, complexity, and a sense of uniqueness.

Finally, what are you looking forward to most about judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards?
Catching up with the old and bold, and the best and brightest. The camaraderie amongst judges is what keeps me coming back."


Read more at http://www.decanter.com/people-and-places/interviews/583661/meet-the-judges-michael-hill-smith-mw#FIjXoxHuxR3YHgTI.99


Time Posted: 07/03/2013 at 8:05 AM Permalink to Meet the Judges: Michael Hill Smith MW Permalink
David LeMire MW
25 February 2013 | David LeMire MW

2013 Vintage

2013 Vintage Photo Gallery


From left - (1) winemaker Wadewitz & Creagh talk strategy. (2) the vibrating fruit sorter, and (3) destemmed but not crushed Pinot Noir. 


Hand-picked Pinot Noir from our Lenswood Vineyard, This is the first time we've had this fruit, which gives us clones new to us, 114 and 115, joining our 777 and MV6.


From left (1) Lenswood Chardonnay Clone 76, (2) Woodside Chardonnay Clone 76, and (3)Sauvignon Blanc from Johnson Road East, a south facing block at Balhannah. 


Our presses work hard but press softly. And this sight glass shows the colour of Chardonnay juice treated oxidatively to give a more complex, savoury style. The wine will end up a very pale lemon yellow colour. 


One of 6 new open fermentors that have just arrived in the nick of time. The base is angled to allow easy removal of skins for pressing after fermentation. 

Time Posted: 25/02/2013 at 11:14 AM Permalink to 2013 Vintage Permalink
Michael Hill Smith MW

Vintage 2012

We're delighted to report that 2012 was an outstanding vintage: beautiful weather, slow even ripening, without heat spikes. Yields were down significantly, but the grapes were in pristine condition with great flavour and acidity. As always, grapes were hand picked.

The Sauvignon Blanc has great vibrancy and freshness.

Our Chardonnay grapes had terrific acid tension and flavor. Whole bunch pressing, wild fermentation, and partial malolactic have further added to the intensity of this wine.

2012 is our best vintage to date for Pinot Noir. A product of vintage conditions, vine maturity, low yields and the first time we have included a portion of stems during fermentation.

Shiraz has deep colour with concentrated spice and tannin and shows great potential.

In all, a dream vintage.

Time Posted: 01/05/2012 at 11:34 AM Permalink to Vintage 2012 Permalink
Michael Hill Smith MW
16 February 2012 | Michael Hill Smith MW

Why Tasmania?

This a question Martin and I have been asked frequently since buying the highly rated Tolpuddle Vineyard in the Coal River Valley about 30 minutes from Hobart.


Long term insurance against climate change? Tasmania’s pristine environment? The undeniable excellence of the state’s best wines? Whilst these factors undoubtedly played a part – in the end it was serendipity and good fortune than won the day.


Halliday, Hooke, Stock and others have written extensively about Tasmania’s great potential so we thought we should take a look ourselves. More of a reconnaissance than a buying expedition.


Dinner on our first night was at the excellent Stillwater in Launceston with Tasmanian wine legend Andrew Pirie and former Hardy’s chief winemaker Peter Dawson. Pirie arrived with laptop in hand complete with climatic maps and data which proved to be enlightening. I hadn’t fully realized just how cold and dry eastern and southern Tasmania are, principally due to the rain shadow effect of the westerly mountains. This combination of dry and cold conditions produces grapes with outstanding flavor and acidity, but without the same disease threat of wetter climates.


Dawson boldly predicted that “Tasmania would be making Australia’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir within the next decade”. Martin and my attention sharpened noticeably!

After a bottle of Roederer, Bonneau du Martray, and number of good Tassie wines, Dawson boldly predicted that “Tasmania would be making Australia’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir within the next decade”. Martin and my attention sharpened noticeably! Dawson is releasing his own Tasmanian Pinot and Chardonnay in October later under the
Dawson and James label – a joint project with the equally talented Tim James.


The following day we called in briefly to see Claudio Radenti at Freycinet on the East Coast. Claudio worked with Martin in Bordeaux in the late 80’s and has consistently made some of Tasmania’s finest wines. Great region but a long way from either Hobart of Launceston we mused on the beautiful drive south to our appointment at Tolpuddle – a vineyard near Richmond established in 1988 by Tony Jordan, Gary Crittenden and Bill Casimaty.


The moment we drove through the gate it was love at first sight. 20 hectares of mature Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines planted on a long even slope, with lean soils, forests above and water below and great vineyard exposure. Fantastic.


So it had taken us less than two 2 days to find our perfect vineyard - but a vineyard not even on the market! On our return to the mainland Martin made an initial approach via Tony Jordan and much to our delight negotiations commenced and were soon successfully completed.


Our plan is to make to single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under the Tolpuddle vineyard label – making a small amount of wine in 2012 for release in 2013.


So there you have it. A spontaneous road trip, some timely advice from mates and a healthy dose of serendipity. Some things are meant to be.


Time Posted: 16/02/2012 at 4:51 AM Permalink to Why Tasmania? Permalink
David LeMire MW
12 November 2011 | David LeMire MW

Clare Wine Show

A couple of weeks ago the Clare Wine Show judging took place, with me chairing one panel and the other panel chaired by Glenn James, a former senior winemaker at Fosters.


Judging at wine shows is one of the pleasures of wine business, a pursuit that allows us to meet fellow wine professionals, to improve our palates, increase our knowledge, and to contribute to the wine community. The only downside is the tendency of some Agricultural Societies to make a killing on running shows, without investing back in the wine industry, which supplies free labour from judges, stewards, and wine committees. At the regional shows this is less of an issue, as the shows are run by the local wine regional associations, and usually take only 1.5 – 2 days of judging.


Not surprisingly, Riesling was the star of the show at Clare.  An exhibition class (meaning the wines did not need to be currently available) of Riesling yielded a big haul of golds, with beautiful wines from 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2006 showing the delicious potential of Clare Valley Riesling to age gracefully.  In a close run thing, Knappstein Wines Ackland Vineyard Riesling 2005 took out the trophy, and went on to take out the trophy for Best Wine of Show. Not far behind was a lovely 2001 Watervale Riesling from Jim Barry, a wine that would have sold for around $20 on release.


Another highlight for me was seeing a very smart 2010 Tempranillo get a gold, a wine that I later learned was from Crabtree, and made by the talented Kerri Thompson, aka KT. Crabtree went on to win the trophy for Best Small Producer, while Jim Barry took out Best Exhibitor, their strong showing in Rieslings matched by a trophy for their ‘3 Little Pigs’ Cabernet Shiraz Malbec from 2010, a super fresh, clean, and vibrant young wine.


One interesting, though not exciting class, was the ‘Dry White, other than Riesling’ from 2011. Interesting because there is no clear ‘second best’ white varietal in Clare. Putting aside the obvious question, (Does Clare need another white grape?) the wines we saw did nothing to suggest that Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Semillon, Viognier, or Chenin Blanc are the answer. The Chardonnays were bland, the Gewurzes lacked varietal character, the Semillon was OK, and they can be good from Clare (eg Mt Horrocks) but hard to sell, Viognier should work climatically but is even harder to sell, and the lone Chenin Blanc was…oh, what was it again, that’s right, forgettable.


One variety that didn’t feature in this class, but no doubt will in the future, was Fiano. Several growers have planted Fiano, including Jeffrey Grosset, who has planted a couple of hectares on very bony, low vigour soil at Watervale. Grosset’s hope is that Fiano, and his experimental plantings of Aglianico, will retain high acidity as they ripen in Clare’s semi-continental climate. I reckon it’s a fair bet that his first Fiano, hopefully from 2012, will see the variety leapfrog the other contenders for Clare’s leading other white grape.


Time Posted: 12/11/2011 at 9:51 AM Permalink to Clare Wine Show Permalink Comments for Clare Wine Show Comments (5947)
David LeMire MW
21 May 2011 | David LeMire MW

Vintage Report Shaw + Smith 2011

It’s that time of year. Most of the harvest is safely in the winery, winemakers are starting to wean themselves off the caffeine and get back to normal sleep patterns, and news about vintage is spreading like…well, like botrytis.


The natural inclination is to try to mentally summarize, classify, and categorize the vintage in our minds. To take the information and simplify it so we can describe it and pass it on is instinctive and generally useful. Take Burgundy in 2009 for instance. Terrific for reds, with rich, ripe, and vibrant fruit: good but not great for whites, with some lacking a bit of zip.


For the Adelaide Hills in 2011, it’s a harder vintage to pigeonhole.  Firstly, vignerons needed to be vigilant with the disease pressure pretty constant right from the start of the season. Initially downy and powdery mildew were the threats, and then later in the season botrytis became an issue.  Keeping canopies open with good aeration was important.  Keeping on top of spray programs, be they organic or otherwise, was also important.  Hand picking was more important than ever in order to select the best grapes and protect them.


Cool conditions in February ensured that vintage was running late compared to long-term averages, and very late compared to recent averages. Although much of February was dry, there was 60 mls on February 19th, which is more than double the long-term average for the month. Late February and early March was mild and dry, until 30 mls over 2 days on March 8th and 9th, which was followed by more cool days, with the maximum temperature exceeding 25°C at Mount Barker on only two days between March 8th and 28th. That period also included 5 days of rain from Sunday March 20th until Thursday March 24th.


We can look back on the total rainfall in February and March, which at 147.4 mls was over 2.5 times the long term average for that period (56.1mls). But it was not just the amount, but also the timing of the rain that set in on Sunday March 20th that was the final straw for some vineyards. From then on the race between ripening and botrytis was on, and some varieties and vineyards fared better than others.


On the positive side, the cool to mild late summer and autumn meant ripening in cool conditions, good acid retention, and, in the case of Pinot Noir, ripe stems. Although somewhat counter-intuitive 2011 is the first vintage in which some whole bunches (10–25%) were included in the Pinot ferments.  The long ripening period also meant good flavor development in those varieties and sites that achieved full ripeness in the cool conditions.


So for a quick round up by variety, here is how things have turned out for us at Shaw and Smith.


  • Sauvignon Blanc – the most successful variety for us. Warmer sites did better this year. Hand-picking was important to be able to exclude bunches with botrytis.  The resulting wine has excellent aromatics and flavor.
  • Chardonnay – of the varieties we make, Chardonnay was hardest hit by botrytis. A miniscule quantity of M3 Chardonnay was made.
  • Pinot Noir – A small amount of good quality fruit was picked in good conditions on March 19th before the rain set in. While the fruit was very good quality, it was decided that it wasn't of Shaw + Smith quality. A small amount of Ingognito Pinot Noir was made.
  • Shiraz – The fruit looked good on the vine, but struggled to reach optimum ripeness levels. A small amount of good quality fruit was picked, but not of Shaw + Smith quality.


The vintage took a toll on grape growers. To have a season that required high inputs in labour and fighting disease, and to then lose the whole crop is a reminder of how cruel the weather gods can be.


So after all that, can it be summarized in a few words?  How about “Wet, cool and late, some rot about, but some good results from early varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.”


Time Posted: 21/05/2011 at 8:04 AM Permalink to Vintage Report Shaw + Smith 2011 Permalink
David LeMire MW
31 March 2011 | David LeMire MW

Yvonne May

It has been a few short months since Yvonne May was appointed to the role of Wine Australia’s Regional Director for the UK, Ireland, and Europe, but you could forgive her if she already had second thoughts about taking on the role. The long list of problems facing her and Australian wine in the UK seem almost insurmountable.  Key trade buyers and press are apparently bored by Australia and underwhelmed by the quality and value on offer.  The strong Australian dollar is a continuing barrier, with Europe and South America becoming more attractive, and that trend is compounded by the growing tax burden in the UK.  Key large producers have lost confidence in the direction of Wine Australia in the UK, and have pulled out of the program.


If all the negativity surrounding the Australian category is getting May down, she’s not showing it. In fact she meets it head on, pointing out that if producers are talking negatively, it could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  There certainly seems to be little danger of May getting bogged down by any negative sentiment. When I interviewed her during her recent visit to Australia, she came across as highly enthused and full of confidence about Australia’s outlook in the UK.  As she points out, Australia has the largest share of the UK wine market, with about 21% by volume and value.  The recent ‘Australia Day’ tasting in London attracted 35% more attendees than last year, including good representation from key buyers and press.  And although she takes a positive line as befits her PR background, the problems that Australia faces as a brand and as a category are not glossed over. Encapsulating the challenge facing Wine Australia, May cites a Decanter poll in which over 60% of respondents associated Australia with “mass-produced” wine. 


So there is clear recognition of the need to build Australia’s reputation for regional, artisanal wine with consumers and trade. To that end, May is supportive of the push to promote Australia’s regionality – she believes “regionality is important to inspire established drinkers” - but at the same time she is pragmatic about the need to be inclusive of wines that don’t fit the regional criteria in programs like A+ Australian Wine. May points out that not only does A+ currently exclude the generics, like Australia’s biggest selling brand in the UK, Jacob’s Creek, but it also excludes the likes of wines blended from more than one region, like Grange and Eileen Hardy.  If we want to use it as a way to help people trade up, May points out, “we need to include the wines from which they trade up.” Currently someone googling Jacobs Creek would not find their way to the A+ site, and its wealth of information about Australian wine.  It is an anomaly that she plans to redress, and that’s a move that will have its critics. One of the key elements of the A+ program was that it was limited to wines that came from one of Australia’s 62 regions, that the region was shown on the label, and that it was a genuine brand, bottled in Australia, not a BOB and/or bottled in the UK.  These tight criteria are now under review.


A critic could point to the move of Fosters to pull out of the UK promotional program just after May started, indicating the big companies are not above playing games to maximize their influence within Wine Australia.  Is there a danger that in trying to appease the likes of Fosters and Australian Vintage Limited, too much ground will be given and the focus on Australia’s regional distinctiveness will be compromised? Certainly I think there is a danger, but I also think there’s every chance that May will manage to accommodate the marketing imperative and the political sensitivities.


One of the biggest issues facing Wine Australia management, that of the method of funding, should be resolved this year, with a review of the tonnage based funding that forms an important part of the annual Budget. The Wine Grape Levy, which contributed $3.162 million in FIN 09/10, was $383,000 down on the previous year’s figure, and with the 2011 harvest affected by heavy rain in many areas, it may fall once again, putting more pressure on the organization. In terms of the promotional arm of Wine Australia, the unpredictability of the funding can impact on the ability to deliver the long term market support that our key export markets need.


Yvonne May is an experienced PR pro, has worked with Australian wine for many years, and is well connected with the gatekeepers in the UK market.  Both producers and importers that I’ve spoken to see her appointment as a positive one for Wine Australia. I think we can expect a return to the PR zeal, the relentless belief in the potential of Australian wine, and the engagement with UK press and trade that marked the tenure of Hazel Murphy, with whom all incumbents of this role are inevitably, and usually unfairly, judged.  With the resignation of Paul Henry from his role as General Manager – Market Development last December, and the relatively short amount of time that May’s predecessor, Lisa McGovern, spent in the role, it is very important for Wine Australia in the UK that May is able to quickly gain the confidence of the UK trade and Australian producers. Once they have confidence in her, the next trick will be getting the UK trade and Australian producers to regain confidence in each other.


First published in WBM - Australia's Wine Business Magazine.


Time Posted: 31/03/2011 at 11:14 AM Permalink to Yvonne May Permalink
David LeMire MW
4 March 2011 | David LeMire MW

The Recent Comments From Huon Hooke About Sommeliers

The recent comments from Huon Hooke about sommeliers (at date of writing the article was online www.smh.com.au, in the executive style section) and the robust criticism of them from the likes of Dan Sims, Peter Healy, and Rob Walters (www.thewineguide.com.au) provide food for thought.  Hooke talks of sommeliers whose “conversation is all about the rarest, most obscure imported wines they've tasted lately”, while Sims talks of wine articles that “fail to inspire and engage.” The question that has them at odds, if I have it straight, is whether or not sommeliers at top restaurants are too enamoured with European wines at the expense of local wines.  Sims also points out the lack of focus from Wine Australia on the domestic market, a problem that I know is now being addressed by the promotional body.


As someone who manages wine lists, who has been an importer, and who is now employed in the dark arts of marketing and selling Australian wine, the debate has particular interest. The key point in my view is that sommeliers, and writers for that matter, make choices to buy, review, recommend, and drink certain wines. It is appropriate for Huon Hooke to speak his mind on the state of wine lists, but for a local producer/seller/marketer, getting upset with those choices that sommeliers make is a waste of time. Trying to understand why they make those choices, though, is time well spent. To get persnickety about a sommelier who is going through a bout of enthusiasm for mencia and godello is to take one’s eye off the proverbial bull, and is just as dangerous. As Huon mentioned in his reply to the blog outrage, he remembers the bad old days before the rise of sommeliers, and I remember those days too. To come across people who cared about their wine list was a rare treat.  Now they really care, and if that means getting carried away and listing a verzontal of Agiorgitiko then bring it on, as long as the wines are good. If we have people who are motivated to taste and learn and pass that on to their customers then we are lucky, and if we have something interesting for them they are likely to check it out sooner or later.


Back, though, to understanding the choices that sommeliers are making. I don’t see any evidence that the importance of the relationship between sommeliers and their ‘reps’ is diminishing. Sommeliers buy from people who give them good service, who have interesting wines for them, and whose wines fit their business needs. And very high in any business’s needs is margin. Large parts of our restaurant industry use wine margins to subsidise food prices that don’t provide adequate margins on the labour and produce. With margin return from a wine list so important, diverse and at times obscure wines can help a restaurant to provide both value and the perception of value. 


One point that Rob Walters made was that “we have a remarkable wine culture in Australia at the moment”, a sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. It also makes me think about that culture, how we nurture it, how we want it to develop. If part of that culture is that we want our local product to be valued and revered and supported by the restaurant trade, it is our job to make that happen, rather than our right that it should come to pass.


Dr John Herron is the Chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) and he has written to school principals urging them to avoid alcohol related fundraising, including wine offers to parents and friends.  It struck me as a wrongheaded idea the moment I read of it, but it took Tyson Stelzer (see www.clearaboutwine.com.au) to articulate just why it is so wrong. His description of Herron’s call as “naïve and dangerous” is spot on, and he goes on to explain the importance of young people seeing “responsible and appropriate contexts of alcohol use in our society.” 


In my case becoming involved in the wine business taught me that alcohol could be far more interesting than being a pathway to inebriation. Ironically, the wine business helped me to develop a healthier attitude to alcohol, and reduced my tendency to drink to excess.


It is at times like this that organisations like Wine Australia need to step up and present a mature and considered response that emphasises a commitment to responsible consumption, but doesn’t tolerate dopey thinking from a body like the ANCD, which has the ear of the government. In the meantime, a thank you note to Mr Stelzer wouldn’t go astray.


First published in WBM - Australia's Wine Business Magazine.


Time Posted: 04/03/2011 at 11:41 AM Permalink to The Recent Comments From Huon Hooke About Sommeliers Permalink
David LeMire MW
8 January 2011 | David LeMire MW


When it comes to charting the fortunes of grape varieties in the Australian wine market, a decade is a long time. Take for example the contrasting evolution of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Ten years ago, Chardonnay comfortably outsold Sauvignon Blanc, with only a few forward scouts from the twin islands making the initial forays of what would become a full-scale Sauvignon invasion.  Despite the fall from grace of the ‘Unwooded Chardonnay’ phenomenon, Chardonnay was still the leading the way for white wines in volume terms, with cheap and moderately cheerful examples selling well at home and away.


Ten years on the market dominance of Chardonnay has ended as Sauvignon Blanc, brimming with self-assurance, has plied its overt charms to devastating effect. The irony, though, is that whilst Chardonnay has slipped in the popularity charts that are fed by barcode scanners at retail outlets, it has regained credibility in a host of other places, including wine shows and newspaper columns but most importantly in vineyards and wineries. When it comes to the top end of Australian wine, Chardonnay is driving a lot of the excitement.


The fact that it is grown in so many diverse regions, from the chill of northern France to the desert of Mendoza, has given Chardonnay multiple personalities.  But the fundamentals remain. Chardonnay is relatively low in aromatics; it doesn’t jump out the glass like Sauvignon Blanc.  Chardonnay has some mid-palate richness of texture that is apparent even when grown at the cool margins of climate in places like Chablis. It can have high acidity, but the acid drops quickly when it ripens. It is also an acidity that doesn’t have the harshness that Sauvignon’s acidity can present, nor the long seam of firm and fine acid that Riesling relies on. There’s also Chardonnay’s affinity with malolactic fermentation (which softens the acidity and adds textural and flavour complexity) to consider, and likewise its ability to gain complexity from fermentation and maturation in French oak.  Flavours are many and varied, and a whole gamut of descriptors could be listed under numerous categories such as floral, citrus, stone fruits, spice, cream, and nuts. 


Rewinding a decade once again, and one of the criticisms leveled at Australian Chardonnay was that it was too fat and oaky. Excessive ripeness, injudicious malolactic fermentation, and too much new oak were making wines with oodles of peaches, cream, and oak flavour, but lacking freshness, zip, and drive. From those failings has come the impetus to try new techniques, to make wines that can age, and to toss out the old rulebook. 


Leading the charge has been winemakers like Michael Dhillon at Bindi in the Macedon Ranges, along with Dave Bicknell, Mac Forbes, and Steve Webber at Oakridge, Mac Forbes, and Debortoli, all in the Yarra Valley, and Sandro Mosele at Kooyong and Tom Carson, now with Yabby Lake, both on the Mornington Peninsula. They’ve embraced techniques like earlier picking, pressing whole bunches rather than crushing the grapes, using malolactic fermentation sparingly if at all, and reducing their lees stirring. All these techniques are aimed at making wines that have fresh acidity, and a tightness of structure as opposed to opulent fruitiness. 


For some tasters these wines will appear too austere and lacking in flesh and generosity, and that can be a danger with these styles. Pushing these boundaries to make more restrained styles will result in some wines that miss the mark. Nevertheless, the wines are garnering some strong reviews, with Bicknell’s Oakridge 864 Chardonnay 2009 in particular receiving wide acclaim. They are also at least partly responsible for Chardonnay’s renaissance as a variety that is exciting consumers and trade alike.


For a Chardonnay fan like me – as far as I’m concerned it is the greatest white grape of all - the interest in Chardonnay and the serious efforts going into making better Chardonnay are welcome news. It is also nice that the Anything But Chardonnay sentiment is a fading memory. But there are still a lot of consumers out there who haven’t forgiven Chardonnay for its previous sins. That is a shame, as the quality is going up fast. The vines are getting older, and we’re learning lessons about where Chardonnay really works well.


One of the tough lessons is that while Chardonnay may be forgiving in the winery and adaptable to various climes, it won’t work everywhere. In fact, I’m not sure it’s as adaptable as it’s made out to be. The list of regions in Australia where top notch Chardonnay is being made is quite short, and the variety’s alleged ability to be grown nearly anywhere is, in my view, one reason that it fell from favour.  It is only mediocre Chardonnays can be grown nearly anywhere.


To now really part ways with the accepted wisdom, I put it to you that for the purposes of making genuinely outstanding Chardonnay, it is a variety as climate and site sensitive as Pinot Noir.  A small number of regions make excellent Chardonnay; likewise with Pinot Noir. Happily, Chardonnay is now being given the attention and the care, love and obsession that Pinot Noir has had for years, and the results are starting to show.  


First published in WBM - Australia's Wine Business Magazine.


Time Posted: 08/01/2011 at 10:49 AM Permalink to Chardonnay Permalink