Monday, 23 February 2015

Difficult Teenagers That Grow Up To Be Lovely Adults


Like most agricultural pursuits, wine is totally at the mercy of the environment; be that the rain, the amount of sun or even the soil type. Despite the variation of environmental conditions it is always remarkable that there are still some flavours that remain consistent from a defined piece of land. There is a French agricultural term called 'terroir', (pronounced Tair-wah) that is now commonly used to describe this characteristic.

One of the most famous and noble French regions, Burgundy, is a text book example of the understanding of terrior. This is primarily because of the uninterrupted production of high quality grapes over at least a millennium. The behavior of individual vineyard style is well understood. As a basic rule, Pinot styles in the north around Dijon are robust, earthy styles, and approaching the southern town of Beaune, Pinot will soften to a more delicate fruited style, showing characters of strawberry and ripe cherry.

On the surface, Pinot would appear to be highly at the mercy of its location and of course that is true but when you consider Shiraz in the Australian example, the same is the case. Grown in such disparate locations as Margaret River, Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and even the cold climes of  northern Tasmania, Shiraz presents itself in many different guises.

Commercial realities dictate that popular wine styles should maintain a high degree of uniformity from one season to the next; after all, loyalty is built out of consistency. Preferably good consistency. This can be considered relevant for products to meet a mass-market or non-wine geek segment because explaining the variation does require a significant engagement from the consumer.

So where does the title for this article come in? Despite all of the pessimism of wet and challenging vintages that can be faced by grape producers, there is the opportunity to recover perfectly acceptable commercial wines. Looking at the Tower Estate case which I see everyday, I can share some of the pain of producing wine that initially may appear like an awkward gangling teenager and how it will develop into a really lovely adult.

Panorama Vineyard in Tasmania
Tower Estate has, for several years, been sourcing Pinot Noir from the Panorama Vineyard in the Huon Valley. Near the village of Cradoc, The Panorama Vineyard, owned by Michael Vishacki is a southern Tasmanian treasure. You can see the location of the vineyard in more detail if you click on the Google map. 

A cool climate location, Cradoc is at the limits of producing viable fruit for wine production in the southern hemisphere. Early ripening red varieties like Shiraz have no chance of ripening in time before wineter arrives, leaving only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to consistently produce the best quality fruit.

In the Tower Estate example, the 2009 vintage Panorama Vineyard Pinot Noir won a trophy at the Hobart Royal Show. The 2010 Panorama Vineyard Pinot Noir was highly acclaimed, with the famous Australian wine writer James Halliday giving the wine a rating of 96 points; his highest rated Pinot Noir of that year. 

The old addage that a wine is made in the vineyard is a relavent one, so looking at weather conditions that year should give us an indication of how such high quality fruit was produced. The table below is from the Bureau of Meteorology, and compares a 30 year average with the 2010 rainfall figure; the nearest BOM station to the Panaroma Vineyard is the town of Geeveston.  The most notable feature is that during the growing period between January and April when rainfall was generally below the average but sufficient for good grape production. 




















The table below by contrast shows the 2011 vintage which reflected difficult growing conditions, with above average rainfall across many wine growing regions in southern Australia and in this specific example, the Huon Valley in Tasmania, where Tower Estate was going to buy top quality, very expensive Pinot Noir grapes.






Notice the spike in rain in April? April is such an important time in picking grapes. You do not want rain just at the time you are trying to ripen the grapes and concentrate flavours. But the 2011 vintage brought almost double the average rainfall, with over 100 mm of rain for the the month.  With these adverse circumstances we have all the ingredients for "A Difficult Teenager" wine in the making. This is the time that the skill of the vineyard owner comes into play; minimising the risk of disease and the total loss of a crop. But it is also the time for the winemaker to work hard and make gentle touches with the processing of grapes in the winery.












Note: This article was originally written in 2013 when I worked in direct marketing at Tower Estate in the Hunter Valley. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Manky Cherries Are A Thing


Wine gets better with age - right? Right? Anyone? Taste is such a personal thing and aged wine sometimes bring characters to them that don't always ring bells for me. The key to the recipe is tannins. Tannins those elusive compounds that apparently make wine the bees knees.

Spanish Tinto
These large complex compounds that are drawn from the wine skins as well as the barrels during maturation are anti-oxidant in nature. You know? the healthy antioxidant.

During the maturation process the tannin compounds will slowly chew up the interesting characters that make a young wine, a young wine. The purple colours and fresh fruit characters.

With their antioxidant effect, the tannins will oxidise these delicate flavours and colours, giving way to the underlying red colour and savoury flavours.

And that is an aged wine. 

Now the Spanish Tinto I tried recently received the following review;

         Well that was a challenging wine.
         Manky cherries, sock-it-to-ya oak 
         spewing out the anise and a slippery 
      acidity to clean it up. One for the wine fans


So if we get serious for one moment, let's translate my dodgy words into a serious tasting note describing this 9 year old wine. And below is a tasting note from the Importer Echelon Wines as a young wine.

Tasting Note:
With a slightly smelly nose that disappears with decanting, the wine is dominated by a slightly over ripe cherry character, followed by a star anise, licorice strongly reflecting new oak that once blended in with the delicate fresh fruit characters. The savoury finish and fine delicate tannins, that sneaks in the end is balanced off with a fresh bright acidity that makes this still a great food wine.


Echelon Wines - 2011
Deep red in colour with purple hues, the VT displays a nose of blackberry, lively spicy fruits, currants, and freshly sawn wood notes. The upfront lifted red fruit palate presents exciting and fun licorice flavors with elegant tannins and a well balanced acid structure.


Is it better? For me no. But for many it is; but the key most importantly is that it is different and that is the joy of wine. Diversity in style, the variation and the unpredictability.  Enjoy.


Sunday, 4 January 2015

A New Year Resolution

Of course a New Year's resolution is meant to be broken; after all what would the human frailty be without failure.

The origin of a New Year's resolution is murky at best, but my suspicions are that it was born of some futile Victorian Era piety. Those guys were party poopers if ever there was a generation to dampen things.

None the less, my endeavour is the write some more. I enjoy the research aspect of writing. Pulling together ideas that may produce a coherent and engaging narrative. A narrative that people will freely invest their time in. 

Ideas don't come easily nor freely and most certainly not chronologically. They take time to ferment and stew and are utterly obvious to deadlines; implied or imposed. But with some inspiration from the Spanish lateral thinker, Picasso I push on to hone this craft. For those looking for similar inspiration you can find some of his insights at Brain Pickings here

And my final thoughts on the subject come from this simple saying I discovered recently. I actually had it said to me firmly this year. It is necessary occasionally, but I do wish for enough energy for it to come from within, rather than have it pointed out. Be careful what you wish for? 

So... proceed 2015.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Underrated Get A Leg Up

Most wine buffs have a region that they adore; but feel the wine styles or region itself don't receive the recognition it deserves. For me...? Queensland's Granite Belt.

A district that has been producing wine for over 40 years and yet often suffers from old growing pains undeservedly. In my opinion, more a reflection of the state of public perception rather than reality.

This week, James Halliday's 'The Wine Companion', features the Granite Belt. Check out the article here

I hope you find a producer that will be your new favourite.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Getting Your Hands Dirty

Many people are coming to the realisation that we live in an era of convenience and getting away from our roots of food production. For me, this issue set in when I left the food production industry in 1997 for. My concern was that too many people were leaving regional areas and we were seeing rationalization of industries like dairy production. This led to factories around the country being shut down and effectively closing down small towns as a consequence.

Newcastle City Farmers Markets
By the early 2000's there seemed to be an early movement in the "Tree Change" concept with communities rediscovering the love of their region and investing in ventures like wineries and cheese factories, farmers markets and boutique ventures that brought people to visit. It was the birth of food tourism. 

Along with this development of regional food, we also saw to rise of the Television celebrity chef and the continued promotional of regional food.  With this process now coming into the mainstream with shows like "Masterchef", "My Kitchen Rules" and even the personal favourite, The Great Australian Bake Off, the joy of home cooking has meant a proliferation of small produce markets and importantly a diversification of farming revenue streams. My local is the Newcastle City Farmers Markets which are held each Sunday at the Newcastle Show Grounds. The diversity of regional produce is outstanding. 

On the home garden angle, this historically been left to pensioners with time on their hands and to the conspiracy theorists believing there is an end of the world not far around the corner. Around  1999 with all of the guf about Y2K computer issues, the stocking up of cans in the pantry didn't seem unreasonable.

Bees doing their thing on the citrus blossom
Forums like Instagram and Twitter are wonderful environments to share the love of growing food. While it may seem fashionable it doesn't take away from the self satisfaction of producing your own goods that you have made with your own labour and just a drop of sweat. 

Eating produce in season is the result of this process and it certainly forces you to change your approach to cooking. The need to stay with a given product for a month or even two, but cook with variety, is a challenge that brings diversity to the cooking repertoire. 

This past month has seen a concerted effort to use all of my lemons in a vast array without putting thins in jars. Verdict? Enjoyed the strawberries, lemon mouse in puff pastry, topped with roasted almonds.


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Lost For Words

Calliope was the most important of the nine Greek Muses of mythology.

The Muse of great epics.

That is all.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Heritage Lost

A cellar door environment is such an amazing place to meet a diversity of people. In a place like the Hunter Valley you are  always likely to meet people who work in the mining industry and those that you meet a most likely to be at a relatively high level in the organisation.

Discussion almost always politely leads towards the balance of mining and agriculture. Sometimes I am cheeky enough to discuss environmental rehabilitation programs; always a favourite, because of course as soon as you discuss water table protection and soil profile you get a change of subject - heritage lost.

The Hunter Valley is a place of heritage lost from many different perspectives as I am certain many of the Dairy Industry could tell you. From a miners perspective, there is much money being spent to demonstrate that co-habitation with agriculture is viable long term; go to the NSW Miners Page for more information.

The corporate raiders who make decisions on our lifestyle come from many different fronts and many different eras. For a look at wine rationalization during the 20th century one only needs to look at the treatment of the Lindemans name by companies like the cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, followed by corparate winemakers, Southcorp.

This story is best articulated by the "Best Wine Under $20" webpage; the article is titled "Death by a Thousand Cuts".

And to finish on a positive note, heritage is never lost when passionate families get behind their own region and invest for the long term. There is a no better example of this than the Tyrrell family, headed by Bruce Tyrrell http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bz_084MGzPM.