Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Renegade Winemakers Changing the Face of Australian Wine

The new Australian wine scene isn't bound by traditions of the past. Who's behind this new generation of producers pushing Australian wine into the future?
Illustration by Rebecca Bradley

In this episode, Wine Enthusiast’s Contributing Editor for Australia, Christina Pickard, chats with experts about the “New” Australia, one overflowing with thrilling young producers throwing out the rule book, redefining their individual regions, and making delicious wine.

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Read the full transcript for “Renegade Winemakers Changing the Face of Australian Wine”:

Voiceover: Welcome to the Wine Enthusiasts Podcast, the world in your glass.

This episode is brought to you by JP Chenet. Enjoy JP Chenet in your own way but never forget what is most important: the best wine is the one you share.

Christina Pickard: Hi. I’m Christina Pickard, contributing editor at Wine Enthusiast, covering the wines of Australia and New Zealand. From cool climate, bright fruit in Mornington Peninsula pinot noir to complex, long-lived Margaret River cabernet, from peppery savory light on its feet Yarra Valley or Great Southern Shiraz to the incredible age worthiness of Hunter Valley Semillon or Claire Valley Riesling, from downright delicious Tasmanian bubbles to multi-faceted chardonnay from all over the country, Australia is a fantastically vast and diverse wine-making country, with hundreds of grape varieties and styles.

What’s puzzling is how little Americans seem to know about Australian wine, blame it on the glut of big-boned Barossa Shiraz, and/or El Cheapo wines from critter labels that saturated the American wine market for decades, or it could be that Australia is so darn far from us that few have braved the 24 hours of flying time to reach the shores of the land down under. Whatever the reason, it’s high time we paid attention to what’s happening in the wine world down under, we won’t be sorry we did. There has never been a more exciting time in Australian wine. The small-batch wine revolution is in full force, with young forward-thinking and boundary-pushing wine makers cropping up seemingly every day all across the country.

Recently, and for the first time ever, 16 of Australia’s most exciting small batch producers descended upon San Francisco in New York City to pour their thrilling and often idiosyncratic wines to industry members at an event called “Artisans of Australian Wine.” I pinned down five of them, from five different Aussie regions to answer five questions. I also asked several members of the wine industry in attendance at the tasting, including our very own JF, to give their impressions of the tasting itself and of the state of Aussie wines in the U.S. Here’s what they had to say.

Richie Harkham: Richie Harkham, Harkham Wines from the Hunter Valley.

CP: The Hunter Valley is considered the birthplace of Australian wines, so there’s a lot of history here. It’s a two-hour drive from Sydney and New South Wales. Its climate is actually subtropical. It’s one of the hottest and wettest in Australia. While it produces shiraz, cabernet, chardonnay, and bordello, the region is best known for semillon, which ages incredibly well.

There are a few experimentalists in the Hunter Valley, but not many. One of them is Richie Harkham and he is breaking the rules and ruffling lots of feathers. And I can’t help but love a rebel. Richie, give us a picture of the Hunter Valley, then and now. How has it changed over the last decade or so?

RH: As you know, the Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest one region. We have many famous, amazing wine families, so it’s steeped in tradition. I think these days there’s few young producers coming out of them, which are doing things very differently, such as ourselves where we focus on natural wines. We take the old traditions. I mean, semillon, for one is very famous in the Hunter Valley, but they were all very acidic and they don’t go through malo where we allow us to fully go through a malo. It’s very different for anyone who tries semillon from there.

CP: Are you making semillons would you say that are more drink now because most of them are really meant to aged for quite a long time?

RH: A hundred percent. They’re very drinkable now, the acidity is very well-integrated. They’re so refreshing and bright. Yeah, it’s a different kind of look. I think the grapes, we’ve had a few really good years, but the acidity through malo just really kind of works out for us, and very approachable.

CP: Are there any emerging grape varieties in the Hunter Valley with unexpected potential?

RH: It’s been a little bit tough in a hunt time. We’ve had some really funny years, like 2014 was like the dream year; ’17, there was just this massive heat storm like four or five weekends of 40 degrees celsius, no rain; ’16, it rained so much; ’12, it rained so much. It’s kind of like been a little bit hard to plant new stuff than everyone else is doing.

CP: Have you seen anything though, maybe in the last decade that you’ve gone, “Oh, actually this grape variety looks like it could have a lot of potential and nobody’s really championing it?” Yeah.

RH: Well, to be honest with you, I’ve kind of think that [palooza 00:04:56]. I’m dying to grow that in the Hunter Valley. I think it’s got a really good potential over there with the climate. It’d be really cool to do like a gamay or grenache, but the climate wouldn’t allow it.

CP: [Fissar 00:05:09] would be really interesting. Tell me one thing about today’s Australian wine industry that might surprise American wine drinkers.

RH: Not a lot of wines are 14.5% and full of sweet ripe fruit. We also have low alcohol elegant wines, syrahs, or shiraz is as we call them, which come from the other side, so from Victoria or New South Wales or the Hunter Valley or Canberra.

CP: Name one of your own wines that you’re currently most excited about?

RH: I’m kind of excited, we’ve got a Hawk Angel, which is one of our newer brands. It’s a syrah, we make a semillon from it. It’s preservative-free. Some of the proceeds go to building schools in the third-world countries, so like Archangel Hawk Angel. That wine sits in a barrel for six months, completely natural, so zero additives, no fining, no filtration, so many flavors, and tastes beautiful wine. It’s shiraz.

CP: Name three Australian wines, not your own, that you’re currently most excited about?

RH: I mean, you got a really good room of winemakers upstairs. Si Vintners, I love their stuff. James’ wines, so Jauma. I recently went to visit Fraser McKinley, he makes awesome ones.

CP: Sammy OD.

RH: Sammy OD, yeah. Really cool guy. Really exciting guy.

CP: That’s it. Thank you, Richie.

RH: Very easy.

Kate Webber: Hi. I’m Kate Webber and I’m based outside Boston, Massachusetts. I’m the wine director for the Webber Restaurant Group. We have a collection of restaurants, and function facilities, and catering company, and a farm. We have a bunch of steak houses that serve wines that go well with hearty foods. They focus mainly on steaks, but we also have New England cuisine. It’s a wide range of restaurants that serve very strong food that cater from people who are locals to very high-end business clients and that sort of people.

CP: You stock a fair amount of Australian wines?

KW: I stock an incredibly fair amount of Australian wines. I counted the other day and I think between all of our restaurants I stock somewhere around 45 Australia wines between the three of them.

CP: For America, that’s huge.

KW: For Massachusetts, that’s huge. We’re a pretty small state and I speak with a lot of people in my state. A lot of them come to me and asked what they should be listing, because I think I’ve counted, I think I might list the most Australian wine. That’s shocking me and devastating me, because Australian wine, which I guess we do call it French wine and Italian wine, but Australia is growing more varieties in the United States. They’re growing wines that range from white and crisp varieties to heavy dense varieties. They’re growing more of a variety of wines that pair with food than anybody would imagine unless they paid attention, and nobody’s paying attention. It’s just something that people need to focus on.

CP: What do you think the reasons behind that are? Because I see that too, a discrepancy between what’s actually happening in Australian wine versus what people here in the States think is happening in Australia, and it does feel like an uphill battle. Maybe one of the last major wine-making countries where there is a real lack of knowledge in the States I think as a whole to hugely generalize between what’s happening in Australia versus what we here think is happening there. What do you think is behind that?

KW: There are multiple problems. I think the obvious one that everyone will say is the backlash from the problem when we had the bulk wine from Australia that came in. Everybody, you know, people laugh at it and poke fun at it. The reason why that bulk wine came in is because that bulk wine came in at a low price. That bulk wine was good when it came in. It was enjoyable wine. But it came in and it devalued the brand and blah blah blah. You can blame it on whatever you can blame it on, the recession, you can blame it on what-have-you, but it did devalued the brand of Australia.

When that happened it started a sort of a domino effect. What we had a problem with was importers not coming in, we had a problem with people not understanding that there are so many multiple regions and that Australia is so big. The difference from Margaret River to Adelaide is something like the difference from Madrid to Athens. That’s a huge difference. I mean, you can’t really compare those two regions.

I think that one of the major reasons is you’re not going to find a sommelier these days that hasn’t been to Italy, that hasn’t been to France, it hasn’t been to Spain. You’re not going to find a sommelier that’s been to Australia. It’s rare and it’s devastating.

Yeah. For me, to get to Adelaide, the quickest way is from Boston to Los Angeles, to Sydney to Adelaide. That’s something like 24 hours and it’s not cheap unless someone puts it up, and so they’re not going to go there. We have to get there and then we have to learn it and we have to come back, and then we have to pull through. We’re not pulling through. They’re doing better with coming here.

Australia is coming here. We have this tasting today and this is an incredible tasting. I’ve been so thrilled to talk to these winemakers and they are brilliant. If you talk to them, they are innovative and they are intelligent. They are doing incredible things with chemistry. They are doing incredible things with winemaking and grape growing. These small production wines that are blowing my mind, the pinots and the shiraz from the Yarra Valley and these Adelaide Hills wines and these Margaret River wines, they are just blowing my mind.

I think that we’re just not seeing them and having them come here and talk to us and having the first families of wine come to Boston. They’re doing their job and we need to do it now. So we need to come out and see these people of these tastings. We need to come out and do the effort. We do it for France. We do it for Italy. If someone comes from Burgundy, we run out there and say, “Oh, my gosh, Burgundy’s here.” Burgundy is pinot noir, Burgundy is chardonnay, and it’s gorgeous. I’m not going to say that it’s not wonderful. Yes, absolutely it is.

Australia is not just shiraz. It is shiraz, it is chardonnay, but it’s also sangiovese. I had a … It was a montepulciano in there that I put stars around, I draw hearts around that montepulciano’s name. I want to marry it. It was unbelievable. TM’s pinot noir in there, I want to take it home and just put it in my closet. He only makes a few cases of it. I don’t know how I’m going to get it, but I’m going to do something.

The wines in there are insane and people aren’t doing it. They are making albariño. I am selling a Tempranillo from virosa and I’m trying to get its grenache. This is the running with bowls. They are making albariño. They are making pet-nat. They are making … These wines, we don’t know that they are making because we’re not bothering to look. We just need to look.

CP: Thank you, Kate.

KW: You’re welcome.

Timo Mayer: My name is Timo Mayer. I’m from the Yarra Valley, down in Melbourne. We got a little vineyard just outside of Healesville. The vineyard is called “Bloody Hill.” Yeah, the label is called “Mayer.”

CP: The Yarra Valley, just east of Melbourne and Victoria, is a hot spot for young winemakers with their own exciting labels, making low intervention, cool climate wines, grape varieties like pinot noir, chardonnay, and shiraz, to name a few, but they really haven’t hung their hat on one grape variety. They love whole bunch fermentation here, particularly for the reds. So very, very popular, its resulting in medium to light bodied reds with plenty of funk, the good kind of funk. If you’re like me, I’m a fan of the funk, you will seriously dig the vibe in the Yarra Valley.

Timo, give us a picture of the Yarra Valley, then and now. How has it changed over the last decade or so?

TM: The Yarra Valley. Okay. Okay. I got into the Yarra Valley in ’96, so 20 years ago. Well, the Yarra Valley is quite young, it’s only like 50 years old, the whole thing or there was a lot of faction in the 1800s and then [inaudible 00:13:27] came in the depression. But it got restarted in the ’70s with the five doctors. Then it was small operations and the big guys moved in in the 80s. Then the ’90s was when they just got started. We put on the men kind of with fear. There’s a big guys moving in doing the advertising and things. Yeah. But still a laid back country town. Now 20 years later, yeah, it’s busting. All the big guys are in, its tourism, it’s, yeah.

CP: Big guys and the little guys.

TM: And the little guys, yeah. I mean, the Yarra Valley is probably what’s always known for its medium bodied wines. That’s what we do best, elegance perfume, and all that, yeah.

CP: Are there any emerging grape varieties in your region with unexpected potential?

TM: I don’t know, maybe Luke’s planning the nebbiolo at the moment, gamay, people are putting gamay in. We’re experimenting with them, the big boys, they’re starting with Italian varieties, trying those out. They already did the nebbiolo earlier, but-

CP: Luke’s nebbiolo is delicious.

TM: Yeah. Luke, yeah, he’s one of the best in the country.

CP: And Webber, yeah.

TM: Yes. Yarra Valley Nebbiolo. It could be it.

CP: Who knew?

TM: Yeah.

CP: Tell me one thing about today’s Australian wine industry that might surprise American wine drinkers.

TM: Well, what I’ve learned in the last few days, there’s the expectations of Australian wines is not what we are really are. We are really just small farmers, small states, and yeah making handcrafted little wines. Like my production-

CP: The expectations that you’re much bigger than you are, much more-?

TM: Yeah. They thought we’re big operators. I literally got six acres. I make 1,000 cases off my property. That’s it. People, “What? A thousand cases?” Yeah. It’s just a small farm at the end of the day. There’s a lot of us, yeah, like one of my friends we probably got up to 5,000 cases, that’s it, most people I know.

CP: Only 1,000 cases. It’s incredible, because your wines have such an amazing reputation and especially in Australia.

TM: Yeah. Two people running the whole thing, literally. When I got to Valley in ’96, I was working for the Bordelaise, and then in ’99, I planted my vineyard and then I couldn’t work with the big companies anymore. Then Jim Brooke and I found each other and been there for the last 17 years kind of, yeah.

CP: Name one of your own wines that you’re currently most excited about.

TM: We’re just playing around. I mean, the latest thing we’re doing is 100% whole cluster nebbiolo and [kepsef 00:26:19] which is a bit-

CP: A blend of Nebbiolo?

TM: No, no. It’s just two wines.

CP: Two different wines, okay.

TM: Yeah, two different wines. Yeah. Just going down that whole cluster thing.

CP: Yeah.

TM: Which varieties, which aren’t meant to be whole cluster or not traditional or-what traditional, I shouldn’t say that, because traditionally, there wasn’t destemmer. Literally, 120 years ago everything was whole cluster. But like Bordeaux and Piermont, they adopted the destemmer and I’m just planning to go back to the basics kind of, just fermenting, yeah, a whole cluster.

CP: When will those be bottled?

TM: We started, the nebbiolo started last year, it was the first one, and cabernet was two years ago.

CP: That’s exciting. Name three Australian wines, not your own, that you’re currently most excited about.

TM: Well, I got to mention all my mates here. There’s so many people now. It’s like there’s even in the warmer areas like Colonel and things. They’re making really interesting wines with out of the region where there’s normally only the big guys are. So, things operates like that, just, yeah, younger kids coming in, taking over father’s vineyard.

CP: Yeah.

TM: They’re doing it great stuff, yeah.

CP: Thank you very much, Timo.

TM: No worries.

Tim Harris: Hi. My name’s Tim Harris. I am the owner and founder of Burke and Will’s and the Manhattan Cricket Club, which are two Australian themed restaurants and bars on the Upper West Side in New York.

CP: About how many Australian wines do you list?

TH: We have I think the largest Australian wine list in the United States. We have about 130 bottles on our wine list, exclusively Australian.

CP: How have you found the artisans of Australia tasting today?

TH: This is what inspired me to have an Australian wine list, these new breed of Australian winemakers that are coming through and challenging the status quo, I guess, of Australian wine and showing that we’re an innovative country, we’re a young winemaking industry and there are wines out there that will challenge the new breed of anywhere in the world, and we’re not just the stereotype, I guess.

CP: What would be the most surprising for you today? If there had been surprising wines or surprising producer, are they all old hat to you by now?

TH: No, not at all. It’s been great meeting the individuals that are making the wines that I haven’t met before. Also, things like pet-nats, these amazing, amazing sparkling wines and the lack of intervention with the winemaking and just letting the vineyards and the soils and these amazing conditions in Australia, which is so diverse shine through in their wines. I guess watching these people are so proud of what they do, and taste it. Everything is different. It’s great.

CP: These producers are obviously very small batch, very small production. In this kind of wine style, are they the future of Australian wine or will they always remain sort of on the outskirts do you think?

TH: I think they will be the vanguard of I guess a movement that’s going to be picked up by the mainstream a little bit and hopefully it filters down into a trend to some of the bigger producers that say, “Okay. We want to learn more about regions and vineyards and varietals rather than trying to encompass Australian wine to one big bag.” Australia is as big as the continent in the United States and has a diverse array of climates, so trying to put all that in one bag is just not the right thing to do. This I think helps make it regional and make it specific and make people care more about where they’re getting their Australian wine from.

CP: I’m not, now, you’ve sort of already answered it a bit, but as an Australian in America selling American’s Australian wine, what are some of the biggest challenges?

TH: One of the biggest challenges is having 100% Australian wine list in an Australian restaurant, which my immediate response is, “Well, when you go to an Italian restaurant, what do you get?” Unfortunately, at this point in time, I often have to sell Australian wine compared to something else. So, if you like this particular wine, then you should try this particular wine. Hopefully, there’s going to be a point in time in the near future where I don’t have to do that where someone’s going to be coming and saying, “I want a Hunter Valley Semillon,” or “I want a Yarra Valley Chardonnay,” or “I want a Barossa Valley Shiraz,” or “I want a Margaret River Cabernet,” and these sort of things. Hopefully, it’s a blend of educating and encouraging and supporting at the same time.

CP: Do you have a soft spot for any particular region or great variety or style, or even grower, you probably don’t want to admit that?

TH: Tough question. Tough question. I’ve always been a big fan of Australian pinot noir and chardonnay both because they have an identity. I think it’s got lost from time to time when they were trying to fit into a global sort of taste or a brand. But they definitely have an identity and I’ve seen a lot of it today, which I love. I love the new breed of Australian shiraz and people redefining it and having more savory styles. It’s really exciting to see what’s happening.

CP: How do you feel about the shiraz, syrah argument? Should they be calling it “syrah” if it’s that more savory style, or stick with shiraz because it’s the Aussie word for it?

TH: That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. The majority of the American market knows Australia for shiraz and it’s I think something like 80% of our production in Australia so we need to get behind it for sure. Australian shiraz should be shiraz and we should know that different regions have different styles of shiraz. It’s a good question, I don’t know the answer to that one.

CP: I don’t think there is an answer, but everyone does seem to have an opinion about it.

TH: Yeah.

CP: Tim, thank you very much.

TH: Thank you so much.

Ben Gould: Hi. My name is Ben Gould. I’m from Blind Corner Wines in Margaret River, Western Australia.

CP: I actually lived near Margaret River in Perth, Western Australia for about three years, so I have a real soft spot for the region. It is south of Perth, Western Australia, one of the most isolated regions in Australia definitely and probably in the world. It’s known primarily for premium cabernet, sauvignon, and chardonnay because of the maritime Mediterranean climate similar to Bordeaux.

Give us a picture of the Margaret River, then and now. How has it changed over the last decade or so?

BG: The last decade would be 2007, that’s when we were just starting with our first vineyard. Back then, lots of chardonnay and cabernet, not really much experimentation. Margaret River is a pretty classic region. It’s renowned for chardonnay and cabernet, quite close to the Coast, and lots of sort of older family labels. When we came along the sort of things that we started doing sort of skin fermentation and running the vineyards a little differently. That’s certainly changed now with a lot of new young players coming in, buying fruit, making wine, trying things. It’s a pretty exciting place at the moment.

CP: Are there any emerging grape varieties in the Margaret River with unexpected potential?

BG: That’s interesting as well. Where we are in Western Australia, we have quite strict quarantine laws. So, bringing in new varieties doesn’t happen overnight. Well, you can bring them in overnight, but you’ll get two sticks five years later, and then planting that out into a vineyard takes time. The Agriculture Department has quite a good nursery of different things, so there is some stuff getting out there. Malbec hasn’t really been planted a lot in Margaret River, but that’s really starting to shine. A lot of the top cabernet blends are now including Malbec.

With our new property, we had the space to sort of plant things we would like to do, so some Brunello clones of sangiovese, which we’re testing, and we’ve put some alegrarte in which is pretty exciting. I think we’ve got the only planting at the moment. But, yeah, I’d say that’s probably about it at the moment.

CP: Tell me one thing about today’s Australian wine industry that might surprise American wine drinkers.

BG: Okay. It’s quite diverse. Not all the labels have animals on them. There’s a lot, especially this tasting today that we’re at downstairs, the Artisans of Australian Wine, there’s a lot of small producers who are doing really interesting stuff that’s available all around the world. You have the zero, zero guys who are doing all the natural wines, with little or zero sulfur, people who are buying fruit from interesting regions and doing different things. We practice organics and by biodynamics in both of our vineyards and do minimal intervention too, some wines are zero-zero, some are minimal sulfur. There’s a really big movement in Australia which is gaining ground in places like Japan and and the UK and Europe of this push for natural wines and the small producers. So, yeah, I think a lot of people think of Australia, they think of a lot of big company or big bright Barossa Shiraz. But there’s a lot of small regions and elegant, beautiful wines out there.

CP: Name one of your own wines that you’re currently most excited about.

BG: Probably I would say at the moment the Petillant. We’ve been playing with this since 2010. We haven’t released it every year. We’ve stuffed quite a bit of it up, so it’s nice to sort of improve over time.

CP: I heard that’s easy to do with Petillant.

BG: It is. Yeah, it is. I’m sure your listeners know but Petillant is a wine that’s trapped. You start a fermentation and then you bottle it before it’s finished. We’ve changed our techniques somewhat where we’re while fermenting in barrel getting it through malo and then we’re adding juice back, and then bottling it, so we get quite a clear wine at the end and it’s really fresh. The challenge is keeping the wine fresh, but clean as well. So, we’re pretty excited about this year.

CP: It is delicious. Everyone should go out and try some.

BG: Thank you.

CP: Name three Australian wines, not your own, that you’re currently most excited about.

BG: Okay. Iwo at Si Vintners has a wine that called Baba Yaga. He’s Polish. He lives in Witchcliffe and he’s Polish. It’s just crazy delicious. It’s really good. It just tastes like grape juice. It’s hard to believe there’s any alcohol in it. Other wines that excite me would be TO’s wines are pretty smart at the moment, really nervy and clean, and just great. He just knows how to move Rhenish. Another wine-

CP: Or just some producers that are exciting you in general.

BG: Well, yeah, I mean, I guess people at BK are pushing boundaries. Awesome. Vina Cello from our region’s doing some great sort of zero input wines, not even oak, let alone sulfur or anything bad in the vineyard. I mean, Gary Mills [inaudible 00:26:37]. I like his stuff. It’s always quite fresh and elegant.

CP: That’s Jamsheed wines.

BG: Yep. Yes. There’s some pretty good samples. I mean, the Basket Range is always exciting as far as sort of a small area with the concentration of people.

CP: Yeah.

BG: Great.

CP: Thank you, Ben.

BG: Thanks very much.

Remy Shahe: Hi. My full name is [inaudible 00:27:00]. But you can just call me Remy Shahe, that’d be good. I’m in Quebec City. I work in wine in various capacities, have done that for 20 years, and wrote for even wine enthusiasts ones.

BG: What have you been your impressions so far with the Artisans of Australia tasting today?

RS: Lots of fun profiles, lots of diversity, certainly, a lot of fresh wines. Certainly nothing that would correspond to maybe a lingering cookie-cutter impression that people would have about Australian wines who tastes the stuff from the guys from the Basket Range, for instance. Certainly, pushing the envelope pretty constantly, you know, at night with full berries hanging in the wine and giving it a texture. There’s all sorts of things going on that I find that are very stimulating and very fun.

BG: Any surprises today?

RS: Not completely because I tasted a number of the wines individually. There’s not like, “Oh, my God, I didn’t know Australia was doing this.” I think taking it as a whole, it’s really interesting to see, I’d say the full range of production and more artisan and natural styles sort of things that still are very classic and very, very clean. Very simply made, very naturally made, but on a more classic mode. Then the sort of wild, no sulfur kind of off the charts, but in the best possible way.

BG: Is there a great variety or a style or a region or anything that comes to mind that you think people should really be drinking more of this from Australia?

RS: I think the starter should be grenache. It’s very, certainly gives you a different profile from syrah, for one thing, and it’s gotten so much fresher. There was a previous tasting in March that was done here where we matched grenache with pastrami or Montreal smoked meat or appropriately, which works really, really well. But what was interesting is that even sort of old standbys like there’s the Yalumba Bush grenache, for instance, that were much lighter than certainly you would have expected years ago, and you get something that has a lot of freshness, sort of very open profile. To me, that’s a very seductive place to start. Then there’s a number of whites of all kinds that are channons that are really interesting, crisp, sharp, and again very different I think from what we’ve been used to.

BG: Thank you, Remy.

RS: My pleasure.

Kate McIntyre: I am Kate McIntyre. I’m from Moorooduc Estate. We make mostly sharp name pinot noir on the Mornington Peninsula.

CP: The Mornington Peninsula is southeast of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. It’s a cool maritime climate and it’s perfect for pinot noir and chardonnay, so elegance is the name of the game here.

Kate, can you give us a picture of the Mornington Peninsula, then and now. How has it changed over the last decade or so?

KM: Over the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of change, there’s been a lot of growth. In fact, when my parents first planted grapes in the early ’80s, there were maybe five or six other people growing grapes and making wine. Now, there’s over a hundred. A lot of that growth happened in the ’90s and then in the Northeast. But I think the really exciting thing is that even the guys who pioneered the Mornington Peninsula had a lot to learn over those subsequent decades and there’s a real sense of understanding of the terroir of vines getting old enough to give us really amazing quality fruit.

The Mornington Peninsula vineyards Association is a wonderful association. We’re very cooperative, we’re very collaborative. There’s a lot of group experimentation and investigation into two site-specific characters into not resting on our laurels, making better and better chardonnay and pinot noir, and pinot gris as well, which is sort of a variety that is very confusing in Australia. I think it’s starting to emerge is a really high-end variety from the Mornington Peninsula as well.

CP: Well, that might have answered my next question. Are there any emerging grape varieties in your region with unexpected potential?

KM: Yeah, well, pinot gris. Pinot gris in Australia is so confusing at the moment. There are people sort of growing it, picking it early and trying to make a crunchy pinot grigio style. There are people who think, “Wow, it’s going to be the next sauvignon blanc. Let’s make lots of it. Let’s make it really cheap and likable.” Those sort of styles are fine, but I think on the Peninsula, giving pinot gris the respect that we give chardonnay and pinot noir is reaping really amazing rewards. There are some really beautiful textural, seriously complex lines, and not only white pinot gris, but pinot gris fermented on skin is coming out sort of from a very pale onion skin color to most recent pinot ground skins, which looks like watermelon juice. It looks amazing. It’s got these incredible tannins.

It’s such a wonderful food wine. That’s something that five, 10 years ago people would have said, “That’s not how you make pinot gris.” These days people are just having so much fun pushing the boundaries and learning ancient ways of making wine and sort of modernizing them. It’s really, it’s very exciting. So, pinot gris I think is a very exciting category.

CP: Tell me one thing about today’s Australian wine industry that might surprise American wine drinkers.

KM: I think a lot of people are really surprised to hear that we have such diversity in the Australian wine industry. We have some really warm climate, wine regions and we’re doing some really fabulous things with southern French, Spanish, and even southern Italian grape varieties in those regions. It’s not all shiraz, and reisling, and semillon, and chardonnay. It’s so much more than that.

I think people are still constantly surprised by the cool climate wines because they have such elegance. In America, you guys are making incredible pinot noirs from a number of different regions, you put Oregon up on a pedestal, and those wines are awesome. But I think people are still surprised to find that the Mornington Peninsula and parts of Tasmania and the cooler parts of the Yarra Valley and Macedon can go toe-to-toe with those wines and really kind of give you some bang for your buck. I mean, these wines are elegant, they’re complex, they’re really delicious to drink. I’m always surprised at how surprised people are by that.

CP: Agreed. Name one of your own wines that you’re currently most excited about.

KM: It’s really hard. It’s like when people ask you which is your favorite child, if you have children, or which is your favorite dog, if you have dogs. I’ve always loved chardonnay. Our top chardonnay, the Moorooduc McIntyre Chardonnay, is always such a beautiful expression of old wine, of the site where it comes from. If you’ve tasted a few of those wines along the way, there’s always been deterioration, but there’s a little hand of man. You can taste sort of my father’s very gentle and gentlemanly influence on the wine. He’s still making the wine at 72 years of age. I’m very much involved these days, but he’s in charge in the winery.

I actually think that our pinot noir has caught up to and possibly surpassed our chardonnay. So, the Moorooduc McIntyre Pinot Noir, we’ve just released the 2015 at home. I think we’re looking at the 14s while I’m travelling around here, both really incredible vintages. The 14s was a really small vintage, so very concentrated. The 15s, watch out for those, they are sensational.

CP: That’s a good tip. I loved your pinot noir for a long time. So, try the Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir.

KM: Thank you.

CP: Name three Australian wines, not your own, that you’re currently most excited about.

KM: Oh.

CP: Or wine labels, it doesn’t have to be specific ones.

KM: Yeah. I think quite a lot of them would be in the room upstairs today. I think one of the other Mornington Peninsula producers that I really, really love and I think are recently available in this country are the Kooyong wines. They make amazing single vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir. Sandro Moselle used to make the wine and now he’s moved on and Glen is making beautiful wine still. There’s been no changing quality. The wines are really terrific. They’re neighbors of ours. They have slightly different philosophy from us and that’s their chardonnays are a bit less rich and their pinots have a little more red fruit to them.They’re really, really delicious.

If I’m not drinking Mornington Peninsula wine, I tend to stay in Victoria a lot of the time. There’s a few people outside of Victoria that I think are doing really great things. I love Katie’s wines from South Australia. She makes small quantities of beautiful, beautiful wine. There’s also some gorgeous wines coming out of Tasmania. One of my favorites is Stargazer. I think that those wines are really small batch, again very full of character, and most importantly delicious to drink.

CP: That is it. Thank you very much, Kate.

KM: Thanks.

Jameson Fink: Jameson Fink, senior digital editor.

CP: Jameson, what were your impressions from today’s Artisans of Australia tasting?

JF: Well, first of all, I really like the camaraderie in the room. That just seems like they’re all these cool, eccentric wine makers making unusual things. Even though you’ll just see some usual suspects like shiraz and chardonnay and semillon, but they’re doing it in really unique cool or literally cool ways, like cool climate ways. Also there’s really, I noticed, a lot of pet-nats. It seems like everyone had a pet-nat and they were all really fresh and fun and fizzy, like you would expect a pet-nat to, but I just like that.

I was talking to one of the winemakers, “Yeah. We kind of all know each other. We kind of have to stick together because we’re all really small.” So, it’s very charming, uplifting tasting.

CP: Was there anything that surprised you about the wines today?

JF: I guess, like I said, even though there was shiraz and cabernet, they’re real stereotype busting, they’re not that blockbuster, sumptuous, juicy, boozy wines that you might stereotypically come to expect, all of them had really good freshness, acidity, lively, moderate alcohol levels.

CP: Can you name a few standouts?

JF: Well, I liked the, I’m probably pronouncing it wrong, but the Delinquente wine company.

CP: I think you’re overly fancifying it. I think it’s just Delinquente.

JF: Okay.

CP: I think.

JF: Okay.

CP: Well, Delinquente, because this guy is doing just all Italian grapes. It’s made of Nero d’Avola, a montepulciano, a vermentino, and then a pet-nat made from Bianco d’Alessano, which I’ve never even heard of before. I just thought that was like a really fun interesting way to approach, dealing with your climate. It’s like taking a page out of the book of a wine growing region like Sicily that’s hot and dry and taking some of those grapes.

JF: Thank you very much.

Taras Ochota: Hello. My name is Taras Ochota. I have a small winery in Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills called Ochota Barrels with my wife Amber.

CP: The Adelaide Hills are just 50 miles from the South Australian city of Adelaide. They enjoy a much cooler climate than their neighbors. They’re flanked on either side by Barossa and by McLaren Vale and that’s thanks mainly to altitude. They produce wines from a wide range of grape varieties, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir. The Basket Range, which is a small subregion, has become this unlikely hotbed for some of the country’s most creative and unconventional artisan winemakers and they’re often credited for kick-starting the natural wine movement down under.

Taras, give us a picture of the Adelaide hills, then and now. How has it changed over the last decade or so?

TO: Well, Adelaide Hills is quite a young region. The oldest farms are sort of planted in the early ’80s. There weren’t many wineries in the region, but probably in the last couple of years where I’m from this little tiny pocket called Basket Range suddenly there’s about 10 new little wineries. Most of us are quite young and have young families. There’s sort of more of a organic natural holistic sort of idea, philosophy around our winemaking. We’re all just quite small and we try to make wines that are just beautiful and delicious, and sort of taking into account that doing things nicely like not spraying nasty chemicals and putting nasty things in our wines. Just using grapes, it’s quite unique.

CP: Are there any emerging grape varieties in your region with unexpected potential?

TO: Probably the biggest one for me is gamay. I’ve got the only unrooted gamay vineyard I think in Adelaide Hills, which was actually planted in 1985 but shortly after was grafted to chardonnay. So it spent most of its life for the last 31 years as chardonnay. Five years ago, I bought the chainsaws in and chopped the grass off and brought the gamay back. It really suits the area beautifully because it’s cool climate, but not too cool and not too warm. I just love gamay. I love everything like sort of that gorgeous little, bright fruit and red delicious wines.

CP: Tell me one thing about today’s Australian wine industry that might surprise American wine drinkers.

TO: Sort of Australia has a bit of a bad reputation with all those critter wines and big heavy, over-extracted alcoholic wines that just sort of knock your head off. I suppose that probably people aren’t aware that there’s a lot of smaller producers like myself and some friends that started growing grapes organically and picking earlier and trying to make wines that are a little bit more feminine and pretty and without all the sort of big factory sort of manipulated characteristics that I suppose that sort of industrial style of wine that was coming in Australia.

So, yeah, just like I said before, just mainly just using grapes and wild ferments and not filtering or fining and bottling early and just trying to capture natural acidity and sort of bright flavors and kind of to keep energy in wine.

CP: Name one of your own wines that you’re currently most excited about.

TO: I would probably say the Fugazi Vineyard, which is old Grenache Vineyard planted on ironstone. That was planted in 1947. It’s amazing little vineyard that sort of every year has this similar traits and characteristics because this is really old dry grown vineyard that doesn’t matter the weather conditions, it just produces these gorgeous little berries.

I guess I again try to make it like pinot and just really light and elegant. I’d say that, yeah, grenache is probably the underdog of Australia, because of the age of these vines and the fact that if they’re made in that sort of lighter style with a bit more whole bunch and that there’s sort of crazy characters that you get from wild ferments, and no new oak, just sort of using really older seasoned barrels and just get this really vibrant, delicious wine.

This year, especially, 17 was just a cracker. They’re really beautiful, nice natural acidity, and just amazing depth of flavor, and all these savory sort of undergrowthy characters, but with really bright red bullets of fruit.

CP: I agree. I think grenache is one of the most underrated and one of the most exciting grape varieties in Australia, especially from where you are, from the Adelaide Hills, but also from like Blewitt Springs and McLaren Vale. Your Fugazi is probably one of my favorite wines in Australia.

TO: Thank you.

CP: Name three Australian wines, not your own, that you’re currently most excited about.

TO: There’s a couple. There’s one, a friend of mine just up the road, he’s got a little label called “Gentle Folk.” Yeah. He’s sort of on that same sort of wavelength where just growing things organically, natural wine, but they’re really all about purity. Another one would be Murdoch Hill, also the Adelaide Hills. Then actually, yeah, another one, Si Vintners, down at Margaret River. They, yeah, doing amazing things and they have this amazing vineyard that they, again, farm organically and wild yeasts, and don’t make any additions, and just really character-filled, delicious wines, and beautiful people too, which is probably the most important thing.

CP: Agreed. Thank you, Taras.

TO: My pleasure. Thanks.

Voiceover: This podcast is produced by Larj Media, L-A-R-J media. Wine Enthusiast is made possible by grapes, sunshine, and wine and by the hardworking editors who bring you news and information on your favorite beverage every day. If you like what we’re doing, share our podcast with your friends, and give us a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. For more fun wine information, follow us on Twitter and Facebook @wineenthusiast.

Published on October 26, 2017
Topics: Podcast



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