Bloody good, if you ask me.
In 2013 I had the distinct privilege of speaking to so many passionate winegrowers and makers throughout Australia (and New Zealand) all because I wanted to find out if more bottles like Castagna’s Genesis Syrah existed across this wide brown land.
What I found was not only are there plenty more like it – that is, wines that are grown sustainably, are made with as little interference as possible, and contain an inherent and obvious vitality and authenticity that is as obvious as the taste buds on my tongue – but that there are so many different, wild, exciting, unique and totally delicious bottles that it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Australian wine is well and truly bloody good!
What an exciting time it is to be a wine drinker in Australia in the 21st Century!
In the Hunter Valley, underneath the ever present sentinels of white/grey cumulonimbus clouds, you have winegrowers like Macquariedale, Krinklewood, and Tamburlaine, each making wines from organic and biodynamically grown fruit from vineyards they own and manage. You also have Harkham wines making preservative free ‘natural’ wines (no mean feat in the warm climate of the Hunter Valley) that feature on the lists of many of the best restaurants and bars throughout the country. This new breed (for want of a better expression) of Hunter heroes are making some of the most pure expressions of Hunter Valley wine I have tasted.
Beyond the shadows of the Hunter in greater NSW there’s guys like Alex Retief making wine from biodynamically managed vineyards in Gundagai, more famous for it’s Dog on the Tucker Box, than its bold versions of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. In the Canberra District there’s Lark Hill, who hold top honours in the alternative white wine stakes, biodynamically growing their aromatic flagship Grüner Veltliner, which is just as fun to say in hip wine bars as it is to drink.
In Victoria, there are winegrowers spaced right throughout the state who are making wines that range from the profound to the smashable, and stopping at all stations in between. Castagna in Beechworth, whom I’ve already mentioned once in this piece, and plenty of times before that, make one of the greatest wines in Australia (in my humble opinion), while Bobar, down in the Yarra, seamlessly makes wine fun again by fermenting grape juice that is totally toothsome and utterly slurpable.
Jasper Hill in Heathcote dry-grows one of the most unique examples of shiraz this country’s ever known, in soils which are over 500 million years old! Whilst just down the road and up in the hills is Cobaw Ridge, where Nelly and Alan Cooper grow lagrien, which is to shiraz what the Mars Volta is to At The Drive In…
Further south, and a little west, hides Edward Elgar in wine form, and a rosé that is as beautiful to look at as it is to drink. It plays accompaniment to a jet black syrah that is as lucid as the quotes on the boxes they’re sent in. I’m talking about Enigma Variations… obviously.
Then you have the south Victorian coast, a peek above the Great Ocean Road, where Ray Nadeson and Co. apply their scientific nouse to dance along the fine edge, and bring wines into existence which are as technical as they are tasty, and where guys like David Fesq make one of the most confusingly delicious wines Australian hipsters will ever imbibe. Avani, on the Mornington Peninsula, is single minded and meditatively making an extraordinary wine of poise, definition and grace, which belies its enormous heavy metal heart.
Journey to South Australia, the self pronounced door to the nation, where little guys are making big statements with their wines, rather than their marketing strategies. Guys like Abel Gibson from Ruggabellus, who create soft, silky wines with a sense of truth and beauty that sometimes gets over shadowed by the big guys love of tech and toast. Likewise, Fraser McKinley from Sami-Odi, who knows that a wine’s presentation is an experience beyond the confines of being just an alcoholic beverage. From the vineyard to the bottle, including the label, the cork, and even the bottle itself, Sami-Odi allows you to know a wine rather than just drink it.
Out in the McLaren Vale, old habits die easily, as the proof is in the pudding… or glass as it were. Paxton and Gemtree are leading lights in the move towards more sustainable viticulture in South Australia. Both have now moved away from conventional (chemical) techniques to manage their vineyards, and now run them on full steam biodynamics. A move which is allowing them to make many of their best wines yet.
Isolated, but not alone, Western Australia is not so much setting the bar, but rather being the bar when it comes to winegrowing in Australia.
There’s a mythical wine doing the rounds in the rumour mill at the moment that was (humble brag alert) mentioned here first on The Wine Idealist, which has just taken out best red in show at the 2013 Margaret River Wine Show. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon by Cloudburst won best red, and is grown with ne’er a chemical in sight, in soils that have been identified as pretty much perfect for doing exactly that. It’s never been sold in Australia… yet.
Of course, it’s not all unicorns and narwhals over in WA- there are wines coming out of that state which make Margs look like Seattle in the early 90’s… Si Vintners and Blind Corner owe it to Cullen, just like Nirvana and Pearl Jam owe it to Neil Young. These winegrowers, Sarah, Iwo, and Ben are making music in bottles, and Australia has never seen or tasted anything like it before. Cullen, of course, continues to be the high priestess, making one of Australia’s most iconic wines, the Diana Madeline… and, fun fact, each and every one of these rock stars practices biodynamics in their vineyard!
Keep on rockin’ in the free world!
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Call it counter culture, call it fad, call it what ever you like. I call it stimulating, inspiring, promising and utterly mouthwatering.
As Aussie wine drinkers, we live in exciting times… roll on 2014! Roll on #wineidealism.
D// – The Wine Idealist
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++ Many of the wineries I mentioned here will be gathering together at Rootstock in February. If it’s half as good as last year, it’ll be full of amazing people, food, wine and good good vibes. Tickets here.