amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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A Tour Down Under, conclusions

It was always going to be the trip of a lifetime but, my word, it lived up to that billing. There are so many positives to Australia and New Zealand. I couldn’t help thinking that these young nations are energetic, vibrant and forward thinking in comparison to so much of Europe. Links with Pacific and Asian countries are to the fore and that will be their future though they retain a tremendous affection for their European links. The many people who were more than keen to talk with us were rightly proud of their countries, eager to find out about our trip and delighted to hear our enthusiasm. Positivity abounds.

The people themselves were such a highlight, as I have said before, they are helpful, polite and know how to enjoy themselves. The climate is obviously helpful in encouraging outdoor lifestyles, admittedly we were very lucky with the weather on our trip.

The wildlife was a constant joy, seeing kangaroos, koalas and kiwis in real life was just marvellous. Birds, fish and shark were stunning. Please look after them.

Above all though it was the joy of their natural landscapes which will live longest in the memory. These are jaw droppingly beautiful countries with such variety from coastlines, mountains, equatorial forest to the wonders of the Barrier Reef. Add on man made wonders such as Sydney Harbour’s Bridge and Opera House, I find myself smiling just thinking about them all.

Regarding wine. To be honest overall I was a trifle disappointed with so many wines and wine lists. The safe, conventional and commercial are everywhere. Perfectly drinkable wines but lacking excitement. However, dig a little and quality emerges. From Kalleske in the Barossa to Hans Herzog in Marlborough and Domaine Road in Otago I found conventional wines that were very good to drink. The highlights though were from the emergence of a natural wine scene in both countries. Kindeli, Cambridge Road and The Hermitage Ram in New Zealand were certainly highlights. Shobbrook, Sullivan, Tausend are names to look up in Australia.

In a way though I was spoiled early on. The Adelaide Hills was the source of so many of my favourite wines of the trip. There is a lively community of producers, supporting each other, who are making exciting, vibrant clean wines. Gentle Folk, Jauma, Manon, Basket Range, The Other Right are just some of the names to seek out. Add to that list the excellent bottles of my friend James Madden of Little Things wines. I am biased but his wines were amongst the best I tasted during this trip. The brilliant Chardonnay, refreshing PetNat, complex Field Blend were all in my top wines.

Australia and New Zealand have young winemakers looking to break with traditional methods. Behind the wave of producers in Europe perhaps but starting to create an impression and proving to my mind that there will be some wonderful wines to savour in coming years. It is no coincidence that most of these producers have worked in Europe, for example James at Jeff Coutelou’s. They will use that learning, adapt it to their local conditions to make their interpretation of Australian and New Zealand wines. I buy into their vision wholeheartedly.

Thanks to everyone we met for making the trip so special. Above all thanks to James, Sam, Flo and Pat for sharing their home with us and being so generous. And to Howard, a great chef, host and friend.

 


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A Tour Down Under, Little Things Mean A Lot

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During our holiday in the Adelaide Hills we stayed with James Madden, Sam Bateman and their beautiful year old daughter Flo together with James’ mother Pat. James and Sam travelled in France a couple of years ago and visited Jeff Coutelou which led to James returning to Puimisson a year later to play a  major role in the vendanges of 2016, which is how I got to know him. He became a valued friend in that time and when I told him that we were heading to Australia he invited us to stay with them.

A lot had happened in that 18 months, the birth of Flo, the loss of his father and the establishment of his own winery, Little Things. With all those emotional pulls it would have been easy for his first vintage to be a learning curve, instead James smashed it. The wines he produced from 2017 are extremely good by any standard, extraordinary for a first year. I would understand if you thought me biased, (I am of course), but honestly these are terrific wines.

James’ background is in catering, working in a number of restaurants in Australia, for example Movida in Melbourne. He became fascinated by wine and started to work harvests in 2011 in the Adelaide Hills often with James Erskine of Jauma wines as well as in the Mornington Peninsula and, as I said, with Jeff in the Langeudoc. That experience has instilled in him a desire to make wine with minimal intervention, he is one of the very few in Australia who resists the safety net of SO2. As we recalled over a glass, Jeff used to tell him to believe in his grapes and let them express themselves. When Sam encouraged James to give it a go on his own he took the plunge and from Little Things big things will surely follow.

James sources grapes from trusted organic growers over quite a large area. Vineyard management is done by the growers though in consultation with James and in 2018 he has taken over the running of a couple of vineyards. Ideally the couple want to buy somewhere with their own vines but in the interim, as is the norm here, James buys in the grapes, harvesting them himself.

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The Shed

When James poured me the wines from 2017 I expected to have to be polite and encouraging. Not that I underestimated him, just that it is hard to get things right first time around. There was no need for politeness. I was struck by the purity of the wines, the fruit is clear, pure and typical of the variety, it is not hard to identify Grenache, Shiraz or Chardonnay. Yet there is complexity, seriousness and everything you would want in your glass. As I said, he smashed it.

The wines are made in a shed he shares with Alex Schulkin (The Other Right). Pressing in small batches, maceration in small plastic containers and then the wine goes into old barrels. I recall that James was a master of cleanliness at Jeff’s and this is apparent in the way he works in his own winery. He has listened to advice, observed the right ways to work and made his own path with his own wines. He is still learning, playing around with fermentation techniques etc, and it will be fascinating to watch his, and the wines’, development. I only hope that we in Europe can get hold of some, importers take note.

The Sauvignon Blanc Pet Nat, Flo’s Fizz and the Chardonnay, Sweet Child Of Mine (there’s a theme here!) sold out quickly and it was not hard to understand why. The PetNat is just fresh fruit fun, goes down way too easily but at under 11% not too much danger. The Chardonnay is from 28 year old vines, whole bunch pressed, tank fermented and then aged in old barrels. It is a delight. There is a creamy note but a clean acidity runs through with lemon and spice notes. Seriously good wine.

Purple Patch Shiraz is dry grown Shiraz from Clarendon in the McLaren Vale, nice and light (just 11% abv) and very drinkable. I remember lots of good wines from this area when I first got into Australian reds and this would be a good example. More Shiraz, this time blended with Grenache (75/25%) in Sum Of Many, the fruity Shiraz being spiced up by the hit of Grenache. That Grenache was to cause a few problems for James as he discovered just before the 2018 harvest that there had been a spray on the vineyard and that it was, consequently, not organic. James decided to be open and honest about this and shared his disappointment with buyers. He decided the 2018 could not be used by him because of it not being organic, however he did find another winemaker who would welcome the grapes. In this way the grower, who had made an honest mistake, did not lose out and James will be able to use the vineyard’s grapes in future. I think that was an honest, commendable decision. The Grenache wine Comes A Time was inadvertently made from the vineyard in 2017, I found it a little more subdued than the others even before I found out about its history.

My favourite red though has to be Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend. The vineyard is next to the sea at Fleurieu Peninsula and most of the grapes are technically white, eg Pinot Gris, Savagnin, Chardonnay, but they are picked with the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet from the same vineyard, pressed together and left on skins for more than a week. This is heady wine; bright, light and mighty good. Fresh and zesty from the whites, fruity and spicy from the reds. I love field blends and this just works.

I am really excited for James and Sam that their venture is taking off. The bottles are selling well. Whilst in Adelaide and Melbourne we were in bars and restaurants with Little Things on the list (alongside Mas Coutelou in some places!). James can hold his head high whilst he mixes with James Erskine, Tom Shobbrook and Gareth Belton, his wines stand comparison and promise great things for the future. Proud of you mate!

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A Tour Down Under, Adelaide wine

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Adelaide Hills vines

We were fortunate to be staying for a few days with James and Sam in the Adelaide Hills for a few days (5* on Trip Advisor definitely) and they ensured that we were able to travel around the wine areas and meet some of the new wave producers who are making this possibly the most interesting wine region in Australia. What follows is necessarily an impressionistic approach but I hope that my enthusiasm for the area will persuade many to try wines from South Australia and especially from the winemakers I mention.

Let me start with the Barossa Valley, the iconic region for Australian wine for those of my generation who were essentially brought up on Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from producers such as Wyndhams, Seppelt, Wolf Blass and Penfolds. Some of those are based elsewhere but source grapes from the Barossa. It was interesting, therefore, to drive into the region and see it for myself. What a surprise in many ways. I expected it to be dry but with a large central area of vines as might be seen in the Rhone for example. Not at all. It was dry certainly, indeed arid in parts. The vineyards shone out like oases of greenery set amongst the brown, parched landscape. Irrigation is important, indeed vital, to these producers.

We visited Seppeltsfield, home to Seppelt of course. There was a tremendous cellar door experience with tasting rooms, restaurant and lots of craft shops. Visitors are made to feel very welcome, this is how wine tourism should be. The wines are not necessarily my thing but I have to admire the people who established wineries in such uncompromising conditions and went on to make such a success of it.

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The Seppelt restaurant

I was aware that there are producers such as Tom Shobbrook, based in Seppeltsfield, who farm biodynamically and embrace natural styles. I have met Tom before and was happy to do so again when we came across him at The Summertown Astrologist. This is a restaurant/wine bar run by some local natural producers in the Hills notably Anton von Klopper of Lucy Margaux wines. Tom’s wines are always interesting, often very good. Given the terroir, my admiration is increased enormously.

I knew there were a number of producers making natural style wines in the Adelaide Hills. We met Tim Webber, who makes Manon wines with partner Monique Milton. Over coffee he explained that they farm other crops, vegetables and animals as well as making wine. All on sound organic principles. Favourite wine of Manon that I tasted was the Pinot Noir Love Lies Bleeding 2017. Interesting to hear that as well as the usual Australian grapes there was Garganega and that Tim and Monique are interested in different varieties. He is unusual in having his own vines, many such as James, buy fruit from growers with input about how they want the vines looked after. It can be difficult to source quality grapes, especially organic. James has to travel up to an hour from his winery to get to some vines.

James Erskine with James and checking progress of some Grenache

James Erskine, of Jauma wines, is somewhat of a mentor to James and he was brilliant to visit. He is an enthusiast, embraces life and was keen to share wines from tank and bottle even in the midst of a harvest afternoon. I have been fortunate to taste Jauma wines before and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to taste in situ, they are very good indeed.

Gareth Belton and some of his barrels

Gareth Belton is the producer behind Gentle Folk wines. I was familiar with his wines before but they really stood out here. Again generous with his time mid harvest Gareth let us taste wines from barrel and bottle. There were many excellent wines, Pinot and Chardonnay stood out but I could list a dozen. The fruit stands out, it is clean, expressive and long lasting on the palate but there is good use of barrel, especially on the whites, adding lovely complexity. One wine I really loved was the Scary White. Named after the vineyard Scary Gulley rather than anything scary about the wine itself, it is a field blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and other white grapes. I do love field blend wines, they do offer a sense of place and this was one of my favourite wines of the trip so far. A gently spoken man, Gareth’s passion for his wines is evident and I heartily recommend them.

Alex Schulkin makes wines under the name The Other Right. I liked his Pet Nat rosé and his Chardonnay in particular, a very good Shiraz called Love Potion was also enjoyed. Alex has the shed where James now makes his wine, they help each other out a lot, indeed Alex’s father was picking for James on the day we left. Alex is also a scientist who works in wine research and I enjoyed chatting to him about closures, yeasts and other topics. I love the strap line for The Other Right, ‘Untamed Wines’.

Interestingly the Chardonnay which Alex, Gareth and James all make comes from the same vineyard and is made in pretty much the same method. Tasting the wines from all three did show a great similarity in profile, a true sense of terroir as well as common shared values in winemaking.

There is a real sense of community in the Hills between this group of winemakers, they help each other, advise each other and work for each other. When visiting Gareth’s lovely place in the beautiful hills three other winemakers arrived to chat, share stories and experiences. I found that truly inspirational, I was very much reminded of the groups of natural producers in the Languedoc.

Australian wines fell off my radar many years ago when the big, blockbuster style began to tire me out. French subtlety and elegance became my preference. It seems that many Australians share that view and some are now producing wines of the style which would please any Francophile whilst still retaining distinctive Australian character. This was a memorable time with some excellent wine producers. Adelaide Hills and the Barossa, I salute you.