Moorilla Estate‘s (tastings) founder, the late Claudio Alcorso, would have been thrilled. The house that he built on his vineyard, on the Berriedale peninsula which juts into Hobart’s Derwent River, has been transformed into an extraordinary art gallery, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which opened to a huge fanfare the weekend before last.
Alcorso was a great art lover and patron as well as a wine man, but I’m sure MONA would exceed even his vision for art in Hobart. At a cost variously estimated between $80 and $150 million, Moorilla’s present owner, David Walsh, has built far more than the biggest private art museum in Australia, he has also within the past decade built a brewery, restaurant, luxury cabins and outdoor music venue on the property.
A couple of years ago, when I last visited, it looked as though wine – the property’s original purpose – was suffering from a low priority. But in that two years, since the gallery was little more than an excavation, Walsh has built not only a wonderful museum but a new winery, with a very smart bar attached to it.
The winery is state-of-the-art, and young Canadian-born winemaker Conor van der Reest lacks for nothing. I’m not sure the vineyards have been receiving the same care: he admitted that he’d been so busy with the new winery that he hadn’t visited Moorilla’s Tamar Valley vineyard for about six months.
As someone who’s as attached to art as I am to wine, I find it hard to express what a monumental achievement MONA is. Imagine if John-Paul Getty had decided to erect the Getty Museum in Hobart instead of a hilltop in Los Angeles. It’s that scale of significance.
The museum’s architecture is just as gob-smacking as the collection. The winery is also pleasing to the eye, and sympathetic to its surrounds. Inside, of course, it’s all gleaming stainless steel and cement floors. And, after several years in the wilderness, the Moorilla wines are starting to show signs of a resurgence. It’s not van der Reest’s fault they’ve been in a slump, of course: he’s only been there since the 2008 vintage, and it’s taken a while to get the ducks in a row. The wines have been respectable since then, but not the calibre of the Moorilla of old.
Alcorso planted the first vines in 1958, so the oldest vines in the 3.5 hectares of estate plantings are 50 years-plus. “It’s small, but it’s very important to Moorilla,” says van der Reest. “It’s the core.” Everything grown there goes into Moorilla (whereas some of the grapes from the larger Tamar Valley property, St Matthias, are sold off).
At the Tasmanian Wine Show, which I helped judge the same week MONA opened, Moorilla scored a gold medal for its 2008 pinot noir under its top label, Muse ($45 tasting). This is an impressively deep-coloured and full-bodied pinot, and is almost all (95%) from the Berriedale vineyard. It’s fleshy, concentrated and loaded with supple tannin, finishing with great length and balance. It will drink well for at least a decade.
Moorilla’s wine output has been slashed by 80%, compared to five years ago, such is its renewed focus on quality. Van der Reest has worked in Champagne and studied at Montpellier. He was at Moet & Chandon during the superb 2002 vintage, and is keen to flex his sparkling winemaking muscles at Moorilla. There is a proud tradition of bubbly at Moorilla, and although the current release 2006 is a tad youthful and lacks time on yeast lees, the makings are there. It has excellent potential and fine quality: lean, linear and taut, pale-coloured and citrus-flavoured, but needing to build more depth of character. It shows the fruit quality and know-how are both available. Van der Reest says Moorilla will make a lot more sparkling wine in future.
He also makes pinot gris, gewurztraminer and riesling, which are all good rather than great, while the chardonnays are very good and improving. Perhaps the most exciting, and unexpected, wine I tasted at Moorilla was the 2009 syrah (tastings), which reminded me of the other great Moorilla syrah, the 2005, which won a gold medal at the Tasmanian Wine Show when it was young, a feat the ’09 could well repeat in a year’s time. There’s only about 1,000 litres of it, but some will be available to the interstate retail trade. The difficulty with shiraz in Tasmania is getting it properly ripe, but this one nails it, without sacrificing the trademark spice and pepper of cool-climate shiraz. Lovely stuff.
This year’s Tasmanian Wine Show continued the high standard seen in previous years, and the stand-out vintage across the board was 2008. For pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling, this was a superb vintage: one to buy. And cellar, if that is your wont.
Other personal favourites were ’09 Riversdale Crater Chardonnay (tastings), ’07 and ’08 Frogmore Creek Chardonnay (tastings), ’08 Waterton Riesling (tastings), ’08 Bream Creek Riesling (tasting), ’08, ’07 and ’06 Pressing Matters R9 Riesling (tastings), ’09 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir (tastings), ’08 Freycinet Pinot Noir (tasting), ’08 Yellow Point Bloody Eleventh Pinot Noir (tasting), ’07 Barringwood Park Blanc de Blancs, ’06 Clover Hill Blanc de Blancs (tasting), ’03 Jansz Late Disgorged Cuvee (tasting) and 2000 Freycinet Radenti (tasting).
First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living – 1 February 2011.