A world of difference

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When I meet American winemakers like Chris Carpenter, I’m reminded what a different world the US is from Australia.

Carpenter is an elite Napa Valley winemaker for Jackson Wine Estates, whose most famous wines are La Jota, Lokoya, and Cardinale. His cheapest wine, La Jota, retails for US$75, and his portfolio moves up through Mt Brave (a Mt Veeder cabernet blend at $150), then Cardinale (a $450 Napa Valley cabernet-based blend) peaking with Lokoya at around $650.

Lokoya, which Carpenter matter-of-factly describes as a collectors’ wine, has four single sub-region cabernets, from Howell Mountain, Mt Veeder, Spring Mountian and Diamond Mountain.

I tasted a selection from Mt Brave upwards and found them all to be outstanding: powerful, fully ripe but never overripe, luxuriously flavoured cabernets with no excesses of oak or alcohol, and in that sense a refreshing change from some of the famous blockbuster Napa cabernets.

Carpenter admits living in the Napa is a bit like Disneyland, and he enjoys the slower, quieter, ‘rustic’ pace of life during his McLaren Vale visits, but acknowledges that America is full of wealthy wine lovers keen to buy $350 bottles. His job wouldn’t exist without them!

Carpenter’s signature is ‘mountain’ cabernets, sourced from high vineyards on steeper, rockier, hill vineyards on the ranges on either side of the Napa Valley.

He prefers these terroirs to the so-called Napa ‘bench’ area, which is the flatter valley-floor, although he acknowledges that the Oakville Bench is home to some of the valley’s finest vineyards such as Robert Mondavi’s To Kalon.

Carpenter recently visited Australia for his second vintage in McLaren Vale, where Jackson Wine Estates International recently bought the Hickinbotham vineyard at Clarendon.

It already owned the organic McLaren Vale vineyard Yangarra Estate (tasting notes), its winery and brand. Carpenter made wine at Yangarra (with its winemaker Peter Fraser) in the 2012 and ’13 vintages.

While Yangarra specialises in shiraz, grenache and other Rhone varieties, Carpenter’s brief was to use his Californian expertise to make a cabernet from the Clarendon vineyard.

The new Hickinbotham vineyard cabernet has yet to be named, but when the 2012 comes on sale next year I don’t expect it will be cheap!

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