Fleming and Jarratt

Andrew Fleming and Greg Jarratt make a formidable team at Coldstream Hills, one of the Yarra Valley’s premier wineries. They both arrived in 2001, Fleming as chief winemaker – having arrived from Seppelt Great Western winery (tastings) – and Jarratt from the Hunter Valley where he worked on Lindemans (tastings) and other brands then owned by Treasury Wine Estates’ (tastings) predecessor, Southcorp. There’s a lot to be said for stability and the accumulation of experience in one place. Fleming says Coldstream Hills’ spectacular success has been a team effort. “Greg and I have had 13 years together, and the other winery guys have been here five and six years,” he adds. Jarratt is billed as Coldstream Hills winemaker, and since 2006, also St Huberts winemaker.

Jarratt graduated from Charles Sturt University in 1990 and worked in the CSU winery, then Domaine Chandon (tastings), in Europe as a flying winemaker, then Houghton (tastings) and Coldstream Hills before his Hunter detour between 1998 and 2001.

Fleming is a Melbourne University agricultural science graduate who worked at Mildara and then in Bordeaux, where he did stints at three top Graves properties: Domaine de Chevalier (tastings), Chateau La Mission-Haut Brion (tastings) and Chateau Haut Brion (tastings) itself; then Matanzas Creek (tastings) in California followed by Lindemans’ Karadoc and Seppelt.

Other important ingredients in Coldstream Hills’ success are its ownership of key grape resources, and the fact that Treasury gives the winemakers a lot of autonomy. Fleming and Jarratt choose their own oak, and make their own blends, and if they decide they can’t supply the volumes of wine the company requests, they don’t.

Coldstream’s top wines, the Reserve pinot and chardonnay, come from estate vineyards, and the company recently bought the high-altitude Deer Farm vineyard at Gladysdale, which had been a grape source for many years. “It has a couple of blocks that are potential single-vineyard material, and the intention is that these wines are ongoing,” says Fleming. Single-vineyard Deer Farm pinot noir (tastings) was first produced in the 2010 vintage, with a ’12 and ’13 to follow. The third one is Esplanade, from the lower-altitude Syme vineyard.

The single-vineyard chardonnays were reinvented in 2009, with the result that Deer Farm (tastings) and Rising vineyard (tastings) chardonnays are ongoing. These and the Reserve chardonnay (tastings) have been outstanding, even in difficult years like 2009 (it was a cool season apart from the bushfire week) and the wet 2011. “The 2011s are some of the best chardonnays we’ve ever made,” says Fleming. “The 2011 Reserve Chardonnay (tastings) won the Fine Wine Partners Trophy this year (for the best wine from all capital city wine shows in the preceding show year), best white wine in Adelaide and best chardonnay at Winewise.” It comes largely from two home vineyards near the winery, plus Briarston, which is on the same hillside but the other side of Giant Steps. It’s the second time Coldstream has won this ‘best of the best’ trophy: the 2006 Reserve chardonnay (tastings) won it in 2009.

The top chardonnays today are less oaky: since about 2008 Fleming and Jarratt are using more subtle oak and larger barrels – 400 and 500-litre puncheons rather than 225-litre barriques – which impart oak more slowly because of their larger volume to surface area. “The wines have more balance and finesse,” says Fleming. Fermenting ‘dirtier’ juices is another development: less emphasis is given to clarifying the juices before fermentation, the benefits being in complexity and texture.

Coldstream Hills blocks the malolactic in chardonnay, which helps retain good natural acidity, and has never done wild ferments with chardonnay – although it does with pinot. The reason is purely logistic: wild ferments demand more space.

Says Fleming: “We’ve always been very successful with chardonnay but our pinot noirs have come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years. They’re right up there with the chardonnays now.” The Reserve (tastings) is built to last, but has style and elegance as well. The 2012 and ’13 vintages both made ‘beautiful’ pinots, although both were warm vintages, which seems to contradict the notion of pinot as a cool-climate wine.

Fundamental to Coldstream pinot style is, firstly, pre-fermentation cold soaking and secondly, whole-berry (instead of crushed fruit) ferments. The cold-soak is a way to obtain gentle early extraction of aromatic fruit characters such as cherry, raspberry and rhubarb – despite having fairly quick, warm ferments. A portion of pinot is fermented 100% with stalks, to give a blending component.

Fleming quips: “The pinots have been improving partly because the vines are getting older, but also because the people are getting older – and more experienced.”

First published in Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine – Jun-Jul 2014.

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