Michael Glover moves on

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Bannockburn Vineyards, one of Australia’s leading small wineries, is losing its colourful and charismatic winemaker Michael Glover. He will leave in January after nine years at Bannockburn, returning to his native New Zealand.

For an iconic wine property like Bannockburn (tastings) to have found Glover as winemaker in the first place was serendipitous. He is a one-off. A free spirit, a man who goes his own way. An eccentric perhaps, in a world of white-coated technocrats. Such people are quite rare, and are to be valued.

Whether you enjoyed all of the wines Glover made for Bannockburn or not, it can’t be doubted that they all bore the fingerprints of the man himself. Following Gary Farr was a hard act, but Glover managed it with aplomb. And stamped his own imprimatur on the wines, a different imprimatur from Farr’s.

Sauvignon blanc fermented on skins is nothing unique, but where this technique has resulted in some horrible wines in other people’s hands, Glover used a proportion of this technique, blended the result with more conventionally made wine (and a little riesling for good measure), bound it together with barrel fermentation, and made a glorious drink.

Glover’s chardonnays have been tremendously rich and multi-layered. Big, buttery and forward, yes, but those drinkers nonplussed by the anorexic trend in Aussie chardonnay could always count on a big mouthful of chardonnay flavour from a Bannockburn.

Glover’s other wines have been equally interesting – for their methodology as much as their character.

My main quibble with Glover is with his over-use (in my opinion) of stems in pinot noir fermentations. Stems were well established as part of Bannockburn pinot style before Glover arrived, but many of his wines have been fermented with 100% whole bunches and the wines in my view were dried-out and excessively forward-developed as a result. They were certainly savoury, arguably even complex, but they lacked fruit and freshness and pinot character.

Perhaps Glover would reply that these things are not of interest to him, but what is the average punter’s reaction after innocently buying a Bannockburn pinot and expecting it to taste like an Aussie pinot? OK: an ‘average punter’ would probably not stumble upon a Bannockburn pinot. But the point remains that these are very eccentric wines, and in the final analysis, I didn’t enjoy many of them, in any context – with food or without.

My final comment is that these wines lack terroir, which I feel sure would be the very thing Glover and his fellow pinot noir makers prize and profess to seek in their wines. The wines speak of stems and technique, not of Geelong nor the Bannockburn vineyard. If a blind taster correctly identifies such a wine as a Bannockburn, it’s not the ‘somewhereness’ they are recognizing but the fingerprints of the winemaker, which are all over these wines. With stalks, sometimes less is more.

Sorry, Michael: I didn’t mean this to be a witch-hunt. I am a great fan of you and most of your wines, but this approach to pinot has always mystified me – and many other wine professionals.

No doubt Bannockburn will be searching for a new winemaker. In the winery press release, Glover says: “It has been a wonderful experience working at Bannockburn and a great privilege to have been allowed to take fruit from some of Australia’s best vineyards in directions that have been creative and thought-provoking. The decision to leave has been a terribly hard one to make but if I don’t do it now, I may never get back home, and it is something I have always had a desire to do.”

We will miss you, Michael, but at least you won’t be far away, across the ditch.

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