Hatherleigh pinot goes it alone
Winemakers are herd animals – they tend to hang out in packs. It takes a special breed to plant vines in a place where there are no existing vineyards. Think Brian Croser at Parawa on the Fleurieu Peninsula with his Foggy Hill pinot noir vineyard. Or Andrew Pirie when he first planted Pipers Brook Vineyard in northern Tasmania.
Back in 1994, Canberra-based master of wine Nick Bulleid found himself living at a little place called Laggan, near Crookwell, not far from Goulburn in the NSW southern tablelands. His wife grew raspberries and sold them fresh or as jam; Nick decided to plant a couple of acres of pinot noir vines, just for fun. His vines were planted between ’96 and ’99 and the total is just under one hectare. That’s enough for about 250 dozen bottles of wine a year.
The site is quite elevated, near the top of the Great Dividing Range at 910 metres and is very cool, sometimes seeing snow in winter. It has cold winters, warm summers and avoids the summer rainfall problem of more coastal regions such as the NSW Southern Highlands. The climate is among the coldest of NSW vineyards, colder than Orange and Tumbarumba. Pinot noir is picked quite late, usually between the first and second weeks of April. Both Mean January Temperature and Heat Degree Days indices are slightly cooler than Dijon, Burgundy.
Bulleid’s daytime job is as a winemaking consultant and writer, but he’s also a long-term partner in Brokenwood (tastings), so it was logical to truck the grapes to the Hunter and have them vinified at Brokenwood. No need to build a costly winery.
Bulleid named the wine Hatherleigh, which was the name of the old stone house in which he lived at Laggan. He moved to Canberra several years back but kept the vineyard. There have been 16 vintages of Hatherleigh pinot noir to date, not all of them released, and of those released several have been issued as a declassified Hatherleigh Laggan bottling at a lower price than the grand vin.
Refinements have been made in winemaking: there is less new oak used (20% new, as opposed to one-third in the past), and in recent years, some puncheons (20-30% today) have been introduced to go with the barriques. As for fermentation, there is a high proportion of whole berries and 20-30% whole bunches.
Bulleid recently decided to show ‘the complete works’ to some of his colleagues.
My tasting notes have been uploaded to the app, but here is a summary of my findings.
The wines have quite a lot of variability between seasons – as we expect from both pinot noir and from a fairly marginal site. However, as the vines mature and the weather warms up thanks to global warming, the wines seem to be trending richer and deeper flavoured. Climate change at Laggan is likely to be for the better!
The wines are distinguished by deep colours and relatively (for Australian pinot) firm tannins. The 2015 (top gold at the recent Canberra District Wine Show) is the most lush and full-bodied yet, but I found all four recent vintages since the Laggan declassified 2011 and 2010 to be excellent. Of the earlier years, all wines back to 2002 were holding well but the 2005 and 2004 were especially good. The 2012 is the current release – well priced at $39 approximate retail – and the 2013 release is imminent.