Petaluma and Deviation Road in sparkling form
Petaluma’s new winery, only two vintages old, produces 50 to 60,000 cases of its main wine, Croser Non-Vintage sparkling, a year. And that’s just one wine. As chief winemaker Mike Mudge told me:
“We used to be a table winemaker that made some sparkling wine. Now we’re a sparkling winemaker that makes some table wine.”
The place is a gleaming new factory, all on one level, made of concrete and steel and filled with the latest and best equipment from all over the world. Especially impressive is the sparkling wine machinery: neck-freezing, disgorging, liqueuring, corking and packing machinery from Italy and France.
In its previous site, at the labour-intensive Bridgewater Mill, Petaluma used to handle each bottle of bubbly seven or eight times; now, just once. The rest is done by machines. And sparkling wine lends itself particularly well to mechanisation. There is also the small matter of injuries caused by exploding bottles. The number of accidents has plummeted since the move to the new winery.
Croser sparkling is all hand-picked and whole-bunch pressed. The newly harvested grapes cool their heels in specially built coolrooms just outside the pressing area. Croser vintage is – as ever – 100% Piccadilly Valley and runs to just 5-8,000 cases a year. It’s very successful, but non-vintage is where the big growth is. It’s been growing at 10% a year and observers scratch their heads at the price, which is frequently under $20 in the big chains, wondering how Petaluma makes a profit. Part of the answer was that Petaluma was distributed by Fine Wine Partners and both were owned by Lion, until recently. They were saving the wholesaler’s margin. But the future is up in the air right now, as Lion has sold to Accolade.
Croser NV has 18 months on lees; vintage has three to four years and LD (late disgorged) up to 12 years. The latest LD I’ve tasted, the 2003, was outstanding.
It’s also worth noting that the new vintage of Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling 2016, is exceptional, and in Mike Mudge’s view, one of their best ever. I was impressed with the current crop of Petaluma still wines, especially the 2015 Tiers Chardonnay and the 2014 B&V Vineyard Shiraz.
Over at Deviation Road, the accomplished Kate Laurie is making stellar sparkling wines in rather different facilities. The winery is a former dairy and space is so lacking that much of the vintage is conducted outdoors. Kate and husband Hamish insist on doing all the sparkling wine processes on-site, including the tiraging (“I don’t trust anyone else to do it,” says Kate, and why should she?)
Her great wine is Beltana Vintage Blanc de Blancs, which has four-and-a-half to five years on lees. The stunning 2011 is current and the 2009 is equally impressive. The 2014 Loftia (the vintage pinot noir chardonnay brut) gets 26 months on lees and I’m sure it would get longer if the Lauries could manage it. It would certainly benefit from more tirage age but is a very fine wine all the same.
The non-vintage Altair is a pale-pink, youthful rosé. The current edition is based on 2015 and has 30% of reserve wines, taken from a kind of solera which goes back to 2008.
Attention to detail tells you something about a winery: visitors to Deviation Road are served sparkling wines in small, branded Spiegelau tulips. The floor in the cellar door sales is beautiful Mintaro slate. They’re not on the town water supply but rely on tank and dam water. They also generate some of their own electricity with solar voltaic receptors.
When Kate and Hamish are disgorging Beltana, they do 40 dozen at a time. These are truly hand-made wines!