Hardys take on the terroirists

Paul Lapsley (Photo: Accolade Wines)

Terroir is all the rage these days, which means single-estate wines are in vogue while blending is somewhat unfashionable.

It’s trendy to talk up single-vineyard wines, but some big companies with a tradition of inter-regional blending are doggedly continuing this practice, despite some opposition from inside as well as outside the corporate bunker. Penfolds (tastings) is an obvious example; Taylors (tastings), with its Jaraman range, is another; so is Hardys (tastings).

Hardys blends its iconic Eileen Hardy chardonnay and pinot noir table wines, mostly using Yarra Valley and Tasmania grapes; also its Thomas Hardy cabernet sauvignon (Margaret River & Coonawarra), and its entire HRB (Heritage Reserve Bin) range.

Hardys is taking the argument right up to the terroirists, with chief winemaker Paul Lapsley insisting that blending complements and enhances the qualities of each region. The Hardys HRB back label states that founder Thomas Hardy first blended grapes from multiple regions in 1865. Lapsley cites legendary winemakers like Maurice O’Shea, Max Schubert, Colin Preece and Hardys’ own Roger Warren as great practitioners of the inter-regional blender’s art.

The debate about blends versus single-vineyard wines has heated up in recent times with the popularity of pinot noir and chardonnay, and the widespread belief that the best of these varietals are single-vineyard wines.

Instancing the 2015 HRB Chardonnay – a blend of Yarra Valley, Tasmania and Tumbarumba grapes – Lapsley says:

“We don’t believe that there is a single vineyard that can combine the unique features of these three regions. If it’s a single region wine or not doesn’t matter to me. We can be free to explore different regions. Tasmania is especially full of untapped potential for new vineyards and regions.”

Lapsley was amazed to hear a certain wine professional say at a historic tasting of Eileen Hardy chardonnay (a Tasmania-Yarra Valley blend in recent times) that he loved Eileen Hardy chardonnay but he would love it even more if it came from a single vineyard.

“We’re looking to make the best wine we can,” he says, and that is best achieved by blending, because “We have great fruit resources in various regions”.

He points out that the blends vary according to the success of the particular variety in each region and vintage: the Eileen Hardy chardonnay was Yarra Valley, Tasmania and Tumbarumba in that order in 2015, but in 2014 it was Tasmania first, Yarra Valley second and no Tumbarumba.

Perhaps part of the fixation with estate-grown-and-made wines has to do with minimising the movement of grapes and wine: the idea that transporting them can only result in a loss of quality.

Says Lapsley:

“I agree with the philosophy that movements harm wine. But it’s an error occurring with the movement, rather than the movement itself.”

He says that if a wine is moved carefully there need not be any loss of quality.

“That said, of course, I wouldn’t want to see a wine pumped around dozens of times. Our blended wines probably have no more than two or three more movements than in the boutique wineries with the least wine movements.”

Also, he adds, boutique wineries often have to send their wine away for bottling off-site, because they don’t own a bottling line, which means more movements.

It could also be pointed out that winemakers like O’Shea, Schubert and others were making great wines 50 and 60 years ago by blending, and the way they transported wine was rough compared to today’s methods.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating and these wines are outstanding.

2 thoughts on “Hardys take on the terroirists”

  1. Virginia Jacobs says:

    I agree as well. Each wine should be judged on its merit not only its provenance. There are great wines in both camps, blended and single vineyard however these differences are not what makes them great. It is the care in the vineyard and the wine making that is important. This includes the winemakers ability to know when not to blend and when to blend to produce a better or more desirable wine style.

    Trends come and go but good wine making produces a style that will sell in the market it was intended for.

    I applaud innovation and new styles,however it does not make other wine less desirable just different.
    It would be very boring if we all liked the same thing.

  2. doug says:

    Could not agree more with Paul Lapsley. Some of our greatest wines (present and past) are made from multiple vineyards and regions. The great con in this industry today is those proclaiming that single vineyard wines are superior. Just because you put a fence round a vineyard and give it a name does not make it great. The burgundians have lots of named single vineyards from grand cru to simple bourgogne. They recognise the quality in the vineyard as paramount. In Australia we have too many people claiming that just because they have a single vineyard, it must be fantastic. Total nonsense of course but all driven by hype, marketing and gullible people so easily convinced by spin. Remember well, that most of Burgundy is either of bourgogne or village quality, and there are few truly great sites that are of grand cru quality. We too have single vineyard sites in Australia equally interesting and complex, but not as many as the spin doctors claim (and yes also add some of the cheer leading press). Blending vineyards and regions takes skill, knowledge and a true understanding of what makes wines complex. It is harder than most would appreciate, yet the end results can be truly inspiring. What Lapsley is doing is significant, and is anyone going to put up their hand and shoot down the great wines made by O’Shea that were blends. It is time we stopped listening to spin and got a grip of what is happening with our bigger wineries that are using their resources, skill and passion to make fantastic wines.

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