Huntington Estate’s ‘big tannin project’

Tim Stevens (foreground) in the winery at Huntington Estate, with the winemaking team. (Photo: Amber Hooper)

“Mudgee is all about tannin,” says Huntington Estate owner Tim Stevens, shrugging, cheerfully, like a kid with freckles who has finally come to accept them. Mudgee red wine is always going to have a lot of tannin, and you just have to work with it.

To that end, Stevens has been embarking on a ‘big tannin project’.

He’s been picking red grapes riper to extract softer tannins, he’s made a lovely soft, spicy 2015 Grenache (sold out long ago), and he’s been air-drying some of his grapes to see if the tannins can be modified by this ‘passito’ method, a bit like Italian amarone.

Big reds have tannin, and tannin is part of what preserves wine and enables it to live a long life, building complexity and mellowness as it ages. It’s one of the unique things about wine – few other edible things keep well, let alone improve with age.

One part of the tannin project is a current-release Huntington Estate wine labeled Basket Dried Shiraz 2014 (15.2% alcohol). This very rich, high extract wine is dense and fleshy and has softer tannins than, for example, the Special Reserve Shiraz of the same vintage, which reached 14 degrees Baumé on the vine and produced a wine of 14.5% alcohol, and has tannins of an altogether firmer, sterner nature.

Stevens harvested the grapes for the Basket Dried Shiraz very early, at 11 degrees Baumé, which most winemakers would consider very underripe. He air-dried them till they were 15 degrees Baumé, and then crushed and fermented them as he would for any other wine.

“At 11 Baumé the tannins were green and unripe,” Stevens says, “but they continued to ripen after removal from the vine.”

The wine is excellent, and presumably he will be encouraged to try it again, despite the fact that it’s very labour intensive. He only made 1,000 litres of the 2014 and is charging $69 for it.

Stevens acquired Huntington from the founders, the Roberts family, in 2005, and he and his wife Nicky are doing a great job, taking it to the next level without losing the essential character of what they inherited.

*I tasted a raft of excellent wines during a recent visit to Huntington Estate and the reviews are on the app now.

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