Eurocentric beauties

François Millet (left) and Paul Pujol (Photo: Prophet’s Rock Wines)

The cross-fertilisation of wine cultures between Europe and the Antipodes continues apace. This week I had a visit from Jane Eyre (tastings), an Aussie who lives in Beaune and makes superb wine under her own label in Burgundy. More about her later.

A lot of our winemakers go to work in Burgundy, usually just for a temporary vintage job. Plenty of French come to Australia or New Zealand for vintage too, but few come to make their own wine, especially people of the calibre of François Millet, the long-serving winemaker at Burgundy’s prestige Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé (tastings). Millet is making a pinot noir in Central Otago, New Zealand. His first release, 2015 Cuvée aux Antipodes, is one of the most interesting and impressive new wines I’ve tasted this year.

Millet was one of the star turns at the recent Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir Celebration, presenting a tasting of five 2014 red Burgundies, climaxing with Bonnes Mares and Musigny Vieilles Vignes. However, my favourite on the day was the less-expensive Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru Les Amoureuses, a beautiful wine (97 pts).

Millet makes his New Zealand wine at Prophet’s Rock (tastings), whose winemaker Paul Pujol was also at the celebration. Later, Pujol showed me several of his own Prophet’s Rock wines as well as the 2015 Cuvée aux Antipodes. All very smart, but Millet’s wine was the star: it possessed a succulence, a seamlessness and charm that set it apart. The fruit does the talking, with crushed raspberry, fragrant herb and violet perfumes of remarkable complexity.

Pujol said the joint venture had started after he worked the vintage at de Vogüé in 2009, and then François’s 29-year-old son Julien worked for Prophet’s Rock in 2013.

“I saw how François does things and was impressed,” says Pujol.

Neither Prophet’s Rock Home Vineyard nor Cuvée aux Antipodes are pumped by machine. Both are plunged just once during the fermentation. Both are matured in the same type of barrel, the same forest and toast level (Rémond Allier). This was the first coincidence Pujol noticed when he worked at de Vogüé.

It was important for Millet to make the wine the same way he does it in Chambolle.

Millet selected the section of the Prophet’s Rock Home Vineyard at Bendigo he wanted for his wine. It is a higher site, steep, 400 metres altitude at the top, with clay soil.

“It’s one of the highest in Central Otago. Any higher and it’s too cold,” says Pujol.

Millet goes to Central Otago twice a year.

“He digs out the tank, he plunges it once, I send him bottles of wine so he can follow its progress,” says Pujol.

Racking is done using a special air pump which Millet brought from France. It forces air into the top of the barrel and as the wine comes out the racking bung-hole, it’s pushed it into a fresh barrel. The main difference between the two men’s wines is that Millet’s is very lightly extracted during fermentation, and spends longer in barrel – 17 months.

I found the 2013 Prophet’s Rock Home Vineyard quite savoury and foresty/earthy, rather than fruity; the palate more tannic. The 2012 Retrospect, which is held back and released after five years, is also a firm, dry, savoury style. Perhaps the reason Millet’s wine is fruitier, fresher and more charming is that it’s younger. It’s hard to say. Also, 2015 is an excellent vintage in the region.

As a footnote, Pujol’s first area of expertise was in aromatic whites: he did several vintages in Alsace where he spent three and a half years at Domaine Kuentz-Bas. No surprise that his 2014 Prophet’s Rock Riesling and pinot gris are both superb, the riesling scoring a gold-ribbon from me.

*My Prophet’s Rock notes, including Cuvée aux Antipodes, are on the app now, together with the de Vogüé wines tasted in Mornington, and also six 2014 Domaine Méo-Camuzet Burgundies tasted at the same event, which climaxed with the sublime Vosne-Romanée 1er cru Brulées (97 pts).

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