Bilancia’s bit on the side

Warren Gibson and Lorraine Leheny (Photo: Richard Brimer)

One of the more intriguing packs of wine samples that have arrived in recent weeks was four different vintages of Yarra Valley chardonnay on the new Leheny Gibson label.

Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson are the founders of the Hawke’s Bay wine producer, Bilancia. Bilancia is best known for its heroic La Collina Syrah but also makes impressive chardonnay and pinot gris.

With the wines was a note from Warren that included the statement,

“Chardonnay can be a fickle beast. It can be in fashion, out of fashion (ABC – Anything But Chardonnay), unfashionable, unforgettable. Oaked, un-oaked, over-oaked. People generally divide their preference for chardonnay into one of two camps, fat or skinny (for want of better terms!). We would like to give you the option of both but with far nicer descriptors.
Well-made chardonnay that is made in a tighter (skinnier) style invariably opens up and broadens (fattens) as the wine gets older. The ‘fatness’ develops over time rather than be made into the wine.”

Lorraine and Warren are both winemakers – Warren is chief winemaker for Trinity Hill while they combine their talents when producing Bilancia wines. Lorraine is from Melbourne and they were able to source grapes and winemaking assistance from friends based in the Yarra Valley.

“The fruit for these Yarra Valley chardonnays is sourced from areas of the cooler, upper Yarra, around the town of Gladysdale. From vintage to vintage, the winemaking employed is quite similar but as always, there are some vintage variations with each wine.
Hand-picked fruit, some skins and whole bunches in the ferment, higher solids, no yeast or MLF inoculation, and large format oak where possible for aging. The aim is for wines with extra, added interest, a slightly crooked leg that adds to the appeal rather than detracts. An interesting palate that is tight when young, opening up and broadening with age. Chardonnay that goes well with food.”, explained Warren.

The 2014 Leheny Gibson Chardonnay was indeed a tight and slightly reductive wine that was rather closed and hard to read, even after three years from harvest. It does have intensity and latent complexity that simply needs more bottle age to reveal its true colours.

2013 Leheny Gibson Chardonnay was significantly more developed showing a nice mix of fruit and winemaking artefact. It’s an elegant wine that offers further potential.

My favourites were the 2012 and 2011 Leheny Gibson Chardonnay, both of which were starting to hit their straps with real richness, accessibility and complexity. They had indeed opened up, offering a glimpse of where the more youthful wines might be in another year or two.

The wines may be purchased through the Bilancia website.

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