Hoosegg hears a Hoo

Philip Shaw (pictured) has always been one to do things his own way. (Photo: Twitter @Orange360)

Hoosegg? Whose egg? Who’s egg? What the f—?

Hoosegg is the new wine of the indefatigable Philip Shaw, former chief winemaker of Rosemount and Southcorp, a man who is simply one of the most extraordinary characters in the Australian wine industry. Now aged 71, he has left his previous business, Philip Shaw Wines in Orange, to his two sons Damian and Daniel, cut his ties with it and reinvented himself. As he says, Hoosegg Wines is the dream that he has been working towards for nearly 60 years.

Money is no object for the Hoosegg project. Shaw will do whatever it takes to make the kind of great wine he seeks to make.

Nearly 60 years? Really?

Well, yes. Shaw’s first wine was made from packet raisins and water, fermented with baker’s yeast in Woodroofe’s lemonade bottles, inspired by a school visit to Roseworthy Agricultural College when he was 12. This Adelaide kid started working in wineries at 15: Penfolds and Wynns in suburban Magill, washing bottles. He later returned to study at Roseworthy and graduated with his degree in wine science.

Why Hoosegg?

“Well, the Hoo is Philip – to avoid any confusion with Philip Shaw Wines – and the Egg is to symbolise a new beginning,” he says.

I’m not sure I follow his thinking, but it is very Philip. The name isn’t exactly euphonious, but do you think he cares?

Shaw has always been one to do things his own way. But just how this square peg fitted into the round hole of corporate winemaking for so long (11 years at Lindemans; 21 at Rosemount and Southcorp) is one of life’s great mysteries.

As Shaw would say, all those years of winemaking around Australia and indeed, the world (he has consulted in the US, Chile and China) prepared him, qualified him, trained him for what he is doing now. Hoosegg is the culmination of all he has learnt in his nearly 60 years of making wine.

You might think that a man with such an eye-watering CV and list of accomplishments (including twice Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition, in 1986 and 2000, and Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine’s Winemaker of the Year in 1999) might have been able to just click his fingers and make great wine happen.

It doesn’t work like that.

Shaw has made many outstanding wines in his career but, like Socrates, he has always been a little dissatisfied. Self-criticism is one of the identifying marks of many great creatives, and Shaw is certainly one of those.

Crucial to the Hoosegg venture is Shaw’s Koomooloo vineyard near Orange, where he first planted vines in 1988/89. This vineyard supplied grapes to Rosemount and others for the first 15 years while the vines were maturing. It is the primary source of grapes for Philip Shaw Wines, and latterly Philip himself has worked out a deal with his sons whereby he has exclusive use of several sections of the vineyard for Hoosegg wines.

The key to understanding Shaw’s present position is money – more precisely, the economics of producing wine. In corporate winemaking, economic imperatives drive everything. Grange is made from more expensive grapes than Bin 28, and the vines and their grape yields are managed accordingly. If you’re making AUD $15 wine, there are strict limits on production cost. The vines must produce at least X tonnes per hectare; you can only use oak barrels if the wine sells for more than $Z a bottle, etc.

It could be argued that great art – and great wine is an art – cannot be produced to a budget. Shaw’s manifesto states that he,

“…is very focused on growing the best quality fruit, almost obsessively considering all viticultural inputs and the impact they have on wine quality, and doing this without the usual commercial imperatives.”

And: “In Australia, we are often constrained by our commercial approach and this curtails the opportunity to pursue great quality…”

And more: “We should all be able to pursue quality for quality’s sake.”

In other words, money is no object for the Hoosegg project. Shaw will do whatever it takes to make the kind of great wine he seeks to make.

Is he succeeding? Emphatically, yes.

There are two levels of wines. The Hoo wines are a chardonnay called Everything Is Going According to Plan (AUD $75/$50), a rosé named Sorry For The Slow Reply, and a cabernet blend, Self Made-Up Man (AUD $75/$50). Warning: some of the label art is challenging!

Then there are two Egg wines (nothing to do with ovoid fermenters): Jade Moon Cabernet Franc (AUD $150/$100) and Mountain Dragon Merlot (AUD $250/$167). These are both magnificent wines.

Shaw has long been an advocate for cabernet franc, and he believes merlot and franc are especially suited to Orange’s climate and high altitude. These wines thunderously back up his claims. They’re also beautifully packaged and my one reservation is that they’re cork-sealed. (The Hoo wines are screw-capped.)

All are in small volumes, less than 200 cases, and all 2016 vintage, except the rosé, which is 2018. Shaw also has a 2016 shiraz, cabernet and chardonnay waiting in the wings, for release next year.

The reason there are two prices above is that the wines will be offered en primeur this month, at the lower price; presumably what is left over will sell at the full price after the offer closes. Sales will be direct and online.

And that’s not all. Shaw is still prospecting for a new vineyard site, a place where he can grow cabernet sauvignon and the other Bordeaux red varieties in the vicinity of Orange, as Koomooloo at 850-890 metres is a little cool for cabernet sauvignon. He is shy of revealing too much but just says: “Further east, probably the Millthorpe area.”

Philip Shaw hasn’t finished with wine just yet.

Visit the Hoosegg Facebook page here.

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