Giant Steps the Flamsteed way

Flamsteed (pictured) says the main factor is the quality of the vineyards. (Photo: Wine Australia)

Giant Steps 2017 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir was one of the best value pinots of the year, the biggest seller at my recent pinot noir masterclass for the Red Bottle retail group at the Tattersalls Club. A gold-medal pinot (at the Sydney Royal Wine Show) for AUD $35 is big news. So when an excited winemaker Steve Flamsteed dropped in to show me his 2018, I was all ears – or whatever the taste equivalent of that is. All tastebuds?

“The Upper Yarra fruit tends to have more whole-bunch, while the warmer sites are destemmed.” This is the Flamsteed way.

The wine is delicious, as we might expect, as 2018 is at least as highly touted as ’17 in the Yarra Valley. If gorgeous, fragrant aromatics and a refined, medium-weight palate are what you look for in a young pinot, this has those in spadefuls.

This is Giant Steps’ entry-level pinot, priced well below their single vineyard wines. The question I wanted answered is ‘How come it’s so good?’

Flamsteed says the main factor is the quality of the vineyards. The wine is composed of grapes from all four single-vineyard sites – Sexton, Applejack, Wombat Creek and Primavera – plus all of the fruit from Tarraford, which used to also be a single-vineyard wine but was discontinued a few years ago “because it is too warm.” Located in the warmer Tarrawarra/Yarra Glen area, it still produces shiraz and single-vineyard chardonnay, but not single-vineyard pinot. “All the pinot goes into the Yarra Valley pinot.”

The Sexton vineyard is near the winery at Gruyere; the other three are all cool Upper Yarra sites. The wine had 40% whole-bunch fermentation (including stalks) and 60% whole-berry ferments (destemmed but uncrushed fruit).

“The Upper Yarra fruit tends to have more whole-bunch, while the warmer sites are destemmed.” This is the Flamsteed way.

What is the advantage of fermenting the whole bunches versus crushed and destemmed fruit?

“It gives you that mouth-feel; it thickens the palate up,” says Flamsteed.

When used in tandem with wild (ambient yeast) fermentation, it gives the kind of wine they like at Giant Steps.

“Wild ferments have a lag phase (a delay in the onset of fermentation while yeast numbers slowly built up), and that gives you the secondary and tertiary alcohols – such as glycerol – which contribute to mouth-feel.”

Flamsteed also showed me his 2018 Giant Steps Yarra Valley Chardonnay (also AUD $35), which is less showy at this stage than the pinot, but very delicate, refined and subtly complex, not showing overt oak but lots of creamy yeast-derived nuances instead. This is also based on the single-vineyard properties Sexton, Applejack, Wombat Creek and Tarraford, together with Gruyere Farm, which is owner Phil Sexton’s new property.

“We made 47 parcels of chardonnay this year,” says Flamsteed. “Eight or nine of those will go into single-vineyard wines, the rest goes into this. It all gets the same attention, the same treatment, as the single-vineyard wines.”

These days, Giant Steps uses only puncheons for chardonnay, as the larger barrels (500 litres as compared with 225-litre barriques) impart less oak character to the wine.

“This wine has about 10-20% new puncheons, and is all wild ferment, and all fermented on solids.”

Fermenting chardonnay as unclarified juice gives greater complexity of aroma and flavour, better texture, and superior integration of fruit and oak.

Regarding the 2018 season, it was a big cropping year, which kept everybody happy. There was high quality as well as volume.

“2017 had good yields as well, and we weren’t expecting a very good year after the great 2017. But I was surprised.”

What does Flamsteed want in his wines?

“A wine that people want a second glass of. The first glass just goes, and then a second. That’s what I want to see.”

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