The Hunter Valley is probably the most difficult place to grow grapes in Australia, with a risk of summer rainfall that most regions seldom have to fear. This year, though, much of the eastern half of the continent is having a Hunter summer. Rain, rain and more rain, from Queensland through NSW and Victoria and down to Tasmania. Ironically, though, the Hunter is having an excellent season and has so far escaped the big wet.
Australians could be accused of being obsessed with mono-varietal wines, with some justification. Just look through your local bottle-shop and you’ll see the labels mostly carry the name of just one grape, such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, shiraz or pinot noir.
Philip Laffer turned 70 just days before he was presented with the McWilliam’s Wines Maurice O’Shea Award for 2010 – the wine industry’s most distinguished accolade. And while he’s given away day-to-day involvement in running Pernod Ricard’s Australian arm, Orlando Wyndham Group, he cheerfully declares that he’s about to embark on Phase 3 of his career.
I’m a born sceptic. The Australian Sceptics magazine is a very entertaining read and I’m the last person to take anything at face value, especially the supposed benefits of biodynamic viticulture, magnetic wine pourers, vortexes, pyramids and stags’ bladders. But I like to think I have an open mind on all these things – I don’t discount the possibility that even UFOs exist. But please show me one.
The Cultural Cringe is back, at least in relation to Australian wine. So says Adelaide-based winemaker Stephen Pannell, of S.C. Pannell Wines. So concerned is Pannell that he’s started a movement to get people to pledge to drink only Australian wine during January.
There is so much interest in ‘new’ or alternative grape varieties these days, not to mention obscure imported wines, that it often seems the retailers, sommeliers and press think traditional Australian varieties are too boring to bother with. The ‘chocolate and vanilla’ diet of shiraz and chardonnay seems completely old hat.
The Limestone Coast and Geelong wine shows could not be more different, but both shone the searchlight on outstanding wines. A fortnight ago I judged at Limestone Coast; a fortnight before at Geelong. Limestone Coast featured some of the biggest wine companies in Australia; Geelong none – just a raft of boutiques.
Sir George Fistonich is a survivor. But the founder and owner of New Zealand’s self-proclaimed most successful winery, Villa Maria, is also living proof of the wisdom of sticking to a quality ethic.
In 2001, Fistonich claims, the Villa Maria group became the world’s first major wine company to eliminate cork from its wines. “By 2001 Villa Maria was a cork-free zone. The aim was to guarantee that the wines would be neither corked nor oxidised and the taste would remain fresh and delicious as the winemaker intended.”
It seems almost perverse to be writing about the most exciting new trophy in Australian wine shows in the week that the Jimmy Watson Trophy is announced, but here goes. It’s the Gramp, Hardy, Hill Smith Prize awarded at the Royal Adelaide Wine Show for, and I quote, “an outstanding wine of provenance”. Last year it was awarded for the first time – to Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon; this year it went to Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon.
Liz Jackson is the star of the NSW Wine Awards this year. Not only does the 32-year-old Hunter Valley winemaker have five wines in the NSW Top 40, one of them is the NSW Wine of the Year – the 2003 Tempus Two Copper Zenith Semillon. This wine is already much decorated, most recently with the trophy for the best white wine at the 2010 Hunter Valley Wine Show.