Australia ~ Day 5: Bindi, kangaroos & more

The team was very excited. The reason: We were visiting one of the best, if not the best Pinot Noir winemaker of Australia, Michael Dhillon, owner & winemaker of the famous Bindi estate in the Macedon Ranges. The temperature dropped by 20 degrees over night & we had a misty, foggy kind of day. We were also slowly making our way back to Melbourne, where we would arrive in the evening.

Turning onto the Bindi Estate, the scenery had the effect of something out of the Jurassic Park movie: open fields, surrounded by large trees & kind of a jungle forest with undefined creatures in the mist. We saw 20 to 30 kangaroos before we were greeted by one of Australia’s greatest small producers: Michael Dhillon (below right)

The estate vineyards & the small winery (founded in 1988) were a treasure. After getting a tour through the vineyards & the property we had the pleasure of tasting some amazing barrel samples of the 2010 Estate Chardonnay, 2010 Quartz Chardonnay, 2010 Composition Pinot Noir, 2010 Quartz Pinot Noir & 2009 Original Pinot Noir.

Highlights in the bottle: 
Bindi 2009 Composition Pinot Noir ~ Very inviting nose of fine raspberries, ripe black cherries, spice & herbs. Phenomenal Structure & texture. Well-balanced, extracted & a little creamy. Great acidity through the beautiful finish.

Bindi 2009 Block 5 Pinot Noir ~ Most fragrant, aromatic, with red & black fruit. Intense, powerful, but velvety & silky with beautiful red & black fruit. Lots of raspberries & cherries. Going all the way through a long, lingering finish.

Pumped up after visiting one of the trip’s highlights, we took off for a 45 minute ride to Curly Flat. A pretty modern facility specializing in Pinot Gris, Chardonnay & Pinot Noir it was founded in 1991. We got a warm welcome from owner & winemaker Philip Moraghan who gave us a wonderful tour of the winery which is located 75 miles north of Melbourne.

During lunch (salad & lamb) we tasted through a wonderful line-up & experienced Philip’s winemaking philosophy: good wine comes from good fruit & the grapes from the vineyard determine the quality of the wine. The winemaker is the custodian of nature. Some highlights were the 2008 Chardonnay, the 2008 William’s Crossing Pinot Noir and:

Curly Flat 2007 Pinot Noir ~ Plum, dark cherry & spicy aromas turning into a powerful palate with lots of dark & red fruit, raspberries & black cherries. Wonderful spice on the long finish.

Last winery on the way back to Melbourne was Craiglee which is actually more a sheep, lamb farm than a winery but Patrick Carmody does it all. We figured out on arrival that it was sheep shearing day. Lots going on there. The tasting room was something else. An old wooden tasting table was covered in spider-webs as were old bottles of wine which seemed to be opened years ago. Since establishing the winery in 1976, Patrick has made his name a producer of fine cool climate Shiraz. We tasted several vintages of Chardonnay.

The highlight:  Craiglee 1996 Chardonnay ~ This wine had still a lot of life. Vibrant acidity & fruit. Fantastic flavors of pear, melon, with some citus & lime notes.

We also tasted a vertical of 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2005, 2007 & 2008 Shiraz. Absolutely stunning Shiraz with consistent quality. The one which stuck out:

Craiglee 2000 Shiraz ~ Beautiful dark fruit , black plums upfront. Smooth, soft, velvety texture. Wonderful dark fruit with black plums, prunes, blackberries & blueberries with spicy & herbal notes with soft tannins on the long finish. Still great acidity. Could still age for 10 more years.

After that experience we were definitely ready for some “Aussie culture” & life again in the big city.  Good thing we were heading back to Melbourne. Dropped our bags & went straight to Chinatown experiencing the Chinese New Year Celebration before we had a rather fancy dinner with 8+ winemakers at Press Club in Melbourne. 

One more day to go … Good night!

Australia ~ Day 4 (on the road) ~ Jasper Hill & more

Leaving Rutherglen, we did a pit-stop at Parker pies for breakfast: Kangaroo Pie, Parker Pie (their secret savory recipe), etc…pretty tasty!
Off we went to Tahbilk Winery, one of the oldest ones we visited, founded in 1860. Some of the vineyards are still from this original year. We met Neil Larson, chief winemaker since 1991, who gave us an extended tour through the old cellars & an overview of the winery. His highlights were the Marsanne vineyards from 1926/27 which are still producing some very interesting wines.

After a big lunch we headed off to Shelmerdine Heathcote. A rather new winery, founded in 1989 in the Heathcote region, co-produced by De Bortoli. Highlights were a crisp Riesling & a Cabernet Sauvignon:

Shelmerdine 2010 Riesling ~ Crisp, fine citrus fruit, with hints of apricot & peach. Great acidity & texture. Fresh, lingering finish.

Shelmerdine 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ~ Bright red & dark fruit up-front. Good acidity, complexity & elegance. Wonderful flavors of red & black fruit, with lots of blackberries & cassis flavors. Focused, bright, fresh, with gentle spices.

Further on we went to Heathcote Estate, owned by Yabby Lake. Tom Carson, who was head-winemaker at Yering Station for 10 years & has now been chief-winemaker for Yabby Lake, Heathcote Estate & Cooralook since 2008, was the next person we met in Heathcote.

A charming, very focused winemaker, he led us through some stunning wines:
Heathcote Estate 2008 Shiraz ~ Powerful Shiraz, with packed flavors of dark fruit, blackberries, blueberries & ripe dark plums. Dark, rich, dense & ripe fruit with some nuances of cedar & spice.

Heathcote Estate 2006 Grenache ~ Green leaf, eucalytus aromas. Warm, soft, but rich texture, with spicy flavors of raspberries & blackberries all the way through a lingering finish. Long, deep, & powerful.

After that we took off to meet Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill, one of the best-known “cult” winemakers in Australia.

His wines are highly regarded as some of the best in Australia & I agree; they were gorgeous. The first vintage was in 1982 with very low yields. Every estate vineyard is biodynamically farmed which makes these wines even more amazing. The special Cambrian soil (which is very red, grained basalt, lots of iron) gives these wines a special note!

Jasper Hill 2009 Cornelia Vineyard ~ Fantastic red fruit aromas upfront. Clean purity. Well-balanced, elegant, superb acidity & concentration. Wonderful red & black fruit, raspberries & blackcherries. Long finish, with fine tannins.

Jasper Hill 2009 Shiraz Georgia Poddock Vineyard ~ Beautiful aromatics. Dark, ripe plums, with herbal components. Superb balance, acidity & concentration. Very elegant, compex. Good fresh, dark fruit. Dark plums, blackberries & blueberries. Some spicy & smoky notes on the finish. Fine Tannins.

Off we went to our lovely accommodation: The Emu Inn, where we had supper with 8 more wineries.

Keep posted …2 more days to go!

Australia ~ Day 3 (the hottest, with 27 stickies)

Jens’ trip continues … the hottest day on the trip (and of the year according to the locals!):

We took off from the Butter Factory (Strathbogie Ranches) — without seeing any snakes, but one really big (~ 4” in diameter), gentle spider in Rob’s bedroom — for a 2-hour ride northeast to meet one of “the” winemakers in Australia: Rick Kinzbrunner of Giaconda.

Rick is the son of an Austrian immigrant & started the winery in 1985 with some wonderful Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Shiraz. James Halliday (the Australian Robert Parker) gave these wines “super-cult status” which, when we tasted them, we could only agree.

Old vine Shiraz grapes at the Giaconda estate.Rick, a down to earth farmer who really loves wine (his private collection is quite impressive!), showed us the winery & his new project (a cave under the winery for barrel storage & some of his private cellar). We were invited for lunch at his home after a beautiful tour through the vineyards. Lunch included fresh caught trout, charcuterie, an assembly of local chesses & fresh salad paired with some of his wines. An unforgettable moment.

Rick telling us about the local faire before we ate.

The region is in many ways a transition between the really, chilly, high altitude Alpine Valleys to the south & warm , flat Rutherglen to the north. It’s hilly more than mountainous & the temperature is cool without being too cold. The vines are mainly grown on granite gravel ridges & loamy, gravel, clay slopes. Here are some tasting notes:

Giaconda 2008 Chardonnay ~ Reductive character, gunflint minerality. Tastes like a very elegant Puligny-Montrachet. Very finessed, with superb texture & acidity. Wonderful flavors of pear, apples, hazelnuts & almonds with a wonderful citric backbone. Long, elegant finish.

Giaconda 2008 Pinot Noir ~ A blend from Yarra Valley & Beechworth. Smooth, soft, medium-bodied with fine cherry & raspberry fruit. Beautiful minerality, spice & herbal components. Long, smooth, spicy finish.

Giaconda 2005 Mantua Vineyard Pinot Noir ~ Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, hazelnut skin with cherries. Fantastic texture & acidity. Super interesting to say the least.

Giaconda 2005 Shiraz Worner Vinyard ~ Beautiful dark, plumy, blackberry fruit. Herbal & spicy, well-balanced & elegant. Superb structure & texture. Smooth finish with fine tannins.

Sadly, none of these wines make it to the US, so unless you make to Beechworth, you won’t have the great pleasure of tasting these wines.

Castagna vineyards ~ view from Julian’s back porch

After lunch we took off to see his neighboring winery, Castagna, a 20 minute drive down the road, to meet “the wine whisperer”, Julian Castagna, owner & winemaker (pictured below). In his eyes, communication with soil is everything. He farms strictly biodynamically since he started in 1998. We tasted a lot of wines with him, some very interesting:

Castagna 2008 Adam’s Rib White ~ A Chardonnay/Viognier blend, all estate grown. Clean, ripe, notes of peach & apricot. Citrus & lime on the mid-palate. Nice, fresh finish.

Castagna 2008 Secreto ~ Indeed a secret. Failed the blind tasting. But who would have guessed a Sangiovese/Syrah blend. Very intense nose of black fruit with herbal components. Big, full-bodied, complex. Lot’s of dark fruit & a very long finish.

Castagna 2008 Sangiovese ~ Big, dark red & black fruit upfront. Big, full-bodied, lots of dark fruit. Great acidity, structure & concentration. Superlong finish…

Keep in mind that this was the hottest day of the trip, and after tasting all these big reds, we headed out for Chambers Rosewood to taste 27 (!) different “Stickies”, the Australian term for dessert wine. The crew had only one dream: an icecold draft! Pit-stop necessary. A beer never tasted that good.

In Rutherglen (northeastern Victoria) we visited a very old, absolutely fascinating winery: Chambers Rosewood & its owners Bill Chambers (pictured below) & his son, Steven.

You need to be there to believe it. I felt I was in a very old antique store.

The winery was founded in 1858 after the gold rush & Steven Chambers (pictured right below), co-owner, is the sixth generation winemaker.

Chambers Rosewood specializes in dessert wines (ports as well as fortified Muscadelle & Tokay).  Below is a great photo of Rob & Dawn, exhausted, working their way through 27 stickies.  These were so excellent, though, with outstanding acidity, that some were even refreshing.

Chambers Rosewood NV Rutherglen ~ Burnt sugar, caramel on the nose. Flavors of brown sugar, caramel, toffee. Wonderful acidity & mouthfeel. Long, beautiful finish.

Chambers Rosewood NV Grand ~ Spicy, smoky, with brown sugar & caramel. Tight, lots of acidity. Deep, long, beautiful flavor profile. For the ages!

Chambers Rosewood NV Rare ~ Unbelievable: Fantastic, big nose, loaded with toffee, molasses & brown sugar. Super-smooth with fantastic acidity. Very long, persistent finish.

Chambers Rosewood NV Muscadelle ~ Sweet raisins upfront. Very smooth, silky, velvety texture. Fantastic fruit. Butterscotch, toffee, caramel. Long, smooth finish.

After the tasting, Steven gave us a tour of the vineyards. (100 year old Muscat pictured above; beautiful port grapes below).
It was almost evening, when finished with a tour of the winery:

What a delight! After Chambers, we were off to have dinner and meet with 10+ wineries attending.

Stay tuned for Day 4! 

Australia’s Pinot Country ~ Day 2 (on the road)

Note:  You have to get to the end of the day (after Plunkett Fowles) to hear the quote of the day…

On day two in the Yarra Valley we visited the De Bortoli Winery which is located in the picturesque northern part of the valley. Steve Webber, co-owner & chief winemaker & Sarah Fagen, assistant winemaker, gave us a beautiful tour through the estate & led us through a stunning tasting.

De Bortoli’ s first vineyards were planted in 1971 on mainly eastern & southern facing slopes. Steve Webber, former chief winemaker of Lindemans, likes wines with more soil character.

Steve was a passionate winemaker & fun to talk to.

LA crew at that tasting table with Sarah Fagan, asst winemaker (in red)

Here are some of the highlights:
De Bortoli 2010 Edelzwicker ~ A blend of Gewuerztraminer, Riesling & Pinot Gris. Slightly honeyed nose with beautiful flavors of peach, apricot & citrus. Fantastic balance, texture & structure. Great acidity & a fresh, long finish.

De Bortoli 2008 Reserve Chardonnay ~ Inviting pear & honeyed nose. Fantastic mouthfeel. Smooth, soft, elegant. Delicious pear, apple fruit with some citrus. Great, long finish. Wine is made from the oldest estate wines.

De Bortoli 2008 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir ~ Elegant aromas of red fruit. Complex, elegant, lovely fruit of raspberries & cherries. Good acidity & texture. Long finish.

De Bortoli 2008 Reserve Syrah ~ Spicy, plenty of substance, big, but smooth texture. Ripe fruit. Wonderful tannins on the big finish.

Orchards on the Yering Station grounds

After a wonderful visit at De Bortoli’s we took off to Yering Station, one of the biggest wineries in the Yarra Valley, to meet Willy Lunn (pictured below),  the chief winemaker.

Dawn tasting as Yering Station

Willy Lunn, a well-travelled man, who has lots of cool climate winemaker experience, & worked in Champagne, Burgundy & Oregon (Argyle). He has been the chief winemaker since 2008 & believes that great wines comes from doing what you need to do to suit the grapes & using the terroir to its fullest.

Yering Station was founded in 1988 & owns 112 hectares of vineyards in the Upper, Middle & Lower Valley.

Barrels (above) & bottling (below) at Yering Station.

Here is what we tasted:
Yering Station 2009 Chardonnay ~ Fragrant, pure nose, with white peach fruit, pear, melon & citrus, with hints of minerals. Nice oak. Elegant, with good length.

Yering Station 2002 Pinot Noir Reserve ~ Fine aromas of red cherries & raspberries. Lots of herbal & spicy character on the mid-palate. Good acidity, elegant & complex.

Yering Station 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ~ Beautiful perfumed, dark fruit. Slightly sweet. Good acidity & concentration. Fine tannins on the finish.

Taking off from Yering Station we were heading north for 2 and 1/2 hours in 104 degrees to Plunkett-Fowles at Strathbogie Ranges. Yes, we hit the heat wave for three days. On the way, Billy Joel tunes from the lap-top from my LA fellows & the hunt for kangaroos made for an entertaining drive. The highlight:  30 minutes on a dirt road to the Plunkett-Fowles Winery on top of Strathbogie Ranges.

Our terrific driver, Brian, & Sam Plunkett, owner/winemaker

The Strathbogie Ranges is located about 100km North of Melbourne. The region is at latitude 36-37 & is typically elevated with the majority of vineyards planted 400-500 meters above sea level, grown on granite soils of sandy loam over a clay base.

View from the winery; vineyards are mid-photo to the left.

The Strathbogie Ranges were officially recognized as a region in 2001. The first vineyards were planted in 1960 by Alan Plunkett. The Plunkett-Fowles vineyards were planted as part of an emerging understanding of the importance of cool climate fruit in making fine table wine.

If you think it looks hot, you’re right!

Main varietals are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay & Riesling. The main tasting highlights were:

Plunkett-Fowles 2010 Stone Dweller Riesling ~ Floral, spicy, fresh, crisp. Apricot, peach & persistent lime aromas & flavors. Very minerally, with good acidity & complexity. Long, fresh finish.

Punkett-Fowles 2006 The Rule Shiraz ~ Found a treasure right here! Rich, dense, with complex aromas of licorice, ripe black fruit, dark chocolate & spicy pepper notes, integrating into the flavors. Long, beautiful finish, with fine grained tannins.

We included some pictures of our accommodations, an old converted butter factory. A very interesting, picturesque spot owned by a beautiful host (pictures left), who earned the quote of the day with:  Please make sure you close the door so that the snakes are not able to enter the establishment(?!)

Stay tuned…

Australia’s Pinot Noir Country ~ A Photo Journal

Here it is!  Jens’ crazy trip to Australian Pinot Country:

You get to time travel on your way to Australia (which was kind of fun), losing a day on your way there & reliving a day on your way back. Would you believe me if I told you the trip was strenuous (in a hot weather, long trips, lots of wine sort of way).  Australian Pinot Noir (little known in the US) hit the West Coast market about a year ago and the invitees (from Seattle, Dawn Smith, Sommelier & Wine Buyer at Purple Café in Bellevue and me; Rob Harpest, Russel Meek & Marie Near-Meek representing wine businesses in LA) had shown great interest in and sold a lot of Aussie Pinot over the last year, thus winning an invitation from WINE AUSTRALIA (our host) to learn first hand about the wine coming out of Victoria, Australia’s cool-weather wine region.  We attended a 3-day Pinot Celebration outside of Melbourne and then hit the road:

Rob, Dawn, Marie, Russell & me (Jens) above Mornington Peninsula

Sunday, Jan 30 ~ We left the Pinot Conference at about 1pm, heading out for Giant Steps, one of the largest producers in the Yarra Valley, where we had an unforgettable day with  Steve Flamsteed, winemaker of Giant Steps & Innocent Bystander.  It was an impressive, modern facility:

But more interesting was Steve, a passionate winemaker & former cheesemaker, who gave us the low- down on the Yarra Valley while driving out to the spectacular vineyards.

With the first vineyard planted in 1838, the Yarra Valley is Victoria’s oldest wine region. Located in the wine belt surrounding Melbourne, this region is cooler and higher (up to 400m) than its neighbors. Although it is located inland, it does receive some benefit from the ocean, which is approximately 70km to the southwest. The region is highly regarded for its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & it Bordeaux blends.

Giants Steps 2008 Chardonnay~ Beautiful flavors of pear, melon, apples, combined with nice citrus notes. Great structure & texture. Wonderful refreshing finish.

Giants Steps 2008 Harry’s Monster ~ A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot & Cabernet Franc. Beautiful black fruit on the nose with herbal & spicy components. Beautiful texture, complexity & elegance. Wonderful dark fruit, dark chocolate with hints of mint & other herbs. Super long finish.

Giant Steps was founded in 2001 with accelerating quality. Rock on Steve!!!  Note: The only Giant Steps available in Seattle is Pinot Noir, which we will feature in our next Portlais Wine Club.

Stay tuned for day 2 on the road: De Bartoli, Yering Station & Plunkett Fowles.