22 Aug 2011

Is this the most exciting winemaker in Australia?

I think it is only fitting that my first official wine post be about a producer in my spiritual wine home - the Yarra Valley - as I started my wine career working in the cellar door at Chandon before moving into the marketing department. Having worked in the region for over three years and driven over most of it, this was pretty interesting...

On the 15th of this month I was lucky enough to be invited to a day exploring the Mac Forbes stomping ground, including a harrowing micro-flight over the region to see each of the many vineyards he sources from. It's been a while since I suffered motion sickness - as a child I couldn't be in a car for more than 4 hours without throwing up - but this flight certainly brought something back up (pun intended, though not literally thank god!) Whilst it was extremely interesting to see the extent and diversity of this misunderstood region from such a height, I struggled with the turbulence and was pretty quiet for the second half of the flight, glad to be back on solid ground once we landed. The helicopter  flight above the McLaren Vale a few months ago was slightly more relaxing.

Quite a view from high above the valley
After a brief interlude at the Coldstream vineyard for some respite, it was on to the exquisite Bella Vedere for a tasting and lunch. The 2010 MF wines look fantastic, and it was a great excercise to see how each vineyard had a different influence on the pinot and chardonnay varieties. It was also a great exercise in showing how diverse the Valley is from North to South, with robust and dark cherry characters for pinot in Dixons Creek (plus some interesting pepper and clove), to bright tight and red cherry/raspberry character in Woori Yallock. The Woori Yallock vineyard is clearly producing some excellent fruit as the 2010 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were the highlights.

Some interesting discussion was enjoyed over the tasting, about the variety of styles exhibited in the range, and the nature of producing styles one is passionate about and enjoys drinking. Whilst I personally loved the Woori Yallock wines as they were reminiscent of some of my favourite Morgnington pinots, I noted that there were several wines that were more reflective of the broader Yarra Valley style that a lot of people would enjoy, particularly the Gruyere and Yarra Junction Pinots. Similarly there was a richer quality to the Hoddles Creek and Gruyere Chardonnays that I can appreciate, but prefer the austerity and minerality of the Woori Yallock Chardonnay.

Illustrious company indeed.
Back vintage Mac Forbes wines were lovingly imbibed over a delicious lunch prepared by Gary Cooper and team, accompanied by further discussion (some of which I had to edit out because it related to football). A couple of non-Mac Forbes wines were made available, including a 2010 SBS blend from one of the MF vineyards, and a delish white burgundy that Phillip RIch brings in. The magnums of Grand Cru Egly-Ouriet Rose open when we arrived were most definitely appreciated. I was interested to note Max Allen's passion for the Hugh Cabernet blend 2008, which is a personal fav and supports my assertion that YV Bordeaux blends should be done more in the YV. I was further interested to discover the 2007 vintage was even better for this wine, I'd love a chance to try that one, it'd go straight to the pool room.

A tasty morsel to kick lunch off.
Quite full and jolly I was kindly given a lift back into town, where I headed down to the docklands for the Nelson Trade Tasting. Highlights were undoubtedly the Leeuwin Estate wines (three vintage of Art Series Chardonnay, holy moly!), meeting the great Dan Buckle from Mount Langi Ghiran, and the 2007 Spinetta Barbaresco we enjoyed with a steak afterwards, although it was criminal to drink the wine so young and pay so much for it ($195, not happy Jan). All in all it was a great day, thanks to Mac and his team, and of course Rob and Stuart from Bibendum for including me. 

14 Aug 2011

One journey ends, another begins...

Well, after three-and-a-half years of (mostly) hard slog, I have officially completed my Masters of Wine Business. I can't say it hasn't been a challenge undertaking this degree as an external student, even though it was by coursework. It took me back to when I was in Japan as an exchange student (way back in 1999) and I was taking Year 11 subjects by distance education. It was hard to get feedback or bounce ideas off other students, and naturally there was an element of parochialism as I was expected to ignore any wine, winery or region that wasn't South Australian. Writing a five-year comprehensive business plan for a Barossa Valley winery was both eye-opening and difficult.

If my studies and experience has taught me anything, it's that you can never know enough about wine, and people are always keen to learn more. Rather than take the logical step of moving directly into either sales or marketing in the industry, I thought I would take the opportunity of a strong Aussie dollar coupled with no comitments keeping me in Australia, to travel around the wine world to learn more. So with apprehension and exitement I am now in the midst of planning my trip, and am always open to suggestions. I have allocated a certain amount of time in each country in North America, South America and Europe, but beyond general periods of time in each region, I am fairly open.

The first part of my journey will consist of travelling up the west coast of the United States through California, Oregon and Washington. Having seen Sideways many times, and being familiar with the Judgement of Paris, California intrigues me as a wine producer, as it is one third larger than the entire Australian wine industry, yet produces some amazing Cabernet, Chardonnay and Zinfandel. As a rabid pinot fanatic it is only natural that I look forward to my time in Oregon, and I am also keen to see what Washinton has to offer. My time in Canada will partly be for wine, but also to visit a place I have been interested in for many years. With a detour via the New York state wineries, Boston and NYC I will head down to South America.

Using Santiago as a base the regions of Chile will be my next stop, and I can't wait for the Chilean hospitality. Having looked into the Chilean industry in my studies I will be interested to see what direction they are taking for the future. After a short stop in Mendoza and Salta, I am looking forward to spending Christmas and New Years in Brazil with my friends. If I have time I might even try some wines there. Then it's onto the big one: Europe.

Once I have caught up with friends in Paris, Belgium, Amsterdam and Dusseldorf (with a stop in Champagne), the European Grand Tour begins. Working in a clockwise direction, the countries will be as follows: Germany (4 weeks), Austria (2 weeks), Italy (8 weeks), South of France (1-2 weeks), Spain & Portugal (6 weeks), rest of France (3 weeks). During August whislt mainland Europe is on holidays I'll enjoy the sunshine in UK for the Olympics and Edinburgh Festival. With luck I'll then return to France to work vintage, before heading home via South Korea.

I'm pretty excited and am looking forward to making plans over the next 7 weeks, time is going to be pretty tight. I'll make some periodic posts about stuff I am tasting in the shop or at trade events, but I look forward to starting the blog properly once I get to the States.