Grapevine Archive for February, 2011
In his fourth and final installment for Society Grapevine, Ben Glaetzer (director and chief winemaker of Heartland and Stickleback wines) updates members on how the 2011 vintage is shaping up in Australia.We’re now into the third week in February, our fruit is ripening well on the vine and still not a berry harvested. According to a few of our Barossa old-timers 2011 is the latest-starting vintage for more than 50 years which is quite remarkable. Weather is obviously the determining factor and we’ve had a wet and mild growing season to this point. Frost has been minimal and ripening has been steady. There’s been a couple of scorching days, namely New Year’s Day at just over 44 degrees, but in comparison to the last decade or so the climate has been kind.
At this time last year we’d harvested all of our Langhorne Creek pinot gris for Heartland, the semillon for Stickleback was nearing the end of its cool, slow fermentation and the verdelho had in fact already turned into wine. A few batches of shiraz had been harvested, fermented and were maturing in oak, and a trial batch of sangiovese that I was playing around with was bubbling away on skins. The delayed start does have positive ramifications for the leisure time of our cellar staff; however there’s a general feeling of anticipation – the calm before the storm.
There’s little positivity further north of us in the Riverland area of South Australia where huge expanses of vineyards supply the large commercial brands of chardonnay, cabernet and shiraz. High rainfall and humidity have combined to cause outbreaks of powdery mildew that have decimated the livelihoods of many growers and impacted heavily on the profitability of the corporate vineyard ventures. Strangely enough there’s talk of a shortage of chardonnay for 2011. Not many in the Australian wine industry have heard the words “chardonnay” and “shortage” used in the same sentence for decades. That shouldn’t bother too many Wine Society members though as you should all be drinking semillon, verdelho and pinot gris!
I’m heading out to have a look through a few of our Barossa vineyards this morning with one of our fourth generation growers. Even though little is happening on the harvesting front we always manage to spend most of the day walking up and down vineyard rows chatting about the industry, the changes, the future.
I wish all the Wine Society members well in the coming year. When the 2011 wines from Australia start to appear in The Society List later this year and into next, you’ll be able to at least have some insight into how the vintage was shaping up!
Day two and the weather’s not so good: damp and foggy. Up to see the vineyards overlooking Riquewihr: really very steep and difficult to work. Cheerfully told the Moselle is worse.
Extraordinarily, Hugel’s whole operation is in the centre of this pretty and cramped medieval village – underground. Little sign of it in the entrance room until an almost secret door is opened…
Hugel, Trimbach and others don’t use the Grand Cru designation for their best vineyards and wines. Hugel uses ‘Jubilee’ to denote their third level, above ‘Classic’ and ‘Tradition’, and they are good. No fertilisation, sweetening (chaptalisation) or oak (of course). Founded in 1639, making The Society (1874) a recent invention by comparison.
Then onto Trimbach (1626) to taste with the 12th generation and to meet the 13th. We worked our way through the ‘09s. Austere rieslings; again hard for me to imagine how these would emerge eventually. The pinot gris and gewurz are rounder, easier to understand now. Finally a few ‘05s and a 2002 gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive, which was remarkable.
Then off to lunch: pig’s knuckle and sauerkraut. Delicious. I was warned that Jean (Trimbach) might have a quick burst of song and was not disappointed!
35 more wines at Beyer, including the 2010 pinot blanc, which was fresh and very pleasant. Again Marcel is focusing on the 2009s for his May/June offer.
Back to Basle for the flight home after not far short of 200 wines tasted in 2 days. Marcel will continue for 3 more days: 500 wines. Last year’s offer contained 35. This careful selection and expertise is at the heart of The Society – does any other merchant taste 500 Alsace wines with their growers? Marcel deserves the Specialist Merchant of the Year award.
Then, as I began, Gatwick, rain, M25, roadworks …
Flew out to spend a couple of days with Marcel Orford-Williams, buyer for Alsace. As merchant of the year for the region, good to thank growers for their support, and better to do it before France come to Twickenham.
Not such a glamorous start with the M25 blocked in the rain on Sunday afternoon, but Monday morning was delightfully warm and sunny. First stop Zind-Humbrecht for a very extensive tasting. Marcel is selecting the 2009s now, but we’re also trying some other vintages. Pinot blanc, muscat, riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, at different levels, from different vineyards, and different levels of sweetness, make up easily 50 wines to taste if one wants to be thorough. And Olivier Humbrecht is thorough.
We discussed his organic/biodynamic approach to growing wine, with no chemicals in the vineyards or the cellar (including paint); the deplorable standards of cork manufacture in years gone by, now much improved, to leave natural cork still his only closure; buds bursting two weeks earlier because of climate change, which leaves the vine more susceptible to frost; and more.
On to the Turkheim co-op, complete with storks on the chimney pots and their new solar-panelled receiving area. Good everyday wines here, but told the 2010 volumes are down and some prices must go up as a consequence. A reminder of the risks from the grower’s perspective. If the crop is short, how can income cover the costs already expended? If the vintage is not great, it must nevertheless be sold. Currency charges and recession impact their sales and livelihood severely – a good reason to sell to a wide spread of markets.
75 wines before lunch then on to Schlumberger. Family dispersed in 1870 and one branch built up rather a large engineering company, so no shortage of investment here. The great weather at harvest in 2009 meant there was no rush and grapes could be picked when they were ready over the course of 9 weeks (2006 was picked in 3).
Final stop of the day at a much smaller operation: Dirler-Cadé. A couple of sparkling Crémants to start, with 20 wines to follow. Beginning to tire! But even I can see the difference terroir and winemaker makes; some aiming for more austere, ‘pure’ styles, others rounder. The best won’t be ready for 8-10 years, so difficult (for me) to judge, but pleased that the ones I feel are most interesting more often than not coincide with Marcel’s expert opinion. Tended to think that Alsace was about dry rieslings and realising it’s much more interesting.
You may remember our post from October (The Wine Opus – Book Launch) about the launch of one of the most ambitious wine reference books to be published in the last 20 years. The Wine Opus covers 4,000 of the world’s most significant wineries, and, as the merchant with the most wines featured within it, The Society managed to negotiate a special price for members.
Members have taken full advantage of this offer and we have had many positive reviews. You will therefore be pleased to know that this offer has been extended until 31st March.*
*While stocks last.