Grapevine Archive for NZ & Australia 2014

Thu 16 Oct 2014

South Australia: Five Regions in Five Days

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Landing in Adelaide late on a Saturday night, Tim (Sykes, head of buying) and I were pretty relived to have our first day off in two weeks the following morning. I spent most of my Sunday sleeping, and washing the full contents of my suitcase with the prospect of a further two weeks’ travel, beginning with five regions in five days:

Rainbow in the Barossa

Rainbow in the Barossa

Day One

Peter Gago and Steve Lienert

Peter Gago and Steve Lienert

Tim and I started the day at Magill Estate with esteemed winemakers Peter Gago and Steve Lienert. After an unexpected but particularly wonderful breakfast we were privileged to try a number of back-vintage Penfolds wines. It was wonderful to talk these vintages through with Peter and Steve in preparation for The Wine Society’s upcoming Penfolds offer (autumn 2015).

We then took the hire car south to Langhorne Creek to see long-term Society supplier Bleasdale. One of the oldest wineries in Australia, Bleasdale was founded by Frank Potts in 1850. We had a great tasting and confirmed the blend for the next vintage of The Society’s Australian Shiraz.

Day Two
Having driven to the Barossa the previous evening, we began the day at Yalumba, went from there to Heartland and to visit Ben Glaetzer, lunch in Tanunda, and off to Torbreck and Lehmann.

Ben Glaetzer

Ben Glaetzer

A busy but fulfilling day: many great intense wines with lots of character, and increasing elegance. Some of the best wines we tried were older examples, confirming our belief that Australia’s wines can age and improve wonderfully.

A basket press at Rockford

Basket press at Rockford

Day Three

A camouflaged kangaroo at Clare Valley

A camouflaged kangaroo at Clare Valley.

An early morning drive to Clare Valley to see Grosset, Wakefield, Killakanoon and Wendouree.

We were delighted with Grosset’s new vintages of Gaia, Springvale and Polish Hill – all of which we were happy to confirm our allocation on.

Wendouree was both a high and low light in the trip: Tony was a wonderful host, and meticulous winemaker. We had a very rare tour of the Burgundy-esque winery and a tasting from barrels. However, the popularity of the wines domestically confirmed our worries that really there isn’t enough stock to ship.

‘It’s a long game,’ Tim reminded me on the way out, and I am happy to play!

Day Four
Our fourth day saw us in the McLaren Vale, with a very busy day fitting in Steve Pannell, Richard Hamilton, d’Arenberg, Dowie Doole and Wirra Wirra! Steve has a wonderful new winery which looked great and the large range set us up for the day. I hope everyone has filled their boots with our recent first release on the d’Arenberg icons as they were really looking smart (although need a bit of cellaring).

d'Arenberg: winemaker Chester Osborn with one of the 'Dead Arm' vines

d’Arenberg: winemaker Chester Osborn with one of the ‘Dead Arm’ vines

Arachnophobes beware!

Arachnophobes beware!

Finishing the day at Wirra Wirra with Paul was educational – a great tour and tasting, including a tasting of the new blend for our Society’s Australian Chardonnay.

Andrew, Sam and Paul - the team at Wirra Wirra

Andrew, Sam and Paul – the team at Wirra Wirra

Day Five
Tim had caught a very early morning flight home, but fear not – today was an Adelaide Hills day. Enlightening tastings with Geoff Weaver, Petaluma and Shaw and Smith were most reinvigorating at this point in the schedule, and I hope to highlight some of these wines in next year’s Australian offer.

Petaluma: Andrew Hardy

Petaluma: Andrew Hardy

So a jam-packed week, with some exceptional wines, wonderful people and many miles in the hire car.

Not that I rested on Day Six – that’s when I managed to squeeze in Eden Valley and the Henschkes before flying on to Western Australia!

Henschke's 'great-grandfather' vineyard

Henschke’s ‘great-grandfather’ vineyard

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for Australia

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Having just returned from Australia I seem to find myself daydreaming on the train from London to Stevenage, and the same image keeps appearing – triggered I am sure by the foggy Hertfordshire countryside I speed through!

Foggy vines in Yarra

I love this photo as, although only taken at the very beginning of spring, it really dispels the ‘sun-in-a-glass’ image of Australia.

It was taken in the cooler-climate region of the Yarra Valley, where I spent a lot of time with Mac Forbes.

Mac Forbes in his barrel room at Yarra

Mac Forbes in his barrel room at Yarra

Not only does Mac mastermind our Blind Spot range (you can see him talking about this range in the below video), but he also makes his own fine wines in Healsville, Yarra, and this is one of his vineyards.

Upon visiting, Mac, Tim (Sykes, head of buying) and I had to perfrom a little ritual – dipping our shoes into a bleach solution to ensure that we didn’t walk any nasties into the currently phylloxera-free vineyard.

Mac climbing his barrels.

Mac climbing his barrels.

This attention to detail and care for the vines was replicated as we visited a number of Mac’s immaculately tended vineyards (where we also spotted our first wild kangaroos – welcome to Oz!).

Back in Mac’s winery, evidence of his detailed approach continued. We tried many chardonnay and pinot noir barrel samples, with meticulous explanations of the exact vine-row locations that were in each barrel. It was wonderful to have these differences laid out so clearly, and precisely showed why Macs range is so vineyard specific.

Trying the 2013-bottled new-vintage wines at the end of the visit was a treat; and one which you can also enjoy soon, as I have just ordered my favourites! They will be available from The Society in the New Year – including this time 2 examples of Mac’s stellar chardonnays to go with his already popular pinots.

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for Australia

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Fri 05 Sep 2014

A Visit To Central Otago

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Flying into Queenstown is spectacular: snow-capped mountains, glacial gorges and ski runs all visible.

Flying into Queenstown is spectacular: snow-capped mountains, glacial gorges and ski runs all visible.

Wonderfully, the wines on this trip stood up to the pretty astonishing surroundings.

I had a wonderful tasting with Annika, owner of the small but perfectly formed Mount Koinga vineyard. The Wine Society has been the exclusive customer for the wines from this property managed by Mike and hand crafted by Paul Pujol at Prophet’s Rock.

Mount Koinga: Paul (winemaker) Annika (owner) and Mike (viticulturist)

Mount Koinga: Paul (winemaker) Annika (owner) and Mike (viticulturist)

I went on, with Paul, to visit a number of his vineyards including the one where the Exhibition Central Otago Pinot is sourced from.

Rocky Point - the source of our Exhibition Central Otago Pinot Noir

Rocky Point – the source of our Exhibition Central Otago Pinot Noir

The fruits of these vines make up the Exhibition wine

The fruits of these vines make up the Exhibition wine

Aptly named Rocky Point, as you can see from the photos, it is on a steep aspect overlooking the mirror-like Lake Dunstan and snow-capped mountains beyond. A tough vineyard for vines, encouraging complex flavours to develop in these concentrated grapes.

Paul Pujol in the Rocky Point vineyard...

Paul Pujol in the Rocky Point vineyard…

...and with Society head of buying Tim Sykes.

…and with Society head of buying Tim Sykes.

I was able to try the next vintage of the Exhibition wine which, although just bottled, had plenty of sour cherry and cranberry notes, fine tannins and great length.

Prophet's Rock: Rocky Point vineyard

A full tasting of the wines from Prophet’s Rock including some back vintages also really demonstrated how well the pinots and rieslings can age, becoming very complex and fine.

Prophets Rock

On to Victoria on this whistlestop trip.

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for New Zealand

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Wed 03 Sep 2014

A Buying Trip to Marlborough

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I am currently on my first buying trip Down Under with The Wine Society.

Traffic in Marlborough

Traffic in Marlborough

Marlborough lived up to its great reputation, with added sheep! I had two full days here, seeing 12 producers spanning long-term Society favourites to new suppliers.

Brent Marris with his Three Terraces Sauvignon Blanc, produced exclusively for The Society.

Brent Marris with his Three Terraces Sauvignon Blanc, produced exclusively for The Society.

All in all I managed to taste the new 2014 sauvignons from Greywacke, Seresin, Villa Maria, Brent Marris‘s Three Terraces, te Pa, Dog Point, Framinghams, Isabel, Lawsons, Wither Hills, Mahi and last, but by no means least, Hunter’s.

Everyone is describing 2014 as the vintage of two halves: those who picked before the rains (harvesting healthy concentrated grapes) and those who didn’t (who got left with dilute swollen fruit). I am delighted to assure you that all of our producers worked hard this vintage to pick early and carefully craft some wonderful 2014s. What’s more, I hope the photos from our travels – a menagerie of farm animals and talented winemakers – dispel any ideas of very large corporate wineries. We really are working with the cream of the crop.

The 2014 sauvignons that I tried had great purity, typical concentration, and fresh acidity. I also had the opportunity to work with a number of winemakers to blend our own unique wines which I hope you will enjoy next year!

Cows...

Cows…

...and working horses, at Seresin.

…and working horses, at Seresin.


I can’t write this blog post without quickly mentioning the unsung heroes of the tastings though: chardonnay and pinot noir. Without a doubt these made up some of the best wines I tried over the two days.

The 2013 and 2014 Marlborough chardonnays were tasting wonderfully, rich in apple and citrus flavours, integrated and balanced oak notes, and plenty of cut lemon acidity. We’ll definitely be stocking a few more in 2015.

Dog Point's Ivan and Matt Sutherland

Dog Point’s Ivan and Matt Sutherland

Dixie, the winery dog at Greywacke

Dixie, the winery dog at Greywacke

The pinots also really shone. Elegant, tightly grained with opulent red berry fruit perfume, the 2013s were showing well.

Head of buying Tim Sykes (left) with the team at Hunter's

Head of buying Tim Sykes (left) with the team at Hunter’s

Roll on Central Otago and then on to Oz!

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for New Zealand

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Mon 01 Sep 2014

Kumeu River – A Family ‘Domaine’

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Society New Zealand buyer Sarah Knowles and I arrived in Auckland Friday before last, after a 26-hour flight from London. Within a couple of hours of landing we were sampling some of the greatest chardonnays that New Zealand (if not the entire Southern Hemisphere) has to offer, venturing 15 miles north of the city to the Kumeu River suburb, home to the eponymous winery.

Melba Brajkovich

Melba Brajkovich

Kumeu River is one of the first New Zealand producers with whom The Wine Society worked, and is very much a family affair. The late Maté Brajkovich first planted vines in the area in 1944, and his wife Melba is still at the winery most days, welcoming visitors from around the world and telling the Kumeu story with infectious enthusiasm.

Michael with his homemade 'ear trumpet' used for detecting when the malolactic fermentations start and finish.

Michael with his homemade ‘ear trumpet’ used for detecting when the malolactic fermentations start and finish.

Melba and Maté had four children, and all are closely involved in the business today, in different capacities. Michael is the winemaker, and the first ever Kiwi to be awarded the Master of Wine qualification, back in 1989. He took us on a fascinating tour of the cellar, pipette in hand, treating us to an extensive and very impressive barrel tasting of the 2014 chardonnays.

It was like being in a small Burgundy domaine, sampling wines from different vineyards and from barrels sourced from several different Burgundian coopers. 2014 is one of those rare vintages (in the Kumeu area at least) that produced high-quality grapes in copious quantity. The wines that we tasted had not begun the malolactic fermentation, but the potential was there for all to see, and Michael could barely contain his excitement for the 2014 wines, particularly after the tiny 2013 crop.

Milan Brajkovich, one of Michael’s siblings and the vineyard manager at Kumeu, then took us into a couple of the estate’s most highly regarded vineyards. Maté’s is the original vineyard, and consistently produces the best wines from Kumeu.

Milan Brajkovich with Society buyer Sarah Knowles at the Hunting Hill vineyard

Milan Brajkovich with Society buyer Sarah Knowles at the Hunting Hill vineyard

Members might be interested to know that The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay comes from a small vineyard attached to Maté’s. We are lucky to have exclusive access to this high quality fruit, and at £13.50 the wine represents a genuine bargain, giving a real flavour for the style its big brother, Maté’s. We also paid a visit to the Hunting Hill vineyard which, like all of the family-owned vineyards, is trellised using the lyre system, which ensures that yields are kept under control and air circulation is maximised, thus reducing the incidence of botrytis (rot) in this relatively humid climate.

The vineyard visit over, Sarah and I tasted newly bottled 2012 wines, which are due to be released next year. The entire range of chardonnays showed the classic minerality and crystalline freshness that Kumeu River has made its hallmarks over the past 20 years. A great visit to kick off our visit to the Antipodes.

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying

Categories : New Zealand
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