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Wine

An organic matter

There is little doubt the organics movement is sweeping the world, particularly in relation to food. The reasons for this are simple – the belief that organic food not only tastes better, but is better for you and for the environment given it is sustainably farmed. When it comes to the wine world, the same fervent push of the organic movement is no less forceful, it’s just taken longer to catch on.

Mark Davidson, Managing Director and Chief Winemaker of Australia’s largest organic wine producer, Tamburlaine Organic Wines, reckons he knows why – a lack of understanding of organics in wine production, and a difficulty in breaking down long held practices in viticulture.

While conventional viticulture uses chemical fertilizers annually to maintain grape yields, and pesticides to indiscriminately kill bugs, organic farming only uses natural biodegradable inputs and treats bugs with a range of beneficial biodiversity such as companion plants and good bugs.

“At its heart, organic viticulture is about improving the health of soils naturally,” says Mark. “It’s about restoring organic matter, which is the home for moisture and microbiology in soils – that’s what makes soils and vines healthy.”

Conventional to contemporary

While Mark is a flag bearer for organic farming, he hasn’t always been. When he first started in winemaking at Tamburlaine in the Hunter Valley in the mid 80s, he too used conventional farming.

“I came in fairly naively, thinking the chemical providers to the wine industry must have identified what works and what doesn’t. But they didn’t always work and every time they didn’t, there was an excuse,” explains Mark.

“We have some challenging soils in the Hunter and I’d made 14 years of chemical applications to improve soils, but without much effect. So what was the alternative? That’s when I started thinking organics.

“After a long period of vineyard observation and trials, in 2002 we took the first steps toward organic certification for some of our Hunter Valley blocks. This meant a full management program which replaced synthetic chemicals, improved soil organic matter and simulated the vines’ natural defences.”

It was hard work. While there was some limited information on organic farming, hardly any of it was in relation to the wine industry, so Mark’s work into organic viticulture was pioneering. And viewed as somewhat risky.

“People thought I had lost it,” he says. “But it actually reminds me of the period when Australia changed to screw caps. Winemakers around the world thought we were mad. Nowadays, science and quality of wines aged under stelvin have proven we were right to ditch cork. I am confident it will be the same with organic winemaking. When you step back, it is really sound contemporary thinking.”

Scientifically sound

The other challenge to convincing people about organic wines is that it’s not just a bunch of hippies growing grapes and trying to make them into wine without any winemaking knowledge.  

“Twenty years ago, what had been produced in the name of organics was not necessarily good stuff,” Mark says. “But that has got nothing to do with what we do today in terms of contemporary organics farming. There is a whole lot of background science to this – it is not just some ethereal feel good philosophy.

“Science has moved quickly in our direction in providing biodegradable certified organic products for vineyards and wineries. So now there are many more tools at our disposal to make top class wine.

“I know that, so does Vanya Cullen (from Cullen Wines) in West Australia, Chester Osborn (d’Arenberg), Prue Henschke and various professionals around the country, and the world, are moving this way.

“We’re all enthused not only about the outcomes, but how practically and effectively we can farm using contemporary organic systems because science is providing improved solutions.

“So we’ve got the answers now that we didn’t have 10 years ago, to prove what we know benefits the vines without using inputs that are potentially destructive to soil. As far as sustainable viticulture goes, we now have the answers.”

Better wines

With 14 hectares of vines in the Hunter certified organic and 200 hectares recently certified in the Orange wine region, Tamburlaine’s award-winning wines are proof that organic winemaking is not only viable, but is the way of the future. Ultimately, consumers will decide by buying wines they love. But if you ask Mark two questions about his experience with organic winemaking at Tamburlaine Organic Wines, it is convincing.

Are the soils better, now?

“Yes, more organic matter and better pH –  they’re the two measureables.”

Are the wines better?

“Absolutely. The wines we are making are better than ever. And, they are of consistent quality, and that’s really important.”

Wine
Published on
3 Jul 2018

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Life
17 Must Do Hunter Valley Experiences
Words by Shonagh Walker on 8 May 2017
The Hunter Valley isn't just about cellar doors. Shonagh Walker uncovers a host of activities that may well see you extend your stay. While it's widely known as the destination to uncover  boutique cellar doors  and  world-famous wines , the Hunter Valley has another face that it's worked hard on showing to the world. From balloon rides to nature walks, festivals to art amongst the vines and even animal sanctuaries that will melt your heart, you're spoiled for choice when it comes to filling your itinerary on your weekend or family holiday. Here's a list of some of our getaway inspirations. Be Cheesy Cheese lovers should make a B-line for  The Sebel Kirkton Park  on Saturday June 17 and Sunday June 18, which mark the annual Cheese Lovers Festival. Highlights include 50 exclusive stalls featuring cheese, beer, wine and assorted cheese-related food stalls, cooking with cheese workshops, beer and cheese workshops and cheese making classes. Preceding the official start of the festival is the Classic Cheese Dinner on Friday June 16. cheeseloversfestival.com.au Get Cooking Millfield Hall Cooking School caters for corporate and private groups of eight to 20 people. All produce used is local and seasonal, with citrus and herbs grown in the Hall's garden and eggs coming straight from their own chook pen. Prices are usually around $145 per class, which includes a glass of wine, however, bespoke tutorials can include anything from roasting an entire beast and beer tasting, to matching courses with local wines, which might up the price a bit. millfieldhall.com.au Organic Fare Run by partners Matty and Jimmy Kerr, Nanna Kerr's Kitchen is a mostly organic restaurant and is a huge favourite with locals and tourists alike. Famed for dishes taken from the Kerr matriarch's menu and its farm to table ethos, this restaurant also boasts a retail space where you can purchase the pickles, relishes and jams served on site. Don't miss the Dirty Chai Pannacotta, which was created to celebrate Nanna Kerr's recent 80th birthday. nannakerrskitchen.com.au Be Proud You'll have a blast during the second annual Pokolbin Pride Festival, which this year again sees local businesses band together with wine tasting tours, live entertainment, fine dining and cocktail parties, community markets, guided bike riding winery tours and more. The festival runs from October 20-22. pokolbinpride.com.au A Day On The Green Hit Bimbadgen for this not-to-be-missed event where you'll get your fix of local and international acts teamed with a great selection of wine. This year has already seen rock icons Blondie and Cyndi Lauper entertain, with more acts every summer. When major celebs aren't singing, you can enjoy Esca restaurant and sip a generous wine selection at the cellar door. bimbadgen.com.au Take To The Skies If you fancy yourself a bit of a pilot, then Hunter Valley Joy Flights is for you. Located at Cessnock airport, the company offers Tiger Moth adventure flights where you man the cockpit and fly the plane solo once in the air (an experienced pilot is there to guide you at all times). A less adrenaline-inducing way to get elevated is by Hot Air Balloon. Hunter Valley Ballooning offers exclusive and group flights out of its Lovedale HQ every day and is a peaceful and unique way to take in the views of the region huntervalleyjoyflights.com.au Inspire Your Green Thumb With over 60 acres of international display gardens, you can easily while away a day or two in the lush haven that is the Hunter Valley Gardens, situated conveniently in the Pokolbin region. There's over eight kilometres of walking paths to explore, which reveal 10 individual feature gardens each with a unique theme. The Storybook Garden with its topiary animals including horses, teddy bears and ducks will delight kids of all ages. The Lakes Walk will take you past waterfalls, babbling brooks, Weeping Willows, a chapel and rotunda and stunning seasonal flora. The Rose Garden features over 150 varieties of roses, with around 8000 fragrant and beautiful roses in bloom and the Formal Garden, a nod to French and British garden designs, will transfix you with its manicured hedges, evergreen magnolia and 3000 bushes of Rosa chameleon roses. Make sure you stop by the Wishing Fountain - all proceeds from your wish are donated to local charities. A favourite of this scribe though, is the Italian Grotto, with its Statue of Saint Francis of Assisi (Patron Saint of Animals and the Environment), its lush lavender hedges and incredible bougainvillea. Winter marks the annual Snow Time festival (June 24 to July 16), with a giant ice-skating rink, mega ice toboggan and tubing. You can also build a snowman at in the man-made Snow Play Zone. huntervalleygardens.com.au The Block Four luxury self-contained villas and a three bedroom guesthouse comprise the secluded but stunning accommodation and winery of Block 8. Soak up views of orchards, olive groves, grapevines, open fields and distant mountain ranges as you meet kangaroos and wallabies, sugar gliders, swans and goannas. You can even pat a couple of pigs and handfeed the ducks. Guests also receive bottles of the estate-grown single vineyard wines, generous breakfast hampers and home-baked treats for afternoon tea. blockeight.com.au Get Artsy Sculptures in the Vineyards happens throughout November, stretching across Undercliff Winery and Gallery, Stonehurst Cedar Creek Wines, Wollombi Wines and Noyce Brothers Wine. Works are by renowned local and national artists, with an estimated 100 pieces planned for 2017. sculptureinthevineyards.com.au On Your Bike As the original bike hire company in the region, Grapemobile Bicycle Hire and Tours really know their stuff. Rent from the centrally located vineyard and hire shop in Pokolbin, where you can take a private off road self-guided tour amongst the vines, sampling wines from up to nine vineyards on the way (some even provide free delivery of your purchases to the bike's hire shop). You can also choose to have the Grapemobile bus pick you up and return you from your accommodation or meeting place. All tours include mountain bikes, retro cruisers or tandems, helmets, sunscreen, bottled water, numbered VIP access pass, maps and tour options. grapemobile.com.au Organic Spa Experience There's a plethora of day spas peppered around the Hunter. UBIKA spa at the Crowne Plaza in Lovedale is noteworthy, thanks to its alliance with certified organic skin care brand, Eminence Organics. Hailing from Hungary, this nurturing range relies on ingredients such as blueberries, Arctic berries, and pomegranate. Choose from an array of facials and body treatments including Vichy showers, wraps and exfoliation. Other fantastic spa experiences include iconic Spa Elysia Golden Door, which has partnered with Certified Organic skin care range, Divine Woman and Chateau Elan at The Vintage, where you can enjoy a glass of bubbles in the outdoor Jacuzzi before or after your treatment. crowneplazahuntervalley.com.au goldendoor.com.au ,  chateauelan.com.au Luxe Getaway Just Desserts Sweet tooth? Book a table at Sabor. Famed for its Portuguese Chocolate Mousse made from owner Fernando's grandmother's recipe from 70 years ago, there are over 50 desserts on the menu and each can be paired beautifully with local wines. There are gluten-free options too, as well as Glinelli coffee and a selection of teas. saborinthehunter.com.au A Berry Nice Time Few things taste as sweet as organic, bio-dynamically farmed blueberries, fresh from the bush. At Misty Valley Farm, you can pick your own punnet and enjoy the intense flavour straight away, or freeze your harvest for up to two years. Berry picking season is Dec/Jan, but at other times you can lap up the farm environment in the boutique accommodation, which sleeps up to four people and includes organic farm fresh eggs in the breakfast hamper. mistyvalleyblueberries.com Take A Stroll If you're still feeling energetic and want (or need) to walk off a few calories, take one of several walking trails through Barrington Tops National Park. Choose from easy walks, overnight hikes, or simply enjoy a picnic by the stunning Barrington Tops Falls. Those after more action can 4WD. nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/barrington-tops-national-park See Pigs Fly Where Pigs Fly is a registered charity and sanctuary located in the Lower Hunter region, dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and caring for farmed animals that have been treated cruelly, abused or neglected. With various open days and sanctuary tours (bookings essential) throughout the year, the team is committed to educating guests about the importance of treating all animals with compassion and respect. An open day will see you mingling with pigs, lambs, chickens and cows, living life as they should be - free range and organically. wherepigsfly.org Lush Lavender Daniela Riccio bought Little Valley Lavender Farm five years ago and while she still grows over 100 lavender bushes, the farm is mostly an organic garlic producer, alpaca breeding base and fleece retailer, bee keeper and miniature cattle grazier. It's is also a part of the Department of Primary Industries' Visit My Farm program, whereby city slickers can spend a day learning about farm life. littlevalleyfarm.com.au
Wine
Hunter Valley Shiraz Member Tasting
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 31 Aug 2016
Hunter Valley  winemakers have embraced their unique style of Shiraz and it’s set to become a timeless classic Fashion is a strange beast. Whether it’s moulding what we wear, what we eat or the car we drive, it’s hard to escape its influence. Even winemaking is at the mercy of fashion with critics often the ones to set the trends. One of recent history’s greatest influencers has been Robert Parker Jr, a US-based doyen of wine who has been described in  The Wall Street Journal   as being “widely regarded as the world’s most powerful wine critic.” Parker has always shown a predilection for  Barossa  Shiraz with its bold, generous, full-bodied characters and during the 1990s he really helped put this South Australian region on the world wine stage. But where did that leave other regions whose Shiraz fell short of Parker’s preference for the voluptuous? According to Hunter Valley winemaker Andrew Thomas,  Shiraz  producers in his region attempted to emulate the Barossa style. “They left the fruit on the vine for longer, added tannins, used too much new oak.” That wasn’t the only challenge affecting Hunter Valley Shiraz at this time. Unfortunately, some of the region’s wineries were affected by a spoilage yeast called Brettanomyces, which led to the development of the ‘sweaty saddle or barnyard character’ you might have heard associated with the style. While it should be savoury, Andrew says, Hunter Shiraz shouldn’t have these characters. An Optimistic Outlook
This all added up to a crying shame because the Hunter has its own unique brand of Shiraz that’s very different to that of the Barossa, but with equal appeal. Thankfully, Andrew goes on to describe, around ten years ago, Hunter winemakers made a unified effort to rid the region of Brettanomyces. They also came to the realisation that they had something special to offer and embraced the Hunter’s distinct style of Shiraz. The key to allowing Hunter Shiraz to show its true beauty is “letting the vineyard do the talking”, says Andrew. Fellow Hunter winemaker and Hunter Valley Living Legend Phil Ryan agrees, calling the vineyard the “principle number one factor” in Shiraz success. Add to that vine age and site selection, where you’ve got red soils over limestone, and you’ve got a winning formula. The result is a style of Shiraz that’s vibrant, fruit driven and, as Phil describes, “more user friendly”. While in the past winemakers had to rely on bottle ageing to soften the wines, Phil says, today “they’re basically made to drink as they’re bottled.” That’s not to say that Hunter Shiraz has lost its capacity to age. “The great vineyards have the potential to mature for decades,” Phil says. So Hunter winemakers are excited about their Shiraz and success is rolling in on the wine show front, but does this equate to consumer appeal? Happily, contemporary Hunter winemakers now have fashion on their side. Having recently returned from a European sojourn, Phil experienced first hand the demand for fresh, flavoursome reds with a lighter tannin structure. “Hunter Shiraz with its medium body and fruit sweetness on the palate can compete with what people see as modern red wines – Sangiovese  ,  Tempranillo  or even  Pinot Noir  from various countries.” The Wines of the Tasting Peter Drayton Wines Premium Release Shiraz 2014 Tulloch Wines Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz 2014 Allandale Matthew Single Vineyard Shiraz 2014 Brokenwood Wines Shiraz 2014 Pepper Tree Limited Release Shiraz 2014 Margan Shiraz 2014 Hart & Hunter Single Vineyard Series Ablington Shiraz 2014 Mount Eyre Three Ponds Holman Shiraz 2014 De Iuliis Shiraz 2014 Sobels Shiraz 2013 The Little Wine Co Little Gem Shiraz 2013 Andrew Thomas Elenay Barrel Selection Shiraz 2014 First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve Shiraz 2014 Usher Tinkler Wines Reserve Shiraz 2014 Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 9 Shiraz 2013 Mount Pleasant Rosehill Vineyard Shiraz 2013 Leogate Estate Wines The Basin Reserve Shiraz 2013 Petersons Back Block Shiraz 2013 Judge and Jury
When it comes to the attraction of Hunter Shiraz, the Tasting Panel needs no convincing. As our  resident Hunter expert Nicole Gow  describes, “there’s nothing overpowering about this style and its beautiful savouriness and medium weight makes it a wonderful food wine.” The question is, are Australian wine-lovers on board with the new face of Hunter Shiraz? To find out, the Panel decided to put a line-up of Hunter Shiraz to the taste test in the company of some Wine Selectors members. Joining the judging team of Nicole Gow and Trent Mannell were members Melissa and Tony Calder and Marilyn Willoughby, along with winemaker Andrew Thomas. The Tasting When the guests were asked what they liked in their reds, the resounding answer was smoothness. One of the smoothest Shiraz of the tasting turned out to be Andrew Thomas’ Elenay Shiraz 2014 , which Marilyn also admired for its lovely spicy appeal. The story behind this wine is a colourful one, so perhaps skip to the next paragraph if you’re sensitive to strong language. In 2011, Andrew found himself with some leftover barrels of two of his other premium Shiraz. These barrels became known as the ‘lips and arseholes’, but when they were blended together, they actually produced a standout Shiraz. So the label – Elenay (L and A) was continued and has enjoyed great success since. While the majority of the wines in the tasting lived up to the regional reputation for being medium-bodied, there were a couple of fuller styles among the standouts. The Little Wine Company Little Gem Shiraz 2013 was described as “a wine for the oak-lovers”, which Melissa and Marilyn both enjoyed. The other was the Pepper Tree Limited Release Shiraz 2014, which Nicole praised for its generous plummy fruit. The wine that really brought all the tasters together was the De Iuliis Shiraz 2014, which was described as having “beautiful balance with long, spicy elegant tannins”. Overall, our members left impressed with the Hunter Shiraz they tasted and will definitely be adding more examples to their collection. So let’s hope that now there’s a new found confidence in the style from local winemakers, wine-lovers will share in their enthusiasm and Hunter Shiraz will become a timeless classic in the world of wine fashion.
Wine
Diversity in Wine
Words by Michael Davey on 8 May 2018
Diversity is a word that sits well with Australian wine. The continent is large, with a vast range of soils and climates. We also have a wide range of cultures, which are most evident in the food we share, and the wine we drink.  In the 1990s, Australia was known for predictable, consistent, mass-market, well priced, flavoursome wines. Predictable and consistent are great when you turn on a tap, not when you open a bottle of wine. The past two decades have seen Australians embrace the new and the different. This change parallels Corrina Wright’s winemaking career. Fifteen years ago, she was responsible for producing 18 million bottles annually of Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay. Upon returning to her family’s McLaren Vale vineyard, Oliver’s Taranga Vineyard, the technical, hands-on discipline of Lindemans gave way to a low intervention, hands-off approach. At home, this sixth generation winegrower quickly made her mark, producing exemplary regional wines, particularly Shiraz . But rather than letting this define her, Corrina turned her hand to crafting a diverse selection of alternative varietals including Fiano , Vermentino , Mencia and Sagrantino . “We have ultimate freedom here to do whatever we want. We did our homework and planted heat and drought tolerant varieties, with high natural acidity.”  It was a fine old Barolo that piqued Garry Crittenden’s interest in Italian wines. He tasted widely, read up on Italian wine growing and making methods, then took a pioneering study trip to Piedmont in 1992. The following year, Garry launched his cleverly branded ‘i’ range of Italian varietals with a Great Western-grown Dolcetto. Meanwhile, Brown Brothers were growing a diverse selection of alternative varieties in their nursery vineyard. These were vinified in small, experimental batches in their ‘kindergarten’ winery, then trial marketed at their cellar door. The food-friendly Italian varietals did well at their restaurant, and the high demand flowed on to local growers. These included Fred Pizzini, who grew Nebbiolo , and his cousin Arnie Pizzini, who grew Barbera , both sources for Crittenden ’s ‘i’ wines. Garry’s studies led to him penning the influential book, Italian Wine Grape Varieties in Australia. This resource helped new growers of Italian wine varietals avoid planting the wrong grapes in the wrong areas. Garry encountered a lot of objections early on, but found the demand for Italian varietals was led by young, open-minded wine-lovers, and enthusiastic sommeliers.
Som’ observations Australian sommeliers actively seek diverse wines for their lists. Recently named Best Sommelier of Australia, Italian-born Mattia Cianca, has lived and worked here for the past decade. In that time, he has noticed Australians move away from mass-produced wines, to more individual, unique styles and has seen a surge in varietals from his homeland. Four years at Melbourne’s idiosyncratic Attica restaurant gave Mattia an insight into adventurous Australians’ pursuit of new food and wine experiences. Attica’s philosophy, evocative menu and the mentorship of eccentric head sommelier, Banjo Harris Plane pushed boundaries and made him more courageous.  Mattia is, he describes, “excited by South Australian-grown, southern Italian varietals, like Unico Zelo’s single site Fiano and Brash Higgins’ vibrant, mid-weight Nero d’Avola , which is fermented and aged in clay amphora vessels.” Empowered Through Education The Australian Alternative Varietal Wine Show has championed diversity since 2001. In that time, it has provided a platform for less mainstream wines, and witnessed the ongoing rise in wine, exhibitor and class numbers. Pinot G has gone mainstream, and Prosecco will surely follow. The AAVWS shares intelligence via its ‘Talk and Taste’ sessions, where the wine trade gathers to share viticulture, winemaking and marketing experiences.  An increase in structured education has vastly added to Australian wine diversity. The past decade has seen Sommeliers Australia and the Court of Master Sommeliers educate and advance their members’ knowledge and wine service.  Trade initiatives like Negociants’ Working with Wine and the Galli Scholarship programs have provided diversely focussed educational forums, and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust has offered Australians internationally accredited wine levels. This has all broadened the wine trade’s outlook, empowering wholesalers, sommeliers and retailers to list new and diverse wines, giving Australian consumers more choice.
In the Vineyard There’s also great diversity amongst Australia’s wine regions and vineyards, and how they’re managed. Winemaker Vanya Cullen feels a strong connection to her family’s Margaret River vineyard, where she strives for constant improvement. While it’s always seen minimal chemical inputs, Cullen’s vineyard was certified organic in 2003, then biodynamic in 2005. This has coincided with an increase in vineyard health and fruit quality.  The soils are balanced and alive, allowing roots to plunge deeply to access nutrients. Vanya’s aim is to create a community of living systems and the whole Cullen team are on board. While scientifically trained, Vanya prefers to work with nature to grow quality fruit in a sustainable way. “The illusion is that you can’t farm without chemicals, but the reality is nature.” As well as being certified biodynamic, the naturally powered Cullen winery is certified carbon neutral. This requires great passion and commitment. All fruit is hand picked according to the biodynamic calendar, then hand sorted, pressed and transferred to barrel, or tank. The yeast is wild, and no artificial cooling, gasses or additions are used. Along with the Margaret River classics, Cullen produce the ‘natural’ Amber – a Sauvignon Blanc made with skin contact in the style of a red wine.  Diversity will continue to describe Australian wine, as long as there are brave winemakers wanting to experiment, and open-minded consumers willing to broaden their taste experiences.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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