Bellebonne: Natalie Fryar
It's a glorious spring day and I'm sitting at Launceston's fabulous Stillwater restaurant with one of Tasmania’s most accomplished and respected winemakers, Natalie Fryar. She's getting our chat off to a philosophical start by explaining the rationale behind her boutique Sparkling brand Bellebonne (pronounced bell-y-bon). The name means "beautiful and good" like its Tasmanian home, she says, and is driven by "a belief that good things should be made of beauty and purpose."
Her philosophy comes as no surprise. I've known Nat for many years – we studied wine together at Roseworthy Agricultural College (now the University of Adelaide) – and she's always approached her craft with purpose. She was a dedicated student, on a mission to learn how to grow the best grapes and make the best possible wine.
Following university, Nat spent five years at Seppelt Great Western in Victoria. This marked the beginning for Nat of a beautiful association with this celebratory style. Here she put all the theory she had learnt into the practice of making quality traditional method – blending, tirage (sugar and yeast additions), secondary fermentations, ageing on lees, riddling, disgorgement and finally dosage.
She then spent a further 14 years with Jansz perfecting the art of Sparkling wine production, firstly in South Australia and then in Tasmania’s Pipers River, the heart of Australia’s finest region for making quality fizz. It was in Tasmania in 2014 that she established the ambitious and somewhat serendipitous Bellebonne.
Pictured above (from left to right): Matthew and Natalie discuss her wines; the Bellebonne collection.
The reason Pipers River is an optimum Sparkling wine region comes down to the terroir, she explains.
“Our latitude is critical. We are right in the sweet spot geographically for the perfect combination of terroir for quality Sparkling. The island’s maritime climate provides a frost free environment, there's the long, cool, even growing seasons and the cold nights, and importantly, a high incidence of cloud cover providing a low UV or ultraviolet radiation. This all ensures the grape skins remain thin and translucent, with high acid ratio – no thick skins, which would be detrimental for the base wines, which are so important for quality Sparkling wines.”
Nat believes Tasmania is the only region that comes close to producing wines of the same quality as Champagne.
As we sit down to taste the Bellebonne offerings, Nat explains the production process and the resulting style of cuvees. “I am pressing very lightly, gathering only the free run juice for our base wines. I am looking for purity, elegance and complexity. We want this delicate fruit to show its best, so I’m not undergoing any oxidative handling or looking for too much oak flavour in the final wine.”
Forty two months on lees minimum, which provides, even at its relatively young age, a touch of yeast autolysis character. This is opposite to other well known Tasmanian Sparklings, which are broader, more masculine wines.
As I begin to taste, I understand what Nat has been describing. The 2015 Cuvee has a complex nose offering lemon and white flowers, toast, mushroom, sour dough, brioche, strawberries and fresh pouring cream. The palate shows vibrancy and freshness with lovely line and length.
The 2016 Rosé is equally impressive. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, barrel fermented and using only the free run juice, the wine is not fined, which adds to the subtle flavour complexities. Strawberries and fresh cream on the nose, a real explosion of flavours – raspberries, redcurrants and brioche. Young now, it is sure to be outstanding in years to come.
There is a third Cuvee to be released next year – a 2015 Blanc de Blanc. Made in very limited quantities, it has been held back because the 100% Chardonnay takes more time to develop. A massive five years on lees is sure to provide enormous complexity and flavour.
A pure spirit
Pictured above (from left to right): The Abel Gin Company's Essence and Quintessence; Natalie passionately describes her process.
As well as making Sparkling wines, Nat has established the Abel Gin Company, producing gin using freshly harvested native botanicals. There are two styles – the Essence, which is all Lisbon lemons in flavour and makes the perfect daytime tipple with tonic, and the Quintessence, a richer, spicier style perfect for martinis and negronis. "Consumers are looking for more complexity in gin these days," Nat explains, "and I'm trying to produce a unique product that captures everything about Tasmania – freshness, purity, delicacy and complexity.”
From Sparkling to gin, Nat's dedication to 'beauty and purpose' shines through in everything she does, making Tasmania all the richer for her contribution.