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Wine

Biodynamic – going beyond organic

If someone told you that filling a cow’s horn with dung and planting it at a certain phase of the moon would help your vines to grow, you’d probably think they were bonkers. Far out it may indeed sound, but this is one of the central steps in biodynamics, a form of organic viticulture that’s being embraced by an increasing number of Australian wineries. While it might sound like a theory cooked up by modern hippies, biodynamics actually has its origins in Europe over 90 years ago.

Let’s set the scene.

It’s 1924 in Silesia, Germany (now part of Poland) and a group of farmers has gathered to hear a series of lectures by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. The farmers are looking for an alternative to chemical fertilisers, which they believe have caused extensive damage to their soil and brought poor health to their livestock and crops.

Steiner proves sympathetic as he reveals a system of agriculture that shuns chemicals and treats the farm as an individual, self-contained entity. Rather than focus on the health of individual plants, Steiner’s system teaches that good health requires that the entire eco-system in which the plant exists be thriving. This includes the other plants, the soil, the animals and even the humans who are working the land.

The system he describes he calls biodynamics. By taking away all artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, Steiner presented one of the earliest models of organic farming. However, it’s the next steps that really separate biodynamics from organics (and it’s at this point that I imagine some of the listening farmers’ eyebrows began to rise).

Steiner claims that for this environment to truly blossom, a series of field and compost preparations needs to be added. These preparations, nine in total, are man-made solutions, derived from nature, that are labelled 500 through to 508. To the conventional farmer, these preparations may appear somewhat far-fetched. For example, ‘500’ is made by filling cow horns with cow manure, which are then buried over winter to be recovered in spring. A teaspoon of the manure is then mixed with up to 60 litres of water, which is stirred for an hour, whirled in different directions every second minute. ‘501’ also requires a cow horn, this time filled with crushed quartz. It is buried over summer and dug up late in autumn, then mixed the same way as 500.

Stretching his credibility even further in the eyes of the pragmatic farmer, Steiner brings a spirituality to his teachings by suggesting the growth cycles of the farm are influenced by astrological forces.

Decisions such as when to spray the preparations, when to weed and when to pick should all be made according to a calendar that details the phases of the moon and stars.

“Hocus-pocus!” you may very well cry.

Not so, according to the ever-increasing number of wine producers in Australia and internationally who have embraced biodynamics. Choosing an environmentally sustainable approach to viticulture is obviously to be applauded in these times of climate crisis. However, talk to biodynamic producers and you’ll find that superior wine quality is the number one motivation for being biodynamic.

At South Australia’s Cape Jaffa, the Hooper family has been using biodynamic principles for many years and their conviction in its effectiveness is complete. “We believe that cultivating the vines in this way is what allows them to achieve balance within their environment. Achieve balance, and the vines are able to fully express themselves – leading to a wine that bares a true and remarkable resemblance to its environment,” says Derek Hooper.

The Buttery family of Gemtree in McLaren Vale are also converts. Since their biodynamic beginnings in 2007 they say they can now “see a noticeable difference in the health of our vineyard and quality of our fruit.”

A fellow McLaren Vale winemaker, David Paxton of Paxton wines says, “Biodynamics is the most advanced form of organic farming. It uses natural preparations and composts to bring the soil and the vine into balance, resulting in exceptionally pure and expressive fruit.”

The proof is in the tasting, however, so next time you’re looking for a new wine to try, why not put biodynamics to the test and see if you can taste the natural difference?

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Wine
The panache for Pinot
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 2 Jul 2015
Have you ever been stuck next to someone at a dinner party who loves Pinot Noir ? You know the type. They can wax lyrical about this grape for what seems like hours while you stare into your half glass of Shiraz wishing it was full. As you take a sip, it fills your mouth with its full, plush flavours and you wonder how the bloke next to you is possibly getting the same pleasure from his thin-bodied red. That’s how Wine Selectors member Joel Goodsir has always felt. He’s a man who looks askance at the Pinot section of the wine list; going straight for the big, bold reds that he knows guarantee a flavour punch. Even if you don’t identify with Joel, plenty do. It just fails to meet the expectations of many a red lover; they feel let down by its lack of oomph. This is a fact of great disappointment to the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel who will all readily admit to being that person at the dinner party regaling guests with the finer points of this Burgundian red. Arguably the greatest Pinotphile of them all is Christian Gaffey, who says, “Pinot Noir is a melange of many subtle nuances, each more attractive than the last. Anyone can taste a bold Shiraz and be blown away by its obvious nature, however, Pinot Noir plays hard to get; it makes you work for your rewards. It is like no other variety; it can be expressive, elegant and bold all at the same time.” Sounds like it was time for a Members Pinot Noir tasting. A place for Pinot But first, a bit of background on why Pinot is seen as challenging. Firstly, region is everything. So much so that in Pinot’s birthplace of Burgundy where it’s been grown for hundreds of years, the French have invested just about all those years in isolating the perfect spots. In fact, as world renowned wine writer Jancis Robinson points out, “The Burgundians themselves refute the allegation that they produce Pinot Noir; they merely use Pinot Noir as the vehicle for communicating local geography, the characteristics of the individual site on which it was produced.” Not surprisingly, region and site selection are equally as important in Australia. The last time the Panel sat down for an in-depth Pinot tasting (Autumn 2012), they were joined by winemakers Jeremy Dineen of Tasmania’s Josef Chromy and Bill Downie of Gippsland’s William Downie Wines. Broadly speaking, Jeremy pointed out, Australian Pinot Noir needs a cool climate. Some of the best regions have proved to be Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula , WA’s Great Southern , Manjimup and Albany, SA’s Adelaide Hills and Tasmania . However, like Burgundy, individual sites can make all the difference. As Jeremy explained, “People are finding the best little sub-regions, and sub-sites in sub-regions so there is great diversity of flavours, textures and styles.” Having said that, you can have the best spot in the world, but if you don’t know how to look after your Pinot, you might as well be planting in the desert. Thankfully, Australian producers have greatly improved the other two areas essential to its success – vineyard management and winemaking. As Jeremy explained, “People understand more about soil, irrigation, about utilising lyre trellises and canopy management.” What’s more, Bill pointed out, winemakers have come a long way in understanding the skills necessary to master Pinot including, “Must pumping by gravity, handling ferments much more gently and less pump-overs.” So if Australian winemakers are mastering the art of this fickle grape, the last remaining hurdle is the drinker. The tasting For the tasting, we invited along two red wine-lovers with a penchant for Pinot. Richard Spillane has been a Regional Series member since 2000 and Deborah Best since 2006. Both have recently supplemented their regular deliveries with Pinot specific selections. Richard says of Pinot, “It may not be the red you’re used to drinking, but it’s one you can drink all year”, confessing that he even enjoys it slightly chilled. Deborah agreed, adding, “Pinot Noir is an ‘any time’ wine. You can enjoy it with a casual meal of pizza or something more high end.” Rounding out the trio was Joel, sceptical but open to persuasion. The line-up of wines reflected Australia’s best regions for Pinot, as mentioned above, starting with three from WA. While it’s the most recent state to dabble in Pinot, which means its vines are very young, Christian is of the opinion that WA is making some great examples. The Peos Estate Four Kings Single Vineyard 2014 was unanimously voted favourite of the three and admired for being delicate and savoury with forest floor characters and supple tannins. Next up was the Adelaide Hills. The most surprising thing for Deborah about this bracket was how much Pinot Noir changes in the glass. Christian agreed, saying that on first taste of the Dandelion Vineyards Heirloom 2013 he thought it was a bit lacking, but was amazed how much it changed for the better in the glass and his eventual description was of a “soft, supple palate.” The Yarra Tassie trail The Yarra Valley turned out to be the favourite region of the tasting with all three wines praised for their balanced acidity and firm tannins, ensuring great ageing potential. Included in this bracket was the Rochford 2013, one of the bolder Pinots and therefore, not surprisingly, a favourite of Joel’s. Last but by no means least were four wines from Tasmania. With the Apple Isle being a leading producer of Sparkling wine, it’s no surprise that Pinot Noir is widely planted, making up 95 per cent of the state’s red wines. In recent years, this has also resulted in many fine Pinot Noirs. The overall standout was the Josef Chromy 2013, which was loved for being rich and ripe with plenty of concentration and a fine acid finish. At the end of the day, it came as no surprise that Deborah’s and Richard’s love for Pinot Noir was thoroughly confirmed. But what of Joel? “Well”, he summed up, “Once I understood the goal was smoothness and seamlessness and stopped making the comparison with bigger, bolder wines, I got more enjoyment out of the tasting. However, I’m still troubled by the mildness.” Despite the hint of remaining doubt, the most important result was that a former disbeliever is coming around to the Pinot creed. So next time you’re stuck next to a devotee at a dinner party, proffer your glass for a splash of Pinot and remember you’re swapping a punch in the face for a smooth, seamless palate caress. Click here to shop our great range of Pinot Noir.
Wine
Into the wild: Grenache
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 4 Mar 2016
On top of a small hill in a small town in the south of France sits a ruined medieval castle. Dating back to the 14th century, it was built for Pope John XXII. The name of this town is Chateauneuf du Pape. Get it? But the papacy wasn’t just responsible for the castle, they also planted vineyards in the area, presumably to fill the sacramental goblets, and the town is now a world famous wine destination. The high quality Chateauneuf du Pape red wines are some of the most expensive in the world and while there are up to nine red wine varieties officially allowed to be used in Chateauneuf du Pape, the most common is Grenache . One of the reasons for the prevalence of Grenache in this southern French region is the climate. Grenache loves the heat and in Chateauneuf du Pape, the stones that are common in the vineyard soils heat up during the day, then at night-time the heat slowly disperses, preventing the vines from getting too cold. The vines are also virtually free from pesticides as the prevailing Mistral wind prevents rot and fungal attack. While the history of Grenache in Australia is a few hundred years shorter, we can put our success with the variety down to weather and a lack of bugs too. You’ll find most of our plantings in the McLaren Vale and Barossa regions where the Mediterranean-style climate of warm summers and mild winters helps Grenache feel at home. “It’s also a variety that responds well to vine age,” explains Giles Cooke MW, winemaker and founder of Thistledown Wines. “As the vine ages, it is able to produce grapes that are fully ripe at lower potential alcohol levels than younger vines that tend to push a lot of energy into sugar production.” “But what’s that got to do with bugs?” I hear you ask. Giles has the answer: “Australia has some of the best old vine resources in the world due to the lack of phylloxera (an aphid-like insect that’s wreaked havoc in vineyards throughout the world).” Its lovely old gnarly look is part of what makes Grenache vines recognisable, but also have another distinct feature. While most grape varieties need a trellis to keep them off the ground, Grenache tends to grow upright and therefore it’s ideally suited to being grown as a bush vine. So it’s old, gnarly and wild. While bush vines are more labour intensive in that they have to be hand pruned, they have certain advantages, especially in Australia. These untamed beasts are drought resistant and can control their yield so that in a dry year they’ll produce fewer grapes than in a wet year. What’s more, their roots penetrate deep into the earth where they find water and rich nutrients. So if Grenache is so perfectly suited to Australia’s Mediterranean-style regions and we have some of the world’s oldest vines, why haven’t you heard more about it? Giles again: “Outside of Rhone and certain parts of Spain (Catalunya) it has been a workhorse variety capable of producing large quantities of highly alcoholic reds and Rosés. In Australia, its potential to make highly alcoholic wines lent it to fortification and so it was often anonymous.” Justin Ardill, winemaker at Reillys Wines also adds, “Historically, wines were labelled as per their style, rather than the grape varietal and since Grenache was used to create Australian Burgundy, the market is more familiar with the term ‘Burgundy’ than ‘Grenache.’” The tasting It’s possible then, if you’re of a certain vintage, that you’ve tried Grenache without even knowing it. But if you’ve never tried Grenache or would like to learn more about it, the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel has taken the legwork out of finding the best examples with the latest State of Play tasting. In the top 30 wines, you’ll find the majority come from McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley . There are a couple of Clare Valley wines, a McLaren Vale/Hunter/Orange blend, one from Nagambie Lakes and even one from WA’s Ferguson Valley. Another thing to note is that there are more blends than straight varieties. Grenache is commonly blended with Shiraz and Mourvedre (Mataro) to make GSM, but you’ll also find it with Merlot , Malbec and even the Portuguese variety, Touriga.   The predominance of blends was also the case when the Panel last did a Grenache tasting back in 2009 and Christian Gaffey had this explanation, “Blends are often more complete wines, more thought goes into the blend or perhaps the varieties are more complementary.” Winemaker Damian Hutton, whose Iron Cloud Purple Patch GSM is in the top 30, agrees on the point of the complementary appeal. “Grenache adds beautiful characteristics to the wines it’s blended with. In the Purple Patch GSM, Grenache contributes its classic bright, cherry and raspberry flavours. Shiraz provides structure, spice, and plum flavours. The addition of Mourvedre completes the blend with added structure and depth.” Straight talking There are staunch advocates for keeping Grenache straight, though. Ben Riggs, whose Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache was a highlight of the tasting, says, “Our personal philosophy is to express pure Grenache. As a single varietal wine it expresses much more sense of place.” On this point, winemaker Troy Kalleske agrees. “I think Grenache is extremely expressive of time and place. Grenache character can vary a lot from year to year depending on season and it expresses differently in different soils. So you never really know what you’re are going to get, and that’s enjoyable!” What you are guaranteed to get is an extremely food-friendly red. As Ben explains, “Grenache pairs beautifully rather than overpowers, it amplifies the flavours of the food, rather than being overbearing with its own flavours.” Damian and Troy add that the soft tannins contribute to its food-matching potential and they both recommend it with duck with bok choy. Justin agrees that Asian-style dishes work, but adds, “Grenache is also fantastic with barbecued meats, particularly charred meats as found in Greek souvlaki, yiros and roasted lamb. For Giles, “When chilled, a young Grenache is great with fish.” It makes me wonder if Pope John had a favourite food match for his Chateauneuf du Pape. I am guessing it was divine. Top 30 Grenache and Grenache blends (March 2016) Thistledown The Vagabond Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $40) S.C. Pannell Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2014 (McLaren Vale, $30) Teusner Joshua Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2015 (Barossa, $35) Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache 2013 (McLaren Vale, $27) St John’s Road Motley Bunch Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2013 (Barossa, $22) Henschke Johann’s Garden Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2014 (Barossa, $51) Z Wines Roman Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $25) Turkey Flat Vineyards Grenache 2014 (Barossa, $30) Gomersal Wines Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $17) IronCloud Rock of Solitude Purple Patch GSM 2014 (Ferguson Valley, $32) Reillys Wines Old Bush Vine Grenache 2012 (Clare Valley, $25) Two Hands Brave Faces Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz 2014 (Barossa, $27) Vinrock Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $30) Alternatus Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $25) Landhaus Grenache 2012 (Barossa, $27) Tim Smith Wines Grenache 2014 (Barossa, $36) Serafino Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $28) Doc Adams Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $20) Handcrafted by Geoff Hardy Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $30) Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $35) Yalumba The Strapper Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2012 (Barossa, $22) Kalleske Clarry’s Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 (Barossa, $21) Château Tanunda 1858 Field Blend 150 year old vines Grenache Mourvedre Malbec 2013 (Eden Valley, $250) Barossa Valley Estate Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 (Barossa, $26.99) First Creek Grenache Shiraz Merlot 2014 (McLaren Vale/Hunter Valley/Orange, $25) Running With Bulls Garnacha 2015 (Barossa, $20.95) Stone Bridge Wines Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2014 (Clare Valley, $26) Tahbilk Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (Nagambie Lakes, $27.95) Richard Hamilton Colton’s Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (McLaren Vale, $21) Charles Melton La Belle Mere Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (Barossa, $22.90)
Wine
Italian Stallions
Words by Max Allen on 12 Aug 2015
Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, Italy’s best-known red grape varieties, are relative newcomers on the Australian wine scene. Tiny patches of Italian varieties have been grown here since the very early years of viticultural settlement. The Dolcetto vines at Best’s Great Western date back to the 19th century, for example, and Sydney surgeon/winegrower Thomas Fiaschi planted the rare Aleatico grape in Mudgee in the 1920s. But Tuscany’s Sangiovese and Piedmont’s Nebbiolo didn’tarrive here until late in the 20th century. Its pioneers were Carlo Corino at Montrose in Mudgee, Mark Lloyd at Coriole in McLaren Vale, and the Brown Brothers in Victoria’s King Valley. I have been monitoring the progress of these Italian varieties in Australia for over 20 years. I first tasted Australia’s fledgling Sangioveses and Nebbiolos in 1993. We managed to find around a dozen examples of Australian-grown Italian varieties for a tasting – including the first Pinot Grigios from T’Gallant on the Mornington Peninsula and a Dolcetto under Garry Crittenden’s (also now-defunct) Schinus label. I remember being particularly impressed by Coriole’s Sangiovese. That tasting made me wonder why more Italian varieties weren’t grown in Australia – why local vignerons were so wedded to the so-called ‘classic’ French varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. After all, Italy’s warmer Mediterranean climate is far more similar to many Australian grape-growing districts than chilly northern French regions such as Burgundy. By the end of the 1990s, I wasn’t the only one asking this question: Italian varieties were becoming trendy among grape growers and winemakers, and Sangiovese was leading the charge. So in 1999 another tasting was organised – this time by vine nurseryman Bruce Chalmers, vine specialist Dr Rod Bonfiglioli, and chef Stefano di Pieri, along with various interested parties (including your correspondent) – to assess the potential of the grape in Australia. The ‘Sangiovese Challenge’ was a tasting of two-dozen Australian-grown examples of the grape followed by an Italian-themed long lunch (cooked by Stefano) at the Grand Hotel in Mildura. This event morphed into the Italian Varieties Wine Show the following year, and the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show the year after. I have been chief judge of this show, the AAVWS, since 2005. Sangiovese has been the most popular red grape among growers and winemakers since the boom in Italian varieties began in the 1990s. The 2010 Australian Wine Industry Directory lists 260 producers of the variety, with more than 500 hectares planted across the country. This is understandable: it’s the grape responsible for Italy’s most famous red wine, Chianti; it is meant to be relatively easy to grow; and while the wine it produces can be quite savoury and tannic, it is also generally medium-bodied and has plenty of attractive red fruit flavour. This means that Australian Sangiovese is likely to appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers, and its fame and heritage make it an easy wine for marketing and cellar door people to talk about. Nebbiolo, on the other hand, has remained a niche player: the 2010 Directory lists 90 producers and just 100 hectares of vines. This is also no surprise: Nebbiolo is notoriously difficult to grow well, being quite fussy about where it grows (generally preferring cooler, more marginal spots). It is responsible in Italy for wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco - not as widely-known as Chianti - and can produce wines that are unfashionably pale, tough, low in fruit volume and very high in astringent tannin. Looking at some stats from the Alternative Varieties Show gives you a very good idea of how both these grapes are travelling in Australia at the moment. At the 2010 AAVWS, there were 60 Sangiovese entries (including Sangiovese blends) and 24 Nebbiolos. Only a third of the Sangioveses were awarded medals, with just three silvers and 17 bronzes. By contrast, more than half of the 24 Nebbiolos were medal winners, with seven bronzes, five silvers and two golds. It has been a similar story in almost all the previous shows: in 2007, for example, the 87 Sangioveses entered yielded just one gold, three silvers and 12 bronze medals – but the 25 Nebbiolos entered were awarded two golds, one silver and eight bronze. So while Sangiovese might be the most popular Italian red variety in Australia by volume, it is not only struggling to realise the huge potential everyone thought it had, but its fortunes also appear to be waning (as you can see, entry numbers at the AAVWS dropped by 30 per cent between 2007 and 2010). Nebbiolo, on the other hand, is proving itself to be a very strong and improving performer, albeit in smaller quantities. The question is: why? Why is Australian Sangiovese so frequently disappointing? And why has Nebbiolo excelled? Part of Sangiovese’s problem lies in the clone that was planted in most vineyards throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Originally developed at the University of California at Davis, this clone of Sangiovese was bred to produce heavy crops rather than high quality, and many Australian growers have struggled with its tendency to overcrop (newer, lower-yielding clones, coming into bearing now, are showing much more promise, but have yet to make their presence widely felt). More important, I think, is that Sangiovese is obviously fussier and more difficult to grow and make well than many Australian winemakers thought. It not only needs some time in the ground before the vines come into balance and produce their best quality fruit, but it also takes a few vintages to learn how best to make that fruit into good wine. Far too many Australian Sangioveses still suffer from a lack of fruit concentration and/or heavy-handed oak treatment. It’s no coincidence, I think, that the best producers of Sangiovese are those with both the requisite experience (such as Coriole, with over two decades of vintages under their belt) and the cultural connection (such as that of the King Valley’s Italian growers) to the variety. The underwhelming producers tend to be those who just planted Sangiovese because it was trendy and weren’t prepared to make the effort to reduce yields in the vineyard and treat the wine sensitively in the cellar. Most of Australia’s Nebbiolo vineyards, by contrast, have been planted by complete Nebb-nuts who are besotted with the magical wines of Piedmont. These people will do whatever it takes to make the best wine possible, and are fastidious in both vineyard and winery. This drive, this passion, this attention to detail is a big reason, I believe, why there are (relatively speaking) so many great Nebbiolos (and why they tend to cost a bit more). These are my observations based on years of tasting and judging at the AAVWS. And the results of the Selector State of Play tasting reflected the same thing. Thirty-five Sangioveses were tasted - the ones that scored well fell into two general groups: pretty, up-front, snappy-fruity wines that displayed Sangiovese’s lovely juicy cherry characters, and more ‘serious’ savoury wines that had good balance of more ripe fruit characters and drier, powdery tannins. But – for this taster at least, and for some of the others – very few, if any, of the Sangioveses we tasted were truly outstanding, automatic gold-medal standard wines (unlike the Nebbiolos). Most of the top wines were from places (King Valley, McLaren Vale ) and names (Pizzini, Dal Zotto, Crittenden) where there is a long association with Sangiovese. We tasted fewer Nebbiolos – just 13 – but the overall standard was higher and there were more outstanding wines. There was also much more animated discussion between the tasters: with its sometimes ethereal, elusive perfume, it’s often quite a disarmingly pale orange colour, and with its occasionally mouth-puckering level of bone-dry tannins, Nebbiolo can elicit strong reactions. To the Panellists’ surprise, the Adelaide Hills emerged as a particularly good area for Nebbiolo, with two of the top wines coming from the same vineyard, Frank and Rosemary Baldasso’s Kenton Hill (this vineyard also supplies the fruit for the trophy-winning SC Pannell Nebbiolo and is just over the hill from the Arrivo vineyard, the source of another trophy-winning Neb). Wine Selectors Tasting Panelist Keith Tulloch also touched on a fundamental problem with many new, alternative varietal wines in Australia – a problem that is also cause for hope. “The challenge with a lot of these varieties is the fact they come from young vines,” he said. “It was a similar story in the Hunter in the 1970s when we had thin wines that didn’t have any weight because the vineyards were so new. You need 10 years of age or more before you get reliable quality and the true essence of the grape.” This means, though, that as good as the top wines we tasted today are, the best are yet to come. Check out Wine Selectors great range of Sangiovese & Nebbiolo today.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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