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Howard Park Wines International Pinot Tasting

Selector publisher Paul Diamond indulges his love of Pinot at a privileged tasting with the incredibly generous Burch family of WA’s Howard Park Wines. Find out how you can attend the exclusive invitation-only Howard Park Wines International Pinot Tasting and Lunch this October down below.

Humans certainly get interesting when they add wine into their system, but the complex factors that shape what varieties we prefer, how often we like to enjoy them and how much we are prepared to spend would make for a revealing branch of Anthropological Psychology.

Some of us collect and covet, some of us stick to what we know, whilst some of us are always looking over the horizon, yearning to explore and experiment.

Then there are those who splurge and share. These folk love sharing their passion, knowledge and experience. Generally humorous and highly social, these peeps are OK with nursing a little hangover tomorrow in exchange for enjoying good wine, food and company today.

Sharing is Caring

Jeff Burch, head of Burch Family Wines, is one such gent. Every year since 2006, Jeff and his wife Amy, daughter Natalie and sons Richard and David, welcome friends from all over the country to share in a day of wine exploration, great food and conversation.

It started with Riesling, mirroring their love for producing cool climate Rieslings from their Great Southern vineyards. Howard Park Riesling is now the fourth most collected of its type in the country. Out of millions of wines produced in this country, it is now considered a varietal benchmark.

It takes considerable energy, resources and expense to every year collect some of the best varietal examples in the world, fly people from all over the country to Perth and ship them down to Margaret River then put on a tasting and lunch.

Maybe the enlightening perspective gained from benchmarking your wines against the best in the world is the driving motivation behind the whole exercise. Each has their differing opinions on this, but one thing is for sure, putting yourself up against the world’s best year after year is a brave thing to do, especially with something as subjective as wine.

In 2010, the family decided to switch its focus from Riesling to Pinot and the annual International Pinot Noir tasting and lunch was born. The move reflects their commitment and desire to explore the possibilities of the variety from the cool climate regions of WA, specifically Great Southern, the Porongurups and Mount Barker.

Jeff and his family produce Pinots across their MadFish and Howard Park labels, as well as Marchand & Burch, a collaborative project with Burgundian winemaker Pascal Marchand from Domaine Comte Armand, previously at Domaine De La Vougeraie.

Passion for Pinot

Pinot Noir is most definitely the flag bearing variety when it comes to pursuits for the passionate. To most it is the holy grail of wine and winemaking; the stars have to align for it to work, it thrives in cool to harsh conditions and takes insight, understanding and intuition in the winery to produce wines of depth and quality. Whilst its popularity is growing, it is still one of the least 
grown and sold varieties in Australia, if not the world.

Despite all this, Pinot can produce some of the most expensive, expressive and sought after wines on the planet and if you truly want to explore the psychological effect of wine on humans, share a good bottle with someone who loves Pinot.

Jeff Burch would be a perfect subject for this pleasurable experiment and the experience will go a long way to explaining his generosity and energy when it comes to Pinot.

The Tasting

Last year, 100 of the Burch family’s friends, wine club members, trade partners and local Pinotphiles congregated at Howard Park’s Margaret River cellar door and got to sample 18 of the world’s best, most interesting and expressive Pinots.

Across three brackets hosted separately by Howard Park’s Chief Winemaker Janice McDonald, Optometrist, Burghound and Master of Champagne, Steve Leslie, and Jeff, the wines were tasted blind, scored and everyone nominated what they believed the wines were from a list of six. The wines were then revealed and discussions were held regarding each wine: their homes, history, style and expressions.

The tasting format, while challenging, was as refreshing as it was illuminating. Everyone knew what was in each bracket, but not knowing which wine was in which glass removed prejudice, allowing everyone to absorb the many glorious expressions this variety can exhibit.

Most Pinot tastings are a race to the top with the French Premier Cru (1er) wines getting all the attention due to their expense and scarcity. But this tasting was a true exercise in perspective, featuring interesting, expressive wines that captured attention. Yes, there were some1er Cru French wines, but there were as many German ‘spatburgunder’ tasted as well as interesting Australian, New Zealand and American wines.

One of the big conclusions from this exercise was that whilst the French wines still hold the crown for classic, deep, ethereal and nuanced Pinot Noir characters, the new world – America, Australia and New Zealand – offers an incredibly broad and exciting range of varietal attributes.

After the tasting, lunch was served, the world’s biggest cheese table was assembled and as the band started, a game of backyard cricket ‘glass in hand’ style was beginning. The day stands as a wonderful celebration of Pinot Noir, warm hospitality and the Burch family’s generosity. Long may they all live.

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Words by Mark Hughes on 19 Aug 2017
I recently had the privilege of watching the legendary Liverpool FC towel up Sydney FC in a soccer friendly in a private suite at ANZ Stadium courtesy of Claymore Wines . The Clare Valley winery is owned by Adelaide doctor Anura Nitchingham, who became a lifelong Liverpool fan while attending university in the northern England city back in the 80s. Since founding his own winery, he’s been able take his fandom to the next level with the Claymore Wines Liverpool FC range , hence the invite to the match. During the half-time break, with the Reds comfortably leading 3-0, I observed a young couple at the bar looking through the range of Claymore Wines on offer. “Can I try the Purple Rain Sauvignon Blanc …I just love Prince,” the young lass asked of the barmaid. “I’ll have the London Calling,” said he, seemingly unaware of the varietal. It’s a Cabernet Malbec blend, by the way, and a good one, having recently won Platinum  at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Besides football, Anura’s other great love is music. So instead of having wines like a ‘single vineyard Shiraz’, Claymore’s labels bear the name of some of Anura’s favourite songs and albums, such as the Dark Side of the Moon Shiraz, Joshua Tree Riesling and Voodoo Child Chardonnay. “I just wanted to have some fun,” Anura tells me when I ask him the reasoning behind the labels. “After all, wine is meant to be fun, right?” Marketing Wine to Millennials
While it does seem fun, Claymore’s labels seem to fly in the face of traditional wine marketing, where the producer’s logo is consistent across all their wines and information such as varietal, origin and vintage is first and foremost. “It was a struggle early on because the inconsistent branding was deemed anti-marketing,” admits Claymore’s general manager, Carissa Major. “But once we explained the story, we had a more personal conversation with the customer. Now, people come to our cellar door, pick up a Bittersweet Symphony (Cab Sav) and say, ‘this is from my generation, I get it’. The labels were never meant to be a gimmick, they are the sound track to Anura’s life. But marketing-wise today, they present exciting opportunities rather than barriers.” Recent studies from California State University help explain the marketing swing. Researchers looked at the fastest growing buyer market in wine – millennials – people born after 1980, so termed because they hit maturity at the turn of the millennium. This generation is cashed up, brand savvy and, most importantly, they are on the verge of overtaking baby boomers as the biggest buyers of wine. The university study found that millennials prefer wine labels that are brightly coloured, less traditional, more graphically focused and feature creative brand names. If you’re a wine producer listening to a baby boomer marketer, maybe it’s time to think outside the box. The story of Fowles Wine’s Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch is a great example. The label shows an art deco-style image of a lady in her finery out for a hunt. “My wife designs the labels and we actually took advice from a leading marketer about whether this was a good idea. Their response? No!,” explains Fowles Wines owner, Matt Fowles. “We ultimately disagreed and released the wines, but it was useful advice in the sense that it was liberating. We thought, if there is no place in the market for this, then we should just do the designs we really love, so we did. It was all a bit of fun and, surprise, surprise, they sell well.” Art for art’s sake
Riverland producer Delinquente Wine Co. has taken label art in an even more contemporary direction channelling a punk ethos on their wines such as The Bullet Dodger Montepulciano and the Screaming Betty Vermentino. “The starting point with the artwork for Delinquente was to do something very different to traditional wine labels, but also to represent things we have a passion for, like street art and alternative culture,’ says winemaker/owner Con-Greg Grigoriou. “The art represents our ideas and allows us to connect with people in an interesting way. We all know a ‘Screaming Betty’, or would at least like to party with her. So they have taken on a life of their own.” Not everyone is a fan. Seventy-nine-year-old wine critic James Halliday described Delinquente Wines as setting “the new low water-mark” for labels in Australia. But he likes their wines. And that’s the thing, the wine has to be good to get the buyer to keep coming back. These days, wine is fashion and bottle shop aisles are the catwalks. Marketing a label is just as important as the wine inside the bottle. Get both right and you could just make it. Traditionalists will most likely continue to stock their cellars with family crested bottles. The millennials crave new and exciting. As for me, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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