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Wine

Meet Carissa Major and Marnie Roberts of Claymore Wines

Get to know the ladies behind Claymore Wines -General Manager Carissa Major and Winemaker, Marnie Roberts

Carrisa, you say you “had the good fortune to fall into” the wine industry days after your 18th birthday – what’s the story behind that good fortune? 

As in real estate – location location location! I grew up at the southern end of the Clare Valley, had travelled throughout my 17th year (thanks to the possibly misguided generosity of my parents) then landed back into the Clare Valley…a little bit jobless and without a sense of purpose. The idea of university for uni’s sake was less than appealing so my one year gap turned into two and through friends of the family I wound up with a position at Knappstein Wines Cellar Door. Tim was still on site then and I found the whole staff tastings both inspirational and intimidating but got enough out of them to want to learn more. Andrew Hardy had a similar approach to staff engagement so what started off as a spark became something a little more…so basically, I had the right door open at the right time. Got sucked in and found this amazing industry that brings people together while opening up the world.

Given the quirky nature of the brand, do you have to bring out your inner quirks too?

Well it’s not hard really…they are never too far from the surface! The best thing about the brand is that link to music informs so much of the fun every day and provides a motivating backdrop to the workplace. There is nothing better than an impromptu Friday afternoon singalong with customers as Meatloaf cranks out of the sound system (and yes that really did and does happen!)

 Are you a Voodoo Child, or do you like a splash of Purple Rain, or do you hear London calling? (i.e. what’s your favourite Claymore wine and does your love of the wine match your fondness for its namesake?)

Oh there are too many to choose from; from a wine perspective though I do have a soft spot for London Calling. It took a few years to win the boss over to Malbec – he’s more of a Merlot kind of guy – but it just shines in Clare and paired with cabernet it makes for such approachable drinking without compromising depth and intensity. One day I may be able to release that straight Malbec…not sure what label I’d choose though.

Can you recall the first wine you tried?

Easy one – we grew up farming on the outskirts of Auburn in the shadow of Taylors wines so it was their white wines that graced our family table for special occasions. From the age of about 12 I was allowed a half pour if their amazingly bone dry, fully worked Chardonnay which I would duly sip over the course of a meal. It was dry, acid and complex for my junior palate and I recall grimacing after the first taste but would never dare leave a drop…it was wayyyy too special!

What do you think is special about your wine region?

There is an easy intimacy to the Clare Valley that you don’t see in many other regions; intimate without being aloof or removed. From a wine perspective there is an underlying elegance to the wines we produce here – even those 15.8% brooding monsters carry an underpinning structure that balances that intensity. Any region that can pull off our delicately structured Rieslings that defy expectation with just how powerful they can be and at the same time produce complex, finely drawn cabernet and nuanced yet flavour busting shiraz has to be special. It’s a multi-faceted little dynamo that continues to surprise and delight..and the locals aren’t a bad lot either!

Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory?

We spent many early years holidaying at Elliston on the West Coast in the family shack – total beachfront, tumble down tiny fibro thing that we’d have to drive seemingly endless distances to get to while listening to the Australia Open on the radio (?). Fishing off the beach and jetty, grandma’s garfish and squid for breakfast pan fried in truckloads of butter and playing tennis on asphalt courts then jumping into the ocean to cool off. Oh – nostalgia overload!

Now I like to recreate that sense of simple pleasure and we still holiday in shacks (just closer to home on the Yorke Peninsula) and chase fish and squid from the jetty and beach while fossicking in rockpools, building sandcastles and eating hot chips. Except now I chase it all down with a Riesling or two – best ever with fresh shucked oysters!

And Marnie, as Claymore Wines winemaker do you have to make the wines to match the songs? Or does lyrical inspiration come after the tasting?

The link of wines and songs seems to naturally evolve. The base constant is always to create the best wine to start with and I suppose, yes, doesn’t everyone get inspired in some way when they are drinking wine?! Certain labels do make complete sense to me. Nirvana is a Reserve Shiraz and drinking it you hope to reach a state of Nirvana. Dark Side of the Moon is our Clare Shiraz and it has the elegance and dark seductive fruit layered over oak.

Do you get to name any of the wines?

We all have input and suggestions which can be quite amusing. I got Skinny Love across the line which came to me in the car while singing it at the top of my lungs….the Claymore version of 'Car Pool Karaoke'.

Was it your dream of being a rock star that drew you to Claymore?

The Rockstar dream is still my back up occupation if the winemaking thing falls through. So far, the music world is safe. I do love the idea of the music and wine. I think to make good wine you have to have an element of love for the arts and the creation of things. Wine and Music just make sense  - both are so evocative and amazing for setting a sense of  place and time. All those great moments, you know the BIG celebrations in life can usually be tracked back in the memory banks tied to a particular wine or song!

What is your favourite wine to make?

I don’t think I could pick a variety or a style as such. I love the process and the chance to follow it the whole way through. From the vineyard basics of pruning and harvesting to ferment to batching to oak to tank to bottle to mouth….it’s an amazing journey that I get to guide these babies through.

When did you fall in love with wine?

Growing up on a block in Mildura that went from citrus to dried fruit to winegrapes, I have always had an appreciation for the fruit. The love of wine was the next step. I remember the cask wine in my parents’ fridge in the 80s and then the big purchases of wine in a bottle. I remember one night, when I was around 19 or 20, going to a friend’s house who was studying to be a winemaker and he opened a 1994 Lindemans Pyrus. A wine from Coonawarra that is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and Malbec blend. IT WAS MASSIVE and I thought wow, I need to try more wines. It really blew my socks off as I hadn’t tried anything as big and succulent as that before.

Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’?

I love to cook. With a toddler and husband that works away, time is limited but when I can, I love to invite friends around and cook. Homemade pasta with a trio of different sauce options is always a winner. The other is a stuffed squid. A recipe I have had for about 20 years and it never seems to fail.

What do you do to relax away from the winery?

I love to chill at home but my favourite getaways are anywhere near the water. I love the beach in winter and the river in summer. Anytime with my family is a bonus and I have great friends who are around for a catch up…which usually includes wine and food!

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Just before Christmas 2013, resource company Beach Energy sank its first exploratory shale gas well just south of Penola, the main town in the famous wine region of Coonawarra , in South Australia’s Limestone Coast. I visited the region during vintage 2014, a couple of months later, and witnessed that first rig being moved to a second exploratory site west of the main vineyard area. It’s only when you see one of these installations up close - or as close as security will allow - that you get a feel for how much the landscape is affected and what impact dozens or hundreds of such wells would have on the nature of a region: temporary roads carved through paddocks, the four-storey rig itself, the holding ponds dug into the earth to retain contaminated water, lights and sound running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “I just can’t envisage co-existence with a gas well like that next to my cellar door,” said Dennis Vice of Highbank, one of Coonawarra’s leading wineries as we watched another truck loaded with drilling equipment roar by. “How can anyone argue that industrialized gas extraction can sit comfortably alongside wine - a brand that’s based on clean green production? Even if they do put a well in and I’m forced to sell, my vineyard would be worthless because of that rig. The implications for landowners are immense.” During the same visit, local vineyard manager Stuart Sharman, chair of the Limestone Coast Grape and Wine Council’s unconventional shale gas committee, detailed his deep concerns about shale gas extraction - a process that, like CSG mining, involves drilling down through the aquifer and using large amounts of local water in the process. “We don’t have a lot of confidence that the miners can give us an iron clad guarantee that well integrity will be maintained,” he said. “We know that the wells break down over time - their own documents show that. And (energy company) Santos has just been fined for contaminating the acquifer with uranium up in the Pilliga. If our vineyard irrigation water here becomes contaminated we can kiss goodbye to our sector of the economy: the Coonawarra brand and the whole district will be tarnished.” When I spoke to him again for this article, Sharman told me the pressure has eased. Not long after my visit during vintage in 2014, Beach Energy announced they had decided to concentrate on conventional gas extraction, and not in close proximity to the vineyards. The level of exploratory drilling I witnessed had “slowed right up”. But Sharman says it’s the slowdown in the energy market at the moment that’s contributed to the change of heart, not necessarily the very vocal opposition of the vignerons. “Depressed energy prices are slowing up further expectations,” he says. “It’s just not worth the miners’ while to go to the effort of unconventional gas extraction right now. But I think what we’re seeing is probably a lull, not the end. I imagine it could well ramp up again if the situation changes.” ----- It’s a similar story in the Hunter. Yes, says Andrew Margan, with the declaration of the Critical Industry Clusters, winegrowers have had a reprieve. And yes, AGL announced earlier this year that they were pulling out of CSG in NSW. 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Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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