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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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Pursuit of Perfection - Australian Pinot Noir
Words by Dave Mavor on 2 May 2017
Australia's established Pinot Noir regions are continuing to develop and evolve remarkable examples of this varietal. But for the big future of Aussie Pinot, we may need to look west. I'll admit it - not everyone is a fan of  Pinot Noir . But that fact, in itself, is what makes Pinot so enigmatic - aficionados swoon, swillers scoff. And this suits Pinot (and its lovers) just fine because in this land of the tall poppy, it is not always favourable to be too popular. That said, Pinot is one of the most revered and collected wine styles in the world, with the top examples from its homeland in Burgundy selling for outrageous sums of money. It is generally quite delicate (some say light-bodied), and it takes a certain development of one's palate to truly appreciate its delightful nuances, perfumed aromas, textural elements and supple tannin profile. It appears that if you enjoy wine for long enough, eventually your palate will look for and appreciate the more subtle and complex style that quality Pinot can provide. A good point that illustrates this comes from winemaker Stephen George, who developed the revered Ashton Hills brand. "A lot of older gentlemen come into the cellar door and say they love Shiraz, but it doesn't love them anymore," he says. "So we are getting some of my generation moving over to Pinot Noir, and the young kids of today are also really embracing it." THE ALLURE OF PINOT (FOR THE WINEMAKER) Winemakers love a challenge, and there is no doubt that Pinot is a challenging grape to grow, and even more challenging to make. The Burgundians have certainly nailed it, but they have been practicing for thousands of years, and this is part of the key. The cool climate of Burgundy has proven to be a major factor, as is the geology of the soils there, but they have also shown the variety to be very site-specific - vines grown in adjacent vineyards, and even within vineyards, can produce very different results. Vine age too, is critical. True of most varieties, but especially Pinot Noir, the best fruit tends to come from mature vineyards, considered to be around 15 years old or more. Yields too, need to be kept low to get the best out of this grape, as it needs all the flavour concentration it can get to show its best. Australian winemakers have taken these lessons to heart - gradually developing ever cooler areas to grow Pinot, working out the best soil types, and carefully exploring the ideal sites within each vineyard to grow this fickle variety. 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Michael Ng, winemaker from Rockcliffe in Denmark, adds that the cool climate with coastal influences allows full flavour development in the fruit, while still allowing for wines of finesse and savoury complexity. And a bit further west, Coby Ladwig of Rosenthal Wines points to the steep hills and valleys of the Pemberton region creating many unique micro-climates that enable varied grape growing conditions, "allowing us to create extremely complex and elegantly styled wines from one region", he says. While neighbouring Manjimup, with an altitude of 300m and therefore the coolest region in Western Australia, has cold nights and warm days ideal for flavour enhancement. PERFECTING THE FUTURE In summary, Pinot Noir in Australia is in a healthy position, with the established regions in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia producing more consistent and ever improving results. 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The Best Tasmanian Wineries and Cellar Doors
Words by Ben Hallinan on 2 Jun 2017
Explore the best Tasmanian wineries and cellar doors with our guide and handy interactive map. You'll be in Pinot Noir and Sparkling wine heaven in no time. Spectacular views, stunning produce, and superb cool-climate wines are in abundance on the Apple Isle. Sample the refined and elegant Sparklings reminiscent of the quality of Champagne, the unrivaled fruit expression of Tasmanian Pinot Noir, and stellar cool-climate examples of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot G. To help plan your trip to this internationally renowned wine state, we've selected a collection of Tasmanian wineries we feel provide the best cellar door experience, plus we've included a handy interactive map down below. The Best Tasmanian Wineries and Cellar Doors Pipers Brook Pipers Brook Vineyard produces an exceptional range of cool-climate wines that embody the terroir of the Tamar Valley region. 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But one thing remains consistent, they all reflect the unique Tasmanian terroir of their surroundings. After you've sampled the sublime Bay of Fires Pinot Noir on offer, you can then sample innovative examples of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir from Eddystone Point wines. Then you can finish with a flight of sublime premium Sparkling wines from House of Arras, crafted by Australia's most awarded Sparkling winemaker, Ed Carr. 40 Baxters Rd, Pipers River   - view on our Tasmania Winery Map Open 11 am to 4 pm (Mon-Fri) 10 am to 4 pm (Sat-Sun) Visit the Bay of Fires website Devil's Corner The home of Devil's Corner incorporates the best that the East Coast of Tasmania has to offer. Nestled on the winding road between Swansea and Bicheno, the Devil's Corner cellar door and Lookout enjoys breathtaking view of the Hazards mountain range overlooking the Moulting Lagoon. This striking cellar door, designed by renowned Tasmanian architects, Cumulus Studio, features scattered buildings created from dark metal and textured local timbers and perfectly complements the natural and diverse environment. Make sure you take in the breathtaking views of the Freycinet Peninsula from the top of the lookout tower. Then, pop back down to earth and enjoy their award winning wine while you sit back and relax with freshly shucked oysters from Freycinet Marine Farm's on-site pop-up oyster bar, The Fishers. Or enjoy wood fired pizza and coffee from Tombolo, a local Coles Bay café and roaster. Sherbourne Rd, Apslawn  - view on our Tasmania Winery Map Open daily 10 am to 5 pm Visit the Devil's Corner website Tamar Ridge Tamar Ridge Winery is on the western bank of the picturesque Tamar River just north of Launceston. The full range of superb Tamar Ridge wines and Pirie Sparkling can be tasted at the cellar door. Plus, there is usually the odd 'hidden treasure' - wines restricted to cellar door and not generally available. After your tasting, enjoy a spectacular platter by onsite local chef's Hubert & Dan of locally sourced cheeses, charcuterie and house-cured fish, highlighting the flavourful seasonal variations of the Tamar Valley and greater Tasmania. This modern, elegant and innovative restaurant is not to be missed during your visit to Tasmania. 1A Waldhorn Dr, Rosevears   - view on our Tasmania Winery Map Open daily 10 am to 5 pm Visit the Tamar Ridge website Josef Chromy Recognized for his commitment and contribution to quality food and wine in Tasmania, Josef Chromy OAM has owned and developed some of Tasmania’s leading wineries such as Rochemcombe, Jansz and Heemskerk. Josef Chromy Wines is the culmination of his experience in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley and this shines through in the quality of the wines, food and hospitality offered at his cellar door and restaurant. Today, his charming cellar door is set inside the original 1880s homestead, surrounded by stunning manicured gardens, and idyllic views over the surrounding vineyards and lakes. Relax inside by the open log fire, or stop for lunch in the hatted Josef Chromy Restaurant for excellent locally sourced produce matched to the elegant, cool climate Sparkling, Aromatic Whites, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on offer. 370 Relbia Rd, Relbia   - view on our Tasmania Winery Map Open daily 10 am to 5 pm Visit the Josef Chromy website Moorilla at MONA A sublime wine tasting while standing under a John Olson masterpiece? If this sounds like heaven to you, then a wine tasting at the Moorilla Cellar Door at Australia's most innovative art gallery, MONA , should be high on your list of things to do during your next visit to the Apple Isle. There is a spectacular range of over 18 wines available to taste, as well as a great range of beers from their Moo Brew label. Make sure you book ahead for the 3:30 pm guided tour of their unique gravity-assisted winery and a tasting in their barrel room (available Wednesday to Monday). 665 Main Road, Berriedale  - view on our Tasmania Winery Map Open daily 9:30 am to 5 pm Visit the Moorilla website Tasmanian Winery Map Planning a trip to Tasmania? Download our interactive Tasmanian winery map. To save on your browser or device,  click here For more information on visiting Tasmania, be sure to visit the official Wine Tasmania website . But, if you'd like to sample some of the wineries listed in this guide before you visit, explore our wide selection of Tasmanian wines and find out more about the wineries listed here in our Meet the Makers section . And, with the Wine Selectors Regional Release program , you'll experience a different wine region each Release with all wines expertly selected by our Tasting Panel, plus you'll receive comprehensive tasting notes and fascinating insights into each region. 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Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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