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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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Howard Park Wines International Pinot Tasting
Words by Paul Diamond on 27 Jul 2017
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.
Wine
Meet Charles Smedley from Mandala Wines
We catch up with Charles Smedley – Yarra Valley winemaker, Pinot-fan and the owner and winemaker of Mandala Wines .   Can you recall the first wine you tried? I can’t recall the first wine I tasted (one of the side effects, I suppose), but I do remember the first significant wine I tasted where I had a ‘wow’ moment – it was a 1987 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz – an absolute game changer. When did you fall in love with wine? I really fell in love with wine when I was about 19 or 20 years old; I was working in Clochmerel Cellars in Albert Park and studying at William Angliss. Do you remember that moment? What happened? Well, it was around that time that I started to spend money on wine to see if there was a noticeable difference. My mate Richard and I spent some $25 (1991) as to the normal $5 on a bottle and went for an Indian dinner…it was that night that we said: ‘THIS is why you spend money on wine’, and really understood the potential a good quality wine can have on an occasion, experience or meal. Do you have an all-time favourite wine? Why is it this wine? I don’t have an all-time favourite, but what makes me tick is when a bottle of wine exceeds all expectations and sharing that experience with family or friends. What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? I’d have to say my first trip travelling through Burgundy and just soaking up the history and technique of the region’s winemaking (it’s still the same for every trip there since); the barrel tastings were just superb. I also have fond memories of blending time at the winery! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? Timo Mayer Pinot Noir What is your ultimate food and wine match. Any type of game and Pinot Noir . Pinot Noir is, and has always been my passion, it brought me to the Yarra Valley years ago. The versatility of the grape means it can work with pretty much any meal but game, namely duck cassoulet and Pinot Noir (Gevrey Chambertin), would be the winner in my eyes. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? I come from a family of cooks and chefs, so I started working in restaurant kitchens from when I was about 12 years old. Suckling pig is my signature dish. What do you think is special about your wine region? The Yarra Valley region is a viticultural marvel in itself; it’s a haven for a huge range of different varietals thanks to its diverse topography (saying this I chose the Yarra Valley due to its complete harmony with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ), soil profiles and micro-climates. In 1999 I planted a Pinot Noir vineyard in the Upper Yarra, Yarra Junction, and the higher rainfall and volcanic soils provide the best conditions for nourishing our vines. We opened the second (and main) site in Dixons Creek 10 years ago, down on the ‘floor’ of the valley, and now have a range of varietals which enjoy the warmer weather and soils there. Not to mention the sheer beauty of the region – I believe it’s in the top three most picturesque wine regions in the world. What do you do to relax away from the winery? I love to travel, whether it’s activity-based or just to the beach I’m happy – especially if the family is with me too. I also love to read, and of course, enjoy a great bottle of wine. Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? It would have to be in Italy along the Amalfi Coast – the views, the food, the weather…stunning. I’ve been three times now and have very happy memories. Each time I’ve been there it felt like a wave of relaxation swept over me. What is your favourite… Book –  Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – thought-provoking, thrilling and an eye-opener all in one.  Movie –   Harold and Maude – it shows how love comes in all forms, it has the best movie soundtrack and it's very funny. TV show  Breaking Bad – it’s all about how events can change life’s decisions and I found it to be a really good watch! The main character is very funny and always manages to (comically) get himself out of trouble. Restaurant – France-Soir in Melbourne  – great atmosphere. Breakfas t –  A classic English breakfast. Lunch –  Oysters and sashimi. Dinner  – Chilli mud crab. Time of day/night  Night – everything moves slower and this is the time of I can relax and enjoy the peace of the countryside. Sporting Team? Sydney Swans for AFL, Melbourne Storm NRL and Aussie cricket of course. Beer – Ceske Budvar
Wine
Meet Alex Russell of Alejandro Wines
More and more alternative wine varietals are being grown and produced here in Australia. We catch-up with Alex Russell to chat about his passion for these delicious drops and his exciting alejandro range. Your alejandro label focuses on a diverse selection of alternative varieties of European origin including Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Fiano and Arneis – why these varieties? Shortly after starting work for Angove in Renmark, the then chief winemaker Warrick Billings, introduced me to Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC). RVIC at the time was an importer of new varieties and they would propagate the vines and produce trial wine from them. I agreed to produce trial wine for them on a voluntary basis. I bottled their 2008 vintage and started making wine for them in 2009, in addition to my role at Angove. Before long, we were crushing far more than anticipated and the facility was filled with small winemaking equipment I had been accumulating since the early 2000s. As far as choosing different varieties, I’ve never accepted the status quo. In 2011, Fiano , Vermentino and Montepulciano were bullet-proof during the worst vintage we had had in 30 years and the latter two went on to win Gold medals at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. From there I led RVIC into their own label, Cirami Estate. It was a little too entrepreneurial for RVIC and we parted ways after vintage 2014 at which point alejandro was born. I didn’t choose these varieties, they chose me. These varieties are perfectly suited to being grown in the Riverland and Mildura and produce textured, flavoursome and distinctly varietal wines. What would you say to our Members to encourage them to try more of these varieties?

If you enjoy wine enough to purchase through Wine Selectors, you know enough about wine to broaden your horizons. Have an open mind, ignore the name, even set up a blind tasting with friends, and just take the wine for what it is – it’s much easier to remember Saperavi or Bianco d’Alessano when you’ve had a great experience with them.

What makes the Riverland region so suited to growing Mediterranean-style and alternative varieties? Riverland and Mildura regions are equally suited to alternative varietal wines. If you’ve travelled to Spain or Italy during summer months, you’ll know the climates in Mildura and Renmark are very similar. The regions are hot and dry, with low disease pressure and there is so much sun. These varieties love sun and heat with Montepulciano ripening among the latest of all – late April for vintage 2017. Many of these wines, Graciano and Tempranillo , are as boozy in Spain as they are here. That said, the whites are produced with moderate alcohol to retain their fresh, distinctive flavours. Can you recall the first wine you tried? My parents always drank wine – from a cask. We had sips of wine here and there, but the best memory of my first wine was following work selling pies at the footy – the MCG. I was 14 or 15 years old and I had made my first wine by this stage, but I remember this fondly because it involved getting wine from the super boxes of the old northern stand. The foil capsule had been removed from these reds and were therefore unsalable. I took the bottles home with quite a number of Four’n’Twenty pies and my father and I sat on the couch and we ate pies and drank red wine together. Making it more memorable for me was how hot and red in the face I became having bumped consumption from a few sips to a couple of glasses. When did you fall in love with wine? I think I fell in love with making booze before I fell in love with wine. I was always close with my dad, he’s gone now, but he loved his beer. I used my pie selling income to buy a home brew kit from Kmart and produced Coopers Lager – though this was after I’d made my first mash beer using 4.5L demijohns and every item of stainless in the kitchen. Do you remember that moment? What happened? After the first mash came, Coopers, ginger beer, apple cider, elderberry wine and in Year 10, I made my first Shiraz, ironically from Shiraz juice concentrate out of a can from the Riverland ’s Berri. Another memorable moment was vintage 2002 in Mildura, working for Littore Family Wines. At the time they had a Merlot block in Gol Gol with 2000m long rows. I found a rogue vine in row 57 from the north end, 16 panels to the south. It was an off-white variety, I picked the fruit and soon realized it was Gewürztraminer. My housemates and I drank that wine before it had finished fermenting. Do you have an all-time favourite wine to make? Why is it this wine? That’s like asking who your favourite child is – all wines are different and there’s an occasion for each. I do like making Montepulciano, but mainly drink Tempranillo and Durif. Now with a vineyard in Tasmania, I also produce Pinot Noir which is a very interesting wine. There’s a wine for every occasion and every appetite. There are some 15 wines in my range – gives me a lot of choice! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I like to compare competitors’ wines, like varieties and other obscure varieties, but the quaffers I like are Rosé wines. I’m not a fan of Cabernet Rosé or ‘drain off’ Rosé but give me a purpose produced Rosé with four days cold soak and I’m all over it. What is your ultimate food and wine match? My first experience with such food was at the 2012 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show where Stephano di Pierre cooked and we had Vermentino with freshly shucked oysters with lemon and fresh oregano. Tempura Sardines are great with Bianco d’Alessano. In Tasmania we grow Wiltshire Horn sheep for meat. They mow the vineyard down in winter and keep hard to slash areas clean during the growing season. The meat is rich, tender and moist – Lagrein is a good match for this lamb. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? My wife and I lived in China for 12 months, near the North Korean border. I used to cook a lot more but now my wife cooks anything and everything, she has a knack for it. When I cook I go Chinese and cook the dongbei cai from the north east of China, Dalian and Pulandian. These are better suited to Tsingtao and Mi Jiu and although considered qiung ren cai (poor man’s food) they are simple and delicious: Ban san ding is chopped cucumber and red onion with fresh roasted peanuts (skin on) with fish sauce and sesame oil dressing (and a dash of MSG). Tu dou zi is shredded potato with carrot, green chilli and garlic, stir fried for about 30 seconds with fish sauce and sesame oil. Xie hong shi chao ji dan is stir fried egg and tomato, again with fish and sesame, and don’t forget the garlic. It’s simple and really quick to prepare. What do you think is special about your wine region? Tasmania is now home and we are expanding our vineyard. Pinot is a great variety to grow and produce and the whites are excellent – although most visitors are left a little wanting for a big red. Riverland and Mildura (and Riverina) are the work engines for Australian wine and where I gained all my experience. They are quickly snubbed by many but do produce good wine. My greatest criticism of South Australia and the Riverland is that even many Riverland businesses dismiss their own wines when tourists ask for something local, offering Clare or Barossa instead. Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? Spain. Fly into Barcelona and jump in a rental car and head up to Ainsa, Mont Serrat. We have a winemaker friend named Ara there who I worked at Zilzie with in 2008. She came back to Australia for vintage 2012 in the Riverland and might have helped a little with alejandro in 2016 when she was here on holiday. Ara lives in Hellin and produces wine from Murcia region. Spanish food, wine and beer – ahhh! What is your favourite… Movie? Gladiator. I’m a wanna be Maximus, and the sound track I used to play when I slept – my housemates were worried at the time. TV show? Dexter, everyone loves it when a baddie gets it. Big Bang Theory because I was one of those nerds – a cross between Howard and Leonard. Sport/Sporting Team? Cricket…. Beer? My taste constantly changes depending on the day or the menu, but I love hoppy beers and stouts and pilsners with saaz and hallertau hops.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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