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Wine

Q & A with Luke Eckersley

You’ve had so many accolades for Plantagenet wines, but what are the most meaningful, personally?

For myself it is not so much industry accolades or awards, it is more being a part of the Plantagenet history, heritage and consistency and the feeling it gives you. Plantagenet is a Pioneer of the Great Southern and that in itself is an accolade for vision and belief.

How did your 2016 vintage treat you? Anything unique crop up?

It was a cooler than average vintage with a longer growing period so I found the Rieslings to have really shined!

The wines of Great Southern are unique and diverse, but how have they changed over your time working this region?

I feel over time there has been a better understanding of what varieties excel in the different sub-regions (along with the subsequent variations in style), and this knowledge has helped winemakers within the region craft wines that have better balance and are true expressions of what the regions can offer.

What excites and inspires you living in the beautiful Mt Barker?

It is purely the beauty, uniqueness and sparseness of the region, we have the Stirling Range as a back drop and the Southern Ocean hugging us to the south. This combined with the vineyards and the people makes it a truly amazing place to call home!

Can you recall the first wine you tried?

A mid-eighties Wynn’s Coonawarra Cabernet that my father had brought back (in volume) from a trip to South Australia, tried in the early nineties. A fantastic savoury wine with very good bones!

When did you fall in love with wine?

Having grown up in agriculture and being involved in a family vineyard wine was always of great interest to me. After completing my studies of both winemaking and viticulture I found myself more drawn to wine. It is the crafting of something that is continually evolving (living) and the enjoyment it can bring to people on lots of different levels.

Do you remember that moment? What happened?

I think agriculture (both growing and crafting of grapes) is simply in your blood!

Do you have an all-time favourite wine to drink? Why is it this wine?

I find myself more often than not drawn to Great Southern Chardonnay (from various producers!). The purity, power and fineness always amazes me, the wines lend themselves to so many different occasions from an intimate meal to a winding down ritual on a Friday evening!

Do you have a favourite wine to make?

Chardonnay obviously (barrel fermented), so many different layers that can be built on the raw wine to craft and evolve a wine with balance and complexity.

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How climate change is changing our wine
In 2012, a leading Coonawarra viticulturist looked out upon a vineyard in the northern part of the region, a place of shallow soils, home to 25-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines. It was a good site, had been a strong performer for his employer Wynns Coonawarra Estate, but now, viticulturist Allen Jenkins decided to see just how robust it really was. He divided the block in half. For one set of vines it was business as usual. For the other, a harsher new reality was about to set in as he deliberately reduced the amount of irrigated water it would receive for the next three years, just 10 per cent of its normal allowance. When the results were collated, there was nothing but sad news for those parched Cabernet vines. “Yield dropped for each of those three years by 40 per cent, on average,” says Allen. “The berry number also dropped, berries were much smaller, there was an increase in colour and tannin, but the problem was you lost some of that Cabernet varietal character.” Recovery for the vines once water was returned was another big hurdle, it was far from immediate and they continue to struggle to this day. Cabernet Sauvignon is the flagship grape for Coonawarra , a symbol of its national and international standing in the world of wine, and here it was being stripped of its noble character by a deliberate man-managed climate intended to mimic global warming in all of its nastiness. Allen had made his point. Climate change was capable of treating even the most celebrated of grapes with disdain. Now, he’s learning to adapt. He’s not the only one in the Australian wine industry. A harsh reality Between now and the year 2030 the annual average temperature is expected to rise between 0.2ºC and 1.1ºC in many of Australia’s grape growing regions. By 2050, the projected increase is 0.4ºC to 2.6ºC. A warmer future will go hand in hand with a drier one and one, it is believed, that will be increasingly erratic, throwing up unpredictable extreme weather conditions. Under this scenario, the annual Australian wine grape harvest will be earlier; grapes coming into full ripeness during the hottest parts of summer, stressing vines. Some suggest it’s already here. “Vintage 2015 was our 35th in the region,” says Jeffrey Grosset of Jeffrey Grosset Wines in the Clare Valley . “We commenced harvest for our two Rieslings (Polish Hill and Springvale) 35 days, almost to the day in both cases, earlier than we did 35 years ago. The suggestion of a (earlier vintage) trend to around roughly one day earlier each year, seems compelling.” His Clare colleagues at Jim Barry Wines, to the north of his vineyard, had already picked and were fermenting their 2015 Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet by mid February, a first for them. What does climate change mean for my wine? In a warmer climate, vintage will probably be shorter and more compact, which might suit earlier ripeners like Chardonnay , but won’t go down well with late season starters such as Cabernet. The heat that drives sugars up will also force acids down. A drier season scenario similar to what Allen Jenkins found   with smaller yields and lack of varietal flavour may become a widespread problem. The effect will be more noticeable in inland regions that are expected to be hotter than coastal areas. Australian research suggests grape quality will be reduced nationally by seven to 23 per cent by 2030, and 12 to 57 per cent by 2050. The fact that climate change is real and not some annoying trend that will eventually cycle off and bring certainty back into our lives, would appear to now be acknowledged by Australian winemakers. And it’s not exclusively about heat. “Climate change to me is both heat and rain,” says Peter Barry at Jim Barry Wines. “Yes, it’s the unpredictability of the weather, all that is puzzling and a little terrifying.” Dr Leanne Webb, Climate Projections Liaison Manager at the CSIRO and an academic with more than a decade’s research into the subject, chooses her language carefully when describing the causes behind our changing climate. “Increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are altering the composition of the atmosphere,” she wrote in her seminal paper, Modelled Impact of Future Climate Change on the Phenology of Winegrapes in Australia (2007).   “It is very likely that most of the global warming since the mid-20th Century is due to increases in greenhouse gases from human activities.” For the first time in recorded history, the earth’s temperature is clearly more than 1.0ºC above the 1850-1900 average. Since 1997, which at the time was the warmest year on record, 16 of the subsequent 18 years have been warmer still. What to do? Dr Webb suggests Australian wine producers do three things to address its impact on their vineyards: 1. Look to grapevine management techniques, 2. Shift vineyard sites and 3. Think about different grape varieties. In the Yarra Valley , winemaker Dan Buckle at Domaine Chandon, one of Australia’s leading sparkling winemakers may be locked into the classic Champagne trio – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier – but he is still free to look at different sites. “I think that by focusing on altitude in vineyard selection we can avoid risks of climate change,” he says. “Certainly the results we see from our Whitlands vineyard are exciting.” Whitlands is one of the highest vineyards in Victoria, around 800 metres on a high point in the King Valley , and was planted by Brown Brothers in 1982. In 2010, Brown Brothers went in search of parts potentially cooler, buying the extensive Tasmanian vineyards of troubled forestery giant, Gunns Ltd. for $32.5 million. It was an expensive commitment to a changing climate, ironically, coming at a cost: the forced sale of Whitlands. But not everyone can change vineyard location. It’s far easier and cheaper to change the grape variety. McLaren Vale boasts a sunny, Mediterranean-style climate. With that in mind, Coriole winemaker Mark Lloyd thought it obvious to look to Italian varieties. Some didn’t work. Nebbiolo and Barbera are real sooks in the heat, as he discovered during the January heat wave of 2009. Fruit all but disappeared on the vine. However, grape varieties sourced from Southern Italy are a different story. Fiano has become possibly his greatest success story, an inspiration to others. It is already being hailed as making the region’s best white wine. Nero d’Avola, a late maturing red variety, is also performing well. And this year, he has Apulia’s dark-hearted Negroamaro planted. In the Clare Valley, one of the most surprising alternative grape stars is an unpronounceable Greek variety that originally hails from the fabulous volcanic soils of Santorini. Assyrtiko was brought into Australia by Jim Barry Wines and from its first vintage in 2014, its crisp acid personality was a delight. The grape absolutely thrives in the dry and the hot. Still, new grape varieties, many with difficult-to-pronounce names, may be trending, but there are others who simply look to adapt what they’ve got. Maybe they’ve read the controversial new book from pioneering Western Australian viticultural scientist, John Gladstones, Wine, Terroir and Climate Change (Wakefield Press) which doesn’t want to be too doom and gloomy about the future. His message? Terroir is resilient. Others may see hope in new varieties being developed by the CSIRO. Brown Brothers had moderate success with Cienna some years back and are now backing Project Enigma, another first in the wine world, a totally new grape variety that laps up the heat. Climate change means change. But, if handled with thought and positive action, it could signal an exciting future for winemakers and drinkers alike.
Wine
Rutherglen Legends Campbells Wines
What makes Rutherglen so special? Rutherglen has a very unique climate. Our heat degree days are about in line with the Clare Valley , but we have more sunshine hours than any other wine region in Australia. This means our grapes get more exposure to sunlight so we can make our table wines earlier in the season. Also, we normally have nice dry autumns that enable us to get much riper fruit for Muscats and Topaques. Rutherglen is also a very unique region because we work very closely together as a group – we call it ‘coopetition’. We cooperate and work together when we’re out in the bigger scene and at joint promotions and when we’re at home, we’re competing with our neighbours. What are some of the winemaking challenges Rutherglen presents? Just this year we had not overly hot temperatures, but up in the mid-30s for 10 days in a row and that brought all the grapes on very, very quickly. We’re in some interesting times because as a winemaker you can’t foresee these things, you’ve got to deal with them when they happen. But I find it difficult to believe that the dramatic changes in vintages have been caused by climate change, because it’s too sudden. While I’ve got no doubt that our climate will change and it is, climate change is going to be a slow, developing thing that will happen over time. What have been some of Campbells’ proudest achievements in recent years? We’ve done a lot to promote our fortified wines, our Muscats and Topaques, including developing the classification system and repositioning them as icon wines. Our Muscats are highly regarded all around the world and in 2010 renowned wine critic Harvey Steinman gave our Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat 100 points in Wine Spectator magazine. This was the first time in the magazine’s history that an Australian wine was awarded a perfect score. So if we hadn’t repositioned the Muscats and Topaques they would have probably become a bit of a curio. Instead, we’ve been able to turn that around to something that has been a growing quality market. Having said that, however, it can be a challenge getting people to try these wines because they just associate them with Christmas lunch. So we’re in the process of revamping our fortified range with the help of a mixologist to show people that you can drink these styles any time. The other thing that’s been very rewarding is our movement with Durif. We’ve had Durif in the area for over 100 years, and because we had phylloxera, no cuttings can be taken out of the area, so we’re really proud to have the original clone. However, nothing was ever really done with it until Mick Morris made a table wine out of it about 30 years ago. Then we made our Barkley Durif in 1992 and having recognised that it was a pretty special wine, we worked on it to develop a style that was more drinkable as a younger wine, but still with longevity. Now, every Rutherglen producer has Durif and I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that it’s their most expensive wine and that’s been a real coup. Your world class fortifieds are obviously an incredible asset, but do you think the message is getting out there that you do fantastic table wines too? No, that’s something that’s developing all the time. We’ve been trying new varieties, we’ve got a lot of Rhône varieties grown here now and that’s only happened in the last 10-15 years and also we’re trying varieties from Portugal, Spain and even into Italy to prepare ourselves for what we would say is climate change. The Wine Selectors Wine of the Month for July is your Limited Release Cabernets 2012, which features Ruby Cabernet. This isn’t a variety that we hear much of, can you describe its appeal? Ruby Cabernet is interesting because the first wines were made down around the Riverland , etc., and they weren’t very smart, they were overcropped and Ruby Cabernet ended up with a bad name. But John Brown and ourselves planted it here and we found that at the normal crop level it makes a totally different wine. It’s just a lovely wine that holds its fruit very well and ages well We’ve matched it in our 2016 calendar with slow roasted lamb shoulder with Middle Eastern spices and cumin yoghurt sauce. What are your favourite food matches with this wine? I’m pretty basic with my food – just a nice steak would probably suit me very well.
Wine
Preserving the truth on sulphates in wine
Recently, one of our members, Penny Bamford, got in touch to ask about preservative 220, which you might have seen listed on the back label of bottle of wine. She wanted to know whether it can cause allergic reactions and whether it’s used in organic and biodynamic wine. Tasting Panellist Dave Mavor came to the rescue with an explanation. The main preservative used in wine is sulphur dioxide, which you’ll see on the label as ‘preservative 220’, ‘minimal sulphur dioxide added’ or ‘contains sulphites’. Sulphur dioxide is added in the winemaking process to protect the wine from oxidation and bacterial spoilage. I can tell you that the sulphur dioxide used in winemaking is less than many other products (e.g., dried fruits, some beer, meat, etc.) that we consume every day. It has been used as a preservative in wine since Roman times. And don’t be fooled into thinking that because preservatives aren’t listed on European wines that they’re not present, it’s just that they don’t have the same strict labelling laws as Australia. The amount of sulphur dioxide winemakers are allowed to add is strictly controlled to a limit of 250 milligrams per litre. With such low levels it is unlikely to cause any health issues, however, some people feel they are quite sensitive to it. If that is you, here are some tips: There tends to be higher levels of sulphur dioxide added to white wines as they are more susceptible to oxidation, whereas the tannins in red wines act as a natural preservative. If you have symptoms from drinking red wine, it’s more likely to be from the histamines. Age also affects the sulphur dioxide levels in a wine, as it dissipates over time, so if you’re sensitive to sulphur dioxide, go for older wines. There is less sulphur dioxide used in organic and biodynamic wines. Certification allows 50 per cent of what can be used under conventional standards. Preservative-free wines don’t have sulphur dioxide added, however, it can also be a natural product of fermentation and is therefore often present even if it hasn’t been deliberately added. Also, without added preservatives, the wine will be very susceptible to spoilage by oxidation, so it needs to be consumed straightaway – which is not a bad thing. You might have noticed the recent emergence of products that claim to remove the sulphur dioxide from your wine. Dave explains that these are simply made up of diluted hydrogen peroxide. While this is a chemical sometimes used in the winery when too much sulphur has been accidently added to a wine, it’s extremely controlled by winemakers with a thorough understanding of the chemical process. Remember that if you add too much hydrogen peroxide to a wine it will go off and you will have spoilt all the winemaker’s hard work!
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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