Wendouree: The Collector’s Wine
When I was researching this post on Wendouree, I came across an article in the Wine Spectator about a very successful Houston heart surgeon who had built an impressive wine collection. Of particular pride for the collector was a substantial grouping of reds from Wendouree totaling 90 bottles from 1990 to 2003. (The Pulse of a Collector: A surgeon builds a cellar that would get anyone’s heart racing by Jennifer Fielder, Wine Spectator, 30 June 2007)
The article brought back memories of a collection I once inventoried for another doctor, who also had a very deep collection of Wendouree verticals. Both doctors had created their cellars for long-term drinking pleasure. As the heart surgeon explained, “There’s no wine I buy for investment purposes. They are made to enjoy, not just to look at like trophies on the wall.”
The decision to buy multiple vintages of the Wendouree range may have a little bit to do with having a place on the winery’s coveted mailing list. (No easy task!) Wendouree proprietors Tony and Lity Brady only sell wine via their mailing list. Allocations are strictly limited and prices are deliberately kept at reasonable levels, so few customers pass up to opportunity to take what’s offered!
The Bradys see themselves as custodians of a priceless treasure. Many of the vines on the 28 acre Clare Valley property date back to 1892. The beautiful historic stone winery is also over 100 years old.
The Bradys purchased “A.P. Birks Wendouree” (the full name, as it still appears on the label) in 1974 and have limited production to straight varietals or blends of shiraz, malbec, mataro, cabernet sauvignon, and a dessert muscat of Alexander.
The wines are meant to aged – one of the main reasons why collectors hold onto their verticals. As wine writer Jamie Goode commented, “I have to be honest: these are my sort of wines. Unusual for modern Australian reds, they’re not terribly alcoholic. They are wines for the long haul, and sacrifice some early drinkability and seductive deliciousness from some future development – a wise investment. I can’t think of a more consistently excellent Australian producer.” (The Clare Valley, Part 4: Wendouree by Jamie Goode, wineanorak.com)
I’m always keen to discover what makes a wine exceptional. In the case of Wendouree, the quality of the terroir – low yielding, dry-grown, old vines on shallow red loam over limestone – is obviously very special. Work in the vineyard fits the best practice mode in being very meticulous and un-mechanised. Herbicides are avoided and the grapes are only hand-picked when each bunch is deemed to be at optimal ripeness.
But you can’t overlook what happens in the winery. In a very interesting interview with Goode, Tony explained that “The critical technology in winemaking is the method.” A few highlights: Lita and Tony use small open top fermenters, which have the advantage of blowing off alcohol by about one degree. Malolactic fermentation is finished in tank not in barrel, because it’s important and the tank offers more control: “If you finish fermentation in wood the wine looks good young but it’s not good for the long term,” Tony told Goode.
Other winemakers, I’m sure, would debate this last point. But it does highlight, in my mind at least, how making great wine is at some point an alchemic process. No matter the degree of skill, technical analysis, technology etc, with the right material a great winemaker just knows how to make magic happen!
A selection of back vintages of Wendouree are available on the Cellarit Wine Market