Category Archives: Wine Philosophy

Aug 08 2012

Watching Biodynamics in Action at Cullen Wines: My weekend in the Margaret River

Posted on August 08, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

When I arrived at Cullen Wines, production manager/winemaker Trevor Kent suggested that we first take a look at the vineyards. His excitement in showing off the rich moist soil of the vineyard beds was palpable.

Passionate about the benefits of biodynamics, Trevor was very generous about sharing his knowledge of the subject and explaining how Vanya Cullen and he have implemented biodynamic practices both the vineyards and the winery. Cullen was certified “A” grade biodyamic in 2004, but innovation and refinement of techniques are ongoing.

Biodynamics is based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science. Trevor explained that in 1924 a group of German farmers approached Steiner for help in revitalising their nutrient depleted, unproductive soils. Steiner recommended a wholistic approach that incorporated organic farming principles but also recognised that the movements of the moon and the planets have a profound influence on the soil and plant and animal life.

At Cullen, farm activities like planting and harvesting are timed to coincide with the optimal position of the moon in relation to the planets. And the biodynamic prepartions, which include naturally occurring matter like farm manure, are all prepared in a way that optimises energy forces.

The photo on the left shows Trevor standing next to a Flow Form machine, which is used to mix the biodynamic preparations with water. For the horn manure preparation (500), for example, small amounts of manure are stirred into large volumes of water before being applied to the vineyards. Steiner believed that the combination of vertical and horizontal vortices created by the special stirring process increased the vitality of the preparations and improved their effectiveness on the soils and plants. Trevor likened the preparation process to collecting fast flowing, oxygenated water from a fresh water stream. The Flow Form machine mimics the natural process of … Read the rest

May 05 2011

Château Latour: The Epitome of Great Bordeaux

Posted on May 05, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

This Thursday evening I’m attending a very special tasting of classic Bordeaux wines at Wine Vault in Artarmon. Sponsored by Bordeaux Shippers, our host for the evening is The Wine Front’s Gary Walsh. Thursday’s session is sold out, but I believe tickets may still be available for a second session on Thursday 2 June.

One of the highlights of a very special lineup is the Château Latour 2001. It sells for around $1,000 a bottle, so I’m sure Thursday night will be one of my only chances to sample this great wine. In preparation I thought I would do a little research on one of the world’s most acclaimed drops. While most of us probably can’t entertain the possibility of buying a bottle of Latour, Margaux, Lafite, Mouton or Haut-Brion, these First Growths are the benchmarks for style, character and status, informing the aspirations and direction of some of their best New World competitors, who typically make wines a little gentler on the hip pocket!

Château Latour is one of Bordeaux’s five original First Growth (Premier Cru). Its elevation to First Growth status dates back to the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification that was done ahead of International Exhibition in Paris. But as early as 1787, one of the world’s greatest connoisseurs of wine, then minister to France, Thomas Jefferson, deemed La Tour de Ségur a vineyard of first quality.

Situated on the banks of the Gironde estuary, Château Latour is at the very southeastern tip of the commune of Pauillac in the Médoc region of Bordeaux. Here 78 hectares are under vine, but only the best grapes from the oldest vines of the 47 hectares surrounding the Chateau, known as L’Enclos, can be used in the production of the Grand Vin. Since 1966 the Latour has also produced … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

Jasper Hill Vineyard: A Pioneer in Organic and Biodynamic Winemaking

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Jasper Hill Vineyard in Heathcote Victoria was one of the earliest Australian wineries to practice organic and then biodynamic agriculture. The vineyards, first planted in 1975 on unusually deep red-coloured gravelly loams derived from the rare, Cambrian age basaltic rock, have always been free of synthetic chemicals. All vines are own rooted (ie. not grafted onto non vinifera rootstocks), mulched with organic compost, never irrigated, hand-pruned and hand-harvested.

The two most renowned wines, the Georgia’s Paddock Heathcote Shiraz and the Emily’s Paddock Heathcote Shiraz/Cabernet Franc are named after Ron and Elva Laughton’s daughters. Today Ron works with Emily on the production of seven Jasper Hill wines from three individual vineyards. Total annual production is around 3,500 cases.

Ron, who in a former life worked at Kraft in food technology, is a passionate environmentalist. As he explained to Campbell Mattinson of The Wine Front ‘Chemical free farming is one way out of our climate dilemma and can help heal our planet, because living soils absorb more carbon. Making compost and applying it to our soils at the correct time can ultimately save our soils for future generations – so our backbreaking work of making many tonnes of compost every year is well worth it; keeping our soil alive and regenerating.’  (The Wine Front, 11 September 2010)

In my mind Mattinson’s review below of the Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz 2009 speaks clearly of the benefits of biodynamic winemaking. As I mentioned my previous post, The Return to the Terroir Tasting, the use of descriptors like fresh, pure, clean and precise are common in reviews of the best examples of biodynamic wines by our most respected wine critics.

Powerful wine. Loud fruit flavours of blackberry and cranberry. These flavours have a lovely juiciness though, adding freshness to what is a rich, Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

Ngeringa: A Wholistic Approach to Winemaking

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Adelaide Hills is developing a growing reputation for first-class chardonnay, and the Ngeringa Chardonnay, now in its 5th release, is one of the leading examples. Owned and operated by Erinn and Janet Klein, this small biodynamic winery, founded in 2001, is also member of the La Renaissance des Appellations (see The Return to Terroir Tasting, Cellarit Wine Blog, 21 March 2011)

The Ngeringa Vineyard is situated below the Mount Barker summit where the cool evening sea winds, which blow in from the southern sea over the mouth of the Murray, ensure a long growing season and help the grapes maintain their natural acidity.

The Kleins have a very wholistic approach to managing their nine hectare property, which also includes four hectares of olive groves, a substantial vegetable garden and paddocks. Guinea fowl, ducks and chooks patrol the vineyards during spring and summer to keep the insects under control, and in the winter a flock of sheep mow the grass. A herd of Scottish Highland cattle provide manure for the compost used in the biodynamic brews and preparations.

Despite enlisting the help of the animal kingdom, vineyard management is still a very hands-on affair. An imported tiny crawler tractor helps till the soil, but the vines, laid out in narrow rows, are trained and mainly cared for by hand.

In the winery is a new addition: an intriguing looking Nomblot concrete egg fermenter.  Built using Pythagoras’ Golden Mean, the egg shape encourages a flowing energy, practically keeping the lees more easily in suspension, and, esoterically, enhancing the vibrancy of the wine.

James Halliday awarded the 2008 Ngeringa Chardonnay 96 points: “Good colour, a very complex bouquet, with barrel ferment and intense cool-grown fruit in a grapefruit and white peach spectrum; has great length and thrust. Cellar to 2015.” (James … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

Castagna: True Wines of Place and Passion

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

One of the really fun aspects of writing the Cellarit Wine blog is the opportunity to learn about various wine personalities. The wine industry tends to attract people with very interesting backgrounds and skill-sets. This is particularly true of winemakers. I’m often in awe of the best, as they seem to possess a myriad of skills and talents: farmer, artist-winemaker, visionary, marketer, advocate, environmentalist – the list goes on!

Julian Castagna of Castagna Vineyard is certainly one Australian winemaker who is all of these things and more. I’m no expert, but I’m guessing that he’s destined to join the ranks of the legendary Australian winemakers who over the years have changed the face of the industry.

Castagna is a passionate advocate for biodynamic wines and was instrumental in organising the recent Return to Terroir Grand Tasting in Melbourne, which brought together 61 of the best wineries in the world. A very special event that I hope will be repeated soon. (see The Return to the Terroir Tasting, Cellarit Wine Blog, 21 March 2011)

He is also a passionate about his view that the future and reputation of Australian wine rests primarily with the small and medium producers, and is not afraid to take on the governing Australian wine bodies for what he regards as their “big-company, South Australian-centric view of our industry producers,” especially when it comes to promoting Australian wine in international markets.

Most importantly, from a consumer point of view at least, Castagna is an exceptional winemaker. His Genesis Syrah recently won a place in the “Distinguished” category in Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine. Langton’s Andrew Caillard MW described this highly aromatic syrah, co-fermented with a small percentage of viognier, as “very much a wine of place.”

Castagna would appreciate Caillard’s description of the wine as … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

The Return to Terroir Grand Tasting in Melbourne

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In a week when a tragic natural disaster in Japan was compounded by the fear of a potential man-made nuclear disaster, I think many of us were grateful for the opportunity to attend the Return to The Terroir Grand Tasting in Melbourne. Here was a group of biodynamic winemakers, passionate about the benefits of working with the land’s natural rhythms and bio-systems, delighting our senses with superb wines and stimulating discussion.

Organised by Castagna Vineyard’s Julian Castagna, the tasting brought together 61 wine producers from around the world and more than 340 wines! Almost all of these wineries are members of La Renaissance des Appellations, an invitation only group of biodynamic winemakers founded by Nicolas Joly of the famed Coulée de Serrant. Members are invited not only on the basis of their farming practices (three years of biodynamic farming across the whole property is the minimum criteria) but are also judged on the quality of their wine and their commitment to a shared philosophy that great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.

In the catalogue accompanying the tasting, Australian wine critic Max Allen noted that “A rapidly growing number of the world’s best winegrowers, from Alsace to Australia, have enthusiastically adopted biodyanmics in their vineyards because they believe it helps them produce wines that express a more authentic, more beautiful sense of place in the glass.”

Indeed, some of the most celebrated wineries in the world are members of the group. To name but a few, they include Domaine Zind Humbrecht from Alsace, Araujo Estate from the Napa Valley, Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez from Spain and Cullen Wines from the Margaret River.

At the panel discussion I attended the audience had a chance to hear first-hand from the winemakers about what … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

Artadi: The Winery that Reinvented Rioja Tempranillo

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Single vineyard wines, old vines, low yields, organic farming, ripe harvests, severe grape selection and non-interventionist winemaking. Today, we associate a lot of these practices with our best quality wines, but when Juan Carlos López de Lacalle, the legendary winemaker at Rioja’s Artadi, first began pioneering the practices in the mid 1980s, he was considered a revolutionary. Now he is regarded as the man who has changed the face of Rioja wines!

Artadi is not a boutique winemaker. Today the winery makes over a million bottles a year, but López de Lacalle’s philosopy is more inline with the artisanal winemarker. As he explained to the Wine Spectator’s Bruce Schoenfeld “The Riojas of the ’80s were smooth, but their skeletons were angular..There was no flesh on them, no possibility of a caress. We wanted a viable alternative. Much about us is the same as the other Riojas–we have the same terrain, the same tempranillo. But the expression of the grape is different, as is our philosophy for the wine.” (Four Trailblazing Bodegas by Bruce Schoenfeld, Wine Spectator, 28 January 2003).

The Vina El Pison, a single vineyard tempranillo made from vines planted in 1945 on sandy soils over pure limestone, regularly achieves skyrocketing Robert Parker scores. The Grand Anadas and the Pagos Viejos, two other old vine tempranillos, are equally well regarded. The more affordable Vinas de Gain, is also 100% tempranillo. Sourced from 40- to 60-year-old vines, it is aged in 40% new French oak for 12-14 months.

In many respects, López de Lacalle’s story sounds familiar to Australian wine lovers. In the mid 1980s, Rockford winemaker Robert O’Callaghan paid his growers more than twice the going rate for their old vine fruit at a time when the South Australian government was encouraging growers to pull out their old … Read the rest

Dec 12 2010

Australia’s Old Vine Wines

Posted on December 12, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The list of acclaimed wines made from old vines in Australia are many and would include, to name a few, such renowned names as Henschke Hill of Grace, Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Torbreck RunRig, Wendouree Shiraz, Chris Ringland Shiraz, Clarendon Hill AstralisD’Arengberg The Dead Arm and Yalumba The Octavius Barossa Old Vine Shiraz.

So what makes old vine wine so special? Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator addressed this very question in his article If it Says “Old Vine,” Will You Buy?: The benefits of old vines are debatable, particularly to those who don’t have them, 15 June 2010.  “Of all the many ambiguities of wine”, Kramer said, ” ‘old vines’ seems to be one of the more troublesome. Every grower I’ve met, everywhere in the world, who has old vines insists that older vines are better. Yet I’ve met a fair number of growers who suggest that “old-vine admiration” is, if not bunk, then certainly overstated and overrated. Not coincidentally, these same scoffers are not in possession of old vines.”

Before launching into a discussion about the merits of older vines over their younger counterparts, here’s a few points about old vines that are beyond dispute.

Old Vines are Fairly Unique

Wine-making is thousands of years old but surprisingly old vines, or at least the really old vines of 60 to 100+ years, are in fact not that common. Their scarcity is due to a number of factors, but most importantly is a consequence of the damage caused by the vine destroying Phylloxera louse, which at the turn of the 20th century wiped out vine stocks throughout Europe and especially in the wine-making centre of France.

Fortunately, Australia was spared the full force of the Phylloxera curse. Phylloxera hit Victoria and New South … Read the rest

Dec 12 2010

Part 2: Ata Rangi, The ‘Grand Cru’ of Martinborough Pinot Noir

Posted on December 12, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In February 2010 the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir and the Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir were named  “Great Growths of New Zealand” at the New Zealand Pinot Noir Conference.

The honour, which is New Zealand’s equivalent to Bordeaux’s ‘Grand Cru’ status, wasn’t an audacious move on the part of the Kiwis to thrust their pinot noirs into the limelight. Rather, it was appropriate recognition that New Zealand pinot noir has come of age and is now the leading New World example of fine pinot noir.

Martinborough winery Ata Rangi has been at the forefront in showing the world that New Zealand is capable of making world-class pinot noir. Langton’s Andrew Caillard recently described the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2006 as an example of how a wine can be so “profoundly beautiful when young” that it is capable of being articulated as a “great” wine, a wine which, in his opinion, “simply transcends its genre.” (The Evolution of New Zealand Pinot Noir by Andrew Caillard, Langton’s Magazine)

Owned and managed by Clive Paton, his wife Phyll and Clive’s sister Alison, Ata Rangi’s grapes were planted on an originally bare, stony 12-acre paddock at the edge of the Martinborough village in 1980. Today Ata Rangi harvests fruit from around 120 acres, including a number of leased and local contract growers blocks.

All of the carefully chosen sites are very similar in terms of soil type and micro-climate. Key features of the terroir include:

  • shallow silt-loam over deep, free-draining alluvial gravels that force the vines to dig deep for water leading to fuller flavours and minerality in the wine
  • speckled sunshine that allows for a gentle, slow and full ripening of the grapes
  • cool and windy spring weather that limits the risk of damage to the grapes from mildew and
Read the rest
Dec 12 2010

Artisans of the Barossa: Breaking down the Stereotypes!

Posted on December 12, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In my article, Australian and New Zealand Wine: Telling a Complex Story!, 28 September 2010, I mentioned that 12 of the country’s most prestigious wineries have joined forces to create Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) – an export oriented venture designed to explain and promote the character, heritage and quality of Australia’s family-run wine companies.

In the Barossa region another group of like-minded winemakers formed their own alliance in 2006 with a similar purpose. Today, Artisans of the Barossa consists of 12 wineries that are working together to market their small production, hand-made, high quality wines to the domestic and international markets. Familiar and not-so-familiar names make up the group’s membership: Dutschke Wines, Hobbs of Barossa Ranges, John Duval Wines, Kalleske Wines, Massena, Radford Wines, Schwarz Wine Company, Sons of Eden, Spinifex Wines, The Standish Wine Company, Teusner and Tin Shed. Collectively they represent 11 Barossa subregions: Barossa Ranges, Lyndoch, Ebenezer Moppa, Kalimna, Bethany, Vine Vale, Light Pass, Koonunga and Marananga, as well as the Eden Valley.

What is also interesting about Artisans of the Barossa is that while the winemakers collectively have decades of winemaking experience behind them and share a rich viticultural heritage, most of the wineries in the group are less than 20 years old. Indeed, they represent a new generation of wineries that are dispelling the notion that Barossa is about massively extracted, high alcohol wines. As the American wine critic Alder Yarrow commented in his article, Tasting the Artisans of Barossa Wines, Vinography, 30 March 2010, “I was very happy to find many of them making 13.5% to 14% alcohol, elegant and delicious Shiraz (some from very old, microscopic family vineyards, and lean, low-alcohol Rieslings from the Eden valley).” Yarrow tasted … Read the rest