In light of one of my earlier posts, Cellaring Australian Pinot Noir: How long do they last? I was interested to read that Bass Phillip’s proprietor Phillip Jones is most emphatic that good pinot noirs can last a very long time. On his recently launched website, Jones states that the commonly held view that pinot noir cannot be cellared for more than five to six years is “absolute nonsense!”
He goes on to say: “Our most enjoyable wine experience ever were the 1908 Cos de Tart Burgundy and the 1949 Rousseau Le Chambertin, both drunk in about 1990. We are still drinking some Bass Phillips from the late 1980s, and the Premium and Reserves from the early to mid 1990s are looking fresh and complex today.”
Jones, of course, is someone who knows a great deal about pinot noir. His Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir and Premium Pinot Noir have been pivotal in gaining serious international recognition for Australian pinot noir. Jones was an early pioneer of high quality pinot noir production in Victoria and, as the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown observes, he “is still leader of the Pinot pack in Australia.” (eRobertParker.com #195 June 2011)
The Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir is among only 17 wines rated “Exceptional” in Langton’s 2010 Classification of Australian Wine. Langton’s Andrew Caillard MW writes that “It is a madly rare, profoundly intense and exquisitely balanced wine which reflects the nuances of an exceptional vineyard site.”
The exceptional vineyard site of which Caillard refers to is in Leongatha, South Gippsland Victoria. After first experimenting with Bordeaux varieties in 1979, Jones closely planted (9,000 vines per hectare) the vineyard to pinot noir, releasing the first 1989 vintages of the Reserve, Premium and Estate bottlings in 1991. Today the vineyard is still divided into sub-plots for each of these cuvees.
Jones believes that the high rainfall, wind-protected coastal region of South Gippsland is ideal terroir for pinot noir, noting that “pinot noir does not like dry climates. Have a look at Burgundy and Champagne, where the rainfalls are not low, but more importantly, the soils continually hold moisture. Ambient humidity helps to develop and retain delicate aromatics: something all pinot lovers seek!”
Like his great Burgundian counterpart, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Jones employs biodynamic farming principles in order to fully express the essence of the terroir. He believes that since biodynamics were first introduced in 2002 the wines have shown more energy, vibrancy, clarity and clear mineral expression.
The minimal interference approach in the vineyard is extended to the winery, where grapes are de-stemmed but not crushed and the only additive is sulphur dioxide, which is used early in the fermentation process to protect against spoilage.
The wines spend approximately 18 months in almost 100% new French oak. All of the Bass Phillip pinot noirs improve with cellaring – a characteristic Jones attributes to nature, crediting the mineral-rich soils and the climatic conditions, which provide the wines with a high natural acidity.
While the adherence to natural winemaking processes can create the occasional misses, it also has enabled the Bass Phillip wines to soar to new heights. In her review of the 2009 Bass Phillip Pinot Reserve, Perrotti-Brown commented, “Given the nature of natural winemaking, like most followers of this estate I’ve experienced a few dodgy bottles, but when Bass Phillips hits the highs, it truly pushes the boundaries of Australian Pinot Noir greatness.” (eRobertParker.com #195 June 2011).
Note: Like the Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (previous post) all the Bass Phillip wines are sealed with ProCork. A few more interesting facts: ProCork is a Melbourne company with production facilities in the Barossa Valley and Porto, Portugal. The technology was invented by Melbourne University. It is a natural high quality Portuguese cork with a patented crystalline coating that allows wine to breathe and mature without contamination from the cork.