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 his intention has always been to make, as simply as possible, a wine which is an expression of the place where it is grown. Fruit for the celebrated Genesis Syrah is sourced from the biodynamically farmed Castagna vineyards near Beechworth in the foothills of the Australian alps, where the soil consists mainly of decomposed granitic-loam with a predominance of quartz particles on a base of clay.  Yields are kept low, vines are hand-pruned and fruit is hand-picked. Only indigenous yeasts from the vineyards are used in the fermentation process. The wine is barrel-aged in only the best, tight-grain new and slightly old French oak for 18 to 20 months.

The liveliness, minerality, complexity and elegant fruit definition of the Genesis Syrah is very much a reflection of its unique terroir. Here’s Campbell Mattinson’s review of the superb 2008 vintage:

This 2008 release is a particularly detailed wine. Elegance (and detail for that matter) has always been a feature of Castagna Genesis, though it’s always been a rather hedonistic, fruit-rich version of it. This 2008 takes that elegance and hones it. It’s a ripe, gentle wine of finesse and feel, rather than of force. It tastes of blackberries and smoky oak, cedarwood and black pepper. It has both a licoricey sweetness and an earthiness. It’s soft and textural, until the dryness of the finish asserts itself. I couldn’t stop drinking and smelling it. It offers a tremendous drinking experience. 96 points. (The Wine Front, 12 December 2010).

Photo Credit: Julian and Carolann Castagna, Castagna Vineyard