Yes, there were a lot of highlights at Rootstock. It feels entirely unfair to pick out individual wines or producers. After all I didn’t taste everything, despite my best intentions. And I’d have to write dozens of blog posts to give all the interesting wines justice. Despite these reservations, I will share some more of the highlights. I focused on the Australian and New Zealand producers present, simply because I’ll get more chance to taste the European wines shown here at the RAW and Real Wine Fairs next spring.
Iwo Jakimowicz and Sarah Morris (above) are Si Vintners, based in Margaret River. Their Margaret River wines are superb, and they’ve added to this a project called Casa de Si, which is based in Calatayud in Spain, where they have bought some old vineyards. Look out for the Florecita 2014, which is a stunning elegant Grenache-dominated field blend from a remarkable old vineyard
Matthew Rorick isn’t your typical Californian winemaker. His Folorn hope wines involve varieties long-established but forgotten, such as Verdelho, Vermentino, Green Hungarian, Semillon and Trousseau Gris. The Grenache below is from limestone, and it’s just so pale and fragrant.
Amber and Tarras’ Ochota barrels wines are just stunning. Everything is good here, but the trio of Fugazi, Sense of Compression and I am the Owl were just other-worldly.
Winner of best beard competition? Jarad Curwood’s Chapter Wines are surprising and interesting, with the highlight for me being a detailed, fresh Malbec from Heathcote.
Husband and wife duo Alex Schulkin and Galit Shachaf are ‘The Other Right’. They have a love trio of Pet Nats, as well as still Chardonnay and Grenache that are superbly drinkable. ‘My aim for all the wines is to make smashable juice,’ says Alex, whose day job is a scientist at the Australian Wine Research Institute.
I went to a seminar, with John Wurdeman of Pheasants Tears talking about Georgian wine. Georgia is a small country but it has 525 of its own grape varieties, and wine is so embedded in culture that John says it’s the most wine-centric country on earth. He’s eloquent and artistic, and it was very cool to be able to hear him talk.
Mary’s Burger. Sensational. So delicious and it’s amazing how quickly they go down.
Nomad Gose. Slightly salty beer. Delicious.
Had a few Young Henrys Newtowners. Lovely.
This is a whole cow being roasted. Big project. Looks a bit industrial, but apparently the results were very good.
More later. This morning I have to catch a plane to Adelaide.
So Rootstock is half way through. Yesterday was a great day. The energy and enthusiasm for wine shown by all the people who flocked to the Carriageworks was quite electric. And it was fun, too. I can’t understand people who moan about how doomed the wine industry is, and how it needs to produce fruit flavoured faux wines in colourful packaging in order to woo new consumers. Most of the people there yesterday were young, half of them were female, and all that was required to draw them was authentic wine made by convincing, engaging people.
Mike Bennie, one of the three organizers
It’s the honesty of the offering that shines through at Rootstock. Of course, not all the wines are amazing and incredible and astonishing. There were some I didn’t like. But even these wines are made honestly and by people who believe in what they are doing. For most of them winegrowing is a vocation rather than a career choice. I’d say, though, that at this level, it’s not ‘which are the best wines?’ – it’s which wines do you enjoy drinking? There’s such a stylistic variation on show. It’s really hard to benchmark and be objective about these sorts of wines. Here are some of my highlights (remember, I haven’t tasted everything – I’m going back today to taste more.
Patrick Sullivan (below) is making some really lovely wines. Above is his Britannia Creek white, which was one of the stars of the show.
New discovery: Alex Craighead, who makes The Don and Kindeli wines. This Kindeli Pet Nat (below) is Riesling. It’s cloudy, full flavoured and delicious. For me, Pet Nat of the day.
Another new discovery: Ravensworth, from Canberra. Owner Bryan Martin makes wine at Clonakilla. This(above) is his Sangiovese 2014, and it’s really convincing. He also makes lovely Nebbiolo and really pure Riesling and Gamay.
Tom Lubbe’s (above) Matassa wines are becoming more refined and interesting. Great to compare a skin fermented Grenache Gris 90%/Carignan (10%) that’s had long ferment on skins with a Grenache dominant red with 4 days on skins. Both pale reds but very different.
Adi Badenhorst’s wines are really lovely. The Swartland star (above) is making some super-interesting things, including an epi vermouth. I really like his Cinsault and also his Barbarossa (pictured below). Such elegance and detail.
Duncan Forsyth was there flying the flag for Central Otago. His Riesling was showing beautifully, and he’s also making an intriguing orange wine called Clockwork. Lovely stuff. And I got given a few Riesling tattoos!
Vanya Cullen was there! Showing her superb Vanya flagship red. It’s a really complex, detailed Cabernet Sauvignon that should age beautifully. Also worth checking out is Cullen’s Amber 2014. It’s an orange wine, mostly Semillon, weighing in at 15% alcohol with a pH of 3.2.
Moondarra’s Paradise Garage: a beautiful Nebbiolo from Gippsland. And as a scientist, I love the decanters.
Mosse. Loire genius. A Chenin masterclass, and a very smart Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.
James Millton was pouring his Libiamo Gewurz. Skin fermented but just beautiful, with such texture. 2015 and 2015 both excellent.
Nick and Jo Mills were there showing their lovely Rippon wines. I loved this Riesling. They are on top of their game at the moment.
Sticking with Central Otago, Rudi Bauer was showing a couple of Pinots and these two lovely sparkling wines. His fizz is worth looking out for.
Julian and Adam Castagna. Making some very impressive wines, including a seductive Sangiovese – La Chiave.
Enough for now. More highlights to follow soon. I must go back to Rootstock and taste some more!
After a morning coffee and a quick blog, I set about ensuring internet access for the trip. Roaming is just too expensive, even with bundles, so I bought a cheap android phone and 3 gigs of data, and made sure it supported tethering (thank you Telstra for allowing this: a lot of pre-paid data sims won’t allow it these days). So armed with google maps, I set about exploring Sydney on foot.
It’s a lovely city. I wandered and wandered, and then stopped for some beer and people watching. Fortunately, temperatures had dipped from Thursday’s high 30s to the mild early 20s. And after a cloudy start, the sun came out. [We Brits like to talk about the weather.]
At 5pm I made my way down to Carriageworks, where Rootstock is being held this weekend. It was a change to meet some of the winegrowers who are here. Many of the great and the good of the natural/authentic wine scene are in attendance. Some of them are very natural indeed.
After this I went to drink some more beer with Mark Davidson and Laura Jewell. We hit the Hero of Waterloo in the Rocks, and then moved on to The Lord Nelson brew pub, a short distance away. Both lovely boozers, and the beer was great. A feed followed, and then we ended the night with a negroni. Isn’t Sydney a great place?
And wine? Really enjoyed this – the Frederick Stevenson Vine Vale Grenache 2014. Supple, elegant, slightly leafy, with real delicacy to the texture. It was perfect slightly chilled. Aussie Grenache is happening, at last.
Moon on the wing tip, flying into Sydney this morning
I have just arrived in Sydney, and while sitting drinking my first flat white of the trip, I jotted down some thoughts, prompted by the following lines in a book I was reading on the flight, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars.
Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.
We allow dreams to fade and die. Should some dreams be allowed to die? How much compromise should we tolerate? Let’s think of wine. In wine there is a trade off. Making wine comes with risks. How much risk can a winegrower tolerate? Should she try to make the wine she always really wanted to make? As a wine writer, I have a choice, too. To play it safe and do what everyone else does – or to risk failure, writing bravely with a clear voice?
I can’t speak for others, but as a teenager I had dreams. As a young adult I was idealistic, and had no desire to compromise. But life happens and brings with it a set of restrictions and commitments, and you get caught up in it. Some of this is inevitable; some of it less so. Many of our ‘settles’ and compromises – if we are honest – are actually self-imposed. We portray ourselves as victims; we aren’t.
But we are locked in by our habits and circumstances. There’s a comfort, even in uncomfortable situations, if we are surrounded by the familiar. People living crowded, difficult, busy lives are comfortable in them no matter how much they complain, because they are comforted by the familiar.
One by one we trade our dreams for comfort. We settle for something approaching normal. We make a pact with life: if you can insulate me from major discomfort and pain, then I’ll hand you my dreams and desires.
The problem? Well, there’s more than one. The first is that life doesn’t always keep its side of the bargain. We still encounter pain, and sometimes in the form of tragedy. Life resists control. The second is that by making this trade-off, little by little we die inside. We lose consciousness and become zombie-like. [But respectable, functioning zombies who rarely bite others.] Occasionally we are jerked out of this unconscious state before retreating quickly back into it.
This is why art is so important. Books, movies, plays, paintings and music all have the potential of reaching us, even in our zombieness. So does great wine, I think. It has a way of connecting us with reality. Art and wine together: that’s a great combo.
Travel also jolts us into consciousness. Immersed in the unfamiliar, our minds are wakened. Shorn of the comfortable familiarity of our daily routines, we have a chance to look inward and then look around, and of connecting with reality in a properly alert, conscious way.
A lot of our life is automatic. Our brains don’t bother us with conscious awareness of the things we are doing: walking, getting up, reaching for a glass of wine. We decide to make the movement, the brain predicts what action will be needed and warns the muscles to expect it, and then we do it. As long as there are no error readings (the predictions were pretty close), we’re not aware of making the movement. It’s possible to live pretty much unconsciously and, once we’ve settled and died inside, that’s what many of us do.
But it’s not too late, for most. If we find a way to jolt ourselves out of our rut, then we can begin to live properly. There’s the attendant risk of pain, of course. But this pain can be used positively. It isn’t to be sought (that would be weird), but if pain finds us then we beat it by turning it around and allowing it to spur us on towards creativity and fully conscious living.
I’ve reviewed the wines of Niagara (Canada) winery Pearl Morissette before. I’ve been lucky to visit three times, and I love the brave, creative approach of Francois Morissette, who’s making some really interesting wines. One of the four varieties he specializes in is Gamay (the others are Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Franc), and this is one of the most interesting Niagara Gamays each year, in a region that seems well suited to the variety. These wines are not utterly conventional in every way, but they are beautiful, well thought out, and utterly drinkable.
Pearl Morissette Cuvée Mon Unique Gamay 2013 Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara, Canada
12.8% alcohol. 378 cases made. Vivid raspberry, cherry and spice nose with some meaty, savoury notes. The palate is fresh and vivid with juicy, spicy personality and some nice crunchy savouriness. Such lovely raspberry fruit at the core. Distinctive and lovely. 92/100
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com
So I’m off to Australia. Should be in the sky right now, somewhere between London and Singapore. Boarded the plane (BA0015), sat there for 2 hours, and then deplaned (is that really a verb?) because of a technical fault with the in flight entertainment system. Apparently, passengers will die if they don’t have access to Hollywood movies on a 12 hour flight.
So they told us to come back tomorrow, same time, same place. Yes: I lost a whole day of my trip because of technical issues with an in flight entertainment system! Initially, they wanted us to stay on the plane so they could feed us airline food before bussing us to hotels (I guess airline food is cheaper – it’s already on the plane and will be thrown away otherwise), but then they decided that because the flight would be moved fully 24 hours, that perhaps they should let those of us who wanted to get home, leave the plane.
When I eventually get there, I’m going to be taking part in Rootstock. No, it’s not a conference about rootstocks (which would be geeky and slightly boring for most). Instead, it’s a natural and authentic wine fair for consumers. The producer list is amazing. If you are anywhere near Sydney this weekend, you need to be there.
After that, I have a killer itinerary that takes me across a number of regions, visiting some of the most interesting producers. I am very excited by the prospect of making a lot of new discoveries. If I ever get there on BA0015. There’s even a news article on Wine Australia’s website about my visit!
Exton Park is based in the Meon Valley, in Hampshire’s South Downs. With its chalky soils, this area is rapidly becoming a hot spot for sparkling wine production, with Hambledon and Coates & Seely close by.
The first vineyards at Exton Park were planted in 2003. In 2009, just as a second planting phase had taken place, it was purchased by Malcolm Isaac. Malcom had recently sold his company, Vitacress, which sold watercress to supermarkets. For the first couple of years he sold the grapes to Coates & Seely, and then in 2011 he decided to expand the vineyard and make his own wines. So he hired Corinne Seely as winemaker, and built a new winery. These are the first releases, and they’re really good.
Exton Park only uses estate grapes, but with 55 acres under vine, they now have quite a few to play with. The quality of the pressing is a key aspect of sparkling wine quality, and Corinne uses a Bucher press fitted with the Inertys system, which is a sort of nitrogen lung that keeps oxygen away from the press.
Exton Park Blanc de Blancs 2011 Hampshire, England
11.5% alcohol. From the pure chalk soils at the top of the hill, this is the first vintage wine to be released from Exton Park. Fine, pure and fruity with real finesse. Hints of honey and subtle toast accompany the core of bright citrus fruit. Taut lemony palate with nice acidity and pure fruit flavours, with some quince and a hint of ginger. Distinctive and fine. 91/100
Exton Park Brut NV Hampshire, England
11.5% alcohol. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Taut citrus fruit nose with some fine toasty notes. Linear, pure and bright with a subtle creamy texture. There’s purity and focus here. Bright and fresh, showing keen acidity. 90/100
Exton Park Blanc de Noirs NV Hampshire, England
11.5% alcohol. 85% older plantings, 15% younger vines. Fruity and aromatic on the nose with attractive citrus, cherry and ripe apple. The palate is lemony and precise with keen acidity. Such focus! Very youthful with high acidity. 91/100
Exton Park Rosé NV Hampshire, England
11.5% alcohol. Pale salmon pink. There’s a lovely green leafy, herby edge to the redcurrant and cherry fruit nose. The palate is appley with some red fruits and nice fresh, slightly sappy, herby hints. Very fruity with good acidity. Bright and laser sharp, but not harsh. 90/100
I was really taken by this. And especially by the label. It’s from Mike Roth, who was winemaker with Martian Ranch until 2014, and then launched his own label, Lo-Fi. I really like Mike’s mission statement, particularly about making wines that aren’t too expensive, so normal people can drink them. Some of the wines from the natural movement are lovely but are just really expensive, which kind of jars when they are made in a drinkable style. We want drinkable wines that we can actually afford to drink.
We believe in neutral barrels, native yeasts, little to no sulfur additions, and no adjustment of pH. We love whole cluster fermentation. We adore carbonic maceration . We embrace a nothing added, nothing taken away philosophy that gives birth to wines that are young, vibrant and alive. But in all reality Lo-Fi is less about what it is and more about what it is not. It is not over manipulated. It is not over extracted. It is not over ripe and it is not over priced.
There’s a lovely interview with Mike on Elaine Brown’s website here. This wine is a Cinsault from the Demetria Estate Vineyard in Santa Ynez. It’s at 1300 feet and is planted to Rhone varieties, all biodynamically farmed.
Lo-Fi Wines Cinsault 2014 Santa Barbara County, California
Cloudy. Vivid, bright and focused with nice spicy, grainy cherry and plum fruit, with a distinctive meaty, earthy, slightly natural edge. This is edgy and quite savoury and has a distinctive ‘natural’ personality. It’s amazingly drinkable and pleasurable wine, as long as you don’t want things super pure and fruit-driven – but this is not meant as a criticism at all, because I love drinking this sort of wine. 92/100 (UK agents Les Caves de Pyrene)
This is a lovely wine that I got to try this week courtesy of winemaker Youki Hirayama, who was over to judge at the International Wine Challenge. I reviewed one of his other wines a while back. This is a 100% Koshu, Japan’s indigenous variety that’s been grown in the Yamanashi region for some 1200 years. This is made by the Katsunuma Winery.
Adega d’Aruga Bosque 2014 Yamanashi, Japan
Attractive stony, mineral nose. Lovely texture here: mineral, focused and very pure with a hint of smokiness. A pretty, expressive wine with a saline minerality and lovely purity, and real precision. 92/100
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com
This is the first release from a new English sparkling wine producer, Black Dog Hill. This is a vineyard based in Ditchling, East Sussex, at the foot of the South Downs. Here, the three Champagne varieties are grown on chalky soils, and the 5 hectares of vines were planted in 2007.
This wine was disgorged in 2015 after 33 months on the lees, and it’s really nice.
Black Dog Hill Classic Cuvee 2011 Sussex, England
Bright and citrussy with lovely pear, white peach, bread and subtle toast notes. There’s a hint of ripe apple here, but the key driver is a lovely citrus core. Lively but quite elegant and balanced, with a bit of structure. A lovely wine. 91/100 (£28.95 SWIG)