Si Vintners, Margaret River

Monday, April 13, 2015 0 No tags 0

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The end of my time in Australia was spent in Perth with one of my best friends, Christina. During that week in WA, we decided to take a little road trip to Margaret River and see some of her wine pals down there. Christina and I have been going on wine adventures together for several years, the only difference with this adventure is that we had an extra buddy in tow – her newborn baby girl Alba. Safe to say this trip was a bit more tame than in previous years, but perhaps even better? We went to bed early, didn’t get too drunk and stayed hydrated! It was kind of great.

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The highlight of my time in Margaret River was getting to meet Iwo and Sarah, husband and wife winemakers of Si Vintners. They are two of the most kindhearted people and they make damn good wine. They first bought their property in 2010, which came with 20 acres of 35 year old vines. They farm organically/biodynamically and make wine as simply as possible with no additives apart from a small amount of SO2 at bottling. We were able to taste through quite a few wines from bottle and barrel and I was just so impressed. Clean and well-made, but not lacking in texture, soul or personality.

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They work with pinot noir, chardonnay, semillon, and red Bordeaux varieties and use old french barrels, concrete eggs and some stainless steel. They also play around with aging the semillon in concrete eggs under flor, which is super cool. I only wish they made more wine and that it was available to me in LA. I should stop whining. PS- If you want to know what steam cleaning a barrel looks like see below. PPS- If you want to know the most consumed beverage in any winery anywhere in the world, and no it’s not wine, you can also refer to one of the photos below.

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Thanks to Sarah and Iwo for such a lovely visit. And to my dear Christina for introducing me to all of the special people and talented winemakers I met in Australia.

Harvest at Brash Higgins, McLaren Vale

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 0 No tags 0

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While I was staying in Adelaide Hills, I took a few day trips out to Barossa and McLaren Vale. While in The Vale, I visited with Brad Hickey at Brash Higgins. We emailed back and forth trying to schedule something and he alerted me that harvest would probably be just beginning upon my arrival and did I want to get my hands dirty. Um, yes. Bring on the grapes! When I pulled up to the cellar, several tons of shiraz from their Omensetter vineyard were arriving as well. Grapes come in, they are destemmed (some are left on the stems), and dumped into open-top fermenters. Brad was doing a mix of whole berry and whole cluster fermentation AND some foot stomping, in which I got to partake.

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After working up a little sweat I got to taste the current Brash Higgins line-up as well as several things out of barrel. Brad is a former NYC wine director and sommelier that, after a visit to McLaren Vale, decided to leave the city behind and move to Australia. Everyone arrives at their place in the wine world via different paths and it’s always so interesting see how.

Still a somewhat young operation, I’m excited to see what Brad has up his sleeve. He was the first one in the area to really work with nero d’avola (the hot climate there does very well with Sicilian varieties) as well as ferment in clay amphora, something that others are now doing. He’s a trendsetter with vision and amazing ability to market wines. I’m sure that savvy ability comes from years working the floor of fine dining establishments – he knows how to sell wine and what people want. He also has one of the best wine vocabularies I’ve ever heard. He’s like a damn poet when describing the sensory experience of a wine.

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Thanks to Brad, Nicole, and the BH crew for letting me crash harvest, foot stomp for the first time, and ride around the vineyard on a four wheeler!

Adelaide Hills and The Basket Range Crew

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 0 No tags 1

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To say that my time spent in the Adelaide Hills was the wine highlight of my trip is an understatement. After I left Melbourne, I flew to Adelaide and hopped right into a rental car headed towards the hills. Because of my bestie Christina I was in touch with what I am going to call the Basket Range Crew, and stayed with one of its members - Gareth Belton of Gentle Folk. He was so kind to open up his home (and his wine) and act as my Adelaide Hills guide. Gareth is an exceptionally interesting man, as many wine folks turn out to be, coming to wine from a career in biology and as a seaweed expert (!).

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Within a relatively small area of Adelaide Hills (like sometimes walking distance) live a handful of winemakers with a similar vision and they’ve all ended up the best of friends, so supportive and helpful of each other’s efforts. It’s a really lovely and special thing. After I arrived, Gareth took me straight to the home and cellar of Amber and Taras of Ochota Barrels. They’d just finished building their “tasting deck” – probably the best tasting room I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying wine in/on. Then, with a few bottles in tow, we headed to see James Erskine of Jauma. Many more bottles were opened, homemade beer was enjoyed, I got electrocuted on a fence while peeing in a field…among other things.

My last night was spent at the home of Anton Van Klopper of Domaine Lucci/Lucy Margaux. It was just a walk up and around a hill from Gareth’s house, with a pit stop at Anton’s garden for last minute dinner ingredients. I’m going to let the pictures do the talking from here. If you see these wines, drink them. If you meet these people, get drunk with them and let them tell you stories.

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The Yarra Men (and Woman)

Monday, March 23, 2015 0 No tags 1

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I’ve already told you about Mac Forbes, now on to the other Yarra Men in my life. Including Mac, there is a group of winemakers and friends in the Yarra that all have the same philosophy when it comes to farming and winemaking - let the grapes do their thing, ferment naturally, keep alcohol percentage moderate and don’t chuck it in a bunch of new oak.  Because their operations are relatively small (and for some tiny), almost all of them work on side consulting projects or are winemakers at other larger wineries to pay the bills. It’s like when I was making weird but wonderful theater in New York and had to work in a real estate office during the day. Just like that…

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First up is the one and only Timo Mayer. What a guy. He has tons of energy, a huge smile, and a wicked little sense of humor. His home and winery is right across from Mac Forbes, perched atop what he calls his “Bloody Hill.” Bloody mainly because it’s a bloody pain in the ass to farm. He’s obsessed with Beaujolais and funky French wines and loves “stalky shit”- whole bunch fermentation with stems. Because of that, his pinot noir is textural and very aromatic with a savory edge. So different from Mac’s pinot and that is what I love about wine. Perspective, personality, and inspiration + technique, microclimates, and grape variety = a magical wine snowflake.

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My next stop was to see the charming and kind Luke Lambert. He had just moved his operation to a small winery closer to Yarra Glen and was still settling in to the place. He finds inspiration in Italian wines, Barolo especially, so it’s no surprise he works with a little bit of nebbiolo from a beautiful hilltop vineyard. His syrah and chardonnay are delicious - elegant with a kind of quiet confidence and nuance.  And I really loved his champagne method chardonnay sparkler. Trying to compliment Luke is difficult because he is so very humble and modest, but his wines are really great.

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The following day, I headed to Yering Station to meet with Gary Mills of Jamsheed. He occupies a small corner of the huge winery and his office (a couch and coffee table with some filing boxes and such) is tucked back near a load-in area. It’s a simple setup but it’s all he needs. Gary got his start in wine in Margaret River and eventually came to the States to work and learn under Paul Draper of California’s Ridge Vineyards, before ending up in the Yarra. Gary hunts down the best vineyards sites, like Garden Gully and its 120 year old vines, no matter how far they are from home base. He probably drives more than most truck drivers (both him and Luke actually live in Melbourne.) Jamsheed is all about single vineyard syrah, powerful and bold but never over the top, each one different from the next. I would love to get some bottles and sit on them for a bit – they would age beautifully.

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My last stop was to see Tom and Sally Belford of Bobar. They welcomed me in to their home and I was able to taste through the last five vintages of syrah, back to their first one. I also got to meet their four adorably bright kids who were just getting home from school. Tom and Sally make just a teeny tiny bit of syrah and chardonnay. While all the winemakers I had been tasting with follow a “natural” winemaking path, the Bobar wines were the most reminiscent of funky whole cluster glou glou style French wine. That’s probably because they love France and French natural wine (they are planning a return trip in time for harvest this fall.) I really enjoyed their chardonnay, probably my favorite of the bunch. I look forward to seeing what they do in the future and how the wines evolve!

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