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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Mac Forbes & Graceburn Wine Room, Healesville

Saturday, March 14, 2015 0 No tags 0

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After three days in Melbourne, I drove out to the Yarra Valley for some wine times. It’s only an hour drive east and is a must do if you are in the area. There are a lot of exciting things happening in the wine world there, with several winemakers working in a more site-specific, lower alcohol, less/no new oak kind of way. Which is my favorite kind of way.

My forever pal and fellow wine lady Christina (who is now living in Perth) hooked me up with a solid list of suggested visits. I made appointments with five people, some I’d heard of and others I hadn’t. The first one though was with Mac Forbes - a winemaker I most definitely knew about.

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Mac recently opened up a tasting room/cellar door in Healesville, a place for people to experience his wines, buy bottles, and eat some pretty fantastic cheese. It’s a really lovely space and I actually visited twice in the short time I was in the Valley. I walked in one night to the sounds of an old D’Angelo track and I knew Graceburn and I would get along just fine.

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When I met with Mac at the winery the following day, he was busy. Very busy. Harvest was right around the corner and all – a fact I knew would potentially prove difficult with some of my appointments. But we made it work! I hopped in his truck and rode around with him while he got things done. We ended up back at Graceburn and tasted through some of his lineup there.

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Mac got his start in winemaking in France and Austria before returning to Australia and the Yarra in 2004. His goal is and has always been to truly understand the land and the vines, letting that guide all winemaking decisions – a concept that wasn’t always utilized in Australian wine, where the focus was primarily on the work done in the cellar. His Yarra Valley wines are largely single vineyard and single varietal- pinot noir and chardonnay – and a wonderful example of the diversity of soil types and microclimates in the area, each one distinctly different, balanced, and elegant.

He also works with some cool climate riesling from an area a few hours north of Yarra called Strathbogie Ranges and has a whole line of wines he refers to as EB, or Experimental Batch. There he is able to play around with different techniques- petillant naturel, whole cluster riesling, oxidative flor-aged chardonnay, among other super fun things.

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Everything I tasted was great. Truly. He has an awesome team and, straight up, he just knows what the fuck he’s doing. Australian wine has a bright future and Mac is one of the reasons why. The other reasons? More on that soon.

Mac Forbes | Graceburn Wine Room

11A Green Street

Healesville, VIC, Australia 3777