The photo to the left (reproduced from Robert Joseph's "The White Wines of France" explains the classification system for producers of Champagne.
There are four broad categories and you can find one of these categories on the label of every bottle of Champagne. It provides information about the source of the wine you are about to drink:
Has it been made by a grower who has grown the grapes or has it been made from purchased grapes or indeed has it simply been purchased as a finished wine by a negociant?
These are important differences and I would like to see a similar system operate in Australia. Here we are seeing more and more labels on the shelves and few of them come from wineries who grow grapes and make wine themselves. The big players, such as Woolworths (Dan Murphy's) and Coles (Vintage Cellars, First Choice) have for years been buying wine and slapping a label on it to capitalise on the popularity of a wine style or region (Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Central Otago Pinot Noir, Coonawarra Cabernet, Barossa Shiraz, the list goes on).
But now we see more and more small operators buying grapes (or finished wine) and developing their own brands. Good luck to them and I am in no way arguing against the idea but I think the wine-drinking public has a right to know more about the origins of these wines.
The genuine winery, who grows the grapes and makes the wine, bears all the risks involved in primary production. The negociant/buyer bears very few, if any. If it's a bad year, he/she may not buy any grapes at all or may purchase from somewhere else.
I would like to see, on every wine label, just as in Champagne, a mark that lets consumers know the production category of the wine. Something like this:
GP--grower producer who grows the grapes and makes the wine in his/her own winery (this will need to include purchased grapes)
GC--grower who grows the grapes and has the wine made by another winery
PM--someone who purchases grapes and makes the wine in a rented facility or has the wine made under contract
PW--someone who purchases finished wine, either in bottled form or in bulk
It's time the wine consumers of Australia knew who the genuine wine producers are.
We are always trying to improve the health of our vines and the vineyard soil. Mulching is a great way to do that--it retains moisture in the ground, it suppresses weeds, it encourages the soil micro-flora and it means we do not have to use any herbicide spraying.
Here is the Cabernet Franc with its recently-applied coat of under-vine mulch.
We think this mulch is really going to pay off in what looks like developing into a hot, dry growing season. Let's see how it is holding up in February.
Sometimes, in winemaking as in life, things just don't go the way you would like them to. This is especially true with wine show results, wine reviews and the like. Here at Squitchy we are pretty happy with our 2013 Pinot Noir as are some reviewers:
2013 Squitchy Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir
Yarra Valley, Victoria, AUSTRALIA
Cellar: 4 - 5 years (2019-2020) ABV: 13.50% Closure: Stelvin
Semi translucent dark red colour with a bright crimson red hue. The nose displays aromas of both dark and sour cherries alongside some fresh plum with underlying toasty oak and spice. Supple generously fruited palate entry featuring flavours of dark cherries and plum intermixed with a touch of sour cherries, some spicy cedar and faint earth. Good power. Velvet smooth tannins with a long dark cherry, plum, cedar and spice aftertaste. Delicious drinking and very savoury.
Drink over the next 4-5 years.
Then again, there are those reviewers who see something different and less pleasing:
Squitchy Lane Vineyard Yarra Valley Pinot Noir
Winery: Squitchy Lane Vineyard
Region: yarra valley
Variety: Pinot Noir
Drink By: 2018
Date Tasted: 27 Feb 2015
Clones MV6 and 114; matured in French oak until bottled Feb '14. Light colour; the bouquet has some smoky/meaty nuances, followed by a briary palate.
And yes, if you are wondering, it is the same wine. Judging by the brevity of the second review, it is safe to assume the reviewer found nothing to like in the wine. What would you think if you purchased the wine based on the first review, then before you had opened a bottle you saw the second review? Would you want your money back? Maybe you'd ask for the dark red-coloured one, not the light red one!
Australians pay high rates of tax on wine, as they do on all alcoholic beverages. Just how high these tax rates are can be seen here in a chart (from a discussion paper released by the Treasurer, Joe Hockey) :
It's the wine part that interests me, as well of a large number of industry players at the moment. The chart shows that the tax on a glass of cask wine is very low (around five cents) while the tax on a glass of wine from a bottle costing $50 is much higher (about $1).
This discrepancy comes about because wine is taxed ad valorem not on a volumetric basis. Under a volumetric tax, the amount of tax payable would be based on the number of standard drinks. It's an emotional issue with plenty at stake--the industry heavyweights from beer and spirit companies are piling on the pressure to see wine taxed in the same way their products are--that is, by the alcohol content, regardless of whether it's cask wine or the product of a boutique vineyard. If we went this way, it's likely that Squitchy Lane wines would become cheaper while cask wines would likely double in price. This debate isn't going away for a while yet, so I will keep you posted. In the meantime, keep reading to see how our tax burden compares to that in other wine-producing countries:
From a Business Insider article from May 5 this year, written by Paul Evans:
"Analysis commissioned by the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia shows Australia’s 29% WET on premium wines (eg $12 rrp) are one of the most highly taxed. To compare, France has 0.8%, Italy 0%, Spain 0%, Argentina 0%, Chile 15%, South Africa 3.8% and the United States 6.6%.
If we express this as 22 cents per standard drink, it doesn’t get any better. While it’s just under New Zealand which is 26 cents, it’s zero in Argentina, 3 cents in South Africa, 5 cents in the United States, just 1 cent in France and zero in the other Old World wine-exporting countries".
No wonder you love that cheap red from the Languedoc that you drank on your last holiday in France!
It’s been a long time….but that’s the thing about winemaking–sooner or later, it comes around again. We have just finished our last pressing of the 2015 harvest so here’s an update:
What a good season we have had. Scarcely any rain, no heat spikes, moderate weather all the way into mid-April and so the grapes have been as good as you could possibly want.
Pinot Noir looks great–similar to 2013 with fleshy, jubey fruit and structure. It’s ripe and succulent but needs some time in barrel to show its true worth. We did separate one small parcel for Peter’s Block release but it all looks so good, we may just put it all together.
Fume Blanc reminds me of the 2010–lovely gooseberry and preserved lemon-like fruit with mouth-watering acidity yet a full, rich palate. It’s a slow fermetation but we are allowing the natural yeast to go their own way.
Bordeaux varieties are spectacular. The colour on the Cabernet ferments is just so vivid while the Cabernet Franc has a juiciness that sets it apart. Even the Merlot is first-class.
I will post regualr updates on the wine progress. It’s endlessly fascinating to see how they respond to barrel maturation (although I think we should all adopt the French term “elevage”, meaning upbringing or educating–it’s a better description than maturation). The different barrel types and ages, from different French forests, all play their part.
In the meantime, keep enjoying the current releases, especially that 2013 Pinot Noir.
It's a quaint and not altogether satisfying descriptor but "alternative varieties" seems to have some public acceptance when people want to talk about grape varieties that are not mainstream. We all know what these mainstream varieties are--you can see them in any bottle shop, any restaurant wine list and indeed on the counter at Squitchy Lane. And they are mainstream because they have proven themselves capable of providing great wine when grown in the right place, in the right way and very good wine in most other places.
Let's not forget, however, that there are several thousand grape varieties that can be used to make wine. Some are great, some good, many ordinary and some downright poor. Many are hardly known outside their regional homes, many are in danger of extinction and many perhaps have yet to show their true colours.
I am writing this blog after a recent trip to France where I had the opportunity to taste many great wines, visit some famous chateaux and indulge in the gastronomic treasure that is France. All this was wonderful but two vinous memories linger above all else--the first removed a prejudice I had held unreasonably for too long and the second featured the discovery of a variety I had only heard about.
The prejudice concerned Cabernet Franc from the Loire--many of these that I had tasted in Australia were green, hard, thin and often marred by Brettanomyces. On my second day in France I was in Saumur, the famous equestrian town on the Loire River. At dinner that night I chose a wine from Saumur-Champigny, a small appellation in a privileged position on a small plateau above the Loire. It was an excellent wine--smooth, rich, generous and as the back label said "charnu" which I interpret as fleshy. I chased down some more Saumur-Champigny wines and was never less than impressed. What's more, the price was right--no more than 10-12 euros a bottle and often less. One less prejudice and a more open-minded view of wine!
The alternative variety was the name in the title of this blog--Fer Servadou. This grape has a reasonably wide spread across the south of France and in particular, the south-west, but it is not common anywhere except in the small appellation of Marcillac. Here it is the chief red grape with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot allowed to be used.
The origin of the name is poetically linked to the hardness of the vine's wood, likened to iron. However, an alternative and probably more likely explanation suggests that the name comes from the Latin "ferus" meaning wild or savage (see the excellent "Wine Grapes" by Robinson, Harding and Vouillamoz for more information).
(Terraced vineyards of Marcillac)
No matter what the origin of the name, there is no doubting the quality of the wine. It's full of fruit (raspberry, redcurrant and some more black fruit characters in the riper versions), vibrant, never heavy and always eminently drinkable. It was certainly thus at our 5-course, 15 euro lunch one rainy day in a "routier" near Marcillac (itself a beautiful and unusual region). The experts talk about a certain "rusticity" in the wines although I have to confess i am not at all sure what that means. The sense seems to be that it is not entirely a negative but it is certainly not a real positive. More tasting on my part is needed.
Some limited research indicates that Fer Servadou is growing in popularity and that growers in Marcillac are committed to increasing quality. I am all for that and hope to talk about some other interesting varieties in this blog. It's a wonderful world of wine out there....
Well, a bit late but here are my predictions for 2014--the trends, the successes, the failures and the new directions for the wine industry (in no particular order):
1. Pinot Noir will continue its growth. There is likely to be a shortage of serious Pinot from the cooler areas of Australia and we might even see the large companies step back into the ring.. Judging from our experience at cellar door, it's the younger drinkers who are at the forefront of this Pinot trend.
2. Good Burgundy will finally become unaffordable (if it isn't already) to anyone except hedge fund managers, Colombian drug barons and Premier League stars (did you see the item in last week's paper that Sergio Aguero of Manchester City earns around $430,000 per week?). Treasure any bottles you may already have and remember fondly those that you have consumed in the past.
3. The popularity of Prosecco will continue to increase. This may be disturbing news for those of you who prefer wines with some sort of flavour. Get used to seeing it by the glass in trendy restaurants, by the bottle at social barbeques and by the floorstack in our friendly supermarket liquor outlets.
4. 2014 will be a lean year for Australian grapes. Crops will be down in almost all regions due to drought and heatwaves. However, this won't lead to a rise in prices. There is still too much wine in the system, export volumes are in trouble and domestic consumption remains static.
5. Medical experts will continue to demonise all forms of alcohol while the wine industry spruikers will continue to declare that wine is different. And they are right.
6. Denmark in Western Australia will become the next "in" wine region. Just a pity it's so far away from anywhere.
7. The drinking trends will be craft beer, expensive spirits combined with artisan mixers, craft beer, cider and craft beer. What consitutes craft beer will become an increasingly divisive conflict for those of you who care.
8. The Australian dollar will fall, giving exporters some hope of improved sales. They will need to move fast to overcome the negative image of Australian wine overseas. The falling dollar may also stem the flood of cheap imported wine.
9. Low calorie/low alcohol wine sales will improve. The quality of such wines will not.
10. Small, family-owned wineries will continue to struggle as the supermarket chains and the large producers continue to offer good wines at prices that don't even begin to cover the costs of production of these small makers. It's a tough business.......
At last, we have commenced the renovations to our cellar door. We are expanding into the space next to the existing cellar door, currently occupied by a slasher and ride-on mower along with assorted work-benches and other tools.
If all goes according to plan, we should have this completed by Easter. We are keeping it simple--just a good-sized room with a large deck outside overlooking the vineyard (in our current cellar door, this wonderful view can't be appreciated), some simple furniture and the usual Squitchy hospitality.
The recent hot weather caused us some grief in the vineyard but fortunately, it came early and the grapes were not really developed enough to suffer much. This season is proving as confusing as all the recent years--very cold at the beginning which resulted in poor set in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, very hot in January and who knows what's coming in February.....
In any case, we would love to see you at our new cellar door in April.