Here's the first in an occasional series of tastings. I aim to work through the Squitchy Lane catalogue to show you our winemaking ideas and how these affect our winemaking strategies. If I can shed a little more light on why our wines taste the way they do, it will be worth it.
Today, it's the 2010 Squitchy Lane Fume Blanc....
WHAT MAKES A CLASSIC WINE?
After I posted the piece below on Squitchy Lane's 2010 Pinot Noir, I started thinking about the making of this wine and that led me to thinking about other wines I had made over the years. There have been plenty, some good, a few excellent and some just downright normal and acceptable.
On this rainy Saturday, I began to compile a list of wines that live in my memory. Of all the wines I have made, these few stay with me, often for different reasons. Here's the list with an attempt to explain why each one is special to me:
1. Coriole Cabernet Sauvignon 1986. A great vintage in South Australia, a great old vineyard and some old-fashioned winemaking resulted in a wine suffused with the spirit of Cabernet Sauvignon. At the time, I thought it tasted like a top Bordeaux, so aromatic and structured without heaviness was it. The style went out of fashion in the 90's and later when enormously ripe and powerful wines became the goal.
2. Poet's Corner Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc/ Chardonnay 1991. Yes, now this brand is in the hands of a multi-national wine company and has long since lost any regional identity. But Poet's Corner started life in Mudgee at the Montrose winery. Brian McGuigan was in charge then and he asked me to create a white blend that would have wide appeal. Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc were the obvious choices but I decided to include some Chardonnay for extra richness on the palate. The first vintage was 1989 but in 1991, courtesy of what was possibly the vintage of the century for white wines, we produced a beauty. This had everything going for it--intensely fruity, long and flavoursome and full of passionfruit/citrus depth. The 1992 went on to wine gold medals in national wine shows and begin the brand's long march away from its Mudgee roots due to its success but I will always remember the 1991.
3. Montrose Chardonnay 1991. it was hard to go wrong in 1991 it seems. At this time, Montrose had a lot of Chardonnay planted and the variety was just starting to become really popular. The Stoney Creek vineyard always produced our best fruit and there was a lot of it this year. Harvesting took place over a few days in exceptionally good weather. Phil Laffer, Orlando's chief winemaker came to visit a day or so later (Orland had recently taken over Brian McGuigan's company so Phil was exploring his new winemaking assets). I think Phil's opinion of Mudgee wines was not all that high--he saw some value as a source of blending material for some of the weaker Hunter wines possibly but not much else. Then I offered him a taste of the freshly settled Chardonnay juice from Stoney Creek. He sniffed, he sipped and then he looked at me with a quiet gleam in his eye. "That's pretty good" he said in his understated way. And it was--even as juice we both knew we had someting special. The wine went on to win multiple trophies and gold medals, including best Chardonnay at the Royal Adelaide wine show. It's still the best Chardonnay I have ever made.
4. 1996 Montrose Cabernet Sauvignon. An intriguing wine, this. It looked good from the beginning but did not appear outstanding in its youth. However, it just grew and grew as it matured in oak so that when finally revealed after two years in barrel it had transformed into an absolute classic. I think this is a feature of wines from great vintages--they keep getting better and better in their youth until finally you have to admit the truth. Other vintages can look wonderful early on but lose their vigour and don't grow. The great wines do grow. And this 1996 Cabernet did just that.
5. 2010 Squitchy Lane Pinot Noir. Fourteen years since his last good wine, I can hear you say. In my defence, I had taken another winemaking direction during that time. No longer hands-on but in a consulting role advising others. So while there were several great wines i was involved with, I can't say they were mine. But this 2010 Pinot Noir is.
We spend a lot of time in the vineyard between now and harvest. One of the most important tasks we undertake is the removal of unwanted shoots and bunches. This morning I spent an hour or so walking through the Pinot Noir block taking bunches off weak shoots. These weak short shoots don't have enough leaf surface area to ripen these bunches so they are best removed. I took a video as I was doing it--apologies for the awful focus. It's a new camera and I certainly haven't mastered it yet. Hopefully, you will get the idea....
The 2010 Squitchy Lane Pinot Noir keeps improving as it matures in the bottle. Here's what James Halliday had to say about it in the first edition of his new magazine, "The Wine Companion"
Some warm weather has hastened flowering. Here's a shot of a Pinot Noir vine, one of the earliest to flower.
You can see the small inflorescences just beginning to show the white flowers. There is a delightful scent of honey as you walk the rows. It's important to get stable weather during the flowering period so that all the flowers can get fertilised and grow into berries.
A close-up shot shows the flowers in more detail:
I have marked this vine and I will take regular photos to show the development of berries and bunches as the season progresses. Right now, it all looks pretty good.
Forget the pessimism in my last posting. The weather has improved, our vineyard operations have been timely and everything looks much more hopeful.
Flowering isn't far off now. I think the predicted warm weather over this coming weekend will push the vines along and we should see the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines starting to flower. Her's a shot of a Pinot Noir vine yesterday--you can see the small bunches forming.
These tiny buds will flower and then, if all goes well, set into berries. Cold weather, rain and wind can upset the flowering process so that berries don't set properly, leading to low yields and straggly bunches. This can be a particular problem in our Sauvignon Blanc vines.
But if the weather is kind then soon the vineyard will be filled with a delicate scent from the flowering--it's not strong but it is persistent and because there are so many flowers on each vine, you can smell it while walking along the rows.
We are preparing the 2010 Red Square blend for bottling. It looks like being even softer and more approachable than the 2008. And it will have the benefit of a year in bottle before release.
It couldn't happen again, could it? Could it?
Maybe it could and it just possibly is.
What I mean here is a re-run of the completely absurd 2010-11 growing season which was apparently the second-wettest on record (I think 1974 may have beaten it).
As I recall, it started to rain in September and just kept going, all the way through until May. It was not biblical, even though there was plenty of flooding. We also had plenty of pestilence and that's what has prompted this blog.
Weather conditions for this growing season are looking disturbingly similar to last year. We have had plenty of rain and humidity--lovely conditions for disease outbreaks in vineyards. The particular curse at the moment is Downy Mildew:
Here it is on a leaf. It also attacks bunches, stems and canes. With the right conditions, it can devastate a vineyard in a matter of days. The primary infection is likely to occur when we have the so-called 10-10-24 scenario--10 mm of rain with temperatures over 10 C over a 24-hour period. If it takes off and the secondary infection runs rampant, look out.
We have noticed a few primary infections in the vineyard but only one a few water shoots which we have now pruned off and removed. We are guessing that there was such a large carry-over of spores from last season that the disease pressure right now is higher than it has ever been.
We remain vigilant!
I have just returned from Turkey where I have been helping commission a large new winery for the leading Turkish wine company, Doluca. Lots of interesting things to report but I am particularly happy about the enthusiastic acceptance of the need for aeration of red fermentations.
A quick comment to the very capable engineering crew and they quickly assembled the device you can see in the video. It allows for plenty of splashing of the red ferments as they get pumped over--the idea is to incorporate as much oxygen as we can so that's why we like the waterfall or fountain effect.
Red wine quality looks great this season. We won't see these wines in Australia unfortunately but I can't recommend Turkey highly enough for a holiday and you can taste some wines while you are there.
Here's some serious concentration as we taste our way through the new Squitchy Lane releases. This tasting, which looks like becoming a regular event, took place last night in Mike Fitzpatrick's office in Collins St.
A small number of guests, some interesting wines ad some great cheeses to finish off an excellent evening.
We showed the 2010 Squitchy Lane Fume Blanc with a 2010 Domaine de la Moussiere (Sancerre) as a counterpoint. Our Fume Blanc was a deliberate attempt to fashion a Yarra Valley version of Sancerre and I was keen to see how it had worked. The Sancerre was a close-knit, intense, charged wine of great vitality and class. Ours was more open with a well-defined fruit profile and a more relaxed feel about it. Despite the 100% barrel fermentation with wild yeasts at hot temperatures and the time on lees we hadn't managed to blast out all the fruit! It was a great pairing but we really needed a plate or two of oysters to finish the job.
Next we had a pre-release showing of our 2010 Squitchy Lane Cabernet Sauvignon. I was a little nervous about this wine because it was only bottled last Tuesday so I wasn't sure how much bottle shock we would see. In the end, the wine asserted itself and showed up pretty well. There's no doubt that it will develop and improve but it had a lovely elegance and varietal purity with a silky structure.
To conclude, we tasted the 2010 Squitchy Lane Pinot Noir with a 2006 Premier Cru Savigny-les-Beaune (Les Lavieres) from Chandon de Brialles. This was a fascinating contrast between styles. The Squitchy Lane was exuberant, aromatic, unctuous, long and smooth. The Burgundy was structured, dry, classic and "serious". Two very different faces of the Pinot Noir variety.
From my point of view, the Squitchy Lane wines were received by those present exactly as I hoped they would be. While it is still early in the evolution of the Squitchy Lane style, some general characteristics are becoming clear--ripe fruit at low alcohol levels, silkiness and gentle tannin structures in the reds, great aromaticity in all wines but above all wines that are enjoyable and even refreshing to drink. Winemakers sometimes get too serious about their work and forget about the enjoyment factor. It may be difficult for me to let go of a lifetime of serious endeavour but I am determined to make enjoyment the Squitchy Lane hallmark. I hope you will come along for the ride.