Bird in Hand – a rare breed beats the world’s best

For those of us who love our wines we all know that there are some wineries where you try one wine and love it and then try another and think – hmmm not so impressive… It’s not often you come across a winery where you love all of the wines and are confident that any newbies being released will also be excellent and you would happily buy blind.

For me one of the wineries fitting the bill as a sure bet every time is Bird in Hand winery in the Adelaide Hills. Having lived in Adelaide for six years it was one of the first local wineries I came across, with its divine sparkling pinot noir, an inexpensive but classy slighly blush sparkling that is an icon in South Australia. I have visited the winery over the years several times and every time been greeted by friendly and knowledgeable staff and the wine has been consistently excellent – well, actually there are always standouts of course. (The wines are listed below.) Furthermore, the venue is in such a beautiful setting, it is often used for weddings and other functions. An unforgettable experience at cellar door – for all the right reasons – and great wine that I regularly enjoy, this winery is a firm favourite. It’s great to see that the world agrees!

Tigs at Bird in Hand

On one of my visits to the winery I met Leah Adint – a wine graduate originally from Alaska who studied and made wine in California and then in Adelaide and is now working in the Adelaide Hills with two excellent South Australian winemakers – Peter Leske and Taras Ochota (the Australian flying Swedish-Italian winemaker in the hills!). She was a great ambassador for the winery as are all of the staff they have at cellar door. With the excellent wines by Kym Milne MW, the winery’s Chief Winemaker, the formula is a winner.

So I am happy to note that Bird in Hand has won yet another award for its shiraz!

Bird in Hand’s 2010 Nest Egg Shiraz has won Winestate magazine’s World’s Best Shiraz Competition, taking the title of World’s Best Shiraz.

This is a massive achievement and a big boost for Adelaide Hills shiraz in general. In a field of over 700 shiraz wines, it was up against big hitters including the 2007 Penfold’s Grange, 2007 Henschke Hill of Grace, and Torbreck’s 2006 The Laird. It was also rated above some highly respected French wines including 2007 Paul Jaboulet Aîné – La Chapelle De L’Hermitage and 2007 E.Guigal Côte-Rôtie – Château d’Ampuis.

Bird in Hand shirazes have also been honoured in recent years including:

2005 Bird in Hand Shiraz – Worlds Best Shiraz $30-40, Winestate magazine

2009 Two in the Bush Shiraz – Worlds Best Shiraz under $20, Decanter magazine

2009 Bird in Hand Shiraz – Best Australian Red (International Wine Challenge, UK), Trophy (International Cool Climate Wine Show), Gold (Decanter magazine)

While the shiraz is the show stealer in terms of awards, the cabernet sauvignons are a cab lover’s dream. They are the intense, complex, serious cabernets with excellent fruit and balance that I love. As a chardonnay lover, I also have to give a thumbs up to the chardonnay range. The elegantly oaked and balanced wines are the type of chardonnay that should push this varietal back into first place ahead of sauvignon blanc. We make this wine so well in this country. I thoroughly recommend going and trying the entry level Two in the Bush chardonnay for $20 and you will be amazed at the quality of this wine. It is divine. Then you have the next two levels to treat yourself to! Then of course there is the Bird in Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir– a lightly blush sparkling that is crisp, fruity, balanced and just perfect for any occasion. I’ll be consuming plenty over the summer – and again the price is very reasonable.

One last point of interest is the bold step of Bird in Hand to establish itself in China, not just as a brand among many, but it has set up two cellar doors in Liaoning province in north-eastern China in the two coastal cities of Dalian and Yingkou. Visitors are treated to a cellar door experience complete with original vines transported from the Adelaide Hills.

Bird in Hand wines (vintages at time of writing):
Nest Egg range – Shiraz 2010; Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; Merlot 2010; Chardonnay 2010; Joy (sparkling) 2010.
Bird in Hand range – Shiraz 2010; Cabernet Sauvignon 2010; Merlot 2010; Chardonnay 2010; Sauvignon Blanc 2012; Riesling 2011; Honeysuckle Riesling 2011; Rosé 2011; Sparkling Pinot Noir 2011.
Two in the Bush range – Shiraz 2010; Merlot/Cabernet 2011; Chardonnay 2010; Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2012.

Posted in Adelaide Hills, Cabernet sauvignon, Chardonnay, New World wine, Sauvignon blanc, South Australian wine, Syrah/Shiraz, Wine news | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Academia and industry – when it really works! The University of Auckland and Goldie Wines

In July 2011 I read about the University of Auckland acquiring an established Waiheke Island vineyard and winery called Goldwater. The deal meant that the university has taken ownership and the vineyard and associated facilities are effectively now an extension of the university’s teaching and research facilities.

Working for Wine2030, the University of Adelaide wine-related research network, I saw similarities with the situation in Adelaide. The University of Adelaide’s Hickinbotham Roseworthy Wine Sciences Laboratory at the Waite campus has a state-of-the-art winery and research facility which is used for teaching, research and services for industry. Furthermore, both of these wineries have produced award-winning wines!

I was lucky enough to visit both the University of Auckland and Goldwater. Sincere thanks go to my hosts Jan Robertson, Maureen Benson-Rea and Randy Weaver who were immensely hospitable and informative.

A brief background

Kim and Jeanette Goldwater started the first Vinifera (i.e. wine grapes as we know them!) vineyard on Waiheke Island in 1978, with cabernet sauvignon, and the first vintage was in 1982. They subsequently planted merlot, cabernet franc, syrah, viognier and chardonnay. There are now more than 30 growers on the island and it is internationally recognised as a high quality wine-producing region.

In 2006 Goldwater Wines merged with Vavasour Wines – one of the early Marlborough (Awatere) wineries. While the business was sold to a US investor in 2009, the Goldwaters retained ownership of their original vineyards. The new brand Goldie Wines was created in 2010. In 2011 the Goldwater family finalised the transfer of the Goldie Vineyard and the Goldie Wines business to the University of Auckland. The Goldwaters attended the University of Auckland as did other members of their family, and wanted to ‘give something back’.

The setting is idyllic overlooking the picturesque Putiki Bay, with the winery, tasting room, conference centre, and facilities surrounded by rolling hills, vineyards, a variety of fruit trees, and all within a stone’s throw from the private beach! See photos below of how pretty this place is, in a truly maritime setting, with stunning views in all directions.

Teaching and research at Goldie Wines

The winery continues to make wine as it has always done. The key addition is the ongoing presence of University of Auckland students studying at various levels – Postgraduate Diploma, Masters, PhD – and going on to postgraduate research. Some are graduates from the School of Biological Sciences and the School of Chemical Sciences at The University of Auckland.

The research projects currently underway include investigating the relationship between soils and grape maturity; yeast breeding trials on chardonnay and merlot; and an interesting project looking at why fruit flies prefer certain strains of yeast fermentations and the evolutionary implications of why yeast produce compounds that attract fruit flies.

The facility can house up to 10 students in the old family home. The students make some wine and if it is acceptable, Goldie buys that wine back for commercial sale, maybe for blending. The Goldie Wines winemaker is Heinrich Storm.

While I was tasting the wines at the tasting room I met Anton Forde, who is a viticulture teacher at Waiheke High School. He says, “the way to get students interested is to get them in the vineyards”. So the school runs a three-year programme – the first year is based on horticulture, and the second and third years focus on viticulture. It is for students aged 15-18, and there are currently 45 kids in the programme. While the school does have 150 vines at the school, he says it is also important for the students to get experience in different vineyards around the island. There is an apprenticeship scheme where Waiheke winegrowers take some of the kids when they leave school. One had just been given a permanent job at Goldie Wines as an assistant vineyard manager. Anton says they are also hoping for a chemistry student to come over and do the winemaking. Before, at the school, they could only offer viticulture but with this new facility they are offering this now too.

The wines

The Goldie Wines fall into three categories: classic Bordeaux style wines, chardonnay and syrah. I tried some of all three!

Only French oak was used for all of the wines. The chardonnay was elegant and lightly oaked. The Island Red – a 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, had lovely cassis and black cherry, with herbal notes like thyme, and subtle hints of vanilla. It was a relatively light and easy drinking red, yet still long and savoury with grippy ripe tannins.

The 2010 syrah was bolder, though still elegant and smooth, with plenty of pepper and spice, dark chocolate and coffee, really delicious.

The Goldie top label red ($60/bottle) is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. It was well structured, delivering an intense nose overlaid with cedar, and a lovely complex palate of black fruits.

Elegance, complexity and regionality could be used to describe all of the wines I tried.

Upper North Island Wine Challenge

Jan Robertson and Randy Weaver started the Upper North Island Wine Challenge. It focuses on wines made north of Taupo. This is the warmer end of New Zealand with more sunshine so the style of wines these might be described as fruit driven and complex, and mostly small volumes. There are over 100 wines at the challenge.

The top University of Auckland Wine Science students can act as associate judges, and in 2011, four were lucky enough to do this, which is a great addition to anyone’s CV who is trying to get involved in the wine industry. Bob Campbell MW is chairman and they make sure they have an international judge or MWs . Not only are the wine judged, but the judges give feedback on the wines. As well as providing valuable industry involvement for students, this wine show has been highly constructive in heightening wine quality and providing information for the Upper North Island producers.

A last word from Tigs…

How wonderful to see such seamless integration between a high school, university, researchers and industry, and the flow-on effects benefitting everyone in this venture. Such cooperation is a great example of what can be achieved between academia and industry.

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Posted in New World wine, NZ wine, Winemaking, wine appreciation and viticulture courses | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

University of Adelaide graduates thrive in the world’s southernmost winemaking region

The region of Central Otago, in the South Island of New Zealand, sits astride the 45th parallel, making it the southernmost winemaking region in the world. This stunningly beautiful region is reminiscent of Switzerland with snow-capped mountains to over 2,000m, dramatic storybook-pretty gorges, and bright blue lakes as deep as the Empire State Building is tall.

So where are the vines, what are the flagship regions and wines – and are they any good? And what is the link with the University of Adelaide?

To answer these questions, I visited Queenstown around harvest time. Driving through the area between Queenstown and Wanaka, on flat fast roads on a clear sunny day, I was flanked by mountains on either side and soon by vineyards on the flat areas close by and up the sides of the hills. Autumn was setting in and the leaves on the vines were a collection of gold to bronze to crimson, making for the most breathtaking photos – see slideshow below.

Where are the vines?

They are located between 200 and 450m above sea level. The Central Otago region is the most inland winegrowing region of New Zealand and the only region with a semi-continental climate. There are large variations in temperatures during the day and night and also between seasons. Summers are hot and dry, reaching the 30s on a number of days. Autumn also tends to be dry and pretty chilly! The daily fluctuations in temperature is a contributor to the flavour intensity of the wines produced here…

What are the flagship regions?

There are four main sub-regions of Central Otago, the main one (70% of the vineyards) being the Cromwell basin stretching from Bannockburn in the south to Bendigo, Lowburn and Wanaka Road in the north. The second largest with 20% of plantings is the Gibbston area, which includes the dramatic Kawarau Gorge – any bungee jumper will know of the Kawarau River – see the slideshow for a photo of the Kawarau bungee jump. The third region includes Clyde and Alexandra (7%) and the remainder of the vineyards are around Wanaka (3%).

What are the flagship wines?

The main varietal produced here is pinot noir. Pinot lovers will be well aware of the raft of impressive pinots coming out of New Zealand, from regions including Martinborough in the North Island, and Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago in the South Island, all with distinctive styles.

This grape is suited to the Central Otago climate, the warm days and cool nights allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and develop intense fruit flavours and soft tannins that typify the region. Pinot noir is a typically low cropper and a fickle grape to grow, making a relatively expensive wine as a result. But the wines here are truly spectacular and worth the effort and the cost.

Other grapes the region is becoming known for are riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris – and I also tried an amazing pinot blanc at Gibbston Valley – but pinot noir reigns supreme in Central Otago.

What is the link with the University of Adelaide?

One of the reasons for my pinot expedition was to visit Dr Stephanie Lambert at the revered Amisfield winery, where she is chief winemaker. Stephanie, originally from Wellington, studied for her PhD at the University of Adelaide, looking at co-pigmentation in red wines, and she has the certificate proudly displayed on her wall at the winery. Furthermore, the assistant winemaker Sam Hambour also studied at the University of Adelaide, and with such great ambassadors for the university’s winemaking prowess, I was also stopped on my tour of the winery by a cellar hand telling me he was intending to come to study in Adelaide too.

So the University of Adelaide certainly has a big foot jammed firmly in the door of Central Otago pinot noir!

Amisfield – ‘Grown not made’

The winery is located north of Cromwell (not to be confused with the cellar door which is more than 50km south, just out of Queenstown). It is nestled in the hillside, surrounded by vines. When I was there the vines were laden with dark pinot berries not far from picking, and were covered in nets to stop the birds feasting on them. With autumn setting in, the vine leaves were already dark golden and snow topped the mountains around. You cannot help but be impressed by the beauty of this region.

Steph gives me some interesting snippets about the lifecycle of the Amisfield pinots:

“Pinot noir is a delicate and quite fickle variety so you have to look after it well. It’s not about extraction, it’s about coaxing into line rather than pushing and punching it into line. We don’t have many anthocyanins [which give colour to the wine] to start with so we’ve got to look after them. We cold soak for five days at say 10 degrees which gets the colour going, leeching out from the skins. Then we ferment it mostly wild although some years we do some inoculations.”

The ferment is not what an Australian winemaker would be used to: “We learned at Adelaide to do slow steady controlled ferments at 28 degrees. Here with the pinot noir we start at 23 Brix and the next day it’s 10 – it’s been a shock to some Aussie winemakers who have seen this, they think something has gone wrong. But here we have hot ferments, we want it at 30 or 32 degrees and it’s all over in four or five days. Then we leave it on skins for up to two weeks.”

Also at Adelaide, there is not much consideration of wild yeast – the Australian approach is to inoculate and use specific yeasts identified as the most appropriate for that wine. This leads to cleaner and more predictable wines. As Steph says, “I think we did need the industry to clean up but now that it has been cleaned up, we can look at the wild ferments.”

Steph has seen a range of winemaking techniques including wild ferments as she has made wine all over the world: “I worked in Oregon and Burgundy, for example, and you see a different side of things. There are lots of different practices and experimentation, with winemakers from all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, France and South Africa.”

Walking around the winery I am given a taste of wild ferments underway – including sauvignon blanc and riesling. It gives an intensity and pleasant funkiness that I love. The riesling was just starting to get a peanut butter, slightly wild character and as Steph says “to me Central Otago rieslings get lots of orange”.

The Amisfield winery produces about 20,000 cases a year and about three quarters is the Amisfield pinot noir. It has had 10 months in French oak (30% new) – it is left alone, with no rack and return as is often the case with many wines in barrel.

Steph opens a bottle of the 2008 to taste – oh wow! It is so generous, the divine aromas jump out of the glass. This fruit is from the Pisa vineyards (between Cromwell and Wanaka), and gives big fruit flavours of dark cherry and plum. The mouthfeel is full and luxurious, the tannins are silky smooth, the fruit dark and concentrated, with an elegant touch of spice – and the finish is long and complex. This wine is stunning. It is incredible to drink now and will also age (if you can leave it alone) for up to a decade. These wines are truly impressive and reflect great care throughout the process with emphasis on getting the best from the grapes, not excessive winemaking influence – the wines are ‘grown not made’ as it states on the Amisfield website. This is refreshing for a winelover like myself.

The other pinot noir that Amisfield makes is the Lake Hayes, made from fruit from the Lowburn vineyards, and at a slightly lower price point than the Amisfield. It is given less oak – with a portion left out of oak altogether for maturation, and is made in a bit of a lighter style, and for earlier drinking – although it will also cellar well for a few years. Trying this at the cellar door, I tasted red fruits like raspberry, with a slight savoury, earthy influence. Again, tannins were soft and integrated with the berry fruit.


Central Otago had its first wine grapes planted in the 1860s, but these were soon abandoned. The commercial winemaking seen now started as recently as the 1980s – in fact on a visit to the Gibbston Valley cellar door I happened to arrive in the middle of a celebration of 25 years since Alan Brady established the vineyard and winery. The Irish-born winemaker was the first to plant winegrapes in the Otago region as far back as 1981 – now he is seen as a pioneer and respected founder of Central Otago wines.

A special mention goes to Waitiri Creek winery just outside Queenstown – a small operation producing excellent pinot noir typifying the region, and in a gorgeous setting that just screams – have your function here! Jason Moss at cellar door was amazingly helpful and informative – thank you! See the photo below…

Many thanks to Steph at Amisfield winery, Viggi at Amisfield cellar door, all the staff at Gibbston Valley cellar door for outstanding service and wines, and to Chard Farm for a superb gewürztraminer – and a terrifying drive to get to the cellar door! See photos below…


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Posted in New World wine, NZ wine, Pinot noir, Wine news, Wine2030, Winemaking, wine appreciation and viticulture courses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Grape-a-hol: How Big Business is Subverting Artisan Winemaking and the Future of Fine Wine

Introducing Grape-a-hol!

Grape-a-hol: How Big Business is Subverting Artisan Winemaking and the Future of Fine Wine, by Michael F. Spratt and Mark L. Feldman

As indicated in the title, this book pulls no punches. In summary, “this book exposes the questionable practices of big business and the regulatory myopia of governments that are subverting artisan winemaking, altering consumer tastes, and sabotaging the future of fine wine”. The book describes “some of the false claims, misconceptions, myths, dogma and questionable business practices that permeate the wine industry”.

The authors make a rallying cry to the wine industry: “authenticity, integrity, and responsibility are the pillars of true artisan winegrowing and the last line of defence against the rising tide of Grape-a-hol”.

I started reading this book with trepidation and excitement that someone has been forthright and articulate enough to point out the elephant in the room. This is not to say that I agree with absolutely everything in the book. My opinions here though are not the point. Highlighting some major issues and addressing them as appropriate is the point.

The authors are deeply concerned about the future of fine wine. They fully admit their own biases as small artisan winemakers, and their focus makes specific reference to NZ and to the US where they both have most experience, but the issues raised apply across the global wine industry, including Australia. The observations are research-based and often astounding.

The chapters are each freestanding essays covering the “nature and scope of the problem, the consequences for consumers, the players who impact the future of fine wine, and three key issues (social responsibility, the environment and language) that influence industry practices”.

Defining Grape-a-hol and fine wine

Grape-a-hol is defined as “an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grape juice and passed off as a substitute for fine wine”.

Fine wine is defined as meeting all of the following criteria:

• free from standard wine faults;

• comes from a specific wine region;

• shows balance, length and complexity;

• acknowledged by several independent and qualified sources as very high quality; and

• carries a significant price premium due to relative scarcity and higher cost of production.

Fine artisan wine is defined as all of the above plus:

• it can be traced to a single estate or vineyard;

• it comes from a small business producing less than 10,000 cases annually; and

• the owner/winemaker is personally involved in the winemaking process.

The blurring of the dividing line…

The authors argue that “the line between fine wine and bulk wine has become dangerously blurred”. There are a number of “influential interests” who have power over the wine industry, namely: corporate producers using wine to make profits; taxing authorities wanting to raise government revenue while also preaching drinking in moderation; wine critics, wine writers and promoters supporting mass-market wines; distributors, arbitrageurs, brokers and agents who “willingly cannibalise a region, variety or brand simply to make quick cash”.

The situation in NZ and US

The NZ wine market, accounting for less than 1% of world wine production, has become a “social and economic Petri dish” to look at this blurring of the wine categories and the impacts. At the other end of the spectrum the US is the biggest wine consumer in the world. Some key statistics illustrating the concentration of corporate power and the trend towards bulk wine:

• Nearly half of the NZ wine industry is owned by foreign corporations; 82% of all shipments of wine from the US are from just 10 companies.

• The number of US wine distributors has fallen from 7,000 to 700 in the past 20 years, with the task of distributing over 250,000 wines.

• Bulk wine has increased from 5% of NZ wine exports in 2008 to over 30% in 2010; some months since then exceeded 50%. Export prices per litre have steadily and significantly declined over the just the last three years.

The concentration of power is into fewer and larger hands, where the driver is market share, fuelled by volume and economies of scale. This business model requires mass production techniques in the vineyard and winery to boost yield and output and compete in the alcoholic beverage market with beer and RTDs.

Changing the tastes and expectations of consumers

Marketing campaigns have been a significant contributor to these market trends: “marketing campaigns of factory producers have taken control of the fine wine narrative… corporate giants dominate the wine distribution system, dictate public choice by controlling shelf space, buy visibility, and mislead consumers with a sales proposition that offers something for nearly nothing”.

“Low-volume artisan wineries offering consumers a different wine experience and a compelling story” generally cannot compete with the corporates and are squeezed out of the market – or ‘drop-kicked’ as the authors put it!

So the message is that consumers are being told that they are drinking fine wine, when in fact they are being sold Grape-a-hol with a fine wine label. An unfortunate impact of this is “driving down consumer expectations of how quality wine should taste”. The fine wine producers cannot compete on cost or in the distribution system, as their costs are higher and they do not have the market power. The consumer learns then to adjust their tastes for a product that is made to a lower quality. The authors liken the tactics to carnival tricks: “This wine marketing ploy is rigged. It has all the elements of a carnival scam, including confusing messages, misdirection, and a low-risk, something-for-almost-nothing offer.” Are we promoting a mass palate? Will fake become the standard?

“Grape-a-hol purchased from discount brokers is branded with the country of origin and a label with a cute animal or pastoral image featuring the name of a non-existent but intriguing-sounding bay, cove, ridge, region, or road. It is sold to unsuspecting customers as a bargain representation of a real place.”

Of course, no one wants to feel like they were fooled into making a bad purchase – so the consumer then self-validates their shopping prowess by stating that their selection was a good one – an observed behaviour known as dissonance reduction.

What do the authors want from this exercise?

The authors clearly point out that (a) they are not looking for special treatment and (b) they are not saying there is no place for Grape-a-hol – it serves a market and in itself is a good value product.

(a) “Artisan winemakers are not looking for special treatment, subsidies or protectionist trade barriers. However, when tax, regulatory and industry association policies conspire to exclude them from markets, burden them with punitive costs, and undermine the provenance on which their individual brands stand, they have a legitimate grievance.”

(b) “the overall quality of Grape-a-hol is at an all-time high compared to the ‘jug wine’ choices of the past. Artisan winemakers frequently drink and occasionally enjoy it”… “Few people honestly expect Grape-a-hol to offer a sensory experience. For many consumers, it’s simply an inexpensive alcoholic beverage for washing down dinner and relaxing with a light buzz. It’s what they expect and what they get.”

A key solution that the authors propose is to relate fine wine to the region and sets standards, as with the AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) in France, which they say “may serve as a useful model for the global wine industry”. The French appellation system restricts yield, sets a range of quality standards and penalises brand-damaging practices. They do however note that this it is not a easy task: “trying to organise artisan producers is a real challenge. It is like trying to herd cats”.

The call for regionality is backed up by a recent poll of 1,000 US wine drinkers which found that:

• 79% consider the region where a wine comes from an important factor when buying wine

• 75% would be less likely to buy a wine if they learned it was not from where it claimed to be from

• 84% believed that the region is extremely important in determining wine quality

• 96% said that consumers should know where grapes are grown and this should be accurately stated on the label

• 98% support establishing world-wide standards to require all winemakers to accurately state the location where wine grapes were grown on the wine labels.

When regionality is compromised

Working in the Australian wine industry, there are parallels with what the authors are calling for. Wine Australia is active in promoting the regionality of Australian wines – see the Wine Australia Goegraphical Indications page. A strong message from this book is that the steps need to be firm and with enforced rules to back them up. Good intentions are not sufficient. It would be a wonderful world where trust was enough. But where there is money to be made, someone will always be prepared to bend the rules to line their pockets. If a wine brand is burned, so be it.

There is a very serious concern among NZ winemakers in 2012 as there has been a recent decision to relax rules over quality standards, which helped to establish NZ’s ‘clean and green’ image. To date, in order to get certification from Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ), wine must be 100% made in NZ, part of a certified sustainable winegrowing programme and free from standard wine faults as defined by the NZ Food Standards Authority. It was a quality mark. The decision has been made to relax the rules to allow SWNZ certification of wine bottled offshore.

My readers will be aware that tampering has plagued the wine industry for centuries (I will not name names but do an internet search for wine scandals – there have been many!). This opens up not only huge opportunities for cost-cutting by shipping wine in bulk and bottling overseas and then giving it the SWNZ certification (a huge win for the large producers), but has alarmed NZ winemakers who therefore lose control over what happens to wine once it leaves their shores. A number of middle parties will have access to the wine and will have the incentive to meddle with the product for a quick buck. The assurance of quality is no longer valid. Mike Spratt says this is a catastrophic decision.

The Waiheke Island example

The winemakers on Waiheke Island have set an example that the authors see as a good template to be followed (and improved upon) for fine winemakers elsewhere. Waiheke Island is a small island a short ferry ride from Auckland, New Zealand, with 7,000 residents and 92 square km of land – and an expensive place to make wine. Therefore “Waiheke producers can’t afford to make even average wine, which is why the local industry association took a bold step a number of years ago to protect the reputation, quality and branding of Waiheke wine.” Their economic platform must be quality and distinctiveness.

So they developed the Waiheke Certified Wine programme – in order to sell a wine with Waiheke on the label, “it must be made from 100% Waiheke Island-grown grapes, be part of a certified sustainable grape-growing programme, and have been independently verified as free from standard wine faults as defined by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority as a condition of export.”

A final comment from Tigchandler…

This book is well-researched and argued and offers many insights into the operations of the global wine industry. It promotes full information and raises a number of important issues, the responses to which will affect the nature and development of the wine markets in Australia, as well as the US, NZ and elsewhere.

There are a number of chapters I have not discussed in this review which address wine competitions, wine writing, biodynamics, sustainable practices and other aspects of the wine market. Instead I urge wine consumers and wine industry stakeholders to get a copy and make sure they are aware of what is happening, whether they support the arguments or not. Power comes from knowledge, understanding and collaboration. The authors are clearly concerned that people in general are not aware of the practices in today’s industry. What we each then do with that knowledge is a whole different discussion!

Posted in New World wine, NZ wine, Private labels, Wine news, Wine2030 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tarac Technologies – closing the winemaking loop

Grape marc

Have you ever thought about what happens to those delicious winegrapes making your shiraz or riesling after they have been crushed for their juice? With over 1.6 million tonnes of winegrapes crushed in 2011 this gives a lot of skins! This article is a must-read – the answers may surprise you!

There are a number of trends in the global wine industry, based around efficiencies, competition, consumer preferences and environmental concerns. With regard to the environment, there is increasing concern over how ‘green’ a bottle of wine might be, its carbon footprint, the efficiency of use of water, energy, inputs, etc. It seems to me that in the wine industry, where the winery waste goes is an integral part of the picture.

In 2007 I did a winemaking course with Hamilton Secondary College, and we made our wine at Patritti winery in metropolitan Adelaide. There I heard that the big purple pile of pressed grape skins – the ‘grape marc’ – would go to ‘Tarac’. From that we were told, alcohol was retrieved and sold back to Patritti to go into their fortified products and brandy. I thought little more about it. In 2009 I worked a vintage at a much larger winery in McLaren Vale, 35km south of Adelaide, and saw huge piles of marc accumulating – I heard mention of this marc going to ‘Tarac’. I have since worked at, and visited, a number of wineries, and this name popped up time after time.

So who is Tarac and what does it do?

Tarac Technologies was established in 1930 and ‘provides environmental solutions and valued products and services to the Australian wine industry’ according to the Tarac website. They receive, treat and recycle the waste from wineries around Australia – around 130,000 tonnes of grape marc plus ‘more than 40 million litres of liquid waste and approximately 7,000 tonnes of solid waste annually, posing the question “where would this waste go if not for Tarac?”’

Where indeed! Tarac takes in up to 78% of all grape marc coming from the nation’s wineries. The remainder is either in Queensland, Western Australia or other outlying areas, or some places use the marc for composting. There are four sites – the main production and distillery facilities in Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley, one in Berri in the Riverland, and one in Griffith in NSW, all strategically placed in major winegrape-growing regions.

Wearing my Wine2030 hat, I visited Tarac Technologies at the facility in Nuriootpa and was kindly hosted by Julie Rawlings, their Marketing Co-ordinator. I was shown around the facility and shown the processes that the winery waste goes through in order to be treated, used, recycled or disposed of. Nothing is wasted, and as Julie says, where people see waste we see a resource!

Samuel Road site, Nuriootpa, aerial shot

Tarac’s closed loop system

Here is a simple overview of the ‘closed loop’ of processes – the Tarac Technologies website is extremely informative if readers wish to get more detail. It is a closed loop because nothing goes to waste.

From the winery, three types of products are delivered to Tarac – grape marc, other solid residuals and liquid residuals. Following the path of the grape marc:

Step 1 – each delivery of the marc is tested in the lab for its quality. The highest quality grape marc, i.e. that which has not been sitting at wineries for a long time, and has high levels of colour and antioxidants, goes through a process where skin tannin and seeds tannins are extracted, then it goes back in with the general grape marc deliveries.

Step 2 – the marc is steam distilled for the grape alcohol which is used for fortification of wines, for vodkas, brandies – anything that needs a spirit base.

Step 3 – calcium tartrate is extracted from other residuals, and is converted into tartaric acid and sold back to the wine industry. Skin and seed extracts are sold to wineries, as well as the food and non-alcoholic beverage industry.

Step 4 – the remaining marc is converted to stock feed pellets or compost soil conditioners. This is sold to the agricultural industry. Some of the compost soil conditioners also go back to the vineyards.

The other solid residuals, such as filter cake, are also treated to extract alcohol and calcium tartrate. The liquid residuals, including tank lees and distillation wine, are processed to extract these elements and the remaining liquid is treated at the wastewater treatment plant – see below.

Processing of wastewater and energy

Wastewater: Walking around the Nuriootpa facility, Julie points out a vast wastewater treatment plant. Tarac co-owns this plant with one of the major wineries here in the valley and all of the liquid wastes from Tarac’s processes go through that treatment plant to produce ‘A Class’ irrigation water. The water is then used for irrigation, going back to local vineyards and pasture, and is also re-used in Tarac’s own processes.

Energy: The facility clearly needs to use a significant amount of power to heat, process and extract. One of the outputs captured at the wastewater treatment plant is biogas – and this is used as a fuel in the processing of winery waste, helping to offset Tarac’s consumption of other fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.

Other services to the wine industry

Tarac also offers a range of services to the wine industry. Some key examples are:

  • De-alcoholisation of wine (AlcoTech) – Julie tells me “there is now a higher demand for wines to have a lower alcohol content, in particular for export. Winemakers deliver a small portion of their blend (typically only 10%), to Tarac where it undergoes a process to separate the colour (including tannins, flavour and aroma), alcohol and water components. The colour and de-alcoholised grape water are then returned to the winery for re-blending, producing a wine with the desired alcohol volume.
  • Grape juice concentration – Tarac offers a service whereby grape juice is delivered to the Nuriootpa production facility and concentrated to meet the winemaker’s requirements.

As Julie says, “As the wine industry continues to evolve and new ideas and ways of doing things come to fruition, we too evolve as a company to meet these new demands created. It makes it a very interesting place to work.”

Anyone in the wine industry should know what happens to their winery waste and after seeing what does happen to it – you might start to see a slight green tinge to your wine!


Posted in Barossa wine, McLaren Vale wine, New World wine, Riverland wine, South Australian wine, Wine news, Wine2030, Winemaking, wine appreciation and viticulture courses | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fassina – An SA family treasure

The Fassina family owns and operates a chain of liquor stores in South Australia (SA). Why is Fassina an SA family treasure? Because they have heart and creativity and good honest values. I chatted to Ross Fassina and his daughter Elise about their business, philosophy and aims.

Ross and Elise Fassina

A potted history of Fassina S.A. Family Liquor Merchants

The Fassina business was born in 1975 when Joe and Ross Fassina bought Chateau Marbay Wines at Payneham and then moved to the current Somerton Park site turning it into a bottling hall and liquor warehouse. Later this became a retail liquor outlet. In 1986 they joined forces with Martin Bailey and formed the Vintage Cellars brand. The chain grew to 25 stores and two hotels in SA and 40 stores in Victoria, at which point it was sold to Coles in 1992. Four stores were retained by the Fassina family and this became the Super Cellars chain, which grew to 10 stores in Adelaide and three stores in Victoria before being sold in 2003.

In 2005 Fassina S.A. Family Liquor Merchants was born at the Somerton Park store, the site where it all began. It is truly a family business having Joe the patriarch of the family working with his son Ross (Managing Director), daughter Eleanor (Office Manager), granddaughter Elise (Marketing Manager) and grandson Adam (Operations Manager). The stores specialise in fine wines, with a large range of local and back vintage wines and an unerring focus on “customer service and everyday low prices”.

What makes Fassina different?

I am lucky enough to live near the Somerton Park store which is their largest store in SA. I have become a regular customer, both for my supplies, and also the wine club events.

So what makes Fassina different? I would sum it up in three points:

• the people

• the product – range and value

• the Wine Club

The people: The first thing you notice about the Fassina staff is that they are open and friendly. The second thing? They all have the passion for wine that I have, backed up with knowledge and experience, while also having the pragmatism to know just how much customers want to know or to discuss about their choices. As Ross says,

“Some want their bottle of Jacob’s Creek shiraz cabernet every week and are happy with that forever and a day. There is also a growing number of people who want to be introduced to something different.”

Industry tasting - L to R Rick, Pete, Paul and Ross

As I have come to know the Fassinas, and being invited to participate in their industry tasting sessions, I realise this is due to the business philosophy of including all staff in wine purchasing decisions, making everyone feel on an equal pegging, that they matter. In return, the staff are all incredibly knowledgeable, not just about wine in general, but about the specific wines on their shelves – because they have tasted them and discussed them in the process of deciding whether or not to buy them.

“Our staff are encouraged to go to as many tastings as they can fit in, and taste the wines that are tasted at the stores. Wines are tasted at all stores, every week, and the staff are encouraged to try them too. Any new lines we put in, the people representing the wine will go round the stores and leave a bottle for staff to try, with notes. So it is a wine culture we try to have through the whole group.”

The product: Being an SA business, there is an emphasis on SA wines. As a wine lover myself, I was happy to note that there are a number of wineries selling exclusively through Fassina. As Ross says, “part of our philosophy is to have some wines exclusive to us”.

So you can find your usual everyday brands that you are familiar with, and also try some you may otherwise not have known about. An SA example is the Inkwell primitivo – a beautiful, complex, intense and rich wine from McLaren Vale.

“Wine is becoming a lot like food – people are looking to have different experiences with wines. When we come across something with a new set of flavours, standing out from the rest, if we think it is worth it we look to stock it, like the Inkwell.”

More examples Ross tells me are the Gibson Bridge pinot gris from Marlborough, New Zealand, and the range of BK Wines from the Adelaide Hills:

“I tried the Gibson Bridge pinot gris at the cellar door in Marlborough. No one else has it in Australia. Five of us at the cellar door that day all thought ‘wow’ – that doesn’t happen very often. The BK Wines – we have always loved those – they have a big wow factor. The quality is massive at very reasonable prices.”

I have to agree with all of these wines – they all are simply delicious! One of my personal favourites of SA chardonnays is the BK Wines One Ball Chardonnay – anyone who thinks chardonnay is going away should think again and try this elegant, complex, heavenly creation by Brendon Keys. He also produces a range of syrahs and pinot noirs and a pinot gris – all exceptionally well made, bursting with fruit flavours with great length and varietal expression. Brendon also makes wines for Mayhem & Co. – see this little Tig excerpt on the Mayhem pinot noir – another amazing quality wine that I first tasted at a Fassina Wine Club event.

While the focus is undoubtedly on SA, you will also find great value Argentinean malbec, French champagne, a range of New Zealand chardonnays, pinot gris and sauvignon blancs, for example – as long as they pass the industry winetasting panel, i.e. the Fassina staff!

Not only is there the range but the prices are competitive across the board – the wines, beers and spirits!

Tigs at a Wine Club event meeting Jacques Lurton - quite chuffed I was!

The Wine Club: The Somerton Park store is the venue for Wine Club events. My readers will be aware of the d’Arenberg event, Langmeil and multiple winery events, where I have shared my experiences on this site (to find these search for Fassina).

What makes these events stand out from all the other tastings you come across? They are friendly, accessible and affordable events and there is usually the chance to ‘press the flesh’ – i.e. meet the winemaker or someone who works at the winery – and with an informal, relaxed and spacious setting, the customers can mingle and try wines at ease, and nibble on the delicious spread that is always provided.

Ross: “We have done some great regional nights – Adelaide Hills, Clare, Barossa, etc. We don’t pick all the obvious wineries, we include some smaller ones that people won’t have had access to before – for example, they may still be Barossa but with different flavours, from different aspects, or a different hillside, with different afternoon sun, morning sun, reflecting specific areas, etc. This way you get the nuances – like the Inkwell from McLaren Vale, which is a treat and stands out as being a bit unusual.”

The Fassina staff are encouraged to attend these events and they mingle. Ross tells me, “They don’t have to come but they are encouraged and they want to because they want to try the wines themselves and learn more about the wineries, meet the people involved. A positive culture in the company makes them feel involved and included, and this is better for customers too.”

Elise adds, “It’s also about empowering people. A lot of people want to know more about their wines but are too afraid to ask, especially if they haven’t grown up with a wine culture in their family, they may be afraid to say what they think about a wine or delve further into trying new wines. There is no wrong answer. It’s good to hear people talking about wines, just saying what they think.

“The more they talk about it they realise – this isn’t so hard to pick a wine I like. They start thinking about why they like a wine and then it is easier to find more that they like. What flavours do I like? Do you like cherry, raspberry, spicy, not spicy? That can translate into understanding more about what wines you like and why.

“We want them to come out of their shells.”

Fassina’s plans and opportunities

I asked Ross and Elise what they saw as the key opportunities for their business into the longer term.

Ross: “Opportunities are becoming limited because of the chains. People are becoming more price driven and this can affect their focus on interesting wines because people can lose that passion. Our philosophy is to introduce the passion back into the wine through our industry tastings, Wine Club, etc., finding new lines. We can compete on price, we have our specials and the chains have their specials. Occasionally they beat our specials and occasionally we beat their specials.

“To have the interest and introduce new wines we need tastings – winemakers need to come and promote their wines or advertise in the Fassina brochure. We need input from the wineries too to spread the word. Otherwise people have plenty of well-priced wines and a lot of choice.

“It is encouraging to see growing interest from consumers in terms of different varietals. This is supported through the Wine Club. We get some interesting and different stuff in our stores – Coles and Woolworths can’t corner the market on all of that. We can offer something different.”

Elise: “We want to keep people interested, give them titbits of info, and this is supported by our social media approach – we tie in the Twitter presence with our Facebook page and the mailouts. We are looking at upgrading the website this year too, and our online sales are increasing. We want to encourage as much feedback as information sending. It’s an easy way for everyone to communicate with us – if they like a wine and they write that on Facebook or Twitter then we know, and that’s important information for us. Not only does it give us valuable contact with the customer, but it puts a face on the company.”

Many thanks to Ross and Elise for their time and their ongoing devotion to keeping us SA wine drinkers happy!


Posted in McLaren Vale wine, NZ wine, Pinot noir, Social media, South Australian wine, Wine events | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Encore! The second South Australian cellar door wine festival

The South Australian state cellar door wine festival is back! Held at the Adelaide Convention Centre in the heart of the city from Friday 24 to Sunday 26 February 2012, it was even bigger and better than the inaugural event in February 2011 – both brought to you by Tigs of course!

This year there were 172 wineries from 12 regions and the addition of the Kangaroo Island wines. Organisers were proud to announce that pre-booked sales were up 100% from the year before, many from interstate – so word is getting out beyond SA too!

I felt honoured to be invited to this event as a VIP this year – maybe they liked my 2011 review! So there I was on Friday at the starting gates as they opened – with a pre-drink or two – starting with a pretty cool climate pinot gris from Paracombe in the Adelaide Hills (wow!) and a splash of Squid Ink reserve shiraz from McLaren Vale (rich and luxurious!) – and then I was off and running!

The atmosphere was wonderful, as last year, as was the huge attendance by wineries and tasters – see the slideshow and the list of participants below.

Tasting the regions – what to pick?!
As always I was spoilt for choice so made the decision, as last year, to head for wineries I was not familiar with – while of course stopping by and checking in with some old favourites – rude not to! How cool to be able to wander from Kangaroo Island to Padthaway, stopping by Barossa, McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek en route, with a nod to Eden Valley and Coonawarra.

First up, I was intrigued by the Kangaroo Island wines so checked out both Dudley Wines and The Islander Estate. Kicking off the palate was a zingy, fresh sparkling made mostly from sauvignon blanc – the Dudley Bubbly NV – crisp, lightly fruity, with a hint of apple cider. So I had to try the straight sauvignon blanc – the Grassy Flat 2011. This grape so precisely reflects its home (terroir) and this one offered an alternative to the Marlborough, Adelaide Hills and French versions we are all familiar with. Again came the green apple, grassiness and crispness evident in the sparkling, with a strong varietal character, tight and crunchy, and very long. Lovely and different!

For a contrast I jumped to the Dudley Hog Bay River cabernet sauvignon 2009 – if this is a typical KI cab I like it! With lovely and intense flavours of berries and chocolate, it had a full and chewy mouthfeel, with a long, dry and savoury finish. Delightful.

Onto The Islander Estate – I had tried these wines before at Fassina’s event in November 2011 but needed (wanted!) a refresher as you would with any wines made by Jacques Lurton who splits his time between KI and Bordeaux… The Islander Malbec 2006 was dense and dry, with aromas of leather, dried herbs and spice, flavours of toasty oak and blackberry, and grippy-ippy tannins. Beautiful. Then the flagship – named after a ship – the 2005 Investigator Cabernet Franc/Sangiovese (6% sangio) – dark berries, intense and complex; savoury, dry and long.

Over to PadthawayHenry’s Drive showed me a ‘typical Padthaway shiraz’ – minty, hints of eucalypt and earthy. They make their wine fruit forward – the 2008 shiraz bursting with dark blackberry fruit, mocha, spice and black pepper at the end, with lovely length and mouthfeel.

Heading north to Eden Valley I was mightily impressed by all of the wines by Poonawatta (from the Aboriginal for good land/country). This is a cooler climate than the Barossa or Clare, harvesting much later and producing very different wines. Riesling and shiraz were Poonawatta’s show ponies. The 2011 riesling gave zingy fresh lime and citrus flavours, with a touch of sherbet, a subtle floral bouquet and a bath salts minerality – not as big as a typical Clare riesling, a beautiful wine that will age well (they told me up to 30 years!) although I don’t think I would want to wait!

The shiraz was amazing – more red and blue than black fruits, elegant and balanced, giving layers and layers of generous flavours, changing on the tongue, telling a story on and on… This has to reflect the age of the vines – some planted in 1880, and others grown from cuttings from these 1880 vines – plus it also clearly reflects the care and expertise gone into these wines, respecting the amazing quality of the grapes.

Off to a neighbouring region – Barossa Valley – I spotted a winery that was new to me – and what a find! Gumpara Wines – the name coming from large red gum trees and para meaning river in Aborigine. Vermentino, semillon and shiraz were on tasting, and some beautifully presented fortifieds. Most importantly the winemaker Mark greeted me with a smile and enthusiastically shared his passion and his wines!

The wines I tried were all dry grown, with great fruit flavours, elegance and balance. They have jumped into my list of favourite wineries in SA.

The 2010 vermentino was oily, citrus, clean and fresh, with a hint of apple. Lovely and dry and crisp. This wine was so so nice and just massaged the tongue. Mark told me it was perfect with seafood, especially sardines.

The 2010 Old Vine Semillon (from 90-year-old vines) also had that lovely oiliness, with citrus and guava flavours. I had never had a semillon like it – in a good way! At only 11.5% alcohol, it would be easy to enjoy several of these.

The 2008 Victor’s Old Vine Shiraz was lush! I let out an involuntary ‘mmmm’ at the first taste. So soft and luscious, it gave chocolate, dark cherries, a touch of earthiness and spice on the finish. Mark told me he used all seasoned oak for this wine to focus on the fruit – it worked. Four stars from Winestate magazine for this shiraz and the reserve.

Finally, the 2008 Reserve Shiraz – made with all new French oak and partial barrel fermentation, giving a touch of vanilla on the nose and some gentle spice. Fantastic in different ways to the Victor’s. That great fruit flavour, depth and lusciousness… complex, long, that ‘mmmm’ again!

I couldn’t help trying the fortifieds and was in heaven! Nectar, all three – the tawny grenache, liqueur semillon and liqueur frontignac. All were bursting with intense and delicious fruit flavours, with full and rich mouthfeel, great length, and a pleasingly dry finish – so that you are ready to go back for another sip! I unreservedly recommend all of these wines by Gumpara.

Trying all of these new wines from all over SA is what the SA Cellar Door Wine Festival is all about – as well as revisiting some old faithfuls that you wish to check again of course! I did that too.

I had to visit the lovely Anne and Mac from Cleggett Winery in Langhorne Creek (pictured), of white cabernet sauvignon fame. Such wonderful people and impressive at having this unique wine. I retried the Amadio Sagrantino (Barossa) – a standout for me in 2011 and it was just as impressive again, giving that familiar tomato leaf and cherry flavour, just delicious. I couldn’t miss out Pertaringa of McLaren Vale, where Bec (pictured) was showing their earthy, flavourful grenache and intense brooding tannat.

Right nextdoor was Rosemount and I spotted a rosé moscato (made with 5% shiraz) – something I would not normally try – but oh wow was it delicious and a good end to my evening.

My only regret is that I couldn’t taste more than I did – roll on 2013 for the third round!

Enjoy the slideshow!

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See below for a full list of the participating wineries – 172 of them if you care to count!




Amadio Wines; Barratt Wines; By Jingo Wines; Casa Freschi; Deviation Road Wines; Golding Wines; Hesketh Wines; Howard Vineyard; Johnston Oakbank Wines; K1 by Geoff Hardy; Kersbrook Hill Wines; Paracombe Wines; Parish Hill Wines; Petaluma Wines; Pike & Joyce; RockBare; Shaw & Smith; Sidewood Estate; The Lane Vineyard; The Pawn Wine Co.; Wicks Estate.


Balthazar Barossa; Barossa Valley Estate; Cirillo Wines; Craneford Wines; Domain Day; Elderton Wines; God’s Hill Wines; Greenock Creek Wines; Gumpara Wines; Hart of the Barossa; Hentley Farm; Jacobs Creek; Jamabro Wines; jb Wines; Kellermeister Wines; Liebichwein; Milhinch Wines; Murray Street Vineyard; Penfolds; Richmond Grove Winery; Saltram Wine Estate; Schild Estate Wines; Seppeltsfield Wines; Simpatico Wines; St Hallett Wines; St John’s Road; Thorn-Clarke Wines; Tomfoolery Wines; Turkey Flat Vineyards; Whistler Wines; Wild Fox Wines; Winter Creek Wine; Wolf Blass; Z Wines.


Annie’s Lane; ArtWine; Byrne Vineyards; Claymore Wines; Good Catholic Girl Wines; Jeanneret Wines; Kilikanoon Wines; Kirrihill Wines; Knappstein Wines; Mr Mick Wines; Paulett Wines; Reillys Wines; Sevenhill Cellars; Stephen John Wines; Taylors Wines; Tim Adams Wines; Tim Gramp Wines; Tim McNeil Wines.


Blok Estate; Brand’s Laira Coonawarra; DiGiorgio Family Wines; Flints of Coonawarra; Hollick Wines; Koonara Wines; Leconfield; Patrick of Coonawarra; Penley Estate; Raidis Estate; Reschke Wines; Rymill; Zema Estate.


Gatt Wines; Heathvale Wines; Poonawatta Estate; Rileys of Eden Valley; Springton Hills Wines.


Bay of Shoals Wines; Dudley Wines; Kangaroo Island Estate Wines; Sunset Winery Kangaroo Island; The Islander Estate.


Bleasdale Vineyards; Bremerton; Brothers In Arms; Cleggett Wines; Lake Breeze Wines; Rusticana Wines; Step Rd; The Winehouse.


Cape Jaffa Wines; Redden Bridge Wines; St Mary’s Wines.


Aramis Vineyards; Battle of Bosworth Wines/ Spring Seed Wines; Cape Barren Wines; Chapel Hill; DogRidge Wine; Hardys Tintara; Hugh Hamilton Wines; J & J Wines; Kays Amery Vineyards; Leconfield (Home of Richard Hamilton Wines); Maxwell Wines; Mitolo Wines; Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards; Oxenberry Wines/ Scarpantoni Wines; Parri Estate; Paxton Wines; Penny’s Hill & Mr Riggs Cellars; Pertaringa Wines; Rosemount Estate; Serafino Wines; Shingleback Wine; Shottesbrooke Vineyard; Ulithorne Wines; Vinteloper Wines; Wirra Wirra Vineyards; Woodstock Wine Estate; Yangarra Winery; Zimmermann Wine.


Farmer’s Leap; Henry’s Drive Vignerons; Morambro Creek.


919 Wines; Banrock Station; Illalangi; Mirabella Vineyards; Salena Estate; Spook Hill Wines; Tyrone Estate; Whistling Kite Vineyards.


Mosquito Hill Wines; ShowBlock Estate Wines.

Posted in Barossa wine, Langhorne Creek wine, McLaren Vale wine, New World wine, Riverland wine, South Australian wine, Wine events, Wine news, Wine varietals and blends | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spicy and suave – the Alsatian sensation – Hugel gewürztraminer

Those who follow the Tigchandler blog will know of my passion for this noble grape – gewürztraminer. This is how the Tig blog was born, reviewing New Zealand’s Brookfields and Coopers Creek gewürztraminers. New Zealand continues to excite with stunning examples of this varietal – but it came originally from Alsace in north-east France. One of the most famous Alsatian wineries supplying gewürztraminer to the world is Hugel.

The Hugel cellar door, Riquewihr

I may be a tad biased as I visited Hugel in 2006 and spent the day being hosted by David Ling, originally from the south-west of England like myself. Arriving at the Hugel winery in Riquewihr was like walking through a Hans Christian Anderson story book, as I felt like the Hansel and Gretel children coming across the gingerbread house. I was in awe! Some photos are shown below in a slideshow – up and down and around winding cobbled streets the buildings are stunning, mesmerising, wonky, colourful, delicious! Many of the buildings date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, built by winegrowers who at that time were wealthy and successful.

Alsace wine region – a potted history

While Alsace has been a grape-growing region for over 2,000 years, the history is surprising and shocking, bearing in mind the reputation, individuality and respect that the region has today.

From the extremely prosperous years, particularly in the 15th and 16th centuries, a series of major events almost wiped out the winegrowing industry altogether. A key event was the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) which killed 90% of the population of Alsace, through fighting, famine and disease. According to Hugel’s brochures, “the population of Riquewihr was 2,245 in 1610 but only 74 in 1636”. Furthermore, the Rhine, which was such an important route to export markets, became a dangerous frontier between warring states. A third blow to the wine industry was the arrival of settlers lacking the viticultural knowledge of the old Alsatians.

Thus followed three centuries of decline. “After the First World War, in 1918, Alsace wines no longer existed.” Furthermore, with the tough and uncertain economic times resulting from changes between German and French rule of the region, many winemakers had to take second jobs. The Hugels became coopers.

Thereafter, the turnaround began! The passion of winegrowers in the area was manifested in concentrating on the key varieties suited to the region, as well as steadily improving the methods of cultivation and vinification.

The grapes accounting for about 85% of the vineyard area in Alsace are now: pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir, riesling, gewürztraminer and muscat.

Alsace – the terroir

Alsace is the driest wine-producing region in France. It is quite far removed from maritime influences and protected by the Vosges mountains. The cool climate is ideal for the aromatic varieties to ripen slowly with full and intense flavour.

The soil types in the Alsace region vary widely, and winegrowers have used their centuries of experience to match the grape types to the soils. This brings to mind the diversity of soil types in the McLaren Vale region of South Australia, where work is ongoing relating soil types to wine grapes.

Hugel the winery

The Hugel winemaking tradition started in 1639. Hans Ulrich Hugel settled in Riquewihr in 1639 during the devastating period of the Thirty Years War. In 1639 he was made a freeman of the city and he became the head of the Corporation of Winegrowers. He was the first of 12 generations of winegrowers in Alsace.

After World War I, following the industry’s stark decline, Frédéric Emile Hugel, worked to save the vineyards of Alsace from disease and neglect, devoted to the production of high-quality wines from noble grape varieties, and his son Jean continued in this vein. More recently, the Hugel family was instrumental in producing legislation to protect the Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles. The Hugel winery today is deservedly a global phenomenon, exporting the majority of its wines, to more than 100 countries.

The Hugel family vineyard consists of 25 hectares in Riquewihr, which is hand-picked, with deliberately low yields and no use of fertiliser. The family buys grapes from growers from another 100 hectares in Alsace, also all hand-picked.

After bottling, the wines are cellared for at least two years on average. The Hugel cellars are mostly located beneath the old buildings of Riquewihr. On my tour of the cellar in Riquewihr, David points out a sign over the door that looks like it says 1898 but the strange looking 8 is in fact a 4 – 1494! The history of this place envelopes you with its richness and romance at every turn (I refer you again to the slideshow!).

There are several oak barrels over a century old, and David also shows me the oldest barrel in continuous use in the world, from 1715, known as Ste Catérine. The certificate for the Guinness Book of Records, signed in 1990 by Norris McWhirter, sits proudly by the enormous barrel.

So to the Hugel gewürztraminer!

2009 Hugel Classic Gewürztraminer

One key Hugel belief is that: ‘The wine is already in the grape’. If ever you have the chance to taste grapes off the vine, the most delicious by far are those of gewürztraminer. They give such seductive flavours and aromatics of spice, rose petal, honeysuckle, even a speck of ginger… Made into the most glorious wines of the heavens, add in an oiliness, a golden hue and a lingering, dry finish. Suave and spicy is the description on the label of the 2009 (current vintage) Hugel Classic Gewürztraminer (pictured) – you bet!

Great food matches are spicy foods, like Thai or other Oriental dishes, and maybe smoked fish or meats. For me, the wine is heaven in a glass and I need no more food than that!

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Posted in European wine, Gewurztraminer, NZ wine, Old World Wine, Wine varietals and blends | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Rock on! Exciting developments in mapping the ‘Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region’

South Australia gets another first! I’ve blogged about us having the first ever white (and bronze) cabernet sauvignon grapes (Cleggett Wines, Langhorne Creek) and the oldest surviving shiraz vines (Langmeil Wines, Barossa). Now I find that we are also breaking new ground in mapping the geology of our wine regions, initially the McLaren Vale Wine Region (MVWR) and Barossa Valley a few years ago. The latest is the recently published updated map and brochure of McLaren Vale, with others likely to follow. This has exciting implications for learning about the make-up and therefore the potential and limitations of our wine regions. The wine industry of McLaren Vale has embraced this project and is benefiting from its outputs. More on the wineries below, the types of soils, how you can access the map and PIRSA’s online geological mapping software that we can all play with! First some background…

I spoke to some experienced geologists who work in the Geological Survey of South Australia (GSSA), within the Department of Primary Industries and Resources of South Australia (PIRSA), particularly Senior Principal Geologist Wolfgang Preiss, and also to Jeff Olliver, a consulting geologist who has worked for PIRSA’s precursor (the South Australian Department of Mines and Energy) and who is one of the key drivers and contributors to this project.

Jeff Olliver on Pirramimma sandstone

Along with Wolfgang and Jeff the other two key people involved in producing the map and text for the Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region are the geologist Bill Fairburn and wine writer Philip White. Philip was the wine writer for The Advertiser for many years and now writes for The Independent Weekly.

The original idea for this mapping project came from Bill Fairburn, an English geologist, from Yorkshire, who joined the South Australian Department of Mines and Energy in 1962. He visited France on an excursion associated with the International Geological Congress held in Paris in 1984, and toured a number of areas, where he learned about the concept of terroir. According to one of Australia’s leading agricultural scientists, John Gladstones, terroir may be defined as: “the vine’s whole natural environment, the combination of climate, topography, geology and soil that bear on its growth and the characteristics of its grapes and wines. Local yeasts and other microflora may also play a part.” … “Terroir, then, describes the unique geography of a wine’s origin.” (Wine, Terroir and Climate Change, p.2)

Back in Adelaide, Bill presented his findings and suggested that we do something similar in South Australia, essentially to map the relationship between rocks and wine. He started to work on this project in McLaren Vale and produced an early version in 2000. More recently, the chair of the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association (‘the Association’ – located at the Information Centre at the entry to McLaren Vale), showed an interest in producing a larger and more comprehensive map.

Bill had returned to England to live but came back for this project in late 2008/early 2009. So the team was set – Bill, Jeff, Wolfgang and Philip. The resulting map was released by the Association on 14 July 2010, with the launch attended by hundreds of people. The map covers the region from O’Halloran Hill in the north to Sellicks Hill in the south.

Rocks and wine
Why should wineries be interested in the rocks beneath their vineyards? As the text with the map clearly explains, viticulturalists have long been concerned about soil types. To the geologist soil is the result of surface weathering of underlying rocks due to the atmosphere, water, soil organisms and changing physical conditions: “soil is usually a thin overlay on parent rock which the vine roots quickly encounter. Hence the need for this geological map”. The water that is taken up by the grapes “comes through the vine roots with the flavour influenced by organic and mineral composition of the ground”.

Rock composition then is an integral component of the wine industry of any region. McLaren Vale is a prominent wine producing region of Australia with vineyards established as early as the 1830s. According to the Association’s July 2011 submission to Minister for Urban Development, Planning and the City of Adelaide:

  • McLaren Vale accounts for 25% of state grape and wine production by value and about 10% nationally. The region has a reputation for producing premium and super premium quality wines, particularly shiraz and unique grenache from some of South Australia’s oldest vineyards.
  • McLaren Vale has the highest per litre price for exports of any region in Australia and the highest total value exports of any wine region in Australia.
  • McLaren Vale region produces annually between 40 – 70,000 tonnes of winegrapes from 7,371 hectares of vineyard and provides greater economic returns and employment than any other wine region in Australia, relative to quantity of input.
  • In 2010, the McLaren Vale wine region grape crush had an estimated total value of $51.4m and the region generated an overall contribution of more than $160m in tourism revenue.

There are plans to produce similar maps for the significant and iconic Barossa and Adelaide Hills wine regions too.

The map
“this map provides a key to the complex, constantly unfolding links between geology and modern wine flavours”

The map and text entitled Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region can be obtained from the McLaren Vale Information Centre and from PIRSA Customer Services in Adelaide. It is a large map measuring 84cm by 60cm, at a scale of 1:50,000, and extends from Marino to Sellicks Beach and Mount Bold Reservoir. The map shows geological boundaries and faults, and is clearly coded by colour and overprints to show the ages and types of rock in the area, while informative legends provide more detailed descriptions. Geographic features such as main and secondary roads, watercourses vineyards, 84 wineries (the 84 Association members) and the MVWR geographical boundary, are superimposed on the geology.

The great depth of knowledge of this team is shared in this piece of work in an accessible yet sufficiently comprehensive document. I was not previously aware of many of the terms used for types or ages of rock so it read to me like a story book, taking me from 800 million years ago to the present day.

Unconformity between the North Maslin Sand and the weathered Neoproterozoic bedrock

The rocks in McLaren Vale vary widely in age, origin and composition. The oldest rocks date back up to 800 million years to the Neoproterozoic era, and form the bedrock in the Flinders and Mount Lofty Ranges. In the McLaren Vale area, these are seen in the Clarendon-Ochre Cove and Willunga Faultblocks. There are glacial deposits of bouldery siltstone dating back about 660 million years seen mainly in Sturt and Onkaparinga Gorges, both in the map area. There is red Reynella Siltstone from 600 million years ago which is evident north of Hallett Cove, and hard quartzite at Ochre Point and Willunga Scarp from 500 million years ago. During the Permian glaciation about 300 million years ago, large valleys were carved out by glaciers and glacial deposits formed as the glaciers melted. At Hallett Cove, these Permian deposits can be seen overlying polished and striated glacial pavements in Neoproterozoic bedrock.

Much more recently was the Eocene Epoch (about 45 million years ago) which formed the Noarlunga and Willunga Embayments, and most recently the Quaternary Period (2.6 million years ago to the present day), with alternating wet and dry periods and varying sea levels, resulting in a range of erosional features and deposits across the region. There are many more stages and ages than this, but this gives you a taste of the information you will expect to find, and the text with the map explains each stage very clearly.

Today’s rock formation is thus the result of a combination of activity over time, including sedimentary deposits, glacial activity, changing sea levels, advancing and retreating ice ages, and folding and faults caused by compression/movement of the earth’s crust.

The seven MVWR terranes
The MVWR has been defined by geographical boundaries, not geological boundaries. This map divides the region into seven geological terranes – a terrane is defined as “the area or surface over which a particular rock or group of rocks is prevalent”. Wines from similar terranes are expected to have similar characteristics if climate and other conditions are also similar.

The seven terranes are: Ancient Rocks, Limestone Country, Clay Plains of Aldinga, Piedmont, Talus Slope, Alluvial Flats, Sand and Sandstone. The last one is divided into Maslin Sands, Pirramimma Sandstone, Ochre Cove Formation and Semaphore Sand.

The types of geology, their characteristics and location are clearly explained. Each type of soil will have implications for the types of vines planted there. Examples of wineries with grapes from each type of geology are as follows:

• Ancient Rocks – Coriole, Chapel Hill, Samuel’s Gorge, Paxton, Rosemount
• Limestone Country – Kay Brothers Amery, Maxwell, d’Arenberg
• Clay Plains of Aldinga – Hugh Hamilton, Leconfield, Penny’s Hill, Fox Creek
• Piedmont – Pertaringa, Noon, Wirra Wirra, Ingoldby
• Maslin Sands – Yangarra, Kay Brothers Amery
• Alluvial Flats – Tinlins, Woodstock, Shottesbrooke, Dennis

Winery involvement
Improved access to, and sharing of, knowledge of this kind will lead to betterment of the wine of the future. No wonder then that wineries are keen to be involved.

The working party for this project included the following winery owners, winemakers and wine industry contributors: Chaired by James Hook (Lazy Ballerina and DJ Growers); Chester Osborn (d’Arenberg); Kevin Fidderman (Wirra Wirra); Michael Fragos (Chapel Hill): Charles Whish (Serafino); Corrina Wright (Olivers Taranga); Drew Noon (Noon) and Jodie Pain (McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association).

Those who are familiar with the Scarce Earth project will see the obvious links (see also Tig’s article on d’Arenberg wines and reference to their Scarce Earth involvement). This project is another McLaren Vale initiative where producers have compared wines from vineyards of one type and find that there is a commonality there – particular aromas or flavours. Members of the Association were asked to submit one-year-old single vineyard shiraz with no new oak influence. A tasting panel then collated the flavour descriptors.

Local council reverses zoning as result of this map!
A huge local issue for McLaren Vale during 2010 and 2011 has been the council’s decision to change an area of land known as Seaford Heights from rural to residential, so it could then be developed for housing. This mapping has shown that this area encompasses Ancient Rocks Terrane, which is prime winegrape-growing land, and includes within it some vines growing grapes of Grange quality. Jeff Olliver wrote a geological summary about the soil and this contributed to the decision being reversed back to rural zoning.

A work in progress
I am told that no geological map is ever finalised, it keeps changing. The field geologist records information about rock types and structures and plots these on a base, which may be a topographic map or one or more aerial photographs. Today, such photographs are georeferenced so that they are spatially accurate (orthoimages).

Relating the maps back to the type of rock is where interpretation comes in. Sometimes geological boundaries are easily visible on aerial photographs, but some must be plotted from careful observations in the field. For this project, in some vineyards the geologists drove around and even walked some boundaries, and subsequently refined them.

Learn more with SARIG
If you are interested in learning more about the geology of South Australia, I invite you to visit the PIRSA site and have a play with the SARIG (South Australian Resource Information Geoserver) tool. It is an amazing tool – you can click on any category on the right-hand-side – for this exercise I chose ‘geology’. Within that, if you click on the ‘+’ you can select the range of geological features to include, and using the scale on the left-hand-side you can zoom in or out of the area. This is a tool that anyone can use and learn about the geology of this region, as well as finding other features such as earthquakes, fault lines, mines, groundwater to name a few.

Take a look for yourself!
You can get your own copy of the Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region from the McLaren Vale Information Centre, from a number of wineries who have it available at cellar door, or from PIRSA Customer Services, Level 7, 101 Grenfell Street, Adelaide.

Happy supping!


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Revisiting the Indian wine market

In September 2010 I wrote about key features of the Indian wine market – bite-sized overview, looking at trade, production, consumption, marketing and opportunities for Australian wine producers. Such a complex market with huge potential deserves to be revisited, particularly since Australia was the largest exporter of wine by volume to India in 2010, and the second largest by value, after France.

What is special about the Indian wine market?

India’s wine market is unique for several reasons. Firstly, the nature of the potential wine-consuming population may be outlined with the following characteristics:

  • the traditional alcoholic beverages of choice are whisky, rum and beer
  • there is no national culture of wine drinking
  • a substantial share of the population do not consume alcohol due to their religious beliefs
  • domestic wine production is significant relative to consumption
  • hotels dominate wine sales

For each of these points, a soupçon of supporting data is taken from the 2011 USDA GAIN Report.(1)

There are an estimated 200 million regular drinkers of spirits and beer in India, consuming approximately 200 million cases of these beverages each year. By contrast, the number of wine drinkers is estimated at between 1 and 2 million, consuming a total of 1.3-1.4 million cases annually (equivalent to 12-13 million litres). This represents a tiny fraction of the Indian adult population.

Wine is not part of the Indian culture, with those who do drink preferring beer and spirits, and a large number of people choosing not to drink alcohol at all due to their religious beliefs. Wine is also not usually consumed with food – at events where wine is served it is more common to have wine before a meal, water with the meal, and resume drinking wine after the meal. Food and wine matching is a new concept in its very early stages of development.

Domestic wine production has grown rapidly during the last decade. There are no official statistics, but estimates from USDA report are of 13.5 million litres (1.5 million cases) in 2010, which is nearly four times the level in 2003. There were estimated to be 60 wineries in production, with another 30 having registered to produce wine. The largest wine-producing state is Maharashtra which accounted for two-thirds of the 2010 total, with the balance made up by the state of Karnataka and port production (estimated at 300,000 cases – included in the 1.5 million total) in Goa. So in theory, India could be self-sufficient in wine, with consumption at a similar level – however, India does export its wine and imports have also been growing, as discussed below.

The distribution and availability of wine in India has been determined by state and federal policy, which is expanded on in the next section. Hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs sell about 50 percent of wine to consumers, the remainder being through retail, mostly ‘wine shops’ – supermarkets are starting to be allowed to sell wine in some states.

Overview of Indian wine market regulations and costs

India’s wine trade is highly taxed at the federal and state level. In addition, the trade and marketing regulations are extremely cumbersome and complex and vary widely according to the particular destination. As a direct result of this, the availability and affordability of wine are seen as two of the key barriers to the growth of the wine-drinking culture in India.

Federal restrictions are as follows:

Prior to 2001, India’s quantitative restrictions on wine imports acted effectively as a ban, with some exceptions for the tourism industry. In April 2001, the federal government lifted the restrictions on imports of wine for general consumption. Therefore import data presented here starts from 2002, the first full year following this change.

The next major development was in 2003 when hotels and parts of the tourism industry were allowed to purchase a certain amount of wine without paying the hefty import duty. This continues to be the case in India, which explains the dominance of hotels in the sales of wine.

Pressure from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) resulted in import duties being simplified and reduced overall to 150 percent and made uniform across the country.

State restrictions vary widely. Four states prohibit the sale of alcohol (Gujarat, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland). There is a government-controlled distribution structure in Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In some states there is an auction for retail licences and in others there is an open market, where private sector sales of alcohol are permitted with a retail licence. Each state imposes a range of excise tariffs, sales fees and licensing fees on wines coming in from other states and imported from overseas.

The largest wine consuming cities are Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh and Bangalore, so overseas wine suppliers wanting to sell to India might be advised to consider these areas first, and concentrate on satisfying the requirements of the relevant state.

As mentioned in the previous Tig article, with the import duty, additional state taxes, and 300 percent mark-up on hotel wine sales, wine prices to consumers can be as much as 10 to 13 times the FOB price for duty paid wine and 5 to 8 times the FOB price for duty free. The retail price of even the cheapest wines can be $20 or more per bottle making wine a drink only for the wealthiest consumers.

Indian wine imports

The Indian wine market is clearly a challenge for wine exporting countries. Australia has performed well in recent years, as shown in the table, with the highest volume in three out of four years between 2007 and 2010. By value, France has traditionally led the field, with Australia in second or third place.

Volume of Wine Exports to India (1,000 litres)

  2002 2007 2008 2009 2010
Australia 89 1,335 1,054 451 722
France 410 1,125 906 879 587
Italy 45 328 273 186 269
United States 64 558 156 135 250
Singapore 4 25 75 159 214
Chile 78 176 180 143 187
South Africa 27 516 686 54 152
Total 811 4,293 3,569 2,203 2,263

Trends and tactics

As stated in the Tig article, developments such as the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and India, pressure from WTO and Europe to reduce taxes, and state-specific changes may ultimately help to make wine more affordable and available to Indian consumers. In the shorter term, suppliers to the Indian wine market must rise to the challenges there in order to be successful. This requires understanding and working with the trends and constantly revising and reviewing tactics. Some key trends to watch are as follows.

Some states are relaxing constraints on the retail of wine, for example, Goa, Karnataka, Delhi, Maharashtra and Haryana have started to allow the sale of wine in supermarkets. Retail restrictions are expected to change across India, so this should be watched closely.

With growing domestic wine production, wine will become more available. The key wine-producing states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa are introducing measures to protect and support their own wine industry by reducing excise on wines produced within their own state, relaxing distribution and licensing regulations and providing financial incentives to produce wine.

Coupled with this increase in availability, the attitude of consumers towards wine is changing as wine becomes more familiar to them and infiltrates the culture. With a large number of Indians travelling overseas, they return to the country with an appreciation for wine. It is becoming more acceptable for women to consumer wine. It is also staring to become part of tine food culture, although it is very early days.

There are tight restrictions on the advertising of alcoholic products across India, for example, it may not be used in the advertising of major sporting events or to support branded products. Promotion of alcohol, including wine, is mostly through events such as specific wine-tasting events and entertainment events. The most obvious route for Australian wine producers to promote their wine is through food and wine fairs. Key annual shows are: Annapoorna (Mumbai); Fine Food India (replacing the International Fine Food Exhibition – New Delhi); Taste (Mumbai); Upper Crust (Bangalore, Mumbai); and IndSpirit (Mumbai).

And finally…

Relationships are key to successful trading relations with Indian importers and distributors. They will prefer suppliers who they can trust to be in the market for the medium to long-term and they prefer access also to the principals in the wine company, rather than simply representatives of the supplier.

This requires visiting the hotels, importers and other retail outlets in person, holding wine dinners and other promotional events and media in India, to create brand awareness and ultimately brand loyalty. Other countries have employed just such tactics, particularly France, which has been successful in capturing the largest share of the market by value. Furthermore, the French sponsored Indians to visit French wine regions, promoting understanding and appreciation of their wines.

Australia has made a fantastic start in India, and Australian wine has a competitive edge, with its reputation for affordable and approachable wines, fruit-forward style, clear labelling, and can-do attitude. This is an ongoing success story!


Footnote 1: US Department of Agriculture Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report number IN1134, India, 2011. Unless otherwise stated data are for 2010.

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