PARADIGM SHIFT: How Global Warming is Effecting Australian Wine

Derek Hooper, Cape Jaffa
Liz Riley, Hunter Viti 2, Honand
Wayne Ahrens Smallfry
Frank Vandeloo, Mt. Majura, Canberra

“We’ve stopped trying to convince people that climate change is real,” says Senior Viticulturist at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), Dr Mardi Longbottom. “It’s not really a discussion anymore, whether it’s true or not. We’ve gone beyond that.”

Australia has warmed by just over 1˚C since 1910. Most of that warming occurred after 1950. The most recent 2018-19 summer was the hottest on record with average temperatures recorded at 2.1˚C above the national average. Viticulturists and their vines sweltered through extreme heat waves across many wine regions. The Hunter Valley recorded a vintage mean maximum of 42.35˚C, while McLaren Vale and the Barossa experienced harvest temperatures as high as 46˚C. Even in the relatively cool climes of Australia’s most southerly state, Tasmania, the mercury reached as high as 37˚C in the Huon Valley. Here, extraordinary bushfires ignited by a dry lightning strike in late December raged unpredictably across 187,000 hectares, sending vast plumes of smoke towards the east that billowed over thousands of hectares of vines, permeating their grapes with smoke taint.

“We had burning embers of leaves and bits of bracken just drifting and floating and landing on our property,” Tasmanian winegrower, Jim Chatto recalls of the bushfires that tore through Tasmania, last summer. “The whole place was just so dry. We haven’t had decent rain for two years, really.”

Off the back of the hottest summer on record, Australian winegrowers are experiencing the real time, season to season, day to day effects of climate change. The new normal for vintage conditions across much of the country’s wine regions can be summed up in just two words; hot and fast. Extreme temperatures are causing harvest dates to creep forward and vintage times to become compressed.

“Our observations have been that all regions in Australia will be effected by climate change in different ways,” Dr Longbottom says. “I think earlier harvest starts and vintage compression are the most obvious and immediate threats.”

One of the most consistent climate drivers imposing itself upon Australian winegrowers lies to the west of the continent, off the coast of Western Australia (WA), in the Indian Ocean. Whenever, what’s known as, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is in a positive phase, the waters off WA are cooler than usual. This reduces the amount of moisture available to evaporate and be dragged across the country by storm systems. Researchers have determined that a positive IOD phase during the growing season can cause grapes to ripen faster and mature up to 42 days earlier than usual. A positive IOD also correlates with warmer weather, less rain, and therefore vintage phenomenons like harvest creep and vintage compression.

Cape Jaffa Sheep
Limestone Coast, Cape Jaffa

Vintage compression occurs when the time between the harvest of early maturing varieties, for example chardonnay, and later ripening varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon, becomes shorter. This can cause chaos for winegrowers as the logistics of vintage get disrupted. Coupled with this is increased pest and disease pressure and bushfires breaking out next to, near, or within nearly every single wine region of the country. All the while, access to water remains an ever-present worry.

“The trend in growing seasons is quite alarming; drier conditions overall with more extreme heat events leading to shorter ripening times is what we are seeing now,” declares Small Fry Wines Barossa winegrower, Wayne Ahrens.
Today, Australia’s winegrowers are being forced to seriously think about the ways in which they do business now and into the future, as the world’s greatest existential threat to life on earth as we know it comes rushing up to meet us all, ever-quicker, ever hotter, every year.

HARVEST CREEP & COMPRESSION

On average, across the country, picking dates have been moving forward 1 day per year. Canberra winemaker, Frank van de Loo of Mount Majura Vineyard has 29 years’ worth of data indicating a slow and steady harvest creep for early-ripening varieties, like chardonnay.

“Warm dry winters can lead to earlier budburst, plus an increased risk of spring frost here in Canberra. Early budburst is especially noticeable in the chardonnay,” says Frank. “We’re losing acids earlier and earlier. So, with chardonnay, we’re making less still wine and more sparkling styles. Only because we can pick the sparkling fruit base more on acid than on flavour.”
In Australia’s oldest continually producing wine region, the Hunter Valley, Tyrrell’s Wines make one of the world’s greatest chardonnays; Vat 47. Fifth generation winegrower, Chris Tyrrell is seeing signs of harvest creep amongst his chardonnay vines, but is cautious about lumping all the blame in with climate change.

“We’re definitely seeing picking dates move forward, but you’ve got to keep in mind that the style of chardonnay we make these days is a lot leaner than it used to be,” says Chris. “We’re picking our chardonnay 4 or 5 days earlier by choice to retain natural acidity and achieve a leaner, fresher style. We have 18 years’ worth of data, analysed by block and variety and what it really tells us is that we need more time to come up with more meaningful information, before we know exactly how climate change is affecting us.

“Having said that, for shiraz, our vintage is definitely compressed with most sites ripening around the same time, which puts a strain on the logistics of harvest,” Chris continues. “Thankfully, we now have four times the fermentation capacity in the winery so that we can keep picking until all the fruit is in, instead of waiting for space to free up.”

Extra tank space is not a luxury that most wineries can afford. Lacking ample capital, many winegrowers and viticulturists need to come up with novel and often inventive ways to beat the heat. For existing, traditional Australian wine varieties, like chardonnay and shiraz, increased canopy management and trellis modifications are being used to improve fruit shading and air flow. Other Aussie vitis are experimenting using anti-transpirant sprays, which act like sunscreen for vines.

“Heat waves aren’t ideal, but we’ve got tools to combat them when they come,” Hunter viticulturist Liz Riley says. “We use kaolin clay. It’s baked at ultra-high temperatures and then milled into a fine power, which we spray out onto the vines. It looks like snow and reflects heat off the canopy. So, instead of shutting down when the temperature gets above 35˚C, the vines have a bit of a buffer that enables them to keep on ripening. It’s a useful tool to help us to manage vintage compression when it gets too hot…

“I think we need to be trying new things and be open minded about using anything and everything that’s in our ‘viti toolbox’,” Liz continues. “More than anything, we need data, we need knowledge, so we can be as agile as possible throughout the seasons in response to this changing climate.”

ALTERNATIVE VARIETIES

Ashley Ratcliff from Ricca Terra Farms in the Riverland, South
Australia, is placing most of his future stocks into alternative
varietals as a way to mitigate the immediate and long-term effects of
climate change. Ashley manages over 500 acres of vines in the irrigation
capital of Australia.

Alongside classic varieties chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc, Ricca Terra has become known for its many weird yet wonderful alternative varieties, hailing from regions in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Names include vermentino, fiano, arinto, greco, negroamaro, aglianico, touriga, montepulciano, nero d’avola, and nero de troia, to name a few. Ashley has around 35 non-traditional wine grape varieties growing at Ricca Terra farm, and he is adamant these wine grapes will become the future of Australian wine in years to come.

“We started planting alternative varieties about ten years ago because we recognised early on the potential for these vines to grow well here. They seem to suit the low humidity, warm climate of the Riverland quite well,” Ashley explains. “Vines like montepulciano and nero d’avola are drought tolerant and use much less water than the traditional varieties.”

Despite its name, water is a scarce resource in the Riverland. Because of ongoing drought conditions, water allocations have been reduced to 33%. Right now, a 1000L or one tonne of water will cost you around $600, while the price to buy a tonne of chardonnay from Ashley is sitting at around $350.

“Obviously, that’s not sustainable over the long run,” Ashley says. “One or two years, maybe, but over multiple years, that’s a sure fire way to go broke, which is why we’re concentrating our efforts on these more drought tolerant vines.”

South of the Riverland, Gemtree Wine’s Melissa Brown is also pursuing alternative varieties as a viable option to help future proof her winegrowing business in McLaren Vale.

“We had virtually no rainfall for six months prior to the 2019 vintage, which included a five-day heatwave right as we were beginning to pick our reds. In the last decade we have seen riper fruit and higher alcohols,” Melissa explains. “Recently, we started removing varieties that were perhaps better suited to cooler climates, like riesling, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc, and grafting over ones that we think are better suited to our climate, and which we hope will ripen throughout the season, instead of all at once.”

Research conducted by the AWRI has concluded that alternative vine varieties are a sustainable way to adapt to climate change, ensuring the long-term environmental and economic sustainability of the Australian wine industry. Melissa Brown, Ashley Ratcliff, and Liz Riley are living proof of how Australian winegrowers are facing up to the challenges of climate change head on; utilising – as Liz says – anything and everything in the ‘viti toolbox’ that they can.

WATER

Water, of course, is one of the most essential viticultural tools. However, in some regions of this dry continent water is fast becoming a premium, albeit crucial, element of grape growing. High prices, depleted aquifers and rising salinity issues are all at play as the climate changes around the world. According to Chris Tyrrell, their centurion old, dry grown vineyards consistently out-perform the irrigated blocks by some margin. And, elsewhere, winegrowers are following suit, trying to ween off their vines’ reliance on supplementary water from irrigation.

“Our dam used to overflow every year. Now, that seems to have reduced to two out of every three years, and falling,” says Blackwood Hill, Yarra Valley winegrower, James Calder. “In response to this, we are training our vines to become less dependent on irrigation. We’re using high nutrient foliar sprays, like fish-kelp mixes and are cultivating under the vines to open up and aerate the soil to encourage root growth depth and control competing weeds, which will, hopefully, make our vines more robust and resilient throughout the increasingly hotter and drier summers.”

Rather than remove the safety net of irrigation altogether, Barossa Valley winegrower, Wayne Ahrens has spent money upgrading his irrigation infrastructure, which includes a localised desalination plant.

“So we can better respond to heat wave events, we’ve installed subsoil moisture monitoring technology and are moving over to inline drippers to better control soil moisture along the vine rows,” Wayne explains. “We’re also installing a desalination plant to reduce the salinity of our underground water as the presence of salt is rapidly increasing year on year. Basically,” Wayne adds, “our focus is on increasing soil health by managing organic matter in the soil to help buffer the vines from the extreme weather we’re
now seeing.”

Gemtree Vineyards
Tyrrells Chardonnay, Vat47 Dry Grown Vineyard, Honand

NOT SO BAD

Not all wine regions across Australia are experiencing this dramatic climatic paradigm shift. Parts of South Australia and Western Australia have, so far, been protected from the extreme heat and wild weather events of other wine regions, due to their locations being closer to the coast than most. Ever consistent Margaret River, for instance, seems to be fairing quite well, experiencing cooler than normal conditions of recent years – perhaps due to the positive IOD phase – while the fledgling South Australian wine region, Limestone Coast, appears to be gently easing into this new world climate.

“We’ve just have the best vintage [2019] we’ve ever had,” says Cape Jaffa winegrower, Derek Hooper. “Harvest dates have moved forward, but we don’t see vintage compression down here on the Limestone Coast. The cooling effect of the Great Southern Ocean means we don’t get those extreme heat waves, which makes everything ripen at once. It just hasn’t happened here… yet,” he adds.

“Margaret River is buffered by the Indian Ocean and climate change is not as present here as in other regions of Australia,” says biodynamic winegrowing pioneer, Vanya Cullen. “There was a recent study done by the CSIRO which found that the harvest date had not significantly changed here over the past 34 years, or so.”

Fortuitous geographical placement notwithstanding, Vanya is a firm believer in encouraging Australian winegrowers to begin working within the boundaries of nature; adapting, learning and evolving alongside any changes to the environment which occur over time.

“Our vines have been grown biodynamically since 2005, and we’ve been a carbon neutral property since 2006. We believe our place is in balance with Nature, our vines are in balance with the soil, and hence we have easily adapted to any changes brought about by climate change,” Vanya says.

If there are any positives to be gleaned from this particularly dire situation we find ourselves in, it’s that a changing climate is forcing winegrowers, not just in Australia, but around the world, to think, long and hard about the impacts their specific way of winegrowing has on the planet. For better or worse, the Australian winegrowing hand has been forced to comply, now, and move forward along the pathway that the Earth is currently leading them down. Put simply, Australian winegrowing must adapt and evolve.

WINENZ SUMMER 19/20 ISSUE – OUT NOW!




Tastings - Chardonnay






Scott House

Tucked away in the middle of Marlborough vineyards or behind tall windbreak hedges are some stylish houses like Allan and Cathy Scott’s. Charmian Smith discovers the family home of one of Marlborough’s wine pioneers.

A comfortable but gracious family home.

Opposite Allan Scott’s Twelve Trees restaurant and winery, hidden behind a large hedge is Allan and Cathy Scott’s large family home.

You approach through the vineyard then turn left along a drive flanked with plane trees, but intriguingly the house doesn’t come into view until you round another corner. Even then all you see is only a small part, a blank grey brick wall with a chimney on one side, an inviting pergola and neatly clipped low hedges leading to the front door in the centre, and garage and parking area on the other. At the far end of the blank wall - the billiard room and den are on the other side I learn later - are intriguing glimpses of more neatly clipped little hedges, another pergola and a profusion of white roses and agapanthus.

Back in the 1970s Allan Scott was one of a bunch of people setting out on a mission to grow grapes in Marlborough.

There was a real buzz that was probably about people recognising that we could make wine here and that it was of a high standard, he said.

He and Cathy, whose family had farmed in the region for generations, moved here in 1973 and he worked for Montana which was planting the region’s first vineyard.

The Scotts built their first house in the early 1970s, a modern, open plan home on their muller thurgau vineyard near Blenheim. However, they sold it in the early 1980s when they bought an eight hectare cherry orchard in Jackson’s Rd, next door to where Cloudy Bay was building its winery. They planted a sauvignon blanc vineyard and built their new family home there in 1985. In 1990 they started their own wine brand and built their own winery and cellar door across the road.

“Both Cathy and I love architecture and we love gardening and I guess we were a bit taken with the European style of housing - especially in the UK. We love classic lines and gables - they never really date,” Allan said.

Their architect was David Brocherie who is now based in Sydney. It took him out of his comfort zone to a certain extent but he was good to work with, Allan said.

Cathy loves the way the house flows from the formal end to the family space.

Intriguing glimpses as you approach the house.
Beyond the family room is a sitting area and pool.

The formal part of the house includes a large lounge opening onto the garden with a library/den behind, and a billiard room off that. From the lounge you walk through the formal dining room to the open-plan living area and kitchen, then outside to an sitting and barbecue area with the pool beyond.

The rooms along this side of the house open on to the garden. The original French doors in the lounge and family room have been replaced with bifold doors which open completely to let in the light and air and views of the extensive garden.

Immediately outside is a parterre of formal box hedges interspersed with terracotta tiles and gravel paths and a profusion of white and pale apricot roses. Bright red geraniums in urns add a splash of colour and here and there are seats among the neatly clipped hedges.

The effect of the spacious lawns beyond the mass of roses and box hedges, with a woodland in the background, is stunning. Here and there are small sculptures and urns to intrigue or draw the eye.

On one side of the lawn a pergola leads to a tennis court and beyond is an informal pool with a central fountain which extends into the woodland. A few ducks enjoy the water and a line of ducklings zooms away behind their mother.

However, the heat and the wind have taken their toll, and the lawn is brown because of the summer drought. The irrigation hadn’t been working properly while they were on holiday, Cathy explains apologetically.

She designed the garden. “I like things neat and tidy, that’s why it’s a more formal garden,” she said.

“I love trees,” adds Allan - “I love chopping them down. Some of them are starting to get quite dangerous but we replaced some of them. There’s a gum tree to come out.”

All round the perimeter is the hedge which is essential in windy Marlborough, even though it blocks the view of the hills from the garden. However, they can be seen from the upstairs windows.

Even though it’s extensive, the garden feels secluded and private. The Scotts have never opened it to the public, they keep it for the family and their own enjoyment, Allan says.

The full facade of the house is seen to advantage from the lawn. Built of grey brick with gables, chimneys and the neatly clipped box hedges, it is reminiscent of an English country house.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to live in and has been a real family home, Cathy says.

“Everybody’s grown up here, it’s home to them. They still come here even now they are middle-aged. They still treat it like home even though they’ve all got their own homes.”

Doing it by the Numbers

Paul Taggart takes a look at a fancy, new piece of kit that could make wine judges obsolete.

The tasting team at WineNZ is a great bunch of guys – but when we take a lunch break at the EIT café they hoover up the food as if they haven’t eaten for a week.

So when I caught up with a boffin in Christchurch who has access to a remarkable new machine at AgResearch that performs a type of metabolomics where thousands of molecules are measured after undergoing vaporisation in an electric current, giving information about a wide range of characteristics based on molecular composition, I thought I could be on to something. Imagine if I could replace the guys with a computer.

The machine in question is a Waters REIMS (rapid evaporative ionisation mass spectrometer), that has been designed around real time analysis of metabolites in tissue samples.

It can gather information about a sample’s origin (provenance), genotype, ripeness, quality and vigour/health. And it can do it in seconds, with no messy spitting.

The remarkable piece of kit has all sorts of potential uses. It was developed to detect the difference between cancerous cells and healthy tissue during surgery, and in the food industry it has been successfully put through its paces determining the origin of meat and reliably establishing species of fish used in restaurants (detecting red cod being sold as blue cod, for example). But as far as I’m aware, this is the first time the British machine has been used in a bid to reduce the costs of a magazine’s wine tasting bill.

So, based on the entrants for several recent WineNZ tastings, we sent 20 Sauvignon Blanc, 30 Pinot Gris and 27 Pinot Noir samples to AgResearch in Lincoln, where they started pouring them in to the REIMS to get a detailed molecular fingerprint for each wine.

This is serious stuff and the work was carried out under the supervision of Dr Neil Pattinson, who has had chief executive and board positions with a number of medical and scientific startups in Christchurch and Wellington, as well as having a small Canterbury winery. Dr Alastair Ross and Ines Weissenbacher from AgResearch ran the instrument and did the expert analysis. Alongside WineNZ’s desire to ‘value engineer’ its modus operandi, there were more serious experiments, involving a group of non-professional wine tasters, to determine which specific elements in wine pull the pleasure triggers with consumers.

The Waters REIMS. Could this be the future of wine tasting?

My personal interest was around pinot noir regionality – which cannot reliably be determined by wine tasters, however skilled or experienced they are. If you ever read a review twittering on about a Central Otago wine’s distinctive characteristics, the reviewer more than likely knew what the wine was before tasting it, so they had a prompt to talk about schist and merino wool influence, or a hint of soot from the Earnslaw’s funnel. It is utter BS. I’m not saying Central Otago pinot isn’t great – much of it is spectacular, but so is the best of Marlborough, Nelson, North Canterbury and Wairarapa, and they aren’t really different in style.

However, this is where the REIMS machine hits its straps. The machine can tell Central Otago from North Canterbury, with Marlborough identified as sitting somewhere between those two extremes. However, it is not a strong distinction, as even between Central Otago and North Canterbury only minor differences were found (only approx. 20 compounds out of 3000 were different between them).

With pinot gris, regional differences were stronger. For example, Central Otago and North Canterbury were clearly differentiated with over 60 molecules found to be different. Central Otago was also separated from Nelson and Marlborough, with the latter two regions virtually indistinguishable. Interestingly, with sauvignon blanc, REIMS couldn’t pick up differences between Nelson, North Canterbury or Marlborough.

But does it have a commercial use? Potentially it could pick up mis-labelling or fraud, but that isn’t a serious issue in this country – and with drinkable pinot noir coming out of most of our regions, the risk of a Hawke’s Bay pinot noir being labelled as a product of Bannockburn is pretty unlikely. WineNZ tasting team member Barry Riwai has taken part in a couple of informal experiments during our tastings over the years, attempting to pick regionality in the wines he has been judging. While he had no great success with pinot noir, he was a lot sharper with sauvignon blanc – certainly differentiating Marlborough wines from other New Zealand regions and even sucessfully picking out sub-regions within Marlborough.

It has to be said these REIMS experiments were on a small scale and a lot more work would be required to see where this might go, but the pinot noir results were interesting. However, I reckon the human judges still have their noses ahead as far as sauvignon blanc goes.
And I’m glad about that – wheeling a REIMS through the EIT campus for a coffee and sandwich wouldn’t be much fun, and I’m sure the conversation over lunch wouldn’t be as good as it currently is.

As far as a genuine commercial purpose for the machine – Dr Pattinson thinks that finger-printing flavour preference profiles of consumers could be the direction most worthy of exploration.
After initial scepticism that it might be a wee bit Big Brother being labelled, let us say, an F19 because I like Greywacke pinot noir, Clearview chardonnay and Black Barn sangiovese montepulciano, I came round to seeing the sense behind the idea.

For example, one of the pleasures of my job is to sample quite a few of the top wines after each of the WineNZ tastings. Most of the time these wines are spectacular. Occasionally though I’ll have a glass of a five-star winner – often pinot gris or riesling – and it doesn’t ring my bell at all. The wines are technically perfect and varietal, but don’t suit me. This is probably one of the main reasons riesling doesn’t have the following it deserves, because it has a range of styles, and sweetness, so it can be a lottery picking a bottle. But if I had been run through the REIMS programme and had my taste profile established – let us stick with me being an F19 for a few minutes – then I could pick up a bottle of Clearview Three Rows and confidently expect to see F19 as the “Taste Spectrum figure” on the back label.

More importantly if there were two rieslings on a restaurant menu and one was a C12 and the other was an F17, I’d know the second one was pretty close to my marker.

It might seem a little far fetched, but the work currently being done in Canterbury could see it become a reality.

Some might say it would take the mystery and romance out of wine. However, it could also prevent people spending $40 on a bottle they don’t like.

Only the most boring of souls would fastidiously stick to their number. When they felt like living on the edge, an F19 could ramp it up and try an F21, or even kick over the tracers and drop down in to the Es.
At this stage the boffins are still doing the groundwork, and who knows where this might go.

Anyone who wants their own REIMS machine – they’re north of $800,000, plus you need someone brainy to run it. I’m thinking I’ll stick with Simon, Barry, Matt,Ant and Dave.

Midas Touch

The WineNZ tastings are set up so the result can only be influenced by what’s in the glass. It is impossible for those of us involved to have favourites - wines that might do a little better than they otherwise would because we know the owner of the winery, or who the winemaker is.

And that’s exactly the way it should be. However, when the great reveal takes place after the scores are in and the stars have been awarded, it is always nice to see some of the good guys of the industry end up on top.

It happened at our winter chardonnay tasting when the EIT stewards pulled back the metaphorical curtain to let the judges see which of the line-up of wines was their pick. There on top of the pile was Greywacke.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the person behind Greywacke —Kevin Judd — for a recent issue of WineNZ, and he’s an impressive guy.

For those who are unfamiliar with the New Zealand wine scene, Kevin was the founding winemaker at Cloudy Bay and his wine was one of the driving forces that created the Marlborough sauvignon blanc phenomenon. He then established Greywacke about a decade ago and his success has been phenomenal, with every variety he touches turning to gold. Kevin has entered WineNZ tastings only a handful of times, yet he has had a top sauvignon blanc (of course), the country’s best pinot noir (with a Marlborough wine) and now the best chardonnay for the second time.

Kevin Judd – top winemaker.
Picture: Jamie Goode.

It is a result that would be statistically near impossible if the judges were not utterly consistent and the wines were not spectacular. Kevin’s 2013 chardonnay was top in 2016 and now his 2015 is top wine.

There are a lot of decisions when making wine, sometimes compromises are made, sometimes not. Clearly with Greywacke, compromises are never made. Ever.

The judges for the chardonnay tasting all thought this wine was bonzer. Barry, possibly the most excitable of the trio when it comes to chardonnay, said “I love it, I love it”.

Simon said, “I want to recognize this wine for its excellence.” Earlier he had said New Zealand’s top chardonnays are now among the best in the world, so as the highest scoring of Kiwi chardonnays, this is really up there – and at a spectacularly good price. Goodness knows what you’d pay for a wine of this quality if it came out of Burgundy.

Matt said it was plush, with perfect fruit weight.

So there we have it – a wine made by a genius, whose assistant winemaker is a sheepdog. He doesn’t have his own winery buildings, doesn’t have many of his own vines, but produces one of the best chardonnays in the world.

But isn’t that the magic of the wine business? There are billionaires who have bought wineries in this country, along with many millionaires, but money can’t buy the success achieved by a winemaker with the Midas touch.

While Greywacke was top wine, it was a 2015 vintage, which had matured delightfully. The top 2018 wine, however, was snapping at Kevin Judd’s heels and should be recognized for its quality, and also its potential. The wine in question is the Jules Taylor OTQ (On the quiet). It is a reductive style and was the equal of the Greywacke with one of the judges. Chief winemaker is Jules Taylor, who is assisted by her husband George. They’re clearly doing a lot of things right with their chardonnay, as well as their sauvignon blanc, which has had a great reputation for the past 18 years.

Interestingly, three of the four five-star wines are from Marlborough, with one being from Hawke’s Bay. Get your act together Gisborne – isn’t chardonnay supposed to be your thing? It’s one thing having promotional events to tell people how good your chardonnay is – it is another proving it by entering professional tastings and collecting five stars.

And that’s exactly the way it should be. However, when the great reveal takes place after the scores are in and the stars have been awarded, it is always nice to see some of the good guys of the industry end up on top.

Mendoza chardonnay grapes that are used to produce Greywacke wine.

It happened at our winter chardonnay tasting when the EIT stewards pulled back the metaphorical curtain to let the judges see which of the line-up of wines was their pick. There on top of the pile was Greywacke.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the person behind Greywacke —Kevin Judd — for a recent issue of WineNZ, and he’s an impressive guy.

For those who are unfamiliar with the New Zealand wine scene, Kevin was the founding winemaker at Cloudy Bay and his wine was one of the driving forces that created the Marlborough sauvignon blanc phenomenon. He then established  Greywacke about a decade ago and his success has been phenomenal, with every variety he touches turning to gold. Kevin has entered WineNZ tastings only a handful of times, yet he has had a top sauvignon blanc (of course), the country’s best pinot noir (with a Marlborough wine) and now the best chardonnay for the second time.

It is a result that would be statistically near impossible if the judges were not utterly consistent and the wines were not spectacular. Kevin’s 2013 chardonnay was top in 2016 and now his 2015 is top wine.

There are a lot of decisions when making wine, sometimes compromises are made, sometimes not. Clearly with Greywacke, compromises are never made. Ever.

The judges for the chardonnay tasting all thought this wine was bonzer. Barry, possibly the most excitable of the trio when it comes to chardonnay, said “I love it, I love it”.

Simon said, “I want to recognize this wine for its excellence.” Earlier he had said New Zealand’s top chardonnays are now among the best in the world, so as the highest scoring of Kiwi chardonnays, this is really up there – and at a spectacularly good price. Goodness knows what you’d pay for a wine of this quality if it came out of Burgundy.

Matt said it was plush, with perfect fruit weight.

So there we have it – a wine made by a genius, whose assistant winemaker is a sheepdog. He doesn’t have his own winery buildings, doesn’t have many of his own vines, but produces one of the best chardonnays in the world.

But isn’t that the magic of the wine business? There are billionaires who have bought wineries in this country, along with many millionaires, but money can’t buy the success achieved by a winemaker with the Midas touch. 

While Greywacke was top wine, it was a 2015 vintage, which had matured delightfully. The top 2018 wine, however, was snapping at Kevin Judd’s heels and should be recognized for its quality, and also its potential. The wine in question is the Jules Taylor OTQ (On the quiet). It is a reductive style and was the equal of the Greywacke with one of the judges.  Chief winemaker is Jules Taylor, who is assisted by her husband George. They’re clearly doing a lot of things right with their chardonnay, as well as their sauvignon blanc, which has had a great reputation for the past 18 years.

Interestingly, three of the four five-star wines are from Marlborough, with one being from Hawke’s Bay. Get your act together Gisborne – isn’t chardonnay supposed to be your thing? It’s one thing having promotional events to tell people how good your chardonnay is – it is another proving it by entering professional tastings and collecting five stars.

A Dash of Lemon

My uncle took pride in his French ancestry, despite dilution by more than a dozen generations of English blood since the Huguenots fled the St Bartholomew’s Day massacres by French Catholics. Ironic, it might seem in hindsight, that he should have embraced the mechanised symbol of French Catholicism: the Citroën.

Andre Citroën, a Dutch Freemason who Frenchified his name (Citroen means “lemon”) with a diaresis, lost control of the company because of the development costs of the pioneering “Traction Avant”. When the Michelin family took over the bankrupt carmaker in 1934, Citroën became as Catholic as Peugeot was Calvinist. While latter produced cars that were well-made, conventional and unfussy, its counterpart seemed to reflect in its delightful weirdness the eccentricities of the Gallican church. It was said that if Citroën ever designed a house, the front door would be in the second storey with an escalator coming down from the roof.

But while many outside France saw Citroëns as suspiciously odd, the company’s fetish for reinvention provided a constant source of entertainment and comfort for Citroën devotees, and it was easy to see why the car would induce fierce brand devotion that extends to the relatively bland Eurocars of today’s PSA group.

The Flaminio Bertoni-designed Citroën DS (pronounced “Déesse”, meaning goddess) first appeared in 1955. It was a creature of such rare, sculpted beauty and engineering innovation that folk would stand and stare, spellbound, as it rose up on its hydro pneumatic suspension and glided away like some extraterrestrial craft.

And it was truly revolutionary. The body, with its faired rear wheels and domed floorpan, had a drag coefficient matched by few pre-1980s sedans, and its monocoque frame incorporated a crumple zone. The suspension, which consisted of four nitrogen-filled spheres atop columns of oil and a hydraulic pump that kept the car level regardless of the load, made for a ride many still consider the most comfortable of any car. It could retract a single wheel when a tyre needed changing, and, jacked up to its fullest height it could negotiate the most rutted of roads. (That suspension, in a more sophisticated form, is used in the latest McLaren 720s.) The DS had no brake pedal, just a rubber mushroom that acted as a hydraulic switch. It sported large rubber buffers fore and aft, and later models had a second pair of headlights that swivelled round bends with the steering wheel. The bonnet was the largest single-press piece of automotive sheet metal at the time.

My uncle, who flew in the Pacific war, must have found the DS’s aerodynamic lines irresistible. He owned a total of 35 Citroëns of various styles and sizes over the following 40 years. So perhaps inevitably, my father caught the Citroën bug from his brother, albeit very late in life, when he bought as his last car a 35-year-old red-and-grey DS23 Safari. He loved it, all of its 5.5 metres. Like a faded courtesan, more to be admired for what she was than rued for what had become of her, my father’s Citroën was a splendid thing. He shared its advancing decrepitude and indulged its foibles, not the least of them being that it was prone to rust. One of my brothers was driving it when the trim detached from the fibreglass roof and covered him like a giant caul. Exotic car ownership put marque loyalty to the test as those Citroëns aged, because of the cost of supporting the families of the few specialists who understood the complexities of the hydraulic suspension: a 10 cent valve took a whole day’s labour to replace.

The old wagon did have a magic carpet ride once it stretched its legs, but getting there was like sitting in the cockpit of an amphibious aircraft that never quite succeeded in becoming airborne, with the attendant rattles and booms from the panels and folddown dickie seats.

From its trumpeted arrival to when all but a handful tended by deep-pocketed admirers had rusted back into the ground, or were repurposed as Japanese cutlery, the Citroën DS has been an extraordinary motoring phenomenon; a unique combination of exquisite design and exciting technical wizardry by a carmaker that refused to accept convention. Even so, to many people, its appeal has become even more incomprehensible down the years. One spring morning I had to take a load of broken concrete posts to the dump and filled up the back of the wagon – perhaps the ultimate indignity to the old lady, but who nevertheless rose to the occasion. On the way to the tip, we wheezed into a gas station to fill up. While I was waiting, a forecourt attendant walked up to the driver’s window and uttered six words that are forever seared into my memory: “Make it yourself, did you sir?”

Last Word

Bilge in Jam Jars

How hard can it be to make a decent cup of coffee? I was in a café the other day, and I had a cuppa that tasted like dirt and served in a jam jar. The last time I was sold such undrinkable coffee I took the cup back three times, finally offering to jump the counter and make it myself. I was given my money back.

Even so, New Zealanders can justifiably take a lot of pride in the fact that the quality of our coffee (mostly) is in line with our expectations. The downside, though, is that when travelling overseas our experience can be coloured by what passes for the local beverage.

Take France, a nation of chauvinistic gastronomes who sneer at the British and transatlantic diet, yet their coffee generally is little better than the stewed filter brews Americans serve in their “bottomless” cups.

Hunting down a decent double espresso in Paris is often a triumph of hope over experience. Stick with the hot chocolate and wait till Italy.

It’s the same in Germany where blockaded generations have had to improvise with found objects for coffee substitutes – ersatz (or “muckefuck” – it sounds bad and looks even worse) has lowered the bar to the point that several Germans I know seem to view an insistence on coffee brewed more recently than 24 hours before to be an eccentric extravagance. I once read a thesis comparing coffee served around the world that claimed that the standard of the drink was in inverse proportion to the percentage of GDP spent on defence. Buckets of instant coffee, made from caffeine-laden robusta beans, are an essential and cheap means of maintaining wakefulness in bored troops.

Russia and the US had the worst coffee, but Germany must have been an outlier, given its piking on Nato commitments).

We do have a reputation for being fussy with our coffee, and to thank for that was Robert Harris, who had a virtual monopoly on fresh-roasted espresso coffee sold from a nationwide café chain. When the firm was bought by Cerebos Greggs in 1990, I’m told, operations were centralised to cut costs, and former RH-trained roasters and technicians set up on their own, establishing a standard of competition in bean roasting and coffee dispensing that was second to none, and sometimes the pursuit of excellence pops up in the most unlikely places: one can get a great espresso in Benneydale.

Good coffee hinges on following a strict routine with the freshest ingredients and a properly-maintained machine. So there really isn’t any excuse for serving bilge in jam jars. Most of us don’t need the grief, but the remedy lies in customers taking the cup/jar back and politely requesting it be done again, properly.

Of course, adding to the satisfaction of a perfectly crafted espresso is the knowledge that we are also doing ourselves a power of good. In the past decade studies in a range of august medical journals have proclaimed the healthful benefits of coffee.

One of the more recent was a meta study in the European Journal of Epidemiology that confirmed a significantly decreased risk for coffee drinkers in most causes of death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Which reminds me of an incident related by Joan Rivers, who was sick of being

pestered by an alternative health nut to try

a coffee enema. Finally she relented and,

she said, found the effects so marvellously invigorating that she just had to have another. “Of course I could never show my face in Starbucks again.”

Louis Pierard is a Hawke’s Bay-based writer and editor.

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