Heathcote Winegrowers Masterclass - Sydney
Shiraz Master Class in full flight ...Monday 30th August, 2010The Ivy's Sun Room
played host to a Heathcote Shiraz
Masterclass for trade and press on Monday, where the principal theme was to discuss the region as a whole, while exploring the sub-regional characters of its unique terroir through a single variety. Galli Estate's
chief winemaker Ben Ranken, along with Tom Carson from Heathcote Estate
shed light on recent vintages, and provided detail on the effect of different sites and soils. The results of the tasting provided plenty of discussion and the evidence points to Heathcote being in good hands for the future.
Heathcote is a surprisingly long region, covering around 100 kms south to north, and its main claim to fame are the 500 million year old Cambrian soils that provide wonderful depth and intensity to their reds, dotted along the central ridge with Mt Camel having the lions share. Certainly there is more to the story than Shiraz, but given its prominence in the region, it made sense to uncover the sub-regional context through this variety.
Ben Ranken described in great detail the way that the ancient sea beds were literally turned on their side to provide the soil substructure that is at the heart of many producers in the region, but was also keen to point out the differences of perfume and power that comes from the grey slatey soils in the south, to the red volcanic soils in a the north. In short, the region has many faces to show wine lovers, and their longevity may in time rival some of Australia's more recognized regions.
Unfortunately it seems that Heathcote has very little presence in the Sydney wine scene, and the time has come (hence this tasting) to let people know that the region is more than a one trick pony. The good work that Jasper Hill
has done to bring Heathcote into the limelight cannot be underestimated, but it is time for the rest of the region to understand that just stamping Heathcote on the label is not going to be enough. Proactive marketing, clean winemaking and defining the character of each patch of unique dirt, and how that translates into the bottle, is certainly the way forward.Below is a summary of the tasting:
The first bracket focused on the region as a whole moving from the cooler more elevated southern region, all the way up to the north. A little surprisingly the first two reds from the south showed serious tannin muscle and minerallity, while at this stage of their evolution, the aromatics were a little subdued. The south-east corner was represented by the Shelmerdine's
Merindoc Shiraz, 2007 made by Sergio Carlei, and the south-west showed some real Bendigo region darkness of fruit, not surprising given the geographical positioning of Mia Valley Estate
. Neither of these producers were on the Cambrian soils that is such a driving factor for peoples understanding of the regions reds, but show the diversity of styles that are possible in Heathcote.
Beauregard Shiraz 2006 showed incredible concentration, but the 15%+ alcohol left a noticeable impression of heat on the finish, and it seems to represent the wines of the past more than the wines of the future. The Sanguine Estate
2007 Shiraz was really starting to open up and hit its straps, with lashings of dark fruit, but without any heaviness, and this seems to be the central theme of Heathcote Shiraz; rich, dark, generous and powerful, but with a lightness and lithe quality that keeps them from becoming heavy.
Wines five and six progressed north with the 2007 Galli Estate Artigiano Block 2 Shiraz located just off the Cambrian soils showing plenty of perfume, with an underlying savoury edge, which is not surprising given the stylistic bent of this producer. The wine from way up north where the temperature is at least 1.5˚ warmer than 'down south' from Mount Burrumboot was soft and forward, and resembled the wines of the Goulburn Valley (located close by to the west), with a characteristic Heathcote burst of fruit.
The second bracket had a distinctly international feel as two representatives from France and one from Hakes Bay in New Zealand (Te Mata
'Bullnose) entered the fray. These wines were served blind and there were two representatives from Heathcote, Greenstone
and Heathcote Estate's 2007 Shiraz. The room had a clear preference for the Heathcote Estate, but every wine had a little support except for a slightly suspect northern Rhone bottling. While not a competition by any stretch of the imagination, the poise and precisions of Tom's wine was plain for all to see, and combined with high quality fruit, the depth of character and silky tannins, alongside a personality that was beginning to open up showed the true quality of the region. The conclusion must be made that Heathcote reds need a little time to relax, open up and show their aroma and bouquet, but are rarely shy on the palate.
Beyond the masterclass 15 producers were on hand to show a range of their wines, and the journey from young and fresh 2009s from Progeny (Sanguine) and newcomer Tellurian
proved juicy and quite slurpable. Then there were the more powerful and muscular styles from Stefani Estate
, showing again the diverse range of style that Heathcote can produce. In short the range of styles on display while hardly exhaustive, gave those in attendance a new appreciation of the depth of character that Heathcote truly has.
On a finishing note something has to be addressed, and this applies to many regions in Australia, and most definitely is a concern in an emerging region like Heathcote. There are producers making wines from grapes in the region who are highly respected by the on-premise trade, yet they feel no need to support the local organisation that represents the region as a whole. Call me old-fashioned, but I do believe in unity and as Len Evans would say in 'improving the breed', but this needs to be done with cooperation and with clear vision of the future and the clear message and personality of the region. None of us stand alone, and support and cooperation has seen many regions stand head and shoulders above those who are unable to work together in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.