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Julie McIntyre retells the forgotten histories of early Australian winemaking in her book, First Vintage: Wine in colonial New South Wales. Julie shares the stories of our past with Rhiannon Stevens… 

First Vintage, Julie McIntyre

First Vintage, Julie McIntyre

Julie McIntyre, has brought the histories of Australian wine to life with her book, First Vintage. Wine in Australia has paralleled the colonisation of the continent with vines, barrels, and bottles travelling to Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet. Julie believes that the history of wine should be told in our national story – yet wine has had a different role as compared to early staple industries like wool, tobacco, grain and mining. “It’s a story about wealthy risk takers, convict workers, German migrant workers, land selectors, confusion over vine varieties; experiments with wine making equipment; phylloxera and much more”.

The idea of a colonial wine industry was primarily driven by a New World vision for a highly civilised, affluent and cultural nation. First Vintage describes when in the nineteenth century, the ruling class wanted create an Australian wine industry that would lead to eventual export income but also as a means to fashion sobriety and cure tempestuous drinking behaviours across the colony!

Wine, as opposed to the preference for beer or spirits offered a lighter alcohol alternative for colonial labourers and at the time was often a cheaper alternative. Yet, comparative consumption during these times shows a distinct preference for the latter. Rich and ambitious colonists held the philosophy that their vineyards and wine would have a civilising influence over the populous; an ambitious notion especially during a time when beer and spirits dominated and rum had even been used as currency. “It wasn’t drinkers driving the need for a wine industry, it was producers.” confirms Julie.

An important part of achieving the vision for colonial wine growing was the supply of cuttings. One key player in this was James Busby. Busby had carefully assembled grape vine stock from across Europe which could provide further cuttings for the wine growing colonists. Busby’s collection was planted at the Sydney Botanic Gardens and at Busby’s sister Catherine Kelman’s property in the Hunter Valley (known as Kirkton). Julie highlights that before Busby returned to England in 1830, he had brokered the distribution of as many as 20,000 vine cuttings across the colony; including to George Wyndham in the Hunter Valley.

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By 1832, George Wyndham had a well established vineyard, maintained by convict labour. Some of Wyndham’s ealiest plantings was Hunter River Riesling or as we know it today – Semillon. But this was a time of experimentation, with limited understanding of the science of wine, during a time without modern machinery or reliable equipment. Julie McIntyre believes the biggest change in the industry since these times has been in how little was known about wine production when early colonists first began experimenting. “How amazing to think that these people were making the Hunter Valley’s first wine; trying to create something completely new, from scratch.  I imagine that they had a sense of humour about their first attempts at wine making, George Wyndham certainly did”. First Vintage depicts George Wyndham using blankets to keep ferments warm and removing them to cool. There would have been many trials with fermentation along with frustrations with untried grape varieties. Early wine styles imitated those from the old world, borrowing from French and European styles such as Claret, Burgundy, Madeira, and Tokaji.

“In the Hunter, the relationship between wine growing and the land has been unbroken since 1830”. In the 1820’s through to the 1860’s plantings extended to Pokolbin in what we now know as the centrepiece of the Hunter Valley region.  Some of the more recognisable names included Joseph Drayton who first planted vines in the late 1850’s; Edward Tyrrell’s first vintage was in 1864; Frederick Wilkinson planted vines in 1866, and John Younie Tulloch joined the wine industry in 1895. In 1847, the Hunter River Vineyard Association inaugurated.

Julie also shares some of the forgotten names and notable characters who assisted in pioneering our Hunter Valley wine industry. For instance Maria Windeyer from Tomago won a certificate for her wine at the 1855 Paris Exhibition, where James King’s Irrawang (near Raymond Terrace) wine was also judged. “James King really was an outrageously competitive figure” remarks Julie, “One of my favourite stories about him is almost impossible to believe, that he had intended to send his Irrawang wine to the 1851 London Exhibition. This was the huge, posh event in the purpose-built Crystal Palace where the wonders of the British Empire were being lavishly showcased for the first time.  King was furious that his wine somehow missed the Great Exhibition, and he sold the wine he had planned to send to London. Having a change of heart, he bought it back from the buyer and sent it directly to Queen Victoria’s husband.  No mucking about; straight to the top!” This incredible anecdote of early Hunter Valley wine paid off for King, as some time later a royal response arrived in New South Wales declaring Jame King’s wines to be excellent

Other early Hunter Valley winemakers were also recognised for the quality of their wines. In 1867, a wine from George Wyndham’s Dalwood property was awarded a silver medal at the Paris International Exhibition – the highest accolade given to any Australian entrants. Dalwood continued to prove its credentials by being one of the most awarded Australian wineries between the 1860’s and 1880’s. Dalwood was later renamed to Wyndham Estate and the integrity of this heritage asset remains today, just outside of Branxton.

Dalwood House

It was these early successes and the efforts of our pioneering families of winemaking that the Hunter Valley owes its title of Australia’s oldest surviving wine region. By the time Maurice O’Shea established operations in the Hunter Valley in the 1920’s, he had inherited a gift from his colonial predecessors of a range of suitable grape varieties for varying success.

“I was very surprised when I began my doctoral research”, says Julie McIntyre, “it is alarming at just how much original material there is to read on early Australian wine history including the Hunter; so much yet to explore.” Julie McIntyre’s book is a refreshing and entertaining window into the remarkable history of wine in Australia. “I’m thrilled to be collaborating with the Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association and Newcastle Museum on a proposal to spend several years specifically researching Hunter wine history. We hope project can go ahead so that we can unearth more yet untold stories”.

 This article was published in Hunter Valley Breathe Magazine, Issue 36, Autumn 2013.

2012 Hunter Valley Heritage Award recipient ….

Rhiannon Stevens explores the significance of the Pokolbin Dry Red labels to the heritage of the Hunter Valley…

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Each year, prominent figures and landmarks of historical importance within the Hunter Valley wine industry are honoured at the Hunter Valley Legends and Wine Industry Awards. The Heritage Award recognises longstanding distinction and significant contribution to the Hunter Valley Wine Industry and is selected by the Living Legends. Following the commemoration of the Maurice O’Shea Labels in 2011, the 2012 Heritage Award pays tribute to Tulloch’s Pokolbin Dry Red labels.

The Tulloch family’s incredible entry to the wine industry was realised by accident in 1895 with John Younie Tulloch – a successful business man with interests in grazing, farming and the Branxton General Store. After reconciling a debt with J. Hungerford, John Younie received fourty-three acres at Pokolbin, some of which was under vine. With fervour, he rehabilitated the unattended Shiraz plantings at ‘Glen Elgin’ and managed to produce his first vintage within a year. John Younie’s preeminent enthusiasm and vigour assisted Tulloch’s in becoming the largest producers in the Hunter Valley by the 1920’s, and pioneers of the Hunter Valley wine industry.

Second generation Tulloch, Hector John first released the iconic Pokolbin Dry Red and Pokolbin Dry Red Private Bin labels for Shiraz in 1952. The decision followed decades of selling their wines mainly in bulk to other prominent wine companies of the time – Hardys, Mildara, Penfolds, Lindemans, and even Maurice O’Shea. Changing Australian palates and consumer perceptions of table wines drove Hector Tulloch to establish his own label. The Pokolbin Dry Red labels depict two grape pickers carting a bunch of grapes, and are still used today and represent the status forged by the Tulloch brand. “The motif is representative of the scouts returning from the promised land bearing between them, a bunch of grapes, as referred to in the bible” says Jay Tulloch. “To the family, it symbolises our heritage and commitment to Hunter Valley wines”.
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Among their now extensive range of varietals, Tulloch have a proud tradition of producing medium bodied reds sporting the conservative finesse, complexity and charm that is renowned in the Hunter Valley’s regional terroir. The Pokolbin Dry Red Private Bin style is individually refined whilst substantively true of the Hunter region. The famed 1954 Vintage Pokolbin Dry Red Private Bin won first prizes for both Claret and Burgundy but also Best Red Wine of the Royal Sydney Show in 1956. The late Len Evans recalled in 2006, “At the end of the 60’s, Grange was the same price as Tulloch’s Private Bin” setting the benchmark for prestigious Australian wine.

Today the labels persist as a reminder of the esteem generated by early Pokolbin Dry Red wines of the 1950’s and 60’s, which assisted to raise the profile of the Hunter Valley. The success of the labels can be attributed to both the consistent quality of the wines, as well as the commercial availability in the marketplace. Successful early distribution in the 1950’s and 1960’s placed the Pokolbin Dry Red on every major Sydney wine list and on the lips of the consumer.

There is market appeal for traditional labels as we seek consistency in quality and the familiar. Sometimes we are attracted to the hype of an iconic brand or to relive nostalgia through a wine. The subjectivity of wine evokes emotional connections – it could be in the flavour, the aroma, the narrative, what we ate, who we shared it with or even the label. The acknowledgment of the Pokolbin Dry Red labels through the Heritage Award highlights the value of printed works to both place making and personal interpretation of our wine experiences.

Sandstone cairns are erected to mark Heritage Award recipients, as sponsored by Fay and Brian McGuigan. The Cairn unveiling will take place in 2013. Brian McGuigan states “the Cairn project is designed to recognise the people, places or objects that have nurtured and be crucial to the development and stature of the district”.

Today, the Tulloch tradition lives on under the auspices of third generation, Jay (J.Y), who confirms “the old Pokolbin Dry Red labels were a big part of bringing the Tulloch name to fame.” The fourth generation are preserving the Tulloch legacy through Christina and Jock who manage operations in the company. The Pokolbin Dry Red Labels have contributed to the ongoing success of the Tulloch company and are an unrelenting icon of the Hunter Valley.

Cheers -
Have a wonderful and safe holiday period
Rhiannon

This article was published in Breathe Magazine Summer 2012/3, Breathe Magazine – Issue 35, Summer 2012/3.

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2012 Orange Sauvignon Blanc, Lot 689 – 12.9% al/vol

First cab off the rank is invitingly true to its varietal characters, with intense passion fruit and citrus qualities. Zest of orange, pineapple and green mango climb out of the glass. The colour is clean, pale and has high clarity.

Appearances can be deceiving? Oh what fun! Is this a hint of oak I sense when mid-palate stirs soft, toasty and mellowy? Excellent length of palate is supported by ripe citrus right to the tip of the tongue. It is well balanced by fruitful acidity and lee-sy roundness.

There is nothing more I want to do on this Monday of the long weekend than sit in the sun with a glass of this, slightly fuller than it should be by etiquette standards! I would love to serve as an accompaniment to a chicken, Thai basil and mango salad.

2012 Orange Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Lot 589- 12.0% al/vol

Startlingly bright, this wine’s bouquet proves it is spring and sugar snap peas are in season, and mingling with freshly shucked sweet baby broad beans. Honeydew melon shows more fiercely when allowed to gather more air in the glass. This aromatic beauty also shows kiwi and lime. Delightful!

Sauvignon Blanc qualities shine through with herbal undertones. Passion fruits drive youthful citrusy acidity, clean swept off the palate by elegant minerality.
Semillon is the dominant varietal and this is evident in the steely, citrus backbone of the wine.

2012 Orange Pinot Gris, Lot 666 – 12.9% al/vol

The growing conditions must be devishly good in Lot 666! Not dark, but taking a more golden tone than the previous pair, this wine has a tremendous bouquet of ripe pink lady apples, with fresh cut juicy Nashi pears. But there’s more depth than this, hints of allspice and cinnamon waft from an apple crumble cooling on some faraway windowsill.

The roundness of palate is lent by another sneaky introduction of delicate oak, which accentuates the high notes of the wine. This could linger on the palate for days, the length is incredible, with slight sweet nutty characters as reminders.

I’m really craving to match this wine with roasted chicken Maryland with a creamy mustard and brandy sauce.

Thanks again to Duncan for ushering me samples to review. Cooks Lot wines are consistently high quality, individually defined and yet indicative of the passion of which they are made. Cool climate wines are already fashionable, so follow the trend and seek out these examples. You won’t be disappointed as they are well made, affordable and accessible. It is an absolute credit to this family.

Each wine RRP’s at $19.99  http://www.cookslot.com.au/

If you would like to have your wines reviewed, or have any requests, please email me at Rhiannon.Stevens86@gmail.com.

2011 Hunter Valley Heritage Award recipient ….

Rhiannon Stevens steps back in Hunter history to the time of Maurice O’Shea

Maurice O'Shea

The Hunter Valley Heritage Award acknowledges landmark historical importance that has  influenced or significantly contributed to the Hunter Valley Wine Industry. Previous recipients have included historical landmarks of physical heritage. This year the importance of printed works to the place making of the Hunter Valley region have been acknowledged. The Maurice O’Shea Mount Pleasant Labels are classic collateral heritage endemic to the Hunter Valley, and symbolise our fine winemaking reputation and identity.

At the unveiling of the Heritage Cairn in March 2012, Hunter Valley Legend and sponsor of the Cairn, Brian McGuigan explained “the Cairn project is designed to recognise the people, places or objects that have nurtured and been crucial to the development and stature of the district, so it is fitting that we salute Maurice O’Shea and McWilliams”. Maurice O’Shea founded his vineyard “Mount Pleasant” in 1921, and during the depression forged an enduring relationship with the McWilliam family.  Whilst 2012 marks the 90th Vintage at Mount Pleasant in the Hunter Valley, it also honoured the 135th anniversary of winemaking for the McWilliam family.

Maurice O’Shea’s leadership was instrumental in positioning the Hunter Valley as a premium wine region. Brian McGuigan remarked “Maurice O’Shea did something special. He had something really outstanding in his capacity to recognise the certain traits of grapes and wine”. A pioneer of early Australian winemaking, Maurice O’Shea literally changed his field. Produced in a era where fortified wines were the standard – flagship styles of Shiraz and Semillon were championed without electricity, machine-driven cooling systems or any of the modern winemaking equipment used today. Maurice O’Shea’s wines were a testament to his vision and skill as a viticulturist and winemaker. Experimental blending, styles developed for the market and sophisticated wines with prudent alcohol levels were O’Shea’s specialties. The mastery of his craft is evident with the refined intensity and longevity of his wines, many of O’Shea’s wines outlived the man. O’Shea’s table wines showed creative artistry and have left a lasting impression on the world as icons of the Hunter Valley, and set the standard for Australian wines at their best.

The Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association has formed valuable links with the University of Newcastle to collect and share historical narratives of our region’s winemaking past. Julie McIntyre from the University of Newcastle presents the notion that “wine is a creative field in which art and science combine. As O’Shea blended his wines, he blended together the idea of wine and it’s place in history”. Julie’s representation of Maurice O’Shea provides insight into Maurice O’Shea’s daily work. Describing him as one of the true romantics of wine, Julie read from a letter penned by O’Shea on 15 February 1924:

We expect to start the grape picking on Wednesday next though at this moment it seems hardly possible for us to be ready in time … We are having some heavy downpours of rain just now and it seems that we are to expect a wet vintage. This is a nightmare to look forward to as the ground is so soddy and heavy that the loaded carts often get bogged, or even overturned, and the horses constantly lose their foothold; besides it is heavy work for the animals and knocks them up terribly. There seems to be some trouble in securing grape pickers this year. It is really unaccountable as many pits [mines] are idle and there should be more children than ever”. The account lists the hardships and tribulations that   we no longer face with modern machinery and vineyard practices – although wet harvests are still a challenge and mechanical harvesters have replaced child labour! It seems Maurice O’Shea’s romantic side didn’t end with his passion for wine. His diaries and letters have also provided a valuable account of O’Shea’s affections for Marcia Fuller, whom he later married. Maurice O’Shea on all accounts was a true romantic with the sign off from the same letter:

My Dearest – I hope everything at home is quite satisfactory and that you are keeping your promise of looking after your dear little self so that I shall have lovely rosy cheeks and sweet red lips to kiss … Loving you more than ever – love always, Your Maurice”.

History has made the Hunter Valley so important internationally,” said Hunter Valley Legend Brian McGuigan, “the wine that comes from here; it’s style and it’s quality has separated us from our peers in this country and abroad”. Maurice O’Shea produced remarkable and memorable wines during his lifetime, inspiring many in his industry. It is reassuring to note that many generations of the McWilliams followed in O’Shea’s footsteps. Don McWilliam, fourth generation in the McWilliams family and patron for the Maurice O’Shea Mount Pleasant Labels, joined O’Shea to learn the craft from the 1954 Vintage. Sadly, O’Shea passed away shortly after in 1956. Today, Scott McWilliam is senior winemaker at Mount Pleasant representing the sixth generation of this pioneering wine family.

Cheers for the next Century of winemaking at Mount Pleasant!

This article was published in Breathe Magazine Spring 2012, Breathe Magazine – Issue 34, Spring 2012.

Why don’t you rate wines?
I have been asked several times why when I’m reviewing or writing about wines, why I don’t offer them a score or a numerical rating. Aside from not being a really efficient numbers person – maths has never been my strong suit – I don’t score wines because I want to make wine accessible, relatable and easier to appreciate.

For me, wine is subjective. Every wine is different, and so is every person and their preferences and tastes. Our collective experiences in life are also different, this means that in the grand evolution of our wine tasting palates, some people are old and wise whilst others are naive and frivolous – irrespective of our physical age.

Some of us never change… Our hair, our clothes… our wine. This is why there is a still strong market for sweet fizz and why they still make Moselle. It also explains why some people still get a perm and kept their denim jackets in case they come back in fashion! (heads up they are everywhere in the USA so they might be back next season!)

Fashion and fads
Everybody and I mean everybody must be drinking Sauvignon Blanc right now. It is so in fashion right now. The Sauvignon Blanc aisle at Liquorland is strangely the centre of the bottleshop universe. But why? With all their wines, the range is still limited and there are only select few I would consider purchasing. I asked Hunter Valley legend Karl Stockhausen about his opinion on fads and trendy wines for my last article. He said generally consumers flock to obvious characters in wines. What I find annoying (cloying green passionfruit) in Sauvignon Blanc, the normal everyday consumer recognises as delightfully obvious. The same went for over oaked Chardonnay. Over done, and overly obvious.

Karl also told me a story about a more recent line up of winemakers and Sauvignon Blancs for a wine magazine. After tasting all of these wines, though technically well made, none of the experienced palates of these winemakers actually personally liked any of the Sauvignon Blancs. Makes you think doesn’t it?
Biggest selling variety right now and the people making it don’t even like to drink it? It reaffirms everyone’s different and this way you and I never have to share!

Old faithful
I like to go home and drink Chardonnay but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the technical skill to evaluate and appreciate how well made or technically correct a Cabernet Franc, or Chenin Blanc is. It just means that when I’m at home in the privacy of my living room, the first thing that takes my fancy is a good old Chardonnay!

On our recent trip to the USA all we really drank was Chardonnay! Flicking through our photo album has been like, “this is us in San Francisco (drinking Chardonnay), oh and here we are in Vegas (that was a lovely Chardonnay)…check out the wonderful Chardonnay we bought in New York!”

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I find Chardonnay to be complimentary to whatever choose to burn for dinner, and it’s a great match with tacky reality television. The irony is I have always preached the importance and value of wine matching to food in the formal arena, but even I take the low fuss road and enjoy what is in the fridge. Everything goes with Chardonnay!

My Chardonnay doesn’t judge me or my remote control in my Pajamas, and I don’t score or rate how perfect or imperfect my Chardonnay is. We have a great thing going on.

Surely a wine covered in golds is the best….
When you see a wine rated a certain number of points or boasting various stickers of golds or medals, there are certain things that that wine had to be scored upon that appeal to a wine judge. First, usually the wine is submitted to the writer or the wine show. Mostly, wine shows charge the winery to submit per wine, per category of style they wish to enter. It can be a costly process. They give the wine a number, and rate colour, clarity, aroma, palate, length of palate, acid balance, fruit, varietal definition and style against benchmarks and wine faults.

The score is added up and all scores are assessed and scaled against gold silver and bronze. The scores will determine how many medals are given in that category. They could all be bronze. Or none could rank high enough for a medal at all. If there are multiple golds, points determine a top gold and if the wine is deemed spectacular enough, a trophy is awarded. Really, it’s the trophies you want. Most wineries have a filing cabinet full of bronzes and silvers and this is why it’s not overly exciting to see the shiny sticker on the bottle. And trust me, it’s not exciting to have to be the person who sticks those on straight on every bottle. I did that on a labeling line through high school!

Just because James Halliday or the Royal Hobart Wine Show says its a gold, 5 star or a 95 point wine doesn’t mean you’ll even like it. It comes back to personal preferences and palate experience. I know a wine, a Hunter Semillon, that kept winning the trophy at various shows. Technically brilliant, faultlessly interesting. Great acidity, hints of minerality, good length of palate, flawlessly developing honeyed characters and mellowing off as bottle age took hold. The general consumer would taste it and say “very tart” and pull a face. They weren’t talking about me! Their palates were simply not ready for it, nor should they have to wait for the right food (delicious with the right food). The average joe would have rated this multiple trophy winner 1/5.

Back to me
So if I rated or scored a wine, should it be because I liked it personally, or should it be because it was faultlessly made or technically correct, or both? Neither. Just because the experts say its good doesn’t mean you’ll like it. And just because you like it doesn’t mean it’s a well made wine. But who really cares as long as you like it (and it’s Australian grown and made! No more NZ rubbish!)

You can’t even take my professional opinion seriously anymore because you know I went half way across the world and had my Chardonnay Tour, then came home and had some more! I suggest everyone read up on wine, sample as many different wines and styles and regions as possible until you find something you love. And I promise I do venture away to other styles and varieties occasionally!

The moral of this story is a “good glass of wine” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as a “glass of good wine”. But ultimately, I enjoy both and so should you!

The Ben Ean Still2011 Heritage Award winner ….

Hunter Valley Living Legend Karl Stockhausen shares the history & stories of this wonderful Hunter Valley icon with Rhiannon Stevens.

Each year in the Hunter Valley, we celebrate and acknowledge excellence with our Wine Industry Awards and induction of our Hunter Valley Legends. In 2011, the Hunter Valley Heritage Award was presented to the Ben Ean Winery Old Still House.

Despite being formally recognised as having integral historical importance to our region, little is known as to the origins of the Still at Lindemans Ben Ean. It is believed the Still was already in place when the Ben Ean property on McDonalds Road Pokolbin was purchased from John McDonald by Dr Henry Lindeman in 1912. Who better to ask about this icon than the amazing Hunter Valley Legend – Karl Stockhausen?

So what is a Still?
A still is a permanent apparatus used to heat and then cool liquids to condense and capture vapours. The Ben Ean Still is a simple Pot Still, with a single chamber heated by a steam boiler piped from the Ben Ean Winery.

The purpose of the Ben Ean Still was to collect alcohol and produce Brandy. Pot Stills only give one condensation due to having one pot. The first distillation results in low concentrations and the process is repeated to get higher concentrations. When Karl had used the still in the early 1960′s the first distillation would succeed, however secondary distillations would frustratingly lose alcohol in the process. As the Still is made of copper, the natural properties of Copper remove sulfur from the alcohol. In doing so, the metal eventually corrodes. The carry-over to the condenser column metals were so eroded that alcohol escaped. A Customs Officer informed Karl that they may have to pay duty on the alcohol losses and Lindemans Head Office quickly replaced them with new ones! The Pot itself and the Condenser are of the original Still.

When Karl Stockhausen first arrived at Ben Ean in 1955 there were large stores of Brandy from the Still. Karl recalls being appointed Winemaker and Manager of Lindemans in 1959, and using the Still to recover losses from left over grapes after pressing, through distillation. The labour intensive process was fraught with losses and by the early 1960′s, Karl had convinced his directors to retire the Still. By 1964 the Still was no longer in use and Karl could invest his passions into making Hunter River Riesling (Semillon).

Karl is cautious to assume the Brandy from the Still was used to fortify wines such as Port or Muscat styles. This is because it would have been difficult to produce high concentrations of alcohol (Ethanol) used in Fortified Wines. In order for this, the Still would have required a rectifying column which separates the different alcohols respective of their different boiling points. This means that the Still at Ben Ean was likely there to satisfy a personal preference for Brandy consumption.

Is it a taste for Brandy which has paved the way for Australian wine?
Until the 1960′s the majority of Australian wine on the market was fortified in the style of Port or Sherry. Perhaps it was the shortage of beer and spirits during the second world war which encouraged the consumption of fortified and table wines. Alternatively the appeal of a sweet, rich wine with brandied complexities to an early wine drinker may have begun the evolution of Australian palates. A preference to Brandy may have lead to a taste for fortified wines, which evolved into curiosity for table wines.

A growth in Australian wine sales from 1960 owes to greater popularity in styles such as the semi-sweet Ben Ean Moselle, enjoyed characteristically of the era with an Alpine Lite! Karl Stockhausen blushes as he tells this iconic wine of the 60′s wine boom was first made at Ben Ean in 1956, but was not yet what the market wanted. Later, the market became enamoured by the fruit friendly forwardness of the Ben Ean Moselle. Many a wine drinker owe their interest and evolution of their own palates to the entry-level Ben Ean Moselle, which became the biggest selling white wine for over a decade.

In the late 1960′s dry red wine sales were greater than whites. Karl recalls 1965 Vintage as peculiarly dry and hot whilst still producing an unusually large crop. This meant all open fermenters were full, leaving none to take the quickly ripening fruit. They managed to leave off harvesting the Shiraz it until well into March. When they finally harvested, the sugar content in the fruit was exponentially high, leading to high alcohol percentages and worried Winemakers. At the end of Vintage, Karl explains the Lindemans directors came to the Hunter Valley to taste the wines. “They were the best range of Hunter Reds they had ever seen”. Top shelf styles, Karl describes as “fabulous wines” all still revered today. Karl proudly tells me that recently a bottle from 1965 broke the record, selling for almost $2000.

Other influential styles that Karl Stockhausen has been involved with include the iconic Hunter River Riesling, which was an alias for one of the three Semillon styles he produced at Lindemans. The next trend, for shoulder pads and oaked Chardonnay emerged in the 80′s.

But what is it about these wine styles that give them decade long demand? Karl’s theory rests on The Obvious. Literally. Karl explains, “It was not the flavour of Chardonnay but the obvious oak that made it popular. Sauvignon Blanc, although opposing in style also carries obviousness of character.” Karl explains that wine drinkers are searching for characters they can recognise in their wines. For fortified wines it was the Brandy base, Moselle was sweet supple fruit, Chardonnay was buttery vanillin oak. For Sauvignon Blanc it’s about gooseberries, crispness and green notes. But it’s more than often too hot to grow this variety in the Hunter Valley. McGuigan Wines have now announced their market friendly home grown competitor, affectionately named The Semillon Blanc, using our Hunter Valley reliable and faithful staple, Semillon. Karl describes this wine as a “modern late picked version of Semillon, with full varietal flavour up front, something that lends well to current palates”.

So what for the future, as we all become more familiar with the wine world and more informed about personal preferences of style. What wines will be fashionable? I am a product of the 1980′s and can’t go past a good Chardonnay, but I’ve always said drink what you like. (That way no one has to share!)

Take the opportunity to go back to our roots and enjoy the Hunter Valley’s heritage Ben Ean Still for a wine tasting at Lindemans.

Cheers!

This article was published in Breathe Magazine Summer 2011-12, Breathe Magazine – Issue 31, Summer 2011.

So from here I say bon voyage, as we Jetset across the world for an amazing trip of a lifetime!

Breathe Magazine requested for me to rewrite my original “Something Fishy” article for their Hunter Valley Wine Show edition.

Something fishy… What’s the Story of Fish in Wine?

I often get asked why there are warnings on wine labels pertaining to fish, milk and egg products. Aren’t the basic ingredients of wine just grapes and yeast? Sometimes we need a little help to optimise our basic ingredients.

In the Fermentation process, yeast converts the grape sugars (glucose and fructose) into alcohol (and carbon dioxide). Yeast can be found naturally on the skins of the grapes, or it can be introduced. The type of yeast can also affect the flavour, aroma, texture and body of the final wine.

The winemaker may also choose to put the wine through secondary fermentation. Malolactic Fermentation (or Malo for short – pronounced “May-Low”) would usually occur after the primary ferment. During Malo, Lactic Acid Bacteria get busy converting Malic acid from the grapes into Lactic acid in the wine. Lactic acid is not as sharp and acidic to taste, resulting in a wine that has a smoother mouth feel. Malo can result in a buttery, creamy Chardonnay, but if not done skilfully can end up causing faults in the wine.

It is a sad ending for the yeast as after primary ferment, it dies. Unfortunately, the yeast is a casualty of our consumption. Making matters worse, all the residual and dead yeast cells or “lees” are now floating around in our wine. There may also be natural proteins, bacteria and other particles suspended in the wine. I don’t like “floaties” in my Shiraz or Chardonnay. What is the solution to this problem?

Winemakers use a fining agent to flocculate at various stages during wine production, ensuring your Hunter Valley Semillon is crystal clear. Clarity, brightness and transparency are important for both the wine judge, and us wine drinkers.

Flocculation: [verb] forced removal of sediment from a liquid through addition of a flocculating agent. Gravity controlled flocculation precipitates solids within a liquid.

Now for the science lesson: as the diagram suggests, the fining agent is added to the top of the tank, weighs down on the dead yeast cells (and other “floaties”) and drags everything to the bottom of the tank where it can be siphoned off.

Fining agents can improve haze, phenolics, astringency, colour, flavour and even off-odour in wine. Therefore, fining is a process which results in a wine created with finesse, which may also have attractive qualities not present in unfined wine.

Stabilisation can be used to prevent wine faults caused by environmental changes to temperature, humidity and movement. Unstable wines can be subject to haze, tartrates and premature ageing. For example, Cold stabilisation encourages liquid tartaric acid to solidify. “Wine Diamonds” (tartrate crystals) form when the wine is very cold. They develop in small crystals or long shards and can be removed prior to bottling. Sometimes these form in the finished bottle – they may look like glass but are completely harmless.

So where does fish come into this? Not to worry – winemakers are certainly not throwing seafood medley into the tank!

Below are some common fining agents:

Isinglass (pronounced eye-sin-glass) is a gelatin derived from the air bladder of a fish – especially and traditionally the sturgeon. Isinglass is expensive, delicate, will not strip flavour and often used with white wines.

Gelatin has been used to fine wine since Roman civilisation. It can remove harsh tannins, bitter flavours, and improve astringency.

Casein. Casein is an active protein in skim milk or powdered skim milk. It can be used to nullify astringency and bitterness in white wines, sometimes lightening the colour.

PVPP or polyvinyl-polypyrrolidone is a synthetic polymer chain that behaves like a natural protein.

Albumin is the fining agent relating to eggs. Only the whites are used (sometimes powdered) – so never sunny side up! This is usually reserved for red wines and believe it or not it’s only 1-2 egg whites for 100 Litres of wine.

There are natural proteins present in grapes that may cause a cloudy haze if the wine is subject to higher temperatures. Bentonite is a naturally occurring clay or mineral derivative that stabilises the wine, preventing cloudy protein haze in the wine.

Did you know? Bulls blood was commonly used as a fining agent in many European countries including France, until 1997 when the EU banned this practice as a measure to curb Mad Cow’s Disease.

If I’m allergic to seafood do I have to avoid wine?

No. Not even with wines fined with Isinglass. The protein in fish which commonly causes allergic reactions is called parvalbumin. It’s not normally found in isinglass.

Modern manufacture of isinglass ensures no residual parvalbumin remains. The European Food Safety Commission led the way and granted isinglass exemption from allergen labelling laws. In 2009, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) also granted food labelling exemption for isinglass in beer and wine. Even if trace parvalbumin snuck into the wine with the isinglass, it would settle with the isinglass when flocculated and be removed in the filtration process.

This doesn’t sound kosher!

Well technically, isinglass that is derived from a sturgeon isn’t. However isinglass from a kosher fish is. Other un-kosher fining agents include gelatin, casein.

I’m a vegetarian /vegan?

A lot of wines on the market are still unfined or use vegetarian-friendly fining agents. Synthetic fining agents are increasingly popular, and Bentonite is one of the most common fining agents. It is important to consider that some wines and many beers may not be suitable.

Vegans can look for wines that boast “unfined” or “unfiltered” or Bentontite/clay. Some wineries are cleverly labelling for vegetarian and vegan consumption determined by their winemaking processes. Just because some wines are labelled as vegetarian-friendly doesn’t mean that the wines that don’t specify aren’t already suitable for vegetarians or vegans. Continue enjoying Hunter Valley wines and if you are concerned – read the label and ask the friendly folks at the winery.

Testing has shown that there is limited capacity for wines to absorb fining agents and when they have been detected, only in negligent proportions. Fining is considered more natural and delicate a process than filtration which can rapidly strip a wine of colour and flavour. It’s also an important part of traditional winemaking practice that Australian winemakers have inherited from our old world wine countries.

So now you know more about the processes behind some of our proud award winning wines– celebrate quality Hunter Valley wines and appreciate the complexity of the science and skill it took to produce them.

Cheers to that!

 

This article was published in Breathe Magazine – Issue 30, Spring 2011  “Hunter Valley Wine Show edition” – see link.
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