Monday, March 31, 2008

Shoalhaven Coast Wine Region

The Shoalhaven Coast wine region stretches from near Kiama in the north to Batemans Bay in the south and west to the escarpment. It is part of the South Coast Wine Zone, a much bigger area, extending from Lake Macquarie to the Victorian border and west to the Great Diving Range.
A designated wine region is a legal entity under government legislation similar to the Appellation system in France. However it is much less restrictive than the French system in terms of viticultural and winemaking practices. In fact the only restriction is that wine which carries the regional name must consist of a minimum of 85% of fruit from that region. This protects the integrity of the label and safeguards the consumer.
To be assigned a GI ( Geographical Indication) the application has to prove that the whole area concerned has certain similar climatic, geographical and geological conditions. To some this might be considered the "terroir" of the area.
The Shoalhaven Coast is subjected to a warm maritime climate which is probably one of the most difficult climates to grow grapes in. It means hot and wet summers which encourage fast ripening, dilution of grape sugar, reduction of varietal character, low grape acidity and, worst of all, increased threat of disease particularly downy and powdery mildews and botrytis.
Of course a good viticulturalist manages his/her vineyard as best as possible to minimise the impact of the climate. Vine rows are designed to be well ventilated by the prevailing winds to help them dry out and the canopies are usually trained to vertical shoot positioning (VSP) with well spaced spurs for similar reasons. Most vineyards are well drained.
A protective spray programme is also essential to limit the impact of disease.

Of course variety selection is also important.
No one (well, almost no one) would consider growing Pinot Noir or Riesling, distinctly cool climate varieties, in the area.
White varieties Semillon, Verdelho, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc do reasonably well. The more unusual Arneis also looks promising. Reds such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon do ok too. There is also some Merlot and Cabernet Franc grown.
Chambourcin has also found a niche in the area. This is an unusual grape for Australia as it is a complex hybrid produced in France by Joannes Seyve. The grape’s parentage is unpublished but would be based on considerable number of American species of Vitis and the European Vitis vinifera.
The variety shows excellent disease resistance and has found a home wherever a warm humid climate makes conditions a little more difficult for growing grapes eg. the Shoalhaven!
The wines made from this grape show good colour, acidity, tannin and no unpleasant hybrid flavour.
It is also very versatile. Wineries in the Shoalhaven Coast make dry and sweet red wines, sparkling reds, rose’ and vintage ports from this grape.
In the 2008 South Coast Wine Show wines in the Chambourcin class won four bronze medals.

The Shoalhaven Coast Wine Industry Association represents most of the vineyards in the area.
They are an active group promoting the region at every opportunity.
A major event is the Shoalhaven Coast Wine Festival which takes place every Queen's birthday long weekend in June.
Not only is there wine tasting but entertainment, art and photographic exhibitions and food events also take place.
We hope to see as many of you as possible enjoying South Coast hospitality over those three days.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Tempranillo is a red wine grape variety of Vitis vinifera and is native to Spain.
Its name comes from the Spanish "temprano" which means early and refers to the fact that it ripens a few weeks earlier than most Spanish red wine grapes.
Until recently it was suspected that Tempranillo was related to Pinot Noir, but genetic studies tend to discount this possibility.
Tempranillo is the main grape used in the red wines of Rioja, Spain.

It has a thick skin and grows best at relatively high altitudes, but it also can tolerate a much warmer climate.
To get elegance and acidity out of Tempranillo, a cool climate is needed. But to get high sugar levels and the thick skins that give deep color you need heat.
The lower acidity associated with low-altitude growth is most often remedied by blending with higher acid grapes eg. Grenache or Granciano. Here in Australia we are allowed to add acid.
Pests and diseases are a serious problem for this grape variety, since it has little resistance to either.
The grape forms compact, cylindrical bunches of spherical, purplish black fruit with a colourless pulp. The fruit is very dark in colour and forms a bead-like sphere.

The wines can be consumed young, but the most expensive ones are aged for several years in oak. The wines are ruby red in colour, with aromas and flavors of berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather and herb.
A few years ago I had the thought that maybe this variety would be good to grow in Australia and went to Rioja for a few weeks on a "study tour".
The Rioja region is very beautiful and the three main grape growing areas are very geographically distinct, the mountainous Rioja Alta, the rolling hills of Rioja Alavesa and the flatter river valley of Rioja Baja.

These three regions produce three different styles of Tempranillo because of the climatic and soil differences.
Red wines are classified into four catagories depending on age and length of oak storage. From the young "Rioja" through "crianza", "Rioja Reserva" and the wonderful "Rioja Grand Reserva".
The region also makes white wine (Viura, Malvasia) and crisp fruity rose' (rosados). It was the latter that took my fancy during the tour. We never see them in Australia as they are always drunk very young and virtually straight out of a barrel. I don't think many see a bottle.
Nothing quite like sitting in the shade of huge trees on a ancient square in some old Riojan village with a plate of slow roasted lamb and a jug of cold Tempranillo rose' on a blistering hot day.

The vineyards were quite unique. Instead of the usual trellised rows I was used to, the majority were grown as bush vines in some of the most inhospitable soil I had ever seen.
The winegrowers of the region were somewhat bemused at a lone Australian poking around and asking lots of questions. My lack of Spanish and in general their lack of English proved a bit of a hurdle but most went out of their way to help. I remember one bizarre conversation in my English accented German and a vigneron's Spanish version.

The wine centre of Rioja is the town of Haro with its extensive and informative wine museum. Here you can visit numerous wineries (Bodegas) and taste a huge variety of local wines at cafes', restaurants and wine shops.
So the upshot of all this was that eventually I planted some vines.
They turned out to be a bit fickle. Despite growing like weeds with huge canopies, they have not so far been great with yields. Maybe it's the clone, D8V12, but in Australia we dont have much choice. It's either that or nothing!
Some experts suggest they have to be a few years old before they start producing to their full capacity.
The first year I blended the small quantity off into a Pinot Noir rose'.
This year with another small quantity harvested I have decided to make a varietal rose'.
It was brought in at around 12.5 Baume and the expected high pH 3.8.
Fermentation on the skins lasted only for 6 hours before I decided enough colour had been extracted when the juice was drained off and fermentation finished. It has been racked off the lees and is now settling. When clarified we will adjust the acidity and bottle.
Will let you know the results in due course.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the variety used to make the best red wines of Burgundy as well as being a principle component of Champagne.
It is a very old and variable variety and similarities between it and the wild grapes that grew in Europe before cultivation of the high yielding selections can still be seen.
There is said to be 200 clones (genetic mutations) of Pinot Noir. Some say there is possibly 1000. In France there are 50 certified and 15 significantly propagated.
In Australia, there are around 30 clones available.
At Termeil Creek we chose the MV6 clone.
Wines made from Pinot Noir from hot areas tend to be uninteresting and lacking in colour and flavour.
This is the result of ripening too fast
Cool climate fruit on the other hand that ripens slowly can make wines of distinctive varietal flavour which are highly sort after.
The goal is to make a wine of cherry, red plum colour, with a nose showing primary red/black berry characters followed up by an aroma, after ageing, of hay/earth/mushroom/cedar or so called "forest floor"
The palate should be complex with layers of flavour unfolding with a viscous, velvety mouth feel with low to medium tannins. The finish should be soft and long. The influence of oak should be subtle.
Pinot grows well in most soil types. They tend to do well in heavier clay loams and silty clay loams with good drainage.
In Burgundy the soils are 30-40% clay and predominantly limestone based. There they are planted at high density, 10,000 vines/ha (1m x 1m) to encourage root competition with a resulting intensity of flavour.

At Termeil Creek we have a warm maritime climate, shallow sandy soil over sandstone, and a hot ripening season………all of which says "don’t plant Pinot Noir" a rule which every grape grower in the area has followed in the past.
Good enough reason for me to try.
So I planted 100 vines at a spacing of 1m x 2m.
In an effort to overcome the climatic problems I planted the rows east/west of the cooler southern side of a hill. Not much I could do about the soil type.
Vines are trained to a unilateral cordon and are spur pruned. This will limit their yield.
Last year we had a small amount of fruit which was blended away into a rose’
A lot of people commented on the "strawberry" nose of that wine. To me this was the Pinot component expressing itself.
So this year we had a lot more fruit and are making a varietal Pinot Noir.
Baume level of the juice was 12.5° , pH 3.4 and TA 9g/L all which fall in the required range. Whether flavour and phenolic development have been good we will have to wait and see.
Certainly the ferment smells wonderful.
It is nearly finished and will be drained off, pressed and with pressings added be left to clarify naturally in an effort to maintain as much flavour as possible. We have introduced the slight flavour of French oak with staves added to the ferment.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Wine Packaging

A few posts ago I discussed the development of the screw cap as a replacement for corks for wine bottle closures. But there is more to the wine packaging question.
For the small amateur winemaker, the use of glass bottles is an expensive and time consuming pursuit.
Obtaining small quantities of new bottles is almost impossible because of the virtual monopoly of the local producer and going through their distributorships is not at all cost affective. So we are forced to use recycled units. This involves washing, sterilizing and delabeling.
Granted the re use of screw capped bottles has reduced the necessity for corks but there was a need to consider alternatives to the glass bottle as well.
Some time ago I looked at using recycled PET bottles for my wine. It became obvious that soft drink bottles were unsuitable due to the flavour/odour/colour absorption of the original contents by the container.
But the use of PET bottles that had contained unflavoured mineral water, both still and carbonated, was a possibility.
I did a trail, bottling the same vintage in both containers and standing the PET bottles upright on top of the refrigerator for a year thus exposing them to ambient light and fluctuating temperatures. The glass bottles were stored normally.
After that time I did a comparative tasting.
The discernable difference in either colour or flavour.
So this year I bottled the majority of the 2007 vintage in PET. My "consumer base" was a little concerned but have come to realise that due to the quick consumption of the product there is little to be worried about.
Granted it looks a bit strange, but after all, it's the taste in the end that counts.

Then low and behold, in this month's issue of The Australian and New Zealand Grapegrower and Winemaker magazine there is an article on the use of PET bottles for wine containers.
It would seem that due to environmental concerns eg. "food miles" and "carbon footprints", the alternatives to glass are being considered by the industry.
The airline industry is already using PET 187 mL wine bottles because of the weight saving and this has caused interest to increase in other consumer markets.
Results of marketing research has shown that wine in a 750 mL PET bottle compared to traditional glass, reduces packaging weight per litre by 84%, uses 19% less energy, produces 78% less solid waste and emits 52% less greenhouse gas.
And research into the affect of shelf life of the product has also been initiated.
So there is a definite move in that direction. What will the traditionalists say?
Modesty prevents me from saying I am ahead of my time.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Wine Shows

In previous posts I have mentioned the South Coast Wine Show, details of which can be found at
This is only open to commercial wineries but was spawned from the long running amateur winemaking competition at the Milton Agricultural Show nearly 10 years ago.
The latter continues and I decided this year to enter some wines, two Cabernet Sauvignon vintages and a Pinot Noir/Tempranillo/Cabernet Rose' in the Milton Show.
Wonder upon wonder, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon won first prize in the red wine section.

This is no big deal but it is good to know that the judges appreciated the wine style and above all could not pick up any obvious wine faults.
We had only bottled it a week before the show and had hoped it had settled down a bit after that "trauma".
On speaking to the judges later, it turned out that the Rose' was also under consideration so that augers well for this year's vintage.
The Semillon has been made and is in the tank settling after being racked off the lees. The Pinot Noir will be picked and crushed tomorrow (weather permitting) and the Tempranillo is not far away. I am still considering whether to make another rose' out of that or try for a varietal red.
The Cabernet Sauvignon will sit on the vines for a few more weeks and is likely to be picked just after Easter or maybe early April. I would really like to get it really ripe this year despite the terrible season and produce a wine with a resultant higher alcohol than the previous vintage.