Wednesday 28 May 2014

Urban winemaking with Vinteloper Wines

If you ever find yourself in Adelaide during the month of March, a visit to David Bowley’s Vinteloper Urban Winery Project (VUWP) is well-worth a visit. First launched in 2012, the project is David’s attempt to introduce winemaking to urban folk and demystify the process. A fully functional micro-winery is set up in the Central Business District for the month, with grapes being trucked in from nearby wine regions such as McLaren Vale and Clare Valley. “I didn’t have a traditional cellar door so it was really difficult to connect with people and to get them to understand the wine,” says David. “So I thought, instead of getting people to come to the vineyard, why not do something that people would never consider and go to them?”

This year, my visit coincided with the tail end of the project, held at the historic and vibrant Adelaide Central Market. By that time the wine had been transported to another location for aging in wooden barrels, but the stall where the project had been set up still bore signs of recent use, such as a diagram on the wall tracking alcohol levels in the fermenting must. A new addition to the VUWP is the Reverse BYO (Bring Your Own) concept. It is common for restaurants in Australia to have a BYO sign outside, indicating that you can bring your own wine in. At the VUWP, the wine is provided and you bring your own food from the nearby market stalls. A creative little twist!

I previously met David in Singapore at one of the gatherings organised by the #SGWine group. Most visiting winemakers elect to dine at air-conditioned restaurants, so it was somewhat surprising to learn that David had spent his day trying local delicacies from various hawker centres in the sweltering heat. As the owner of Vinteloper, David is in charge of everything from winemaking to logistics to marketing, so meeting challenges and thinking creatively is very much in his DNA. His novel approach to winemaking was a decision brought about as a result of circumstances as much as the desire to try something new – lacking the time to manage both a vineyard and a winery full-time, David opted to buy in fruit and lease winemaking equipment only when he needed to. However there are other considerations associated with setting up a winery in an urban environment. Transportation and handling are the key challenges – ensuring that the grapes reach the winery in optimal condition, which may mean picking early or refrigerating the grapes. Then there are the issues of waste management and hours of operation, which are subject to strict city council laws, as well as picking the right location. Venues with higher foot traffic bring better visibility and sales for urban wineries, but also higher rent. Due to space constraints, the urban winery model is not suitable for wines produced in bulk.

When David explained his minimal set-up and basic, almost primitive winemaking methods, I was at first sceptical. Would an urban winery be able to produce wine able to excite the taste buds of demanding drinkers? My fears were soon laid to rest by a comprehensive tasting of David’s wines – two Clare Valley Rieslings made in diametrically different styles, a McLaren Vale Shiraz and a red blend of Touriga Nacional, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. The quality of the fruit is still the most important consideration, and David spends a lot of time with the growers to ensure that he is getting the best raw material he can. “We can have a great amount of influence [in the winery] but to put it in the simplest way, you can’t polish a turd,” says David.

Will we see more urban wineries in the future, perhaps even one in Singapore? Hong Kong and London, thriving hubs of commerce with active local wine scenes, have both seen urban wineries open in the city. David mentions the satisfaction he gets from seeing people come back every day to see how the wine evolves during the process, and the increased engagement with Adelaide’s community as a result of the VUWP. Says David, “The mantra is participation, education and appreciation.”

Saturday 17 May 2014

A Retrospective Look at Bordeaux 2011


The 2011 vintage in Bordeaux is not destined to go down in the history books as a particularly memorable one. Following the extraordinary 2009 and 2010 harvests, nature proved to be fickle and delivered a year that will be remembered for its topsy-turvy weather. The spring months of April and May were abnormally warm, while the end of summer was marked by wet weather and hail in some areas. Producers were given a difficult choice – harvest early, risking grapes that had not achieved phenolic ripeness, or wait and hope that the wet weather did not spread rot through the vineyards. The phrases uneven, early maturing, light and difficult have all been used to describe the 2011 vintage.

A tasting organised by Crystal Wines provided a chance to sample the wines in bottle and see how they fared three years on. There was a lack of white wines to taste, which was unfortunate as the whites were rated much higher than the reds that year. Consistency was a key issue, as the variation between good and simply acceptable was much wider than what would have been the case in a better vintage. This is perhaps unsurprising and reflects how producers who have either had the financial resources, made better winemaking decisions or were located in favoured terroirs have crafted wines with greater appeal. While mostly lacking power and concentration, this is not entirely bad, as the wines are a return to a more food friendly and easy drinking style. The lack of hype also means that the 2011 vintage is priced more affordably.

My top picks from this tasting are Durfort-Vivens, Domaine de Chevalier, Clerc Milon and Haut-Bages Libéral for early to medium-term drinking, and Brane-Cantenac, Lafon-Rochet and Calon Segur for long-term pleasure. The only two sweet wines on show were superb, although quite different in style.


Tasting notes:

Château Brane-Cantenac 2011 – A classically Bordeaux and structured style with savoury fruit and crunchy blackcurrant. Very poised. Brigette Lurton, the château’s representative, attributes the quality of the wine to the use of a high-tech optical sorting machine which made it possible to discard dried berries. The 2011 vintage was the first time that the Carmenere grape was included in the grand vin, at a miniscule 0.5% of the blend.

Château Malartic-Lagravière 2011 – The château is one of only six classified growths for both its red and white wines. The 2011 displayed a vibrant ruby robe, with an approachable palate that was soft and ripe with medium tannins.

Domaine de Chevalier 2011 – This is an outstanding producer that seems to be able to produce consistently good wines in any year. The 2011 is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. A forward and aromatic nose with subtle oak nuances and a hint of bell pepper, but very rich fruit.

Château Dassault 2011 – A blend of 80% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Graphite and cedar on the nose, an intense wine with massive structure and dense, tight tannins.

Château Corbin 2011 – A Grand Cru Classé from St. Emilion. Rather angular and lacking in fruit.

Château Ferrière 2011 – A third growth from the Margaux appellation, Château Ferrière vanished from 1952 to 1992 when it was sold as the second wine of Château Lascombes. The Villars family then bought over the property and sold it under the original name. The 2011 effort was rather closed, not showing the aromatic richness one would expected of Margaux. The palate showed savoury fruit with decent length but without much complexity.

Château Durfort-Vivens 2011 – A second growth from Margaux, owned by Gonzague Lurton. Fragrant and pleasantly floral on the palate, with ripe fruit and notes of small red berries on the palate. Medium-weight and charming, for short-term cellaring.

Château Giscours 2011 – One of the largest Margaux properties with 90 hectares under vine. This wine was not very expressive on the nose, with a slightly disjointed palate and oak that did not seem very well integrated.

Château du Tertre 2011 – The property was bought over by the owner of Château Giscours, Eric Albada Jelgersma, in 1997. Pronounced, seductive aromas of black fruit, cinnamon spice and licorice. Well balanced on the palate with a lasting finish.

Château Calon Segur 2011 – A popular Valentine’s Day wine because of the distinctive heart on the label. The story goes that in the 18th century the Marquis de Ségur, who also owned several other first growths, once said “I make wine at Lafite and Latour but my heart is in Calon”. Perhaps a bit austere but classic in style with earthy notes and savoury black fruit. Very fresh, with fine tannins. Could benefit from further aging – love takes time, yes?

Château Lafon-Rochet 2011 – The wines of Lafon-Rochet have a reputation for being tannic and hard, although the proportion of Merlot in the blend has been increasing in recent years. The 2011 is made of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. It shows quite a powerful nose for the vintage. Lots of structure here, along with sticky tannins, but balanced with a solid core of dark fruit.

Château Clerc Milon 2011 – The château is part of the Rothschild stable, and the label which depicts a pair of dancers is based on one of the pieces at the Mouton Rothschild art museum. Well delineated and intense on the nose, showing ripe black fruit, incense and a hint of violets. Freshness evident on the palate, with good fruit concentration and weight. Showing well.

Château d’Armailhac 2011 – The sister property to Clerc Milon has many similarities – both are fifth growths based in Pauillac, owned by the Rothschild family, and the artwork for the label of d’Armailhac also comes from the same source as Clerc Milon. The wine showed a keen resemblance in style to Clerc Milon, forward with inky black fruit and a savoury undertone, but the finish was a bit dry and short.

Château Haut-Bages Libéral 2011 – The name of the château refers to its location on the Bages plateau in Pauillac and its original owners, the Libéral family. Run by Claire Villars Lurton, who also owns Château Ferrière. The wine is on the lighter side, with black cherry and raspberry notes. Not especially dense, the palate is cheerful and approachable with refined tannins and a long finish.

Château Beychevelle 2011 – Aromatic, spicy, elegant and refined, with slight warmth on the palate. Beychevelle has become quite popular in China due to its label, which resembles a Chinese dragon boat.

Château Lagrange 2011 – Acquired by the Suntory group in 2011, which invested the necessary funds to renovate the property and raise the wines to a level befitting its status as a classed growth. This wine was not particularly expressive however. The nose was introverted with faint nuances of incense and oak. Medium tannins with blueberry notes, although with fresh acidity.

Château Cantamerle 2011 – A blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Rather lacking in concentration, acidity and tannins are there but not enough fruit to balance it out.

Château Guiraud 2011 – The 2011 vintage was a milestone for Guiraud, as it was the first time the château could label their wines as organically farmed. Since 2000 the direction for the wine has been towards a fresher and lighter style while avoiding botrytis notes. This was a stunning example, humming with vibrancy and piquant notes of pineapple and starfruit. Zesty freshness, with a brilliant concentration that sings right to the end.

Château Coutet 2011 – A blend of 75% Semillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Muscadelle. Aged in new oak barrels for 18 months. The nose was a bit dull, although I will put that down to the wine being too chilled, as the palate was definitely rich and expressive, oily and layered with pineapple, white forest cake, and honey. Sumptuously textured, but with sufficient acidity to prevent fatigue.