Yearly Archives: 2012

Steve Pannell makes his mark on National Wine Show

The National Wine Show’s new chairman of judges, Stephen Pannell, called in his own troops for the 2012 event, judged at EPIC early this month. In town for the trophy presentation dinner on 21 November, Pannell said, “I picked people I like working with”. He selected judges who’d work harmoniously together, keep their egos tucked away and focus their energy on the wine.

He said, “It’s important as a judge to walk away from a show thinking I’d like to buy and drink these wines [the award winners]”. This hadn’t always been his experience.

In the end, he’s happy with this year’s award winners. But he’s far from happy with Australian wine shows, citing the inflexibility of the agricultural societies behind many of them. He singled out the Adelaide wine show and its 2012 results as “a time warp”, saying people shouldn’t be able to enter wines in shows they’re judging.

Pannell believes, “wine shows have lost relevance to consumers”, that shows organisers have to fix the way wines are judged and sponsors like Dan Murphy [sponsor of the National] need to become more involved and promote the winners.

He believes that wines ought to express their origin. Wine shows should therefore start parochially, looking at individual regions first before moving on to broader state and national events.

He’d like to see trophies limited to varietals and for shows to drop awards like best red, best white or best wine of show. It’s an absurd apples-versus-oranges situation, he reckons, lining up, say, trophy winners for riesling, chardonnay, semillon and sauvignon blanc and voting on an overall best white wine. And it’s even more absurd after that tasting the best red and best white to determine the wine of the show.

The bigger issues of how shows are organised, who runs them and how wines find their ways into them remains on Pannell’s radar. But for the 2012 National he focused on judging – selecting the right people and finessing the process.

Pannell says, “Even though we judged only 120 wines a day, some people didn’t break for lunch and we ended up spending a huge amount of time in the wines”.

In most wine shows a panel of three judges and one or two associate judges work independently on a class of wines. They then tally their scores for each wine, call back potential gold medallists for group tasting and discussion. The panel then awards its gold medals for the class, sometimes in collaboration with the chair of judges.

In this situation the judges know the exhibit numbers and therefore who originally backed each wine for gold. From my own experience, judges tend to support the wine they’ve previously backed.

Pannell slowed this process down and removed one important bias. He asked his judging panels to line up fresh, randomised pours of potential silver and gold medallists and look at them with fresh eyes (or noses). As chair he’d also show wines to other panels, allowing the conversation and assessment to linger on.

Pannell also encouraged discussion on style issues. For example, with everything cool climate being cool at present, he “didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater” – meaning traditional warm-climate styles, especially shirazes, deserved rewarding if they scrubbed up (and plenty did).

Another hot topic during the show, he said, was whether “artefact in chardonnay is overwhelming a sense of place?” Roughly translated, that means when do the aroma and flavour of sulphur compounds, resulting from winemaking techniques, become too much. The debate largely replaces earlier ones on the roles of malolactic fermentation and oak in chardonnay flavour.

So, the debate moves on with each new generation of judges. But, says Pannell, “The results won’t ever be perfect”. He believes the award winners at this year’s event should mean something to consumers. And he hopes the awards and debates about style will show the industry “some direction and sensibility about where we go”.

Certainly there’s plenty to excite in this year’s results. The 2012 rieslings, especially those from Clare, offer delicious drinking at reasonable prices and rated very highly in the judges’ view. And high quality cheaper wines of many styles liberally adorn the gold-medal list.

For various reasons only five Canberra producers entered wines in this year’s show. Quantity requirements, even though reduced by show organisers in recent years, restrict the number of entries – especially following the disease-ravaged 2011 and 2012 vintages.

However, all five Canberra wineries won medals. The few shirazes entered fared sensationally well. Eden Road The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz ($22 at cellar door) won the shiraz trophy – a notable achievement in a class of generally more expensive wines. And two 2011 vintage Canberra shirazes won silver – Eden Road and Mount Majura.

Nick O’Leary repeated a stellar performance at the recent Melbourne show. His Bolaro Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – from Wayne and Jennie Fischer’s Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman – and Canberra District Shiraz 2011 both won gold medals, with Bolaro ahead by a nose. O’Leary also won bronze for his 2012 riesling, a gold medallist and trophy winner from the recent NSW Wine Awards.

Ken Helm, too, waved the Canberra riesling flag, with a bronze medal for his Classic Dry Riesling 2011. And Lerida Estate earned a silver for medal for its Josephine Canberra District Pinot Noir 2009.

The full catalogue of results is available at


Eden Road Wines
The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz 2010 – gold medal and the Shiraz Trophy
Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – silver medal
Canberra District Off-dry Riesling 2012 – bronze medal

Nick O’Leary
Canberra District Riesling 2012 – bronze medal
Canberra District Bolaro Shiraz 2011 – gold medal
Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – gold medal

Helm Wines
Canberra District Classic Dry Riesling 2011 – bronze medal

Lerida Estate
Canberra District Josephine Pinot Noir 2009 – silver medal

Mount Majura
Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – silver medal


Many modestly priced wines won gold medals and trophies, often in company with far more expensive products. This list highlights award wines like to cost around $20 or, in some cases considerably less. The list gives the vintage of each award-winning wine. Retailers may carry other vintages, so check labels carefully.

Trophy winners

  • Leasingham Clare Valley Bin 7 Riesling 2012 $16–$18,
    Gold medal and trophy, best dry white, commercial classes.
  • Jim Barry Lodge Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2012 $21­–$24
    Gold medal and three trophies: best riesling, premium classes; best dry white table wine; best table wine of show.
  • Houghton Wisdom Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $22–$25
    Gold medal and trophy, best sauvignon blanc, premium classes.
  • Evans and Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Chardonnay 2010 $17–$20
    Gold medal and The Chardonnay Trophy.
  • Peter Lehmann Hill and Valley Eden Valley Chardonnay 2011 $19–$22
    Gold medal and trophy, best chardonnay, premium classes.
  • The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz 2011 $22
    Gold medal and The Shiraz Trophy.

Gold medal winners

  • Leo Buring Clare Valley Dry Riesling 2012 $15.20–$17
  • Logan Weemala Orange Riesling 2012 $17
  • Jacob’s Creek Reserve Barossa Riesling 2011 $10.40–$16
  • Hardys Oomoo McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011 $10.90–$14
  • Evans and Tate Margaret River Classic Shiraz $9.90–$14
  • Evans and Tate Margaret River Classic Cabernet Merlot $13–$14
  • Evans and Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2009 $16.95–$20
  • Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2010 $16–$20
  • Gramps Barossa Cabernet Merlot 2009 $16.20–$20
  • Wicks Estate Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2010 $16.20–$20
  • Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2012 $14–$17
  • Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2011 $14–$17
  • Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz 2010 $17.85–$20
  • Jacob’s Creek Riesling 2012 $6.95–$10
  • Houghton Classic Red 2011 $8.55–$10

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 28 November 2012 in The Canberra Times

Wine review — Mitchell, Shottesbrooke, Andrew Thomas, Oakridge, Greywacke and d’Arenberg

Mitchell Riesling 2012 $19–$22
Mitchell vineyard, Watervale, Clare Valley 2012

At 13 per cent alcohol, Jane and Andrew Mitchell’s wine sits towards the bigger end of the Clare riesling scale. However, it’s intensely flavoured, bone dry, refreshingly acidic and has a rich, fine texture that, from experience of past vintages, builds with bottle age. There’s a complexity to Mitchell riesling that Andrew Mitchell attributes to indigenous yeast fermentation. The Mitchell’s established their winery in 1975, have a capacity to crush about 600 tonnes of grapes (about 42 thousand dozen bottles), and produce consistently outstanding reds and whites from mature vines in their now biodynamically managed vineyards. Their dry-grown riesling vines at Watervale, they say, are now 50 years old, a factor in the intense flavour of the wines they produce.

Shottesbrooke Shiraz 2010 $19–$21
Shottesbrooke vineyard, McLaren Vale, South Australia

Nick Holmes established Shottesbrooke in 1984 and today makes wine from vineyards he either owns or manages. His 2010 shiraz impresses for quality and price. It’s a generous red reflecting the ripe, plummy, savouriness of McLaren Vale shiraz, cut through by quite firm persistent tannins, with a slight bitterness to the finish. The combination of sweet fruit and tight tannins suggests some cellaring potential – and certainly warrants a good splash in a decanter before serving.

Andrew Thomas Six Degrees Semillon 2012 $22
Hunter Valley, New South Wales

Hunter Valley semillon’s a logical candidate for low-alcohol winemaking. The dry versions deliver ripe flavours but often register at around 10–11 per cent alcohol, considerably below the 12–14 per cent we normally see in Australian whites. Arresting the fermentation before the yeasts gobble up all the grape sugar produces wines of even lower alcohol content. In Six Degrees, Andrew Thomas achieves just eight per cent alcohol and a residual sugar of 36 grams per litre. However, the high acidity of the early-picked grapes offsets the sweetness by injecting young semillon’s typical lemony tartness. It’s a delicious combination.

Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Oakridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 $38 Diamond Creek, Seville and Coldstream, Yarra Valley, Victoria
David Bicknell makes a range of pinot noirs for Oakridge featuring various terroirs of the Yarra Valley – in this instance a blend of material from Seville, Diamond Creek and Coldstream. The handpicked fruit was de-stemmed and the whole berries allowed to ferment naturally, disturbed by only one early pump over early in the fermentation. This method captures the very pure, strawberry-like varietal flavours – although the wine, though young, already shows spicy, earthy and savoury characters. The medium bodied palate reflects the aroma and fine but assertive tannins give the wine serious pinot structure and texture.

Greywacke Late Harvest Riesling 2011 $35 375ml
Ashmore vineyard, Fairhall, Wairau Plains, Marlborough, New Zealand

Former Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd struck out on his own some years back, exploiting his intimate knowledge of Marlborough’s vineyards. Judd aptly describes this sticky as “an exotic, honeysuckle infused liquid marmalade. And indeed a luscious orange-marmalade-like flavour floods the palate, which remains, nevertheless, delicate and refreshing, thanks to the spritely acidity. The 12 per cent alcohol wine retains 120 grams per litre of residual grape sugar.

d’Arenberg The Money Spider Roussanne 2011 $18–$22
McLaren Vale, South Australia

In the mid nineties, the Osborn family, owners of d’Arenberg, planted the Rhone Valley white varieties viognier, marsanne and roussanne. The latter, generally blended with one or both of the other varieties, can stand on its own, as d’Arenberg has demonstrated since 2001, the first vintage. It’s subtler than either of its Rhone siblings, and even in the cold, wet 2011 produced an appealing wine with lemon and honeysuckle flavours and a slightly viscous, smooth, savoury palate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 28 November 2012 in The Canberra Times

Beer review — Temple Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada

Temple Brewing Company Extra Special Bitter 330ml $4.90
The brilliant mid-amber, red-tinged colour and abundant head create great expectations for this brew from Brunswick East, Victoria. And the palate delivers – warm, malty and smooth with a lingering, delicious hops bitterness. Full marks to the marketers, too. The QR code scans to brief but detailed information about the beer.

Sierra Nevada Hoptimum Whole-cone Imperial IPA 355ml $7.70
Hoptimum pole-vaults to the hoppiest of hoppy heights, measuring 100 on the international bitterness scale – roughly five times as much as the typical Australian lager. Opulent, sweet malt and a heady 10.4 per cent alcohol distract momentarily from the hops. But nothing can stop the resiny, bitter, citrusy hops deluge. It’s love or hate.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 28 November 2012 in The Canberra Times

Wine review — De Bortoli and Brown Brothers

De Bortoli Yarra Valley La Boheme Syrah Gamay 2011 $18–$20
Research commissioned by Woolworths reveals that two thirds of Australians intend hosting Christmas meals in the backyard, enjoying an ever more adventurous range of fresh foods. This calls for light and refreshing wines of the styles reviewed today. The cool Yarra Valley vintage and use of gamay – the grape of grape of France’s Beaujolais region – deliver a vibrant, light-bodied red. A pleasantly tart, stalky character cuts through the fresh summer-berry flavours. And a combination of crisp acidity and smooth, fine tannins finish off a delightful backyard, summer red. Serve lightly chilled.

De Bortoli Rococo Yarra Valley Blanc de Blancs $19.70–$22
Slightly fuller bodied and more complex than the Prosecco reviewed below, though still delicate, Rococo combines barrel-fermented Yarra Valley chardonnay from several vintages. The barrel fermentation and maturation on spent yeast cells in the barrels adds a subtly rich texture to this dazzlingly fresh, spritely, light bodied, dry bubbly. The elegant, rococo-style, enamel-on-glass label contributes an emotional dimension to the wine – a visual cue adding greatly to its enjoyment and sense of occasion it brings.

Brown Brothers Prosecco NV $12.90–$17.90
Banksdale Vineyard, King Valley, Victoria
Italy’s prosecco sparkling wines offer a pleasing light, savoury tartness. They’re usually low in alcohol with a simple, freshness and purity. Like a number of Australian winemakers Brown Brothers embraced the style, planting prosecco vines on its elevated, cool Banksdale Vineyard in Victoria’s King Valley. With many Italian descended families, the region has become a hot spot for Italian varieties. Brown’s tank-fermented non-vintage style offers crisp, light, pear-like flavours with a little kiss of sweetness in the background. It’s an appealing, unobtrusive appetiser and could sit comfortably with just about any food, or on its own as an aperitif.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 25 November 2012 in The Canberra Times

Wine review — Henschke, Centennial Vineyards, Veritas, Rolf Binder, Riposte and Kirrihill

Henschke Mount Edelstone 2009 $95–$125
Mount Edelstone vineyard, Eden Valley, South Australia

Ronald Angas planted the Mount Edelstone vineyard in 1912 using cuttings from shiraz vines imported from France by James Busby in the early 1830s. The Henschke family made the first Mount Edelstone in 1952 – a line winemaker Stephen Henschke continues while wife Prue tends the venerable old vines. It’s a real jaw dropper – buoyant, elegant shiraz showing the Eden Valley’s distinctive spicy fruit flavour, with a hint of liquorice, and silk-smooth tannins. The wine has been released under both screw cap and Vino Lok, the glass stopper with a silicon o-ring providing the airtight seal.

Centennial Vineyards Blanc de Blancs NV Brut $29.69–$34.99
Centennial vineyards, Bowral, Southern Highland, NSW

Most bubblies emulating France’s Champagne style combine chardonnay with the red variety pinot noir and sometimes pinot meunier. The pinots add backbone and, in the case of meunier, flesh to the blend. Exceptional chardonnay, however, can stand on its own as it does in Centennial’s beautiful blanc de blancs – the trophy winner at this year’s Canberra regional show. The very cool climate delivers high-acid grapes with intense grapefruit-like varietal flavour – a lean, austere combination that transforms to a delicious, rich elegance after three and a half years’ bottle age.

Veritas Winery Bulls Blood Shiraz Mataro Pressings 2008 $45
Marananga and Dorrien, Barossa Valley, South Australia

The late Rolf Heinrich Binder created Veritas Bull’s Blood in the 1960s, but discovered the magic of old-vine mataro (aka mourvedre) only in the 1980s, says his son Rolf. Thereafter it became the key to this 65 per cent shiraz, 35 per cent mataro blend. Binder says he inherited his father’s love of mataro in Bull’s Blood and makes it “with his voice in my ears”. Binder’s potent blend combines generous, ripe shiraz with mataro’s intense, earthy, spicy character and sturdy tannins – and a sympathetic lick of oak. It’s a unique, big but balanced and satisfying wine style.

Rolf Binder Heinrich Shiraz Mataro Grenache 2009 $32
Barossa Valley, South Australia

Brother and sister Rolf Binder and Christa Deans created Heinrich, named for their father, Rolf Heinrich Binder, in 2001. It provides a soft and aromatic contrast to the sturdy Bull’s Blood shiraz-mataro reviewed today. Binder and Deans say they source about 150 per cent of the fruit they need for Bull’s Blood, but allocate the more aromatic fruit to Heinrich – then add about 20 per cent grenache to boost its perfume. Alongside Bull’s Blood, Heinrich shows its grenache aroma and bright, juicy, soft and spicy palate.

Riposte by Tim Knappstein The Sabre Pinot Noir 2010 $30
Adelaide Hills, South Australia

Tim Knappstein’s 2010 Sabre pinot seems more tightly coiled than the more voluptuous 2009. But the delicious fruit flavour’s there, meshed in with layers of smooth tannins that give structure to the elegant palate. Knappstein sources fruit from Lenswood and the Piccadilly Valley, two of the cooler parts of the Adelaide Hills – part of the Mount Lofty Ranges that rise near McLaren Valley, to the south, and form the Eden and Clare Valleys to the north.

Kirrihill Single Vineyard Series Riesling 2012 $16.15–$19
Slate Creek vineyard, Watervale, Clare Valley, South Australia

The run of delicious Clare Valley 2012 rieslings continues with this single-vineyard wine, made by Donna Stephens.  It comes from the Slate Creek vineyard at Watervale, towards the southern end of the Clare Valley. Consistent with other Watervale rieslings from the vintage, the wine shows generous, upfront floral and lime character. Such generosity in young rieslings sometimes indicates rapid flavour development – and equally rapid decline. But the 2012s balance the rich flavours with lively acid, indicating the best may develop for some years.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 21 November 2012 in The Canberra Times

Smoke and mirrors for Sail and Anchor beer launch

A press release launching four Sail and Anchor beers, says, “the heritage listed Sail and Anchor Hotel in Fremantle was one of Australia’s first pub breweries”. But the smoke-and-mirrors press release tells us little about Sail and Anchor beers.

For starters the beers aren’t brewed there and the brand’s connection with the famous pub seems tenuous at best. It’s just a brand to be distributed exclusively through Woolworths’ liquor outlets – Woolworths Liquor, Safeway Liquor, BWS and Dan Murphy – and available on tap at hotels in the Woolworths’ controlled ALH Group. The Sail and Anchor Hotel is one of these.

The beers are made by Bill Hoedemaker at Gage Road Brewing Co Ltd. Woolworths is its biggest shareholder (23 per cent) and largest customer.

All of this is perfectly legitimate and good for competition in the beer market. But why not treat us as adults and tell the whole story?

Sail and Anchor Cat’s Shank Kolsch 330ml 4-pack $14
Kolsch originates in Cologne – a mild, bright refreshing beer straddling the boundary between ale and lager. Cat’s Shank’s pale lemon colour, zesty, medium-bodied palate and refreshing, mildly bitter palate do the job nicely – a decent beer at a reasonable price. May be subject to discounting among the Woolies’ retail brands, so watch out.

Sail and Anchor Boa’s Bind Amber Ale 330ml 4-pack $14
At five per cent alcohol, Boa’s Bind is the strongest of the new Sail and Anchor range. The medium amber colour seems to fit the rich but dry palate with its slightly bitter, roasted malt flavour. The latter dovetails pleasantly with the assertive hops bitterness that further dries out the finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 21 November 2012 in The Canberra Times

Wine review — Giant Steps, Tertini, David Hook, Andrew Thomas, Tulloch and John Duval

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2011 $35.15–$40
Sexton Vineyard, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Proprietor Phil Sexton offers three single-vineyard Yarra Valley chardonnays – the vineyards managed by Stuart Marshall and wines made by Steve Flamsteed. The wines reflect the fruit flavours of the different sites, some clonal variation and subtle variations in winemaking, including the use of various types of oak. These are beautiful modern chardonnays. Of the three, Sexton Vineyard, near Yarra Yering and Coldstream Hills, appealed most of all. It’s a multi-dimensional wine, based on vivid, luscious nectarine- and grapefruit-like varietal flavour. These thread through a sensuous, slick textured but exceptionally fine, dry palate.

Tertini Reserve Arneis 2010 $35
Tertini Yaraandoo vineyard, Southern Highlands, NSW
The northern Italian white variety, Arneis, is one of few varieties to succeed to date in Julian Tertini’s Southern Highlands vineyard. Low grape yields – about half that of arneis – and low rate of juice extraction, means tiny production. But the quality is excellent. It’s a full-bodied wine with unique varietal flavours – hard to describe, but in my tasting at the winery the words “sappy”, “melon rind”, “pear” and “lemon” – all in a positive vein – came to mind. However we describe it though, it’s thoroughly delicious, the bright fruit flavours backed by the textural richness of partial barrel fermentation.

David Hook Reserve Barbera 2011 $30
Central Ranges, NSW

Italy’s barbera grape tends to make brilliantly coloured reds with bright summer berry flavours, brisk acidity and soft tannins. David Hook’s version ticks all those boxes. But there’s another dimension, too, making this easily the best Australian expression of the style that I’ve tasted. The fleshy but not plump palate, and smooth, silky tannins make this a more complete, satisfying red without abandoning the varietal character. Hook says that it won the trophy at the 2012 NSW Small Winemakers Show for best dry red table wine made from Spanish or Italian varieties.

Andrew Thomas Braemore Semillon 2012 $28
Braemore vineyard, Pokolbin, Lower Hunter Valley, NSW

Andrew Thomas says in 26 Hunter vintages he can’t recall a cooler spring and summer. Despite the cool season, grapes on the Braemore vineyard ripened, albeit a few weeks later than normal, to produce this lean and lively 10.5 per cent semillon. It’s lemony, fresh and taut now, though smoothly textured. But bottle age, perhaps a decade or two, should fatten it with a rich, toasty, honeyed character, in the classic Hunter semillon mould.

Tulloch Vineyard Selection Verdelho 2012 $20
Denman, Upper Hunter Valley, and Pokolbin, Lower Hunter Valley, NSW

Verdelho’s a key variety of Madeira and in Australia easily made the transition from fortified wine production – for which it was originally imported in the nineteenth century – to table wine in our warmer grape growing regions. It provides pleasant, medium to full bodied drinking with a sappy, tropical edge to the fruit flavour. Tulloch’s version slips down easily –unobtrusive, but tasty, zesty and fresh and with typical Hunter roundness and softness.

John Duval Entity Shiraz 2010 $45–$48
Krondorf, Tanunda, Light Pass and Eden Valley, Barossa, South Australia

Entity is former Penfolds winemaker John Duval’s shot at an elegant, potentially long-lived Barossa shiraz. He writes, “The 2010 Entity again includes some Eden Valley [part of the Barossa zone] shiraz to help maintain the elegance and style”. At two years, the wine’s a baby – densely coloured with vivid purple rim; vibrant, youthful aroma of ripe dark berries; and a palate rippling with ripe, juicy berry flavours with a touch of spice and underlying savouriness and layered with very fine, soft tannins. Very approachable now, but there’s substance to this wine and it should age well for a decade or more if properly cellared.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 14 November 2012 in The Canberra Times

Beer review — Stone & Wood and Sierra Nevada

Stone and Wood Jasper Ale 500ml $6
Byron Bay’s Stone and Wood Brewery earlier this years released its third beer, a beautiful red-coloured ale, inspired, say the partners by “German alt, American amber ale and English brown ale styles”. It’s a full-bodied, smooth, malty style cut with a delicious herbal, hoppy flavour and lingering bitterness.

Sierra Nevada Porter 350ml $6.90
What a beaut porter this is from the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. The aroma and palate reveal rich, roasted malt character – reminiscent of dark chocolate and toffee. It weighs in at a solid 5.6 per cent alcohol, but it’s lively and balanced on the palate with a refreshing chocolaty, bitter finish.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 14 November 2012 in The Canberra Times

Stone & Wood partners buy back the farm

On October 30, three partners in Byron Bay’s Stone and Wood Brewery announced a buy-back of shares from minority shareholder, Little World Beverages Pty Ltd.

Publicly listed Little World Beverages, owner of Little Creatures Brewery (Fremantle) and White Rabbit Brewery (Yarra Valley) took a 20 per cent stake in Stone and Wood in 2009, the year after Brad Rogers, Jamie Cook and Ross Jurisich founded it.

Rogers, Cook and Jurisich decided to buy back the farm after Lion (a subsidiary of Japan’s Kirin) moved from a minority stake to full ownership of Little World Beverages, in June this year.

That the three partners hold high ambitions for Stone and Wood, show in this year ‘s doubling of production capacity to a million litres and the introduction of a third beer, Jasper Ale, to its permanent range, alongside Pacific Ale and Lager.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 14 November 2012 in The Canberra Times

Gongs for Nick O’Leary Canberra shiraz and riesling

Winemaker Nick O’Leary recently attracted the national limelight, yet again, on Canberra’s great specialties, shiraz and riesling. Nick O’Leary Riesling 2012 won the top-scoring gold medal and trophy at the NSW Wine Awards in October. At about the same time, O’Leary’s shiraz 2011 and Bolaro shiraz 2011 earned gold medals at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show – against shirazes from all over Australia.

Bolaro (O’Leary’s new reserve shiraz) shared the top spot with Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz 2011 – which went on to claim the Jimmy Watson trophy as the best one-year-old shiraz in the show.

O’Leary’s success underlines the real legacy of Hardy’s all-too-brief presence in Canberra: the winemaking and vineyard knowledge O’Leary shares with fellow former Hardy winemaker, Alex McKay; and dozens of small independent grape growers attracted into the business by Hardy contracts.

The big dollar items – motivated largely by ACT Government largesse – count for nothing on the Canberra wine scene. The Kamberra winery at Watson remains a white elephant. And who’s heard anything lately of the 80-hectare vineyard just upstream from the lower Molonglo sewage farm?

Canberra-raised O’Leary credits his first wine mentor, the late Jim Murphy, for fanning his enthusiasm for wine. Working at Market Cellars, O’Leary frequently tasted old shirazes and rieslings from Murphy’s private collection. “Jim was hard but fair as a boss and not shy in opening good wines for his staff”, recalls O’Leary.

Later the young O’Leary enjoyed work experience alongside his uncle David O’Leary (now of O’Leary Walker) at Annie’s Lane winery in the Clare Valley.

But the real wine knowledge came after he joined Hardy’s Kamberra winery as a cellar hand under winemaker Alex McKay. He worked his way up the ranks, becoming vintage assistant winemaker, cellar supervisor then night-shift winemaker.

It was a nursery of learning”, says O’Leary, as the winery processed a range of varieties from Canberra, Tumbarumba, Hilltops and Griffith. Kamberra participated in a number of winemaking trials within the larger Hardy’s group and McKay, exposing McKay and himself to large-scale tastings across numerous wine styles.

Hardy’s departed Canberra shortly before the 2007 vintage. But O’Leary found it easy to stay on, despite the risks of embarking on his own business. He’d been making small batches of his own wine from 2004. And he’d developed a relationship with Amy Affleck, daughter of Affleck Wine founders, Susie and Ian Affleck. From 2007 he made wine for the new Nick O’Leary label from their winery out on the Bungendore escarpment.

The Afflecks continue to make their own estate-produced wines there. But in time for the 2010 vintage, O’Leary completed major upgrades to the winery, particularly in adding refrigerated storage for 60–70 thousand litres of wine.

The wines have been in the front ranks right from the beginning. And this gets down not just to good winemaking, but nurturing relationships with the 16 grape growers he and Alex McKay source their raw materials from.

The recently successful wines, and another yet unreleased, tell the story of that relationship and how good husbandry in the winery completes the circle.

Nick O’Leary Canberra District Riesling 2012 $25
O’Leary sources the grapes principally from Wayne and Jennie Fischer’s Nanima vineyard, Long Rail Gully vineyard and Four Winds vineyard at Murrumbateman, with the balance from the Karelas family’s Westering vineyard, Lake George. He says he harvested 60 per cent of the fruit before the big rains and remaining grapes on the first sunny day afterwards – a narrow window before the fungal disease botrytis cinerea took over.

Selective hand picking ensured largely sound fruit arrived in the winery. There O’Leary gently pressed the whole bunches, avoiding extraction of phenolics, then cold-fermented the wine using a neutral sparkling-wine yeast. The latter means no extra aromatics to interfere with the naturally floral character of Canberra riesling.

Demonstrating the variability of show judging, the wine won, in the space of a few weeks, a bronze medal at the Canberra Regional Show, nothing at the International Riesling Challenge and the top gold and trophy at the NSW Wine Awards.

Tasted at leisure, it reveals floral and lemony varietal aroma and similar flavours on the intense but delicate palate. The high natural acid of the vintage accentuates the flavour intensity and suggests good cellaring ahead.

O’Leary holds a reserve 2012 riesling in the cellar for release later this year at around $40. He says it’s a 50:50 blend of material from Westering and Nanima vineyards. The latter comprises two new clones, Geisenheim and Pewsey Valley, established on a separate block at the request of O’Leary and McKay.

Nick O’Leary Canberra District Shiraz 2011 201 $28
O’Leary says this wine demonstrates the benefits of good vineyard management and liaison between the growers and makers. Good growers, especially after the destructive 2011 season, realised the need for intense vineyard management and crop reduction to suit the season. At Nanima vineyard, “driving force of the wine”, a well-drained site helped, but “great also great management” produced the goods, says O’Leary. The Fischers shoot thinned, and at veraison dropped half the fruit off the vines, enabling greater flavour concentration and quicker ripening. He sourced the remaining high quality grapes from Wallaroo Wines, Hall, and Long Rail Gully, Murrumbateman. The wine contains about five per cent viognier, though this is not obvious in the aroma or flavour. Judges awarded a gold medal in Canberra as well as Melbourne.

This is magnificent cool-climate shiraz – revealing Canberra berry fruit, spiciness and even a touch of pepper, emphasised by the cold vintage. The medium bodied palate presents, too, a savoury element and a pleasing, lean, dry palate – though the fine tannins provide adequate flesh.

Nick O’Leary Bolaro Canberra District Shiraz 2011 $55
By a strange quirk of fate, this wine shares more than an equal billing at the Melbourne show with Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz. O’Leary explained, “In Canberra Hardy’s recommended clones from their experience in South Australia. Most didn’t work. It’s expensive but more suitable once are being introduced”.  In this instance the Fischer’s grafted the Great Western clone onto the roots of a lesser clone. “It’s one of the great shiraz clones for Canberra”, says O’Leary.

And its first outing tends to confirm that. The Melbourne judges ranked it slightly ahead of the standard shiraz –perhaps noting the extra savouriness, flavour depth and firmer structure of a very classy, cellarable wine indeed.  “I made Bolaro for the future”, says O’Leary.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012
First published 14 November 2012 in The Canberra Times