All posts by Chris Shanahan

Tasting an Aussie blue-chip: Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay 2004–2017

Bruce and Chris Tyrrell, viticulturist Andrew Pengilly, winemaker Andrew Spinaze. Bennelong Restaurant, Sydney Opera House, 20 March 2018.

Tyrrell’s turns 160 this year. Marking the anniversary, Bruce Tyrrell, his son Chris, winemaker Andrew Spinaze and vineyard manager Andrew Pengilly held a tasting of Vat 47 Chardonnays, vintages 2004 to 2017.

With Murray Tyrrell’s release of the 1971 vintage, Vat 47 became one of the earliest Australian wines labelled ‘chardonnay’ (albeit as ‘pinot chardonnay’, an historical misnomer that stuck for 30 years). It remains one of Australia’s great chardonnay styles, with proven long-term cellaring capacity. Vat 47 evolved over the years from a leaner, long-cellaring style in the 1970s to a fatter, shorter-lived, Californian-inspired version in the 1980s, and back to a finer style from the late 1980s. Introduction of the screw cap in 2004 and improvements to fruit sourcing, winemaking technique and oak maturation lifted the quality another notch over the past decade.

The 14-vintage sequence revealed Vat 47’s continuing style evolution and the profound impact of the screw cap – ‘Perhaps the greatest step forward…[it] saved Vat 47’s reputation from the damage done by dud corks’ says Bruce Tyrrell.

Tyrrell said, ‘Chardonnay’s moved on across the country but Vat 47 has never stood still. It’s not stuck in the past’. He said the vintages on tasting deliberately started with the 2004 (the first vintage sealed with screw cap), and revealed other influences, including a gradual shift from partial basket pressing in 2007 to 100 per cent in 2013.

At the same, Tyrrells had been eliminating several vineyard sources from the blend. By 2013 sourcing had retreated solely to the Short Flat Vineyard across the road from the winery –site of the company’s original 1960s chardonnay plantings.

There’s a day will come now that Vat 47’s off a single vineyard that there’ll be a gap in a future vertical tasting. We won’t elevate a wine just to have a Vat 47’, says Bruce.

Changes to fruit sourcing and winemaking over the last decade were driven by a desire, ‘to improve the Hunter Valley style or be left behind by the cooler climate areas’, write Bruce Tyrrell and winemaker Andrew Spinaze. ‘We are not a cool climate area and you cannot change your identity but you can modify your style’.

Winemaking changes included the introduction of basket pressing (improving flavour and texture and increasing natural acidity), elimination of pectin enzyme additions, increased spontaneous fermentation and ongoing work with French barrel cooper Francois Frères to ‘create a barrel that suited what we are trying to achieve in our final style’.

Future tweaking will likely come more from work in the vineyards than in winemaking. Says Chris Tyrrell, ‘There are so many great chardonnays we need to lift the bar and focus on the best blocks [in the Short Flat vineyard]’.

Message in a bottle

Even the 14-year-old 2004 Vat 47 (bottom left-hand) retains a vivid lemon-gold, green-tinted colour. In the cork-seal era we might have said the colour belied its age. What we now know is that well-made whites protected from oxygen under screw cap take on deeper colours very slowly, not dramatically, and in wide variations, as they do under cork. The limited colour spectrum from youngest to oldest wine in the tasting mirrored the subtle shifts of aroma and flavour attributable to age. Yes, the wines changed with age, but in pleasing ways, combining freshness with bottle-aged character.

What a contrast to earlier vertical tastings of cork-sealed Tyrrell’s whites, where random oxidation, caused by corks, marred many bottles. Every bottle opened bright, fresh and with vivid, green-tinged colours. The older wines presented beautiful nutty and honeyed characters of age, while remaining fresh and vital. The spectrum of aromas and flavours faithfully captured the character of each vintage.

For example, the neighbouring 2007 and 2008 vintages reflected the full flavour of a hot vintage and the more subtle, citrusy character of a cold, wet year respectively. Likewise, the 2012, from another cold, wet vintage, allowed some of the winemaking inputs to push above the fruit character, without overwhelming it.

The current release 2014 showed its gentle, melon-like varietal flavour on a mouth-filling but tightly structured palate. However, in a flawless line-up among many beautiful wines, two wines topped my scoresheet: 2009 and 2013.

Here’s a couple of earlier pieces on Vat 47 plus one on the introduction of the screw cap.

Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay: ahead of its time, still a leader

Langton’s Classification: Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay one of the few white elites

Tyrrell’s goes screw cap

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2018

Canberra’s BentSpoke brewery denies rumours of sale

BentSpoke Brewing Co co-owner Richard Watkins today issued a statement denying industry rumours the company had been sold. Mr Watkins said there had been no sale of the company and there were no plans for such a sale.

He said, ‘It’s flattering to hear some people think we’re worth $49 million, but there is absolutely no substance to the rumour that we have sold all or part of our business. Here at BentSpoke we are a family business and we value our independence. We value our place in our local community as a brewer, as a beer wholesaler and retailer, as an employer, and as a place where friends can meet. We also take a huge amount of pride in being able to make the kind of beer we want to make, and to make it the best way we think it can be made. When you consider all of that, and bear in mind that our business is growing rapidly, we’re just not interested in giving it up, at any price’.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2018

Wine review – Mount Majura Vineyard, Canberra

Mount Majura Vineyard Canberra District Mondeuse 2017 $29
Interesting wines begin not in the vineyard, as conventional wisdom has it, but in the mind of the winemaker. The grape variety mondeuse entered Frank van de Loo’s mind in 2002 and 2004 during tastings in France’s Savoie region. He planted the first small plot of the variety in 2010 and subsequently expanded it to 0.4 hectares. That little plot of vines now produces a unique red that was but a thought bubble just four years ago. Medium bodied in the Canberra mould, it offers delicious, ripe fruit with striking spice, herb and black pepper character.

Mount Majura Canberra District Graciano 2017 $29
Frank van de Loo planted the Spanish varieties tempranillo and graciano at Mount Majura earlier this century. Tempranillo became the vineyard’s signature red while the smaller production graciano graces blends as well filling its own special niche. As a very late ripener it’s at risk of not maturing in the Canberra climate. However, the balmy 2017 autumn ripened the variety in late April. The resulting medium bodied wine captures graciano’s floral aroma, soft tannins and plush, pepper-tinged vibrant fruit flavour. It’s another red of great individuality.

Mount Majura Canberra District Lime Kiln Red 2017 $25
Named after the site of an old lime kiln near the vineyard, Mount Majura’s new red combines shiraz (50%) with mondeuse (25%), touriga (20%) and tempranillo (5%). Frank van de Loo says, ‘With such a collection of interesting varieties in the vineyard and winery, new blending trials are irresistible fun’. The blend takes spicy-fruity Canberra shiraz as a base, then throws in floral, spicy, peppery and herbal notes of the other varieties. It’s medium bodied, soft, smooth, and a delight to drink now.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2018

Canberra 2018 – another trouble-free vintage

Mount Majura vigneron Frank van de Loo welcomes another trouble-free Canberra vintage. Located about 100km inland with vineyard altitudes between about 550 metres and 860 metres, the volume of the district’s harvest varies widely across any given decade. Frost, wind, hail, and sustained cold weather have all at times reduced the region’s harvest and at times wine quality.

But as vintage gets underway for earlier ripening varieties, clear blue skies, warm days and cool nights – following a generally benign growing season – means ample crops of ripe, disease-free grapes in 2018.

Most reds remain on the vine with harvest due to commence in the next few weeks. Picking of riesling, the district’s signature white variety, is imminent in some parts of the region. The vintage will likely stretch into April or even May for some varieties and sites.

Mount Majura Vineyard’s Frank van de Loo with pinot gris grapes, Friday 9 March 2018. He’ll chill the grapes overnight before they’re crushed and fermented.
Mount Majura’s clean, ripe pinot gris. Note the distinctive colours. Now you know why there’s sometimes a blush of pink or grey in wines made from the variety.

© Copyright Chris Shanahan 2018. Published 9 March 2018.

Wine review – Helm 2017 vintage rieslings

Ken Helm grows grapes and makes wine at Murrumbateman in the Canberra District. He also sources riesling grapes from neighbouring regions of the New South Wales high country on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range.

In the 2017 vintage, working from a new, dedicated riesling cellar, Helm produced three rieslings from the Canberra District and one each from Tumbarumba and Orange.

Murrumbateman’s the centre of the universe’, reckons Helm. Hence, I took great trouble to locate his village in the middle of the map below. Tumbarumba lies 130km to the southwest of Murrumbateman, while Orange is 190km to its north.

The three sites share a continental climate – amplified by altitudes between 600 and 700 metres – resulting in warm days and cool nights during the autumn ripening period. In these conditions, the late-ripening riesling grape develops clear varietal character while retaining fresh acidity.

The wines present subtle variations of riesling, driven largely by minor differences in growing and ripening temperatures of the sites.

Winemaker Ken Helm draws riesling grapes from Tumbarumba and Orange in the New South Wales high country in the vicinity of his vineyard and winery at Murrumbateman (marked red, centre). Orange is marked red at the top, while Tumbarumba lies to the south west, bottom left hand corner. These are all at 600–700 metres altitude on the western side of the Great Dividing Range. Sydney is on the coast, top right-hand corner.

Helm Tumbarumba Riesling 2017 $30 (sold out)
The grapes come from Juliette Cullen’s Tumbarumba vineyard at 620-metres altitude. The site’s cooler and wetter than Helm’s at Murrumbateman and probably explains the apple- and pear-like character widening the spectrum of the usual floral and citrus nature of riesling. The shimmering fresh palate finishes bone dry, with scintillating acidity.

Helm Orange Region Riesling 2017 $30
Although Orange lies 190km to the north of Murrumbateman, growing temperatures are lower, influenced by cool air flowing from Mount Canobolas, the seminal landmark of the region, and the 700m altitude of the vineyard. The wine presents Granny Smith apple-like characters, cut with tangy lime-like acidity and flavour. It’s bone-dry and taut as a high wire.

Helm Canberra District Classic Dry Riesling 2017 $38
Helm’s original riesling, now in its fifth decade of production, presents a tangy, lemony side of riesling with notably rounder, fuller palate than the more austere wines from Tumbarumba and Orange. That extra body and up-front fruitiness mean absolutely delicious drinking now. But naturally high acidity and a decades-long track record mean you can cellar this wine for ten years or more and enjoy its flavour evolution along the way.

Helm Canberra District Premium Riesling 2017 $52
Possibly the best wine yet under this label, the 2017 is for the second time sourced entirely from Ken’s 2008 vineyard planted to the Pewsey Vale riesling clone. Previous vintages, with the exception of the 2016, came from the neighbouring Lustenberger vineyard. The wine presents the combined power and delicacy of riesling, with amazingly concentrated lime-like varietal flavour. The flavour lingers in the purest most delicious way.

Helm Canberra District Half Dry Riesling 2017 $30
With 12 grams per litre of residual grape sugar, Helm Half Dry lives up to its name, being neither dessert sweet nor bone dry. The sugar and fruit combine to give a plush, full mid palate, while high natural acidity prevents the cloying sensation that comes with unalloyed sweetness. Unlike the Helm dry riesling, this one’s intended for early consumption, not cellaring. It pairs well with all sorts of spicy and (chilli) hot food.

Vintage preview

Ken Helm’s photo 8 March 2018, a week out from vintage. It could be the biggest crop ever says Helm. They look yummy, don’t they.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Chris Shanahan 2018. First published 8 March 2018.

The Canberra wine region 2017 wrap

In 2017, Lonely Planet rated Canberra third best city in the world. But in keeping with a decidedly riesling mood enveloping the Capital’s winemakers, Gallagher Canberra Riesling 2017 topped 519 wines from seven countries in the Canberra International Riesling Challenge.

Murrumbateman winemaker Ken Helm founded the challenge 17 years ago. At the time, Canberra riesling, though very good, lived in the shadow of Canberra shiraz, which had attracted the attention of world critics by the perfumed beauty of Clonakilla’s shiraz–viognier blend.

Helm’s dogged pursuit of riesling as the region’s white specialty gathered momentum. The challenge became a practical workshop for local riesling growers and makers. Their expertise, applied to a variety well suited to Canberra’s climate, produced rieslings that increasingly stood comparison to the best in Australia – indeed to the world, as Gallagher demonstrated this year.

Show judges loved the style. And the love spread to wine waiters and consumers in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. Although the absolute volumes remain small on a national scale, Canberra riesling is achieving demand matched by few producers of the variety in other regions, Tasmania excepted.

Long before Canberra’s 2017 vintage commenced, winemakers scrambled for riesling grapes. With supply no longer meeting demand, grape prices shot up. During vintage winemaker David O’Leary called riesling the district’s hot variety. “Everyone’s after it”, he said, “including out-of-district makers. And if you can find it, expect to pay $2000 a ton”. Only Tasmanian riesling fetched more, at around $2300 a ton, he added.

O’Leary sees no let up for the coming vintage even though early signs point to another bountiful harvest in 2018. He says, “A lot of people are chasing it, but finally the [grape] price reflects how much the wine can sell for”. He expects the price to remain around $1800–$2000 a ton in 2018.

Like others in the district, O’Leary is either planting more riesling or grafting it onto less popular varieties, setting the scene for increased supply over the next few years.

If riesling attracted perhaps the most attention locally this year, our winemakers made beautiful and sometimes quirky wines across a wide range of styles.

Shiraz remains the district red specialty, though some makers say the sheer number of labels on offer now makes it harder to find restaurant listings or retail shelf space.

Partly for that reason, Nick Spencer, recently departed from Eden Road Wines, plans on offering reds from warmer Gundagai under his new Nick Spencer label. He reckons using appropriate varieties (shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, touriga and grenache) in warm-climate blends makes a good narrative and an alternative style for drinkers.

But for most, shiraz remains the main game in a wide and deep district offering. My gong for Australian shiraz of the year goes to Clonakilla Syrah 2015, a remarkable small-production wine from the warmest site on the Clonakilla vineyard. The wine never wins medals or trophies for one reason – winemaker Tim Kirk doesn’t enter it in wine shows.

However, Frank van der Loo shows his shiraz, and in November his Mount Majura 2015 won the Chairman’s Award at the National Wine Show of Australia. Former Canberran Jim Chatto wrote, “I generally look for a wine of excellent quality and character. My Chairman’s Award goes to a beautifully expressive cool climate shiraz from Canberra. Amazingly this very same wine was the runner-up to my award last year”.

Canberra shiraz fared well at the NSW Wine Awards, too, where Lerida Estate won the best young shiraz trophy. At the same show, Shaw Vineyard Estate Cabernet Shiraz 2015 topped the best young red blend category.

Canberra’s production of so-called alternative varieties continued to expand in 2017. Our makers now work with, among others, graciano, tempranillo, sangiovese, gamay, nebbiolo, colorino, mammolo, refosco, mondeuse, canaiolo, aglianico, nero d’avola and cinsault.

Of these, sangiovese and tempranillo became mainstream some years ago, with conspicuous success for Mount Majura’s tempranillo, now its signature variety, and its gold-medal winning mondeuse and TSG (tempranillo-shiraz-graciano blend).

In 2017, Pankhurst Wines, Hall, produced its first whites from marsanne (Rhone Valley origin) and arneis (Piedmont origin), varieties Allan Pankhurst grafted onto semillon and sauvignon blanc rootstock a few years earlier.

The wines, made for Pankhurst by Capital Wine’s Andrew McEwin, give us a new expression of marsanne, no newcomer to Canberra, and I believe our first glimpse of Canberra-grown arneis. The marsanne 2017 ($25) provides full, fresh flavour with the distinctive viscosity of the variety. Arneis 2017 ($30) shows a racy, pleasantly tart character and bone-dry finish.

In 2017, awards of another kind came to Four Winds Vineyard.

In March the vineyard’s new label became “supreme champion” of London’s Drinks International Wine Design Challenge. Five months later, and still in London, the labels were awarded “best redesign” and “supreme champion” at Harpers Design Awards.

In May, Wine Australia selected Four Winds’ Sarah Collingwood for its Future Leaders Program. Then in September Collingwood won Owner-Operator of the Year in the Australian Women in Wine Awards.

2017 also witnessed generational change at three wineries: founders Jim Lumbers and Anne Caine sold Lerida Estate, Lake George, to Michael McRoberts. Roger and Faye Harris sold Brindabella Hill, Hall, to Michael Anderson and Renae Kilmister. And Brian and Janet Johnston sold McKellar Ridge to John and Marina Sekoranja.

Lerida’s operations manage Andrew McFadzean, says new owner Michael McRoberts’ long-term plans include doubling the winery, barrel cellar and cellar door capacity as production lifts from 130 tons in 2017 to 300 tons.

McFadzean expects to source grapes from neighbouring regions, including Hilltops and Orange, as well as Canberra.

We want not just more wine, but excellence in everything we do. We want to give customers a great experience in wine, at the cellar door, in restaurants and when they drink our wines at home”.

Lerida now offers cellar door sales and food service seven days a week.

Brindabella Hills’ vineyards had been out of action for a couple of years. But new owners Michael Anderson and Renae Kilmister retained chef Robyn Cooper and winemaker Brian Sinclair.

The couple then “worked around the clock for weeks”, says Anderson, revamping the vineyard and renovating the cellar door and café. They have further plans to add a big new deck to the café, with views to the Murrumbidgee Valley and also to renovate and move into the Harris’s former house.

At about the time John Sekoranja decided to leave corporate life and buy a winery or vineyard, he met McKellar Ridge founders Brian and Janet Johnston. Instant rapport led to a sales agreement.

McKellar Ridge changed hands in June 2017. But before that Sekoranja and wife Marina had worked vintage with Brian Johnston and both had enrolled in the wine science degree at Charles Sturt University.

They plan to modernise the cellar door, continue with the wine styles the Johnstons established and “expand and diversify the range”. They’ll experiment a bit with an existing tempranillo style and add a sparkling riesling to the range.

The Sekoranjas also plan to add sangiovese to a new one-hectare shiraz and riesling vineyard they planted at their home in Wallaroo Road, Hall.

And at Eden Road Wines, Murrumbateman, winemaker Nick Spencer left to create his own brand. His departure opened the door to another exceptionally talented winemaker, Celine Rousseau. Rousseau made many beautiful Hilltops and Tumbarumba region wines at Chalkers Crossing, Young. She now manages Eden Road and heads the winemaking team.

Change is also underway at Jeir Creek Winery, Murrumbateman. Founders Rob and Kay Howell put the winery and vineyard on the market recently and hope to find a buyer in the near future.

Meanwhile, Rob Howell remains on the vineyard and says, “Beautifully timed rain boosted the vines and inflorescences [that precede flowering, then fruit set] suggest it’ll be a big crop [in 2018]”.

Howell’s Murrumbateman neighbour, Ken Helm, felt apprehensive during his driest July–August on record. He said, “I’d just planted a new riesling vineyard, but glorious rain arrived just in time. Now I look in the riesling vineyards and I’ve never seen inflorescences like this. Every shoot has two bunches, some have three. It could be an enormous crop”.

As 2017 draws to a close and we enjoy this year’s Canberra whites and last year’s reds, vignerons remain hopeful of another decent crop in 2018 – giving Canberra a rare run of three consecutive decent vintages. But there’s a lot of weather to come before vintage, so let’s celebrate what we have now and hope for the best in 2018.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 8 December 2017 in the Canberra Times and canberratimes.com.au

Wine review – Gallagher, Mount Majura, Four Winds Vineyard

Gallagher Canberra District Riesling 2017 $35
Gallagher 2017 beat 519 rieslings from seven countries to be named best wine in October’s Canberra International Riesling Challenge. The wine also won awards as best dry riesling, best Australian riesling and best from the Canberra District. In comparison, judges at the recent Canberra and Region Wine Show struggled with Canberra’s 2017 vintage rieslings, awarding a miserly one gold medal in a field of 30, with a bronze to Gallagher’s wine. The Riesling Challenge judges got it right for this exciting, vivid dry riesling. Greg Gallagher sourced the fruit from Briar Ridge and other Murrumbateman vineyards. To be released mid December.

Mount Majura Canberra District Riesling 2017 $29
Winemaker Frank van de Loo captures the spirit of Canberra riesling, writing: “Ah, riesling! White blossom and lemon essence, along with the indefinable riesling-ness that is somewhere between aniseed, cold steel and crushed herbs. Purity and delicacy to the fore. We love its delicacy, fragrance and personality”. His 2017 reveals all those virtues in a style that can be enjoyed now in its vibrant youth, or savoured over the years as it grows deeper and more textured with age. Winner of gold medals at the NSW Wine Awards and Royal Melbourne Wine Show.

Four Winds Vineyard Riesling 2017 $25
By a small margin my favourite of the rieslings reviewed today comes from Four Winds Vineyard, Murrumbateman. Graeme and Suzanne Lunney planted the vineyard in 1998 and 1999 to supply Hardys. Today, daughter Sarah Collingwood manages the business while husband John Collingwood tends the vineyard; daughter Jaime Crowe and husband Bill Crowe make the wines on site at a separate business, Highside Winemaking. The family’s 2017 riesling appeals for the intensity of its lime-like varietal flavour and brisk, invigorating acidity. Judges at the prestigious 2017 Winewise Small Vignerons Awards named it top wine of the show.

Mount Majura Canberra District Tempranillo 2016 $45
Mount Majura tests a range of varieties, including Spain’s tempranillo, which produced lovely wine from the very first vintage in 2003. It sustained the performance and at this year’s Canberra and Region Wine Show won the “Wine of Provenance” award for the outstanding quality of three vintages tasted side by side: 2015, 2009 and 2004. The just-released 2016 offers a limpid, crimson colour, highly perfumed aromatics, combining red berries and deeper savoury notes. The buoyant palate reflects the aroma. It combines fresh, lively young fruit flavours, which make the palate deliciously fleshy, with underlying black-olive-like savour and satisfying, firm tannins.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 31 October 2017 in the Canberra Times

Wine review – Gundog Estate, Swinging Bridge, Freeman

Gundog Estate Canberra District Shiraz 2016 $40
Under winemaker Matt Burton, Hunter-based Gundog Estate makes wines from Canberra District fruit and also operates a cellar door in the Grazing complex, Gundaroo. Burton’s 2016 Canberra shiraz, from the Dahlberg vineyard Murrumbateman, shows the opulent fruit character of this early, warm vintage. It remains, however, a medium bodied red, in the Canberra mould, featuring ripe, dark-berry flavours, layered with spice, with fine but abundant, soft tannins.

Swinging Bridge Orange District #006 Experiment Series 2016 $29.75–$35
Winemaker Tom Ward’s experimental #006 blend combines two of the world’s great individual red varieties, tempranillo and pinot noir. Why? Well, says Ward, at 900-metres, tempranillo makes wine with varietal aroma and flavour but the palate lacks the flesh to balance the variety’s strong tannins. Pinot noir (39 per cent of the blend) brings fruit sweetness and flesh to the palate, successfully offsetting these tannins. A delicious wine, #006 combines vibrant, plush fruit with spice and tempranillo’s distinctive savoury, tannic finish.

Swinging Bridge Mrs Payten Orange District Chardonnay 2016 $27.20–$32
The high country of southern NSW, Canberra included, produces a diversity of wine styles, largely dependent on altitude-determined growing and ripening temperatures. The cool slopes of Mount Canobolas, Orange, produces intensely flavoured chardonnay like Mrs Payten. Sourced from a couple of vineyards at around 900-metres, the barrel-fermented wine offers powerful flavours at a modest 12.8 per cent alcohol. Grapefruit- and nectarine-like varietal flavours underpin a racy, shimmering, fresh palate with exceptional drink-now or cellaring potential.

Freeman Hilltops Prosecco 2017 $23
During a downturn in Hilltops region vineyard prices, Dr Brian Freeman has been adding to what is now a 175-hectare estate, “within a radius of 10 kilometres on a 560-metre ridge”, he writes. Freeman’s Italian grape varieties include prosecco, the grape behind north-eastern Italy’s delicate sparkling wine of the same name. Freeman’s Aussie version, released shortly after vintage each year, captures the juicy freshness of the grape, boosted by bubbles and pleasantly tart acidity.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 3 October 2017 in the Canberra Times

True brew – Capital opens Fyshwick brewery and tap house

Capital Brewing Co’s bar, made of antique oregon, sourced from Thor’s Hammer, Yarralumla, ACT. Photo Chris Shanahan.

Like a captain on a ship’s bridge, brewer Wade Hurley turns from the glowing instrument panel, steps across the metal control deck, and pours hops into the gleaming steel kettle. The steaming vessel digests the bitter green pellets. Instantly, pungent hop aromas join the heady, sweet smell of warm barley malt in Capital Brewing Co’s Fyshwick brewery.

The brewery and taphouse opens to the public on Saturday 9 September, 17 months after Capital released its first beers into the Canberra market. Until the Fyshwick brewery fired up in August, Hurley made the beers in Sydney, “Mainly at Hairyman Brewing, Caringbah”, says Capital director Nick Hislop.

Co-founder Laurence Kain said, “It’s phenomenal to think that in only a little over 12 months, the support for our beers has allowed us to put down our own bricks, mortar and lots and lots of stainless steel, allowing us to make our beer right here in this place we love”.

Chris Nixon designed a mural–infographic depicting how beer is brewed

The American equipped brewery is located in Molonglo Group’s Dairy Road District, near the Dairy Road–Monaro Highway underpass. The near 20-thousand-metre complex will ultimately accommodate scores of tenants, including Barrio Collective coffee roasters, Vertikal Indoor Snow Sports’ three indoor ski slopes, and Bloc Haus climbing gym.

Inside the brewery a spacious taphouse for up to 200 guests occupies the area between the entrance and the brewing equipment, located on an elevated concrete platform. The taphouse’s long bar – “Made of recycled Oregon timber from Thor’s Hammer [Yarralumla]”, says Hislop – forms the left boundary of the public area.

In the middle, a large log fire welcomes winter visitors. Overhead electric heaters, suspended from the steel roof towering above, radiate more heat into this vast but hospitable industrial space.

In the brewing area, Wade Hurley moves back and forth between the elevated control deck, with its access to the kettle, and four stainless steel tanks in soldier line on the concrete floor.

Uni-tanks and and a bright tank ready for action. Photo: Chris Shanahan

Three 5,000-litre uni tanks (cylindrical at top, conical at bottom) accommodate beer under ferment or being conditioned. And at the end of the line, a cylindrical 5,000-litre bright tank holds finished beer ready for kegging or canning.

Stacked rows of empty kegs stand ready to be filled as the new brews take shape under Hurley’s guidance.

Vacant space beside the tanks, “Will eventually accommodate two 10,000-litre uni tanks and a canning line”, says Nick Hislop. Laurence Kain adds, “We currently have a mobile canning line running flat out ahead of our opening. But we’ll set up our own, probably after the summer rush when we can do it properly”.

As Hurley fired the brewery up to capacity ahead of the 9 September opening, he busily kegged and canned the new brews as quickly as they flowed through to the bright tank.

Hurley – head hunted from San Diego by Capital founders Tom Hertel, Laurence Kain, Nick Hislop,  and Richard and Sam Coombes – says, “I love having my own brewery at last. It’s just great”.

He took time out to describe Capital’s regular beers and a few made especially for the 9 September launch.

Coast Ale (4.3% alcohol)
Hurley models Coast Ale on California’s easy drinking ‘common ale’ style: malty, fresh and clean with the invigorating bitterness of Hallertau, Saaz and Dr Rudi hops.

Trail Pale Ale (4.7% alcohol)
Tail Pale Ale leads with floral hoppy characters, with underlying sweet malt and balancing hops bitterness. Hops: Cascade and Galaxy.

Evil Eye Red IPA (5.8% alcohol)
Turn up the volume. Though tame by current IPA standards, Evil Eye, at 5.8% alcohol, provides full-bodied drinking, led by aromatic hops, with a quaffable balance of fruit, malt and bitterness. Hops: Columbus, Topaz, Pacifica, Southern Cross, Motueka, US Cascade, and fresh Cascade hops grown at Batlow.

First Tracks Stout (5.2% alcohol)
This winter-warming stout combines dark-roasted barley malt, oatmeal, fresh coffee beans and “cold-drip” coffee. Tasted on tap at The Duxton, O’Connor, it revealed coffee and roasted-grain aroma and flavours with a soft, zesty, warming palate, mild bitterness and lingering coffee aftertaste.

Springboard American Wheat (5.0% alcohol)
Springboard uses American yeast in a US-inspired variation on German wheat beer – with a salute, via the addition of spices and mandarin, to a Belgian style.

Old Man River Barley Wine (10.2% alcohol)
Barley wine gets its name from its strength. However, being brewed from malted grain, it’s beer, albeit full bodied, smooth and malty.

Baby Brown Ale (3.5% alcohol)
Provides mid-strength drinking, with the malty richness of brown ale and, “Some hops, but not very bitter”, says Hurley.

Rock Hopper IPA
Hurley calls Rock Hopper “Big on hops – all American, fruity hops, with an IBU of around 50 [a measure of bitterness] – amarillo, centennial Chinook and citra, added during the boil and dry hopped.

Hoppy Pils (about 5% alcohol)
With Hoppy Pils, Hurley set out, using German Pilsner malt, to make a, “Clean, crisp, dry, noble-hopped Pilsen style showcasing hops from around the world. It’ll be big like Pilsen Urquell, but not as fruity”, he says.

At a pre-launch function in August, Laurence Kain announced, “One of the most exciting elements we’re pleased to announce today is our collaboration with the legendary Brodburger, so you’ll be able to enjoy some of Canberra’s best beer with Canberra’s best burgers”.

The beer hall – a courtyard with views to the brewery inside. Photo: Chris Shanahan

Beer, burgers and Brod dogs will be available in the 200-person capacity taproom, a 100-person rear courtyard–beer hall, with kid’s cubbyhouse; and in a 300-person beer garden near the front entrance.

Like other small brewers in Canberra, Capital aims to minimise its environmental impact.

A 60,000-litre tank provides water for the gardens. And all wastewater goes to a catchment tank for clean up before being discharged. “It’s more than compliant”, says Nick Hislop.

He says, “The solids we extract from wastewater goes in with spent grain and hops for cattle feed. The Claystone Stud, Hoskinstown, collects it from us. They’ve got Black Angus and Herefords. Hopefully one day we can buy the beef and serve it here with our beer, completing the cycle”.

Capital Brewing Co opens at Dairy Road, Fyshwick, on Saturday 9 September. Trading hours are Wednesday to Thursday 4–10pm. Friday to Sunday noon til late.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 5 September 2017 in the Canberra Times  and goodfood.com.au

Wine review – Four Winds Vineyard, Clonakilla

Four Winds Vineyard Tom’s Block Shiraz 2015 $75
The release of Tom’s Block 2015 coincided with a couple of gongs for Four Winds’ new photography series labels from the UK’s Harpers Design Awards. The label does justice to a remarkable wine, sourced from a special block of vines dedicated to the late Tom Lunney, son of Four Winds’ founders. This is intense Canberra shiraz from a great vintage – saturated with spicy varietal flavour, bound with strong, supple tannins.

Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling 2017 $32–$38
In a Canberra Times interview on 22 March, winemaker Bryan Martin said Clonakilla had picked the last of its riesling that day. Ahead of the wine’s September release, Tim Kirk said, “Riesling parcels had a pH below 3.0 with 8–9 grams of titratable acidity at 12.0 Baume – perfect numbers”. Kirk’s winemaking jargon translates to a scrumptious dry riesling with vivid, lemon-like varietal flavour, intensified by the taut, zingy dryness of the naturally high acidity.

Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2016 $28–$35
Tim Kirk sources fruit for his biggest selling red wine from five vineyards around the town of Young in NSW’s Hilltops region. Though slightly warmer than Canberra, Hilltops produces shiraz of a comparable, if slightly fuller style. The 2016 vintage pleases with its fruity–spicy fragrance, medium body, juicy palate and gentle, fine tannins. The wine will easily keep for a decade or so in a good cellar. But I doubt it will ever give greater drinking pleasure than it does right now with vibrance and fruit at full throttle.

Four Winds Vineyard Canberra District Shiraz 2016 $30
Four Winds Vineyard’s follow up to its gold-medal winning 2015 vintage nicely captures the fragrance, medium body and vibrance of Canberra’s shiraz style. While the 2015 offered denser, more concentrated fruit and more solid tannin, the 2016 is all fruit, spice, softness and seduction. Delicate, ripe, red-berry-like fruit flavours, combine with spice and fine tannins in a style well suited to casual warm weather dining.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2017
First published 29 August 2017 in the Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au