In wine, as in life, perceptions matter. The way we perceive things is intrinsically connected to our expectations of them and, to a great extent, how much we value them. Left unchallenged these perceptions can easily become preconceptions or misconceptions that can lead us to missing out on life-enriching experiences.
Australian wine in the US has become a victim of such preconceptions in recent years. Having found favour in one of the world’s difficult markets in the late 1980s with their fruit-driven, value laden ‘sunshine in a bottle’ wines, they created a strong brand identity, embedding a perception that has turned from a blessing to a curse. While Australian wine has changed as cool climate regions, exciting new varieties and even new wine styles have emerged, the long-held perception of them in the US has become a misconception that needs to be challenged.
In September that misconception will be challenged like never before. For one week, the spotlight will be on Australian wine in the US as we celebrate Aussie Wine Week (7-14 September). From the classics to the new wave, Aussie Wine Week will showcase the diversity and spectacular quality of the wines coming out of Australia right now.
Aussie Wine Week Events
One of the big draws of Aussie Wine Week will be the Artisans of Australian Wine Tastings in San Francisco and New York. These will bring a bunch of Australian innovators, free-thinkers and mavericks and their revolutionary wines to town. Also in New York there’s the ‘Bring Your Own American’ where you can sample a mix of established and new classic Australian wines alongside chef-prepared Australian food. There’ll also be the chance to taste a range special Australian wines by the glass in your favourite New York bars and restaurants…
Artisans of Australian Wine: driven by desire
The Artisans events promise to be extraordinary tastings. Whilst the Artisans aren’t an association or formalised movement, the attending wineries have had to meet a set of criteria to be considered for inclusion. These are:
- Total production must be less than 10,000 cases per annum
- The wines they present must have a production of 500 cases or less
- They have to be there to show their wines and tell their stories
The Artisans are a collection of winemakers who are united in their desire to craft wines that are brilliant, modern and which express their pursuit of perfection. Collectively they show a different face of Australian wine. How this point of difference manifests itself varies from winemaker to winemaker, but to give the tasting focus we have grouped them into The Alternatives, The Cool, The Minimalists, The Terroir Hunters, and The Naturals.
With varieties as diverse as Nero d’Avola and Assyrtiko now populating Australian vineyards, the number of winemakers falling for the so-called alternative vines is on the rise. This grouping perfectly reflects this fascinating, diversifying trend and includes Con-Greg Grigoriou of Delinquente who grew up in the Riverland and who is now making exciting small batch wines from emerging varietals such as Vermentino.
Australia's cool climate wines have been taking the world by storm in recent years. Timo Mayer is proudly putting the funk back into wine from his winery in the Yarra Valley. By using traditional techniques such as whole bunch fermentation, Timo produces (or ‘farms’ as he would put it) Pinot Noir and Syrah that are refined, cool-climate classics. From the Adelaide Hills we have skateboarding winemaker Brendon Keys of BK Wines whose motto of 'Quality and Creativity Not Conformity' is reflected in his brilliantly stripped-down range of wines.
The Yarra Valley has become a hot bed for cool climate brilliance of late. From the experimental Mac Forbes to the 150-year-old Yeringberg under the stewardship of Sandra de Pury, Yarra Valley is a region that encapsulates the diversity that is modern Australian wine.
Of course, no tasting of cool climate Australian wine would be complete without a representation from the Mornington Peninsula. It has been one of the most talked about regions in Australia, with their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being compared to the world’s best. Taste these varieties from Moorooduc Estate and meet winemaker Kate McIntyre MW whose parents founded the winery.
Mornington Peninsula ‘Making Waves’ trade tasting
Less is more with this bunch, and here we find Luke Lambert, who combines minimal winery intervention with old-style techniques such as the use of wild yeasts and little oak, and James Erskine of Jauma. James’s grapes are sourced from select plots in the McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills and his wines are made by hand with as little intervention as possible so that they may reflect grape’s character. Similarly aligned philosophically but with wines that are of somewhat different ilk, we have Anton van Klopper’s extraordinary, naturally-focused wines that take minimal intervention to new heights.
It’s often said every wine tells a story and that’s certainly the case with Rory Lane’s The Story Wines. Rory’s wines are made with minimal intervention and aim to tell the story of each vintage in the cool climate Victorian vineyards of Henty and the Grampians
The Terroir Hunters
This group includes Steve Flamsteed from Giant Steps whose Yarra Valley wines epitomise elegance; his Pinot Noir having the lift and intensity that makes them the rival of any in the world, or Basket Range Wines’ offerings of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon from carefully selected sites. Then you have Taras Ochota of Ochota Barrels who retains the look of the punk band member he once was and his wines, unorthodox, idiosyncratic and compelling, combine the cool complexity of the Adelaide Hills with precision and intensity.
These Winemakers believe in letting nature do the talking. In Western Australia we have Blind Corner and Ben Gould who, following a trip round Europe with his wife, realised that by combing traditional, organic and biodynamic techniques with modern winemaking technology could make great wine without using un-natural practices. Si Vintners’ have a similarly pure ethos, ‘We believe in natural farming no pesticides, no fungicides, no chemicals. Pure wine made from grapes from our land’. The husband and wife team of Iwo and Sarah offer wines that have won international acclaim for their purity and beauty.
Richie Harkham of Harkham Wines founded his winery in the Hunter Valley to create wines that both naturally reflected the beauty of the environment in which they were produced and do so in a sustainable fashion. Completing the set is Ben Haines of Ben Haines wines. A passionate Rhône variety advocate, Ben believes in producing wines that reflect both the vine’s character and the place in which they were grown rather than the winemaker’s will. His Syrah, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache offer a new Australian take on established classics.
Jamie Goode: Australian Wine Gets Its Mojo Back...
A grand gathering of these radical producers is rare and when they do assemble the perception-changing results can be profound. Last year’s Artisans Of Australian Wine Tasting in London garnered huge press attention and prompted Dr Jamie Goode, of the Wine Doctor fame, to announce ‘Australian wine gets its mojo back.’ The tasting revealed a thrilling scene that gave journalists and the trade reasons to get excited about Australian wine once more.
Aussie Wine Week
It is important to note that the path the Artisans have taken wouldn’t have been possible without some earlier trailblazing winemakers who have crafted fine wines that are uniquely Australian. Throughout Aussie Wine Week these classic wines will be available to taste at esteemed restaurants across New York. From multi-generational family-owned wineries producing established classics to boutique producers working in emerging cool climate regions, you’ll be given a snapshot of the exciting and vibrant state of Australian fine wine.
The wines will include industry icons and varieties that thrive in Australia and which showcase regions with a rich history. You can taste the complexity of Barossa Valley Shiraz, the elegance of Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and its deliciously balanced Chardonnays, the brightness of Tasmanian Pinot Noir and the delightfully fresh and zesty dry Riesling from the Clare Valley along with many others at restaurants and bars in New York from September 7 - 14.
Australian Wine: Opportunity Knocks
The sun has set on the era of Australian wine as bottled sunshine. It remains an important part of Australia’s legacy as it was those wines that laid the foundations for the US$367m business that is Australian wine in the US today. But they are not the present and they have a limited place in the future. Australian wine is now about diversity; a complex, regionally-focused collection of premium wines that are appealing to consumers’ desire for lighter, subtler, food-friendly wines.
We have now entered the second golden age of Australian wine, one that wine lovers around the world are keen to discover and which offers the trade – both on and off – a huge opportunity.
To find out more about these events or to register your interest in these events, please follow this link.
Australian Wine Week will run from September 7-14.
Select fine Australian wines will be available at the following restaurants and bars:
- Gramercy Tavern
- The Modern
- Untitled at the Whitney
- North End Grill
- Compagnie des Vins Sumaturels
The Artisans of Australian wine tasting is being held in San Francisco on 7 September and in New York on 12 September. Please note: this is a trade-only event and applications for tickets from non-trade members will, unfortunately, be declined.
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