The mission statement for my wines is to source exceptional fruit from exceptional vineyards that displays true varietal character and quality that would make world class examples of their respective styles. I have set the highest standard for my fruit and I have an equally high standard for my winemaking. And really, when it comes down to it, my winemaking philosophy is quite simple. Most of what ends up in the bottle should come from the fruit itself and I believe that the winemaking should only enhance and preserve those natural qualities so that the wine speaks of the fruit and the place where that fruit was grown. The old saying is never truer today than ever - "you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear".
To me the most crucial part of the whole process is the time the grapes are picked. Too early and the wine will be thin and green, too late and it will be flabby and alcoholic. I am always in the vineard at vintage time tasting the berries and the juice to try to pick when the ripeness is perfect.
Chardonnay is the great white grape of Burgundy in France that has transplanted successfully all over the world with many fine examples produced that can often rival those from Burgundy. However the majority don't. Those that do come from outstanding vineyard sites. And Chardonnay is one of the few white varieties that has an affinity with new oak. The great White Burgundies are invariably fermented and matured in new oak barrels, a practise that allows the power and flavour in the fruit to be fully expressed but without ever being oaky.
Once in the winery I gently crush and press the grapes with the chilled juice settled overnight in stainless steel tanks without enzymes added and the following day racked off the heavy grape solids into another tank ready to be fermented. The juice is inoculated with a Burgundian strain of yeast and when it is fermenting it is run by gravity into French oak barrels from the Vosges and Allier forests. Forty percent are new each year, forty percent are one and two years old and the rest remains in tank.
As the wine ferments the raw oak flavours and aromas are transformed by the yeast and integrated with the flavours from the grapes into a heady mix that is totally seductive. But it is only with time that the real character of the wine is achieved. At the end of fermentation the barrels are stirred every week to keep the yeast in suspension and and it is not until ten or twelve months later that the wine will be racked from the barrels and blended ready for bottling. In this time the yeast will start to release creamy, buttery flavour compounds that help to give a smooth and complex mouthfeel to the wine. Unlike in France I don't encourage the malolactic fermentation because I want to retain the natural acidity from the fruit in the wine. (The grapes from Burgundy generally have higher acidity than here in Australia and they need the malolactic to reduce the acidity for the wine to be more palatable.)
Beacause of it's complexity, as well as the time it has spent in oak, the newly bottled wine really needs some time to settle down and develop before it is drunk, and generally after 10 to 12 months it will begin to open well with the lovely fresh flavours of youth at the fore. But please put some away for 5 years or so and it will be magnificent.
Cabernet Sauvignon and it's cousins (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot) are the grapes of Bordeaux in France. Like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon has transplanted well throughout the new world, but unlike Chardonnay its climatic requirements are much more specific and those regions with similar climates to Bordeaux make the best wines. (A noteable exception is the Cabernets of my former employer Lake's Folly in the Hunter Valley, theoretically far too warm an area for making Bordeaux styles.)
Cabernet Sauvignon is a tannic variety and to achieve a complex, fruity and balanced wine specific winemaking techniques need to be used. Also the grape tannins have an affinity with oak tannins so new oak maturation is vital.
The fruit is harvested when the flavours and the tannins have lost their greeness and are "ripe". The fruit is gently crushed into small large diameter stainless steel fermenters to give a large surface area so that as it ferments more skins are in contact with the juice. The cap of skins are plunged by hand and juice pumped over three times a day with aeration to get maximum extraction from the skins, the oxygen helping to soften the astringent grape tannins. The temperature is allowed to get up to 32 degrees to aid in the extraction process and the fermentaion takes about six days. The wine is left on skins for a further five days with pumping over and aeration to continue the development of the tannins. Then the wine is pressed into a tank, inoculated with malolactic bacteria and racked into the highest quality Bordeaux coopered Frenck oak barrels from the Nevers forests. Forty percent are new and the rest one and two years old.
After ten weeks when malo is complete the wine is racked off its lees and then returned to oak to stabilise and mature over winter. In spring the wine is racked again and returned to oak for further maturation. During this time the tannins integrate and soften with the oak tannins, becoming chunky and complex giving structural support to the intense fruit and oak flavours. After eighteen months in oak the wine is ready to be bottled.
The newly bottled wine is vibrant and intense with with great fruit and mouthfilling flavour but is also harmonious and lovely to drink because the techniques used have eliminated any astringency or harshness as well as enhancing and complexing the fruit flavours. But because the wine is full bodied and complex it will age in the bottle for up to ten years changing and becoming even more supple and rich.