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Foreign Exchange

MARGARET RAND talks to five producers who went to the other side of the world to further their winemaking education and returned with experience, enlightenment and – ocasionally – envy

You know those T-shirts

people (apparently) buy,

saying, ‘My son/daughter/

second cousin went to New

York and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’?

Well, they make different ones for winery

owners. These say things like, ‘My

winemaker went to Australia and all I got

was the knowledge of how to handle

Syrah in a hot year’, or ‘My winemaker

went to Burgundy and all I got was a

shopping list for barrels I can’t buy’.

Winemakers, you see, bring back

different sorts of souvenirs. They bring

back inspiration, ideas: the distilled

experience of generations of other

winemakers in other places handling the

same problems differently. And when they

go home, they change things – perhaps a

lot, perhaps a little. It’s one of the most

subtle and precise ways in which the New

World influences the Old, and vice versa.

Take, for example, the T-shirt that might

have been worn by the late, great Bruce

Guimaraens of Fonseca Port, reading: ‘My

son went to Australia and all I got was a

blueprint for redesigning the port industry’.

David Guimaraens, you see, brought back

more than most from his time at

Roseworthy Agricultural College.

Studying in the New World had

been a deliberate choice, because

Guimarens junior wanted a different

perspective: ‘I already had all the

tradition in the world at home.’ He

settled on Roseworthy because it was

geared to an industry with no source of

cheap labour. The Douro had always

had cheap labour, but it was obvious

even back in the early 1980s that that

was going to change. ‘Portugal then was

very traditional,’ says Guimarens.

‘Although change had started both in

the vineyards and in the cellar, the

industry didn’t have the empirical

knowledge to redesign the vineyards or

the winemaking. It was done, but not

understood.’ Australia was at the other

extreme: mechanised and utterly modern.

Guimarens’ aim was not to study how

Australians made fortified wines – he could

learn that at home – but to understand

what was good about port traditions and

why; and having understood this, how to

modernise in the right places.

‘Australia always had a dedication to

wines at all levels,’ he says. ‘The Old

World tends to worry a lot about the best

wines, while the others are just part of

the process. When I came home, ratherthan redesigning the lagares that made the

best ports, I concentrated on the things

that weren’t working well, such as the

fermentation tanks that had replaced

lagares in the late 1960s and 1970s. As a

result, we’ve been able to push up the

quality of the day-to-day ports to a level

it has never been. We could then tackle

the traditional winemaking, which is

what I’ve done at the new Croft winery,

by using the best of both worlds.’ Taylor-

Fonseca bought Croft in 2003, and that

vintage, the first Croft vintage to be foottrodden

since 1963, made at the new

winery with its modern equipment, was

better than any Croft for years.

The problems of age

For Matt Thomson, winemaker at New

Zealand’s stellar Saint Clair, it was

travelling to Burgundy that proved

revelatory. ‘The big thing about oak in

Burgundy, compared to the New World,

was toast levels. There was a tendency in

New Zealand to use the same oak regime

for Pinot Noir as for Chardonnay andMerlot, but in Burgundy they use a lower

toast for Pinot. The oak levels are no less,

but the effect is more subdued. It tends to

let the fruit express itself more. We’re

doing that now for Delta, here at Saint


Returning to New Zealand and trying

to buy low-toast oak, however, was a

different experience. ‘I had barrel suppliers

refusing to supply me – some just said no,

point-blank. Some didn’t bring them in.

Toast levels vary from cooper to cooper, so

sometimes we buy medium-toast from

coopers who don’t toast too much, and

that way we get lower toast than most in

the New World, even if it’s not as low as

most in Burgundy.

‘Higher toast can flatter a wine early

on. Lower toast can mean our wines

don’t do as well in comparative tastings

on release. But six months or a year on,

they’re much better.’

Thomson goes to Burgundy; Philippe

Guigal, of the Rhône, travelled in the

opposite direction, to Australia – and

California, and most other places as well.

Says Guigal: ‘What is disturbing for

French traditionalists is that the wine

industry is changing very fast in Australia.

When I first went there, 17 or 18 years

ago, many people were a bit arrogant. I

don’t mean that in a negative way, but

they were convinced their wines were

the best in the world. Nobody spoke of

terroir. Then came Chile and Argentina,

and now their [Australians’] speech has

changed. They don’t talk any more about

Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay,

but of Margaret River, Barossa and so on.

Now there’s nothing else but terroir.

‘We have a very traditional winemaking

philosophy at Guigal. It could sound

pretentious, but I don’t want to. In 2003,

for example, I was very happy to have

spent time in Australia and California.’

That was the year of the very hot vintage

– the year in which scores of Parisian

grandmères, abandoned by their

holidaying families, died of the heat. It

was, says Guigal, with some

understatement, ‘not a classical vintage’.

Consequently, his New World experience

came to the fore.

‘When you receive grapes in a veryhot vintage, the first samples of juice have

a high pH and low acidity,’ he

says. ‘But after the alcoholic fermentation

and racking, the pH decreases and the

acidity increases, and by the end the pH

has fallen sharply. The first juice is from

the centre of the grape, and then later

you get juice from just under the skin,

and it has a different balance. A lot of

people in the Northern Rhône took

samples and thought they should add

acidity. I knew that we must do

nothing. We picked on 21 August –

a month early – and we made no

correction of acidity; and after racking,

the pH dropped. I have no doubts about

the quality of the 2003.’

Alessia Antinori has also done the

rounds of Syrah producers in Australia,

and first went there about 10 years ago,

for a 15-day tour in the company of

viticulturist Richard Smart. They went

from the Hunter to the Barossa,

though it was the McLaren Vale that

impressed her most: ‘The winemaking

was practically nothing. The wineries –

like d’Arenberg – were really basic,

just concrete. Everything was focused

on the vineyards. They had big vines,

with very low yields.’

Antinori doesn’t have a lot of Syrah

planted: there’s a bit near Cortona and

some at Bolgheri, and it was at the latter

that Alessia decided to carry out an

experiment. ‘We’ve planted half a hectare

without rootstocks. It’s very simple; you

don’t have to be a genius. The soil is very

sandy there.’ And so far, she says, there’s

no sign of the dreaded phylloxera. It will

be a few years before she can take a view

on the results, but as she says, rootstocks

are fundamental.

Nothing but terroir

Louisa Rose was at Roseworthy in

1991/92, just after David Guimarens. But

her journey had been made in the

opposite direction, to the Viognier

vineyards of the Rhône, even though she

never heard of Viognier in the whole

time she was at Roseworthy. ‘It was never

talked of once,’ she says.

By the time Rose went to France, she

was part of the white-winemaking team

at Yalumba and already working onViognier. ‘They weren’t doing anything

particularly different [in the Rhône],’

she says. ‘We were already working on

wild ferments and fermenting in oak;

there were small things that were

different. But it was inspiring to see that

we were heading down the right trail.

And what gave me confidence, too, was

to see so many young vineyards’ – giving

the lie to the idea that only old vines

make great wines.

In 2001, Rose was there again, to visit

Guigal and Domaines Yves Cuilleron,

and André Perret, both of Condrieu. ‘It

was a really good contrast to what I was

used to. André Perret was making finer,

more long-term styles for bottle ageing;

Yves Cuilleron was making big wines

with character and new oak. He was also

making a botrytised sweet wine like one

we’d just started, and that helped to

foment our ideas.’

The other inspiration Rose found in

the Rhône was her first sight of eau de vie

de Viognier. She came home, dug out an

ancient pot still and set to work. First,

she made a bit just for fun, using wine

rather than marc, expecting to put it

aside and look at it again in 10 years or

so; but it was beautiful young. Now

Yalumba is selling its own version,

V de Vie, though so far on the domestic

market only. If you happen to be in

Australia, it would make a better

souvenir than a T-shirt…

Written by Margaret Rand

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