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Q&A: Bernard Hickin, Chief Winemaker, Jacob’s Creek

Amy Wislocki caught up with Bernard Hickin during the Wimbledon Championships, where he showed current and past vintages of Rieslings from the portfolio. Jacob's Creek has been the official wine at Wimbledon since 2011, the third year in a five-year sponsorship deal.

Why the focus on Riesling today?
It’s the 50th anniversary of the planting of our Steingarten vineyard, which had its first vintage in 1968. For us the wine represents the pinnacle of Riesling – it’s made in a classic dry style, in very small volumes, and only in the best vintages. The wine has a very intense mineral character and will age for many years.

What happens to the grapes in the years that you don’t make Steingarten?
They would find their way into our Reserve Riesling, as happened in 2010, for instance. [This retails in the UK for £9.99.]

Do you make Steingarten in the same way as your classic and Reserve Rieslings?
Yes, the winemaking regime for all three wines [classic, Reserve and Steingarten] is very similar. The difference is in the vineyards themselves – as in Burgundy, Bordeaux and other fine wine regions, that’s where the character comes from in great vintages. We do bring in grapes from elsewhere in the Eden Valley for our Steingarten Riesling, but the character of the Steingarten vineyard shines through strongly: the wine always has fantastic natural acidity, for instance, as a result of the east-facing exposure and the altitude of the vineyard (450-500m above sea level).

What is the 2012 vintage like?
It really was amazing, a one-in-20-year vintage. The pure quality of the wines produced, across many varieties, was incredible. The conditions were excellent – good winter and spring rains, which are fundamental in Australia for an ideal soil moisture regime, then mild to warm weather until the summer, without excessive heatwaves. Yields were moderate, slightly below average.

Where does Riesling sit in the Jacob’s Creek portfolio?
It’s a strong part of our history, and the soul of the business is built strongly around Riesling – the first vines to be planted by Jacob’s Creek were Riesling vines. Of course, in terms of sales, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet are far more important, but we hope that people will discover Riesling big time – the challenge at the moment is trying to get the consumer to choose it over other, more familiar whites.

We tasted some fantastic older vintages today – do you think it’s a shame that most consumers will never keep the wines long enough to discover the character of your Rieslings as they age?
Clearly lots of people enjoy the fresh and approachable, floral and zesty citrus style of young Riesling, and most consumers think of it in that style. But Rieslings from great vineyards will potentially age for up to 15 or 20 years.

Sometimes the wine can go through a dumb phase at 1-2 years old, but then you get a lovely transition period at around 4 or 5 years old, with mainly primary citrus fruits but also some aged complexity. [The Reserve Riesling 2009 a perfect example in the tasting.] Then at between 7 to 10 years old, the Rieslings are really interesting, though may be an acquired taste for some consumers. With this kind of age, you get complex, nutty characters and in the Eden Valley Rieslings, a strong lemon curd on hot buttered toast taste profile. The lemon curd thing is a typical character of Eden Valley fruit.

What would you eat with your Rieslings?
With the young, aromatic wines, seafood, shellfish, white fish, are fantastic matches. Once the wines have more age though, you could match them with nuts, dried fruits, soft cream cheese (maybe a New York cheesecake), white meat… I recently tasted a 10-year old Riesling with Brie that had been crumbed and fried – it was incredible.

Who do you want to win Wimbledon?
The young Australian, Bernard Tomic.

Written by Amy Wislocki

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