What is better than starting the year in the Southern hemisphere, in Australia, where the weather is nice and (very) hot? Furthermore, by renting our first camper van and enjoying a new way of traveling, we expected a lot!
Being able to take the road to our liking. Going wherever we want, to the sandstone of our desires and our wine travels. Lunching in front of a lake, having dinner facing the sea, sleeping near the desert… A real taste of freedom.
The route was drawn : we would spend one month between the Yarra Valley, Lethbridge, the Limestone Coast, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, the Barossa and Heathcote, before heading to Tasmania for two weeks.
Camper van keys in hand, we headed down South of Melbourne, just a few kilometers away from the ocean.
This is one of the coolest parts of Australia. They grow mainly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Here, as in many Australian regions, the vineyards are pre-phylloxera (1). A rare enough fact to be highlighted. Before entering one of Mac Forbes’ vineyard plots we were therefore requested to clean our shoes in an aqueous solution ; to avoid any risk of contamination. Such a wine heritage must be preserved!
Another essential recommendation : sunscreen. Upon our arrival to Onannon estate – where the production of Pinot Noir is as delicious as it is confidential – recommendations about protection from the sun were very strict. Because above Australia, the ozone layer is permeable and the UV rays are highly carcinogenic.
Whatever. The wines had a taste of adventure.
Continuing our route westwards, we encountered Lethbridge Wines.
What a beautiful meeting with the couple Maree Collis/Ray Nadeson. Two scientists who wanted a change of life after many years of working in the medicine industry. They did three years of research to find the best terroirs in their region. As a result, they set their sights in 1996 on a plot of 6 hectares belonging to an old Swiss farmer based in Lethbridge for four generations – and who for the record, managed to sell the parcel to them at three times the original price. ”When one loves, one does not count“, Ray explained.
Planting vines was a complex and dangerous mission. Lethbridge’ soils are composed of two layers of basalt, about two meters deep. Yields don’t even reach 0.5 tons/hectare, testifying of the difficulty of producing wine here. But what a terroir ! Maree and Ray are passionate and real purists. They also travel to France every year to the Tronçais forests to choose the plot of oaks that will enable the making of their next barrels… Remarkable.
We were now following the Limestone Coast. The region is not a usual tourist stop for wine lovers. Among the hundreds of hectares bordering the coast, we were aware that only a few wineries open their doors to the public. Other than that, there is not a soul here for kilometers around.
We tried our luck at Wangolina, a pretty 11-hectare farm, unpretentious and charming. We were warmly received by the parents of Anita Goode, the winemaker of the family estate, 5th generation working on the property. The next day they promised us that we would see kangaroos. They are living near the estate. Excited as ever, I had trouble sleeping. The day after we went exploring, after a big breakfast. Kangaroos were waiting for us, as if by magic. Photo shooting could begin. The moment was timeless…
450 hectares of fully organic vineyards spread over 11 sites. Welcome to d’Arenberg, Osborn’s family vineyard! To put you in the context, imagine that they rent up to 1,300 sheep during winter time (from April to September), in order to eat the grass between the rows of vines and maintain a sanitary condition. As natural as possible of course. Since I would like to see that…we will have to come back.
Some old Shiraz vines are more than 100 years old (from 1902 and 1905 for the oldest). Because what counts most for the Osborn’s is to develop the most authentic wines possible. Moreover, nothing at d’Arenberg is left to chance ; from the use of mainly concrete tanks and old barrels for aging the topping wines, to the selection of Chester’s shirts (mythical). But that is another debate.
During our epic tasting – where over 30 wines were served – we sympathized with Tanya Ward, head of the tasting room and originating from New Zealand. In the evening, we were invited for dinner by Tanya and John, her husband, with some other friends. A memorable kiwi evening (2) during which many more bottles than guests around the table were opened, and which ended the next day with a gargantuan brunch. Lovely!
On the way to the Barossa, we discovered Deviation Road and its incomparable expertise for sparkling wines. We learned how to disgorge "à la volée" during a sunny afternoon. An impressive experience, claiming cool and precise gestures. Adrenaline guaranteed.
One Friday afternoon, while we were having lunch in the middle of pastures, destiny placed a couple of farmers on our roadtrip. She is German. He is from the Barossa. Together, Silke Hülsheger and her boyfriend raise sheep and produce a little “home made” wine for fun. A sweet Shiraz slightly above 15.5% alcohol. We were cordially invited to their home for the weekend, and with their friends, the Abbott family, we recharged our batteries while enjoying the charm of the countryside of the Barossa. We improvised petanque games, BBQ and enjoyed the pool. Another lost corner of paradise where I would love to bring my suitcases for a while…
Starting our winery visits again the next Monday, we had two heart strokes in the Barossa : Yalumba and Rockford Wines, both recommended by our friend Alex Dale (3).
Yalumba, created in 1849, is the oldest family estate in Australia. We were welcomed by Robert Hill Smith, the owner, for a bit of history. The place is gorgeous with its large red stone buildings and its own cooperage factory. Yalumba proudly keeps the heritage of the house through a nursery and a library of clones. We concluded the visit in the Eden Valley with a tasting in the vineyard leaded by Jane Ferrari.
Nothing better than having your feet in the vineyard to better understand the wines that you are tasting!
Rockford Wines, another winery with outstanding wines, is a place for purists, vinifying exclusively in open vats during fermentation (half in concrete, the other half in wood). Created by Robert O’Callaghan in 1984 in order to preserve the heritage of the Barossa – while the government was encouraging wineries to rip out vines – Rockford Wines sells most of its production throught a membership system. Rare wines of great finesse, orchestrated by winemaker Ben Radford. To be tasted urgently.
We met with Adam Foster at his new property in Lancefield (Heathcote region). Amateur of fine wines since forever, Adam had a first career as a chef in England for a few Michelin star restaurants before becoming a sommelier in Australia. In unconditional love with Syrah , he worked four vintages in the Rhone Valley with some of the best wine producers (Michel Chapoutier, Stéphane Ogier, Pierre Gaillard) to better understand this delicate grape variety.
For now, he buys his grapes. But Adam dreams, ultimately, to plant a few hectares on the granite soils of his property. We tasted precise, elegant and very fine wines. Superb.
In the suburbs of Melbourne, it was in Beaconsfield that we finished our stay. More exact at Carlei Estate, an estate exclusively practising biodynamics. This was also the first winery visited in the one year of our project where Sergio Carlei, winemaker and owner of the domain, proposed a blind tasting of grapes to us harvested according to “fruit days“ and “root days“. The same vintage, the same varietals, the same plots, the same ageing in barrels… but two distinctly different tastes. Amazing. The juice from the barrel harvested on a “fruit day“ was more expressive and rounder. That of the barrel harvested on a “root day“ was closed and a bit more rustic. Bluffing. Of course you can believe it ; or not…
Anyway, the tasting was there as proof and it was an incredible experience. We learn every day, and to our delight !
Now let’s go to Tasmania for ending our Australian tour.
Thank you to Onannon, Stonier, Mac Forbes, Lethbridge Wines, Wangolina, d’Arenberg, Deviation Road, Yalumba, Rockford, Adam Foster and Carlei Estate for their warm welcome. Thank you to Brice Camelin, Nick La, Camilla Camelot Bassi, Tanya and John Ward, to Silke Hülsheger and the Abbott family for their accommodation and their extraordinary hospitality. Finally, thank you to Joshua Elias, chief editor of Alquimie magazine and to Rory Kent, founder of Young Guns of Wine for their precious advices.
(1) pre-phylloxera : qualifies a vine planted before the appearance of phylloxera.
(2) kiwi evening : the kiwi is an endemic land bird of New Zealand, unable to fly. This term is used to describe how frendly and welcoming are people from New Zealand.
(3) Alex Dale, co- owner of The Winery of Good Hope in South Africa, our first winery visited in January 2014 at the launch of the WINE Explorers’ project.