Tempus fugit – another year has flown by with an eclectic array of vinous guests and an assortment of wines to match their entertaining and informative insights.
Heard it Through the Grapevine’s aim is to tell the stories behind the labels, thus its often a heady mix not only of the wines but also of the people and places, plus the rich tapestry of experiences woven into the tales of tenacity, triumph and tribulation.
If Grapevine’s 1.5 million listeners have enjoyed the narrative half as much as I have enjoyed hosting the program, then I’m exceedingly happy.
To quote G.K. Chesterton ‘Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace.’
A fitting metaphor that defines what Grapevine is about – I’m privileged to have had the opportunity of hosting my own show and a big thank you to all my guests, producers and listeners alike.
A Who’s Who of Wine
Early on in 2017 I caught up with the redoubtable Andrew Buller from Buller Wines in Rutherglen and sipped some of his ‘Cannobie’ 2013 Shiraz. The irrepressible, cheeky Geoff Merrill from Geoff Merrill Wines in McLaren Vale popped in to share some of his 2009 Reserve McLaren Vale Shiraz. Then came Simon Osicka from Paul Osicka Wines Heathcote with yet another Shiraz rendition, a 2015 Major’s Creek Vineyard.
In March the inimitable, unflappable Max Allen celebrated his move to Fairfax Media as the Australian Financial Review’s new drinks writer by chatting on Grapevine.
Then I visited Sanguine Estate in Heathcote to attend the Sanguine Estate (Chamber) Music Festival and indulge in some Heathcote Sparkling Shiraz. April saw the ebullient Peter Barry from Clare Valley’s Jim Barry Wines, Peter opened a 2016 Jim Barry Watervale Riesling.
Vinous Royalty in the guise of Her Majesty, the Prosecco Queen aka the mellifluous, multifarious Melissa Brauer changed my hitherto sceptical opinion of Prosecco as a bland varietal with a thought-provoking Dal Zotto 2014 Col Fondo Prosecco. Thanks Melissa!
Mid-April my guest was Tan Sumer, a young importer of Turkish wines, sampled in the form of a Suvla Vineyards ‘Sur’ 2010 Bordeaux Blend red. No sooner had Tan left than Cellarhand’s energetic Patrick Walsh waxed lyrical about a crystalline Domäne Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Grüner Veltliner 2015 from Austria. Grüner Veltliner is what the dining out jet set drink now instead of Montrachet.
Come May the talented Sarah Crowe, from the Yarra Valley’s Yarra Yering tantalised my tastebuds with her Yarra Yering 2015 Agincourt, red blend (two thirds cabernet sauvignon & one third Malbec). Not surprisingly Sarah was crowned James Halliday’s Winemaker of the Year, as if having the Prosecco Queen in for a chat was not enough, it felt like more Royalty had descended upon me with Sarah’s arrival, though she is a very no-nonsense, approachable, down-to-earth ‘Royal.’
Sadly at June’s end I said farewell to my long-time producer, the affable Lloyd Shirley who had helped me no end from day one. Thanks Lloyd.
July kicked off with a visit from the amiable Laurence Tedesco from the pioneering Elgee Park Winery at Merricks North on the Mornington Peninsular, so it had to be Pinot Noir in the form of the 2015 Elgee Park Family Reserve that we tried. More wine Royalty followed in the guise of the talented 5th generation, Hamish Seabrook of the renowned Seabrook clan, Hamish’s Seabrook 2015 Barossa Valley ‘Founder’ Mataro opened up beautifully.
July closed with a flourish with a visit from the exuberant Bruce Tyrrell, who playfully recalled the time when the legendary, (and I use the term aptly) late André Simon visited Tyrrells in the Hunter in late 1964 (or early’65) and greeted Bruce’s bemused father Murray with an assessment of his Tyrrell’s wines thus: ‘Tyrrells wines spoke for themselves, but, unfortunately did not have much to say.’ Priceless! And naturally Bruce brought with him a ripper 2012 Tyrrells Vat 1 Hunter Semillon, just to prove that some of us south of the Murray still drink Semillon.
Scarcely had I knocked off the Semillon then along came a bubbly, energetic Mark Gilbert from Karrawatta Wines in the Adelaide Hills (now replete with a flash new cellar door). Mark’s links to wine date back to 1874 when his great, great, great grandfather Joseph Gilbert established the first vineyard in the Barossa’s Eden Valley. We celebrated this long lineage over a beguiling, complex Karrawatta 2016 Anth’s Garden Chardonnay.
By September I was in need of something more exotic so the author of ‘Around the World in 80 Cocktails’ (Hardie Grant Books), master mixologist Chad Parkhill poured me a restorative Negroni. I now know the Negroni takes its name from a former rodeo cowboy, Count Camillo Negroni! Thanks Camillo, thanks Chad.
No sooner than I had finished my Negroni, then along came Graeme Thredgold from Eden Hall Wines in, of course, the Eden Valley. By now I was desperate for a Riesling so happily Graeme obliged in the form of a 2016 Eden Hall Reserve Riesling, quintessentially Riesling & very much Eden Valley!
By October the urbane Stephen Shelmerdine made the first of his two visits, the Shelmerdine family have been involved with wine in Victoria for decades; Stephen’s father Ross founded Mitchelton at Nagambie where the redoubtable winemaker Colin Preece worked for many a year. Mitchelton is presently owned by Gerry Ryan of Jayco Caravan fame, and is now home to a swish, new 58 room hotel overlooking both the Goulburn River and the vines.
Then another trip to the Mornington Peninsula with a visit from the equally urbane Paul Staindl of Paul Staindl Wines at Red Hill South. Naturally as an obsessive Burgundian devotee, Paul opened up his silky 2013 Pinot Noir, a bottle of which I intend to have again 10 years hence when it will be in its prime and me less so, no doubt.
Mid November the talented, thoughtful, considered Andrew Fleming from Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley shared his very palatable 2015 Deer Park Pinot Noir and his extensive viticultural and vinicultural knowledge, thanks for both Andrew.
Back down to that ‘fashionable and leathery boot between Western Port and Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay’ – the Mornington Peninsular – in the form of the effervescent, energetic George Mihaly from Paradigm Hill at Merricks. And, yes yet another Pinot, this time I salivated over George’s seamless 2015 Paradigm Hill L’ami sage Pinot Noir, every bit as complex and alluring as its maker. George had a twinkle in his eyes and his Pinot put a twinkle in mine!
December, and I was craving for a Champagne, so who better to share a glass or two with than Robert Walters from Bibendum wine importers. We popped the cork on a Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs; a rich, powerful wine, intense yet fresh.
Small grower, single vineyard Champages such as Larmandier-Bernier, Agrapart, Egly-Ouriet and Laherte-Frères are casting a new, individualistic dimension on Champagne, far removed from the traditional monochromatic blends of the large houses and popular brands.
Robert’s recent book ‘Champagne – A Secret History (Allen & Unwin 2017) explores their growing popularity well. He is busy on another wine book which, if up to the standard of his first book, will make for interesting reading.
Continuing a busy December I caught up with long time industry stalwart and Viticultural Society of Victoria member, Simon Seaward, to discuss the history of wine retailing in Melbourne; covering the likes of Dan Murphy, Doug Crittenden and Doug Seabrook among others. Simon recently published ‘Four Fine Palates – The History of W.J.Seabrook & Son.’ (Published by Iain Seabrook, Tanunda, South Australia, 2016)
Then I chatted to the meticulous, multi-talented Phillip Moraghan on life after Curly Flat and his, (and his new partner Rika Shimo’s) next project, namely a quest to replicate a model vineyard and winery; akin to that of Marie-Antornette’s Hameau de la Reine in the park of the Chateau de Versailles.
I, like many have visited Versailles, but, regrettably, failed to take the golf-cart ride across the park to Hameau de la Reine. Phillip opened a bottle of his delicate, understated 2014 Shimora Koshu which he made in Katsunuma, Japan. Not surprisingly it paired perfectly with sashimi and sushi.
The penultimate Grapevine saw the quietly spoken, but accomplished, Tim Dolan delve into the rich history of Peter Lehmann Wines (PLW) in the Barossa where he’s currently Senior Winemaker. Tim is the third generation of his family to make wine in the Barossa, following his father Nigel and grandfather Bryan – two of the most influential winemakers of their respective eras. PLW make an extraordinary array of nuanced Shiraz which showcase the Barossa to a tee. I could not resist sharing a 2012 Peter Lehmann ‘Black Queen’ Sparkling Shiraz with Tim.
2017 was rounded off perfectly with my final guest for the year Ken John, sommelier extraordinaire, director of Narkoojee Wines in Gippsland and Cellar Master of The Vinicultural Society of Victoria. Ken knows most everybody in wine and most everybody in wine knows Ken. He gets to choose the wines that the Society’s members and guests are required to blind taste (a fiendishly difficult challenge according to some participants) – just ask Paul Staindl.
We shared a Narkoojee 2013 Sparkling Cabernet Merlot ‘Cuvee Robert Fordham’ – very appropriate for Christmas! As listeners well know, I’m an avid sparkling red fan!
Finally, I was saddened to learn of the death of Don Lewis, who for 32 years was at Mitchelton where he won the 1991 Jimmy Watson Trophy for his Mitchelton 1990 Print Shiraz, and latterly at Tar & Roses alongside Narelle King. Don had an uncanny eye for sourcing pristine fruit and likewise a talent for achieving the best possible varietal expression from his vineyards at both Mitchelton and Tar & Roses.
Likewise Ian Hickinbotham who died on 29th December. Ian’s autobiography ‘Australian Plonky’ (University of Adelaide Barr Smith Press) is a must read. It summarises his (and his family’s) significant contribution to wine in Australia over many decades. I was glad to have had the opportunity of penning an appreciation of Ian’s accomplishments in Edition Three, Third Quarter 2014, of the classy drinks publication Alquimie which I will post in the New Year.
Regrettably this year also saw the demise of Alquimie, details of which are on HinceOnWine under ‘Alquimie’s alchemy is no more.’– click here.
What did I learn this year? As there are 1,368 wine grape varieties that are used to make wine, I inched my way forward incrementally by discovering many that I had never (or seldom) tasted before. During the year I sampled wines from Georgia, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, Japan, North and South America, and locally, I had hitherto no knowledge of. Most were memorable, some less so, but my enduring memory is the joy of sharing wines with old friends and meeting new ones over a glass or two – a blessing I never take for granted, getting to write and talk about it is the cherry on top of the cake!
So that’s 2017 done and dusted and I’m already busy lining up an interesting array of guests for 2018, including (hopefully) more vinous visitors from overseas.
♣ Heard it Through the Grapevine is broadcast at 8.00 pm every Saturday on 1179 AM Vision Australia Radio Melbourne and subsequently nationally via the Community Radio Network.