After a glorious morning of tasting, we enjoy a lovely lunch at the Bimbadgen Winery. On the ridge below, half a dozen kangaroos lounge in the mid-afternoon heat, indifferent to our presence. I can’t get over the fact these creatures are everywhere – including between the rows of vines – and their disinterest reminds us they were here first!
In the afternoon we move on to Hungerford Hill, a hip boutique winery with a focus on cool climate regions around New South Wales. Hungerford Hill produces 10% of what Tyrrell’s makes and their philosophy is to sell what they make, where they make it. According to Richard Everett of Wine Valley Tours, this winery is at the vanguard of where things are heading. For the last 35 years, they’ve been pioneering high altitude growing regions, where there is a later, longer and cooler growing season. The goal: avoid the harsh and rapid ripening of grapes common in hotter climate regions.
Richard offers a quick lesson in heat stress (in seriously hot climates vines can shut down) and the influence climate change is having on the wine industry. The physiological ripening of grapes in the Hunter Valley and many other Aussie regions has shifted significantly since the mid-sixties. Wineries are now often harvesting in the middle of summer, rather than in the early / mid fall, which is having a negative impact on the style and quality of many wines (higher alcohol, stewed fruit). In some cases, vineyard productivity is way down.
Richard’s 91 year-old father-in-law sells his Barossa Valley grapes to Penfolds, Two Hands, Greenock Creek and Rockford. He recently submitted 70 years of his vineyard records to the Wine Research Institute at the University of Adelaide for analysis. What his data shows is the same vines are ripening grapes about a month earlier than when he started keeping records in 1946. This temperature and ripening shift is being observed in other major wine regions in Australia, including the ‘cool climate’ vineyards around Melbourne, which were planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay back in the 1960’s. These records provide more evidence of climate change’s impact on grape growing. “It’s fair to say cool climate doesn’t exist in Australia anymore, says Richard, “unless you head for the hills”.
Richard says forward thinking winemakers around the world are now searching for land at high altitudes where the body clock of the vine is about 6-8 weeks behind vines at sea level. This is an enterprise future-proofing strategy and the smart money is heading for the hills.
Back in the tasting room at Hungerford Hill, these ahead-of-the-curve winemakers are growing true, cool climate varieties at the 1000+ meter mark of the Snowy Mountains in the remote region of Tumbarumba. These are some of the highest vineyards in Australia with soils ranging from fertile basalt to decomposed granite. The cooler temperatures deliver more delicate aromas and slower phenolic development (i.e. pigmentation) so the wines are finer, lower in alcohol and truer to their French varietal origins.
Highlights for me:
The 2010 Tumbarumba Sparkling “Dalliance” – a cuvee of Chardonnay 75% and Pinot Noir 25% that after 5 years on yeast lees is still pale green with lean, lively, classic toasty brioche notes. We’re told Hungerford Hill’s neighbours, Moet & Chandon, source grapes for their Aussie Domain Chandon sparkling wines from Tumbarumba and other high altitude vineyards.
The 2015 Tumbarumba Pinot Gris – very dry, crisp, wonderfully sublime and textural… in that resin kind of way. Reminiscent of Alsatian Pinot Gris, this citrus-rich food wine would partner beautifully with seafood. Fresh from cool climate but not high altitude New Zealand, I can’t help but notice how subdued the primary fruit is by comparison. Does elevation also tame fruit esters? Must investigate further…..
The 2014 Tumbarumba Pinot Noir features traditional tart, cool climate flavours that say Burgundy. This Pinot features bright lively red fruit…at the cran / strawberry end of the spectrum, and offers a beautiful earthy, composty nose. There is great length to the finish, helped along by the now mature, 35 year-old vines. This is a young, lean Pinot that would enjoy some cellar time.
2014 Hilltops Cabernet Sauvignon – The Hilltops Region is 150 km north of Canberra and elevations sit between 450 and 600 meters. This cab offers ripe, dark fruit ….cassis, blackberry and cedar and is supported by delicious baking spices. I detected firm structure-giving tannins on this varietal, but it is beautifully balanced and offers great depth of flavour. Richard suggests we cellar for 15+ years to truly enjoy.
A huge thanks to Richard for an amazing day of wine education and tasting and for fact-checking my post. Your winemaking perspective and support for winemakers in the Hunter Valley made this a truly remarkable day!
If you’d like further reading on climate change, Richard has kindly sent me/you/us a full-on lit review of the subject!!! Merci Richard!!