Vasse Felix hangs hat on new Chardonnay

13th May, 2014 by Gabriel Stone

Margaret River producer Vasse Felix is preparing to launch a new Chardonnay, positioned just below its top end Heytesbury label, as the main reference point for its brand.

The new Vasse Felix Chardonnay line-up

The new Vasse Felix Chardonnay line-up

“It’s something we couldn’t be more ready for,” remarked Vasse Felix chief winemaker Virginia Willcock during a preview of the wine, which is due to reach the market in August. “It’s what we want to hang our hat on as a great Margaret River Chardonnay.”

Presenting the Chardonnay’s inaugural 2013 vintage as the result of a decade of work in the vineyard, Willcock observed: “We’ve come into an age at Vasse Felix where we have many more plots with fantastic clones that create wines of elegance, distinction and richness, but not too funky.”

Although acknowledging “we have been making Chardonnay for a long time,” she noted: “over the last 10 years we’ve been developing our vineyard resources significantly. We’ve chosen the greatest clones, what we believe to be the future of Margaret River, and planted them.”

This vineyard development encompasses 6 hectares in Karridale at the southern end of the region, as well as a further 9.5ha near the winery in Wilyabrup. While 70% of these new plantings are of the Gingin clone, known elsewhere as the Mendoza clone, which dominates Chardonnay vineyards in Margaret River, Vasse Felix has also planted three different Bernard clones from Burgundy.

Describing the relatively late ripening Gingin as “a clone that’s given us a lot more weight and a sense of what Margaret River Chardonnay can be,” Willcock commented: “We’re looking for power because it’s a signature of Margaret River and the Margaret River climate.” However, she emphasised: “We can still get great acidity at quite low Baumé with a clone like that.”

Vasse Felix chief winemaker Virginia Willcock

Vasse Felix chief winemaker Virginia Willcock

As for the Bernard clones, which Vasse Felix has been trialling for the last 10 years, Willcock summed up their “thin skinned, light, elegant” characteristics, “that handle solids beautifully” as offering an ideal counterbalance to Gingin. “We want that intensity and power of our Chardonnay with the finessing of the Bernard clones,” she outlined.

The new Chardonnay joins Vasse Felix’s existing “Premier” tier Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend. These sit just below the producer’s two “Icon” Heytesbury Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay expressions, but above its “Filius” tier, the lowest level available in export markets.

Although the names Heytesbury and Filius appear on their respective labels, the Premier name is more of an internal tag, with the label reading simply: “Vasse Felix Margaret River Chardonnay”, thereby positioning it as the brand’s core Chardonnay offer.

While describing the AU$65 (£35) Heytesbury Chardonnay as representing “the most unique, character-filled wines from the Vasse Felix portfolio,” Willcock defined the $37 (£20) Premier tier as “wines that are varietally distinct examples of the best you can find in Margaret River.”

Confirming that annual volumes for the Premier Chardonnay will be “about the same” as for Heytesbury at 1,500-2,000 cases, Willcock added: “We do have room to grow but we don’t want to move away from finesse.”

With the new wine bringing Vasse Felix’s Chardonnay representation into balance with its previously more extensive Cabernet Sauvignon offer, she concluded: “This is the first time I’m feeling complete in our Chardonnay world.”

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