Australia’s new philosophy of freshness
8th February, 2017 by Lucy Shaw
A new generation of Australian winemakers are turning their backs on the big, beefy styles that made the country’s reputation, preferring to make lighter, fruitier expressions in response to demand from restaurants and consumers.
Taras Ochota of Ochota Barrels
It’s mid afternoon on a crisp spring day in Adelaide. As if teasing us, the sun flits in an out of the clouds, forcing us into a comical routine – our jumpers come off and sunglasses go on when the sun comes out, and vice versa when it disappears behind the clouds again. We’re sitting outside a church that has been converted into a wood-fired pizza restaurant called Lost in a Forest.
Holding court is Taras Ochota, the laid-back, dreadlocked spiritual leader of an exciting new band of winemakers in the small town of Basket Range, including James Erskine of Jauma, Brendon Keys of BK Wines and Anton van Klopper of Lucy Margaux, who are putting purity of fruit and downright deliciousness at the forefront of their winemaking agendas.
As the afternoon ebbs on, we taste through Taras’ Ochota Barrels range while munching on an endless supply of Neapolitan-style pizzas fresh from the oven. Taras speaks passionately about the importance of taking a holistic approach to grape growing. While not a ‘natural’ winemaker, he takes a hands-off, minimum-intervention approach, picking grapes when their acidity levels are high enough to imbue the wines with a compelling energy and nervous tension.
Brendon Keys of BK Wines
He works with light- and medium-bodied red varieties like Gamay, Grenache and Pinot, and plays with whole-bunch fermentation, using controlled pigeage and small amounts of sulphur.
The common thread running through his reds is their brightness – both in terms of their attractive ruby-red colour glinting jewel- like in the glass, to their juicy raspberry and cherry red fruit character, soft, almost undetectable tannins, vibrant acidity and pretty perfume.
“I’m keen to make beautiful wines that are easy to drink. I pick quite early so the wines maintain their natural acidity. I like them to be mouthwatering and pithy. I’m all about approachability and deliciousness,” says Ochota, whose range is represented in the UK by Indigo Wine.
While the Basket Range collective are making wines on a small scale for a niche audience, Ochota’s philosophy and winemaking approach is indicative of a seismic stylistic shift in Australia, which is happening on a grand scale to great effect.
There will always be an appetite in some pockets of the world for big, bold, velvety Shirazes that make you feel like you’re being hugged from the inside, but if a recent trip to some of the key regions in the country is anything to go by, any long-held prejudices about Australian wine need to be cast aside.
The winemaking conversation is largely moving away from jammy, Parker- pleasing blockbusters towards something lighter, brighter, more elegant and altogether more appealing. Plus, finesse needn’t come at the expense of power – some of the most interesting and inviting wines being made in Australia at the moment successfully walk the line between the two.
“We’ve just about lost all of the alcoholic, heavy, dead-skin, palate-killing Shirazes, which is an hallelujah moment. Instead, we’re moving towards brighter, more interesting wines from quality producers,” says Chris Hancock MW of Robert Oatley Vineyards in New South Wales. He adds: “In Australia, there used to be monster wines at one end of the spectrum and sweet, chunky wines at the other.
There’s a space in between that we can fill where we can be shown to be very serious about what we do. Winemakers across the board in Australia are showing more sensitivity in their approach, and there’s a focus on viticultural excellence in the vineyards too.”
Hancock was one of the first to spot Chardonnay’s potential in Australia in the early 1980s. It has grown to become one of the varieties the country can really hang its hat on and be proud of. With the days of sunshine-in-a- bottle Chardonnay truly behind them, winemakers across the country are on a mission to express terroir and maintain freshness and purity of fruit rather than masking it with oak.
Australia is fortunate in that is has more warmth and sunshine than many cool-climate countries and is able to achieve phenolic ripeness with depth of fruit flavour,” says Hancock, adding, “The Chardonnays coming out of Margaret River, the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Tumbarumba are all a little bit different in character, which adds to their interest. Regional styles are starting to emerge and hallelujah to that.”