We are fortunate in Pokolbin to have a large number of winemakers and their families that are part of the wine making community. Unlike some isolated winemakers, here we are able to interact with a very engaged group of people and in turn their families who by and large live locally. There is a great diversity of winemaking including making wines for other regions and bringing in fruit to be made and blended here. This gives strength and industry support for winemaking in a concentrated way and the overall production capacity is increased but it can also dilute the “Pokolbin” brand.
The main way we have succeeded in promoting our Hunter wines has been to link them to the “Pokolbin terroir” and an extension of this is the concept of “single vineyard” wines. Indeed the Hunter Valley wine show now has a “Named Vineyard” category reflecting the importance it sees in single vineyard wines.
At the Diners Club of 64 recently I presented four white wines and four red wines all from single vineyards as well as two sparkling single vineyard wines. To add interest I selected still wines all from the Around Hermitage area of Pokolbin and linked by the year of vintage 2007.
We have come to think ‘single vineyard’ has something special to offer, particularly when combined with estate made wines, so what is it that makes them so interesting and just what does single vineyard really mean?
Most single vineyard wines come from medium to small producers who are intimately involved with the grape production. To get the best from their vineyard they understands that yields matter –lower yields mean more concentrated flavours and better quality, no temptation to water the grapes leading up to harvest to increase the tonnage! . The selection of varieties and their clones is important and reflects the individuals producing the wines and their careful assessment of the local terroir and the importance of fashion in wine.
Most of the single vineyard wine producers have taken into account how the vineyard is planned and designed including vine density & trellising which can determine the sunlight exposure and phenolic build up that add to flavour. Water management matters and a careful monitoring to ensure healthy well balanced grapes is central to single vineyard producers. The arrival of our private water pipeline has made this all the more possible. The timing and type of pruning also matters as this effects onset of budburst and crop load.
Having a vineyard policy that regularly delivers predictable high quality fruit that represents the terroir of the area means a wine from that vineyard will generally have a consistent character and club members and return visitors to the brand will not be disappointing.
Now not all of the wines at the dinner were actually made on site by the single vineyard grower but those growers take a close interest in the contract winemaking as they eventually have the finished products returned to the vineyard cellar doors for sale. This is an important category of “single Vineyard” wines particularly as they offer great diversity to the consumer. On the night the wines from Wombat Crossing, Degan Estate, Misty Glen, Blueberry Hill and Ridgeview were all in this category and did not disappoint.
Some of the wines at the dinner came from Tintilla Estate. At Tintilla we represent another important category of single vineyard wines – not only do we grow the grapes but we make the wine on site and our winemaker James Lusby looks after both the growing of the grapes and making of the wine.
The Wombat Crossing Shiraz and Tintilla Patriarch Syrah were the most notable of the reds and great examples of single vineyard wines.
Over the last few years a new approach has emerged where winemakers (often associated with large companies) buy in from single vineyards and make “Single vineyard wines” unrelated to the grower. It is said this new approach offers more flexibility in sourcing compared to relying on one vineyard. This approach should possibly result in an equivalent product to estate grown and made wines but it blurs the division between the two and is very dependent on the quality of the fruit.
From year to year the grapes may not always be available or may be sold to other winemakers making consistency a problem. If a particular vineyard gains a good reputation the grower might put up the price and the knock on effect will be reflected in the price of the wine or the winemaker may source from another “single vineyard” diminishing his quality control and possibly the nature of the end product.
Having a piece of the action in both owning the vines and making the wines or having the wine specifically made for the grower gives traditional single vineyard wines an edge when it comes to consistency, and drives us to do the very best to get ideal fruit into the winery.
Of course in bad years the single vineyard wine maker may not produce any wine or possibly only ones from good fruit- such as just the reds etc.
Matt Kramer, the wine writer, in an article in Wine Spectator addresses this issue. “He who owns the grapes literally rules the land” he says. “The fact the wine comes from the growers own grapes virtually guarantees you a consistency of satisfaction structurally absent from the cap-in-hand approach to securing the best fruit”.
There is clearly a place for both approaches, but knowing exactly what is a “single vineyard “ wine and even what type of single vineyard produced the wine, may be as important as knowing what particular region a wine came from verses a wine from “South Eastern Australia”.
All the wines tasted were of outstanding quality and with 10 years under screw cap were amazingly fresh and elegant. It is often said that good wines start in the vineyard and it has certainly been the philosophy of the single vineyard wine producers I know and long may it be so!