If the dull skies and chilly air this morning had you hankering to stay in bed a while longer than usual, spare a thought for House of Arras ‘fizz wiz’ Ed Carr. The chances are that by the time your feet hit the floor, the internationally renowned sparkling winemaker had already put in a couple […]
If the dull skies and chilly air this morning had you hankering to stay in bed a while longer than usual, spare a thought for House of Arras ‘fizz wiz’ Ed Carr.
The chances are that by the time your feet hit the floor, the internationally renowned sparkling winemaker had already put in a couple of hours’ work, checking the progress of this season’s new base wine ferments.
Harvest may have come to an end in other parts of Australia, but at the nerve centre of Accolade Wines‘ sparkling wine operations, today it will be business as usual for the country’s most awarded sparkling winemaker.
“Tassie?” Carr says in response to my enquiry about when this year’s sparkling wine harvest finally got underway in Tasmania.
“Phew, it’s all a bit of a blur. I don’t think I can even make a reasonable guess. Better check with winemaker Penny Jones at Pipers River. We’ve been pretty busy this year. It’s been a good vintage.”
It’s not often you hear Accolade’s group sparkling winemaker sounding slightly lost for words. Carr has been at the helm of his company’s ground-breaking House of Arras Tasmanian sparkling wine project since 1995.
Back then, Arras was an emerging brand for Hardys Wines.
Later, company ownership moved to Constellation Wines and then more recently to Accolade.
Carr’s employers may have changed over the years, but for the man calling the shots when it comes to directing base wines to specific sparkling wine brands, his project’s core principles are those established a quarter of a century ago.
“We set ourselves the goal of being at the cutting of global, cold-climate sparkling wine styles,” the South Australian explains.
“It’s been a steep learning curve, but House of Arras has exceeded our wildest dreams… the support, the quality, the endorsements. It’s been brilliant. We’ve really helped put Tasmania on the wine map.”
Vintage has been a little different this year, he says. Not only in Tasmania, but across much of south-eastern Australia. Put that down to the La Niña weather patterns that played out during late 2020 and early 2021.
Higher, more frequent rainfall and cooler daytime temperatures became the norm during the growing season, especially during spring and early summer. That slowed the rate of vine and fruit development. More importantly, it brought incremental improvements in plant health on many sites, along with better grape and wine quality.
“I’ve been watching all cold climate regions in Australia this year and they’ve all moved up a level in quality,” Carr explains.
“We started harvesting for sparkling wine in the Limestone Coast region of South Australia before working through the Victorian Alps and the King Valley. Adelaide Hills came a bit later, then the Yarra Valley and finally Tasmania. All those regions are really strong this year, and Tassie is pretty well top of that tree.
“We’ve seen some really great fruit intensity in the cooler regions. It’s been a high colour year for Pinot Noir. So I think we should see some good Pinot Noir dry reds as well as good Pinot Noir sparkling wines.”
Winemaker Penny Jones has spent the best part of a decade fulfilling key roles in Accolade’s House of Arras sparkling wine program. As winemaker/manager at Bay of Fires winery outside Pipers River, the former Hobartian sees all of Carr’s Tasmanian sparkling wine grapes pass across her winery weighbridge.
“We started processing on March 15 with sparkling Pinot Noir from the east coast,” she recalls.
“The day after, we received fruit from the Tamar and the day after that it was the upper Derwent Valley. It’s been a pretty hard and fast vintage. East coast rain (up to 170mm in Cranbrook) forced our hand in some cases but it should be a solid year with some special highlights.”
Carr notes that vineyard yields across south-eastern Australia have been quite variable this year. Many wine volumes are lower than originally estimated, perhaps by as much as 20 percent in some instances.
“I think we were assuming it was going to be nice and cool and that the rain would pump the berries up a bit,” he explains.
“I don’t think that happened as we neared the end of the season. In Tasmania, our yields were down a bit in the south but remarkably strong in parts of the east coast. Pipers River in the north-east also performed reasonably well.”
Moderate vineyard yields and wine volumes may help Accolade chart a ‘steady as she goes’ course for its many of its sparkling wine brands, but Carr says the remarkable growth Arras has experienced in recent years may cause some problems over the medium-term.
“Our forecasts for sparkling wine just keep increasing every year,” he says.
“Sales demand is going up and up all the time. We may have to work a bit harder in the future to chase our Tasmanian fruit. Or perhaps we may need to put in a couple of big vineyard developments in order to tighten up our supply chain.”
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Industry warnings sounded
Ed Carr’s optimism for premium sparkling wine sales is encouraging, but Australia’s recent loss of significant wine markets in China is a major source of concern for the industry.
That’s according to the agricultural outlook for Australian wine released by the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment at the beginning of March.
Report authors Peter Collins and Charley Xia go on to state the loss of China as a major export market for Australian wine looks set to usher in a period of low growth in the wine industry, similar to between 2006–07 and 2014–15.
“Overcoming this low growth is likely to be challenging,” they add.
“Trend growth in domestic wine sales slowed after 2009–10 so the small-size of Australia’s domestic market may provide only limited opportunities for industry growth. The sheer size of the global wine market means it will most likely provide the best opportunity for future growth. But the industry may be challenged to identify opportunities to expand exports to existing major export destinations.
“For example, the United States remains one of Australia’s largest wine export markets, but the volume of Australian wine exported to the United States has trended down since 2009.
“Similarly, the volume of Australian wine exports to the United Kingdom has trended down since 2008, and in 2019 was 37 million litres less than in 2008, a 14 percent reduction. The value of these exports dropped by 54 percent.
“The best opportunities for growth may lie with a group of low volume but exceedingly high value markets such as Singapore, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. The value of these markets for Australia’s wine industry has grown rapidly and may represent the best opportunity to sell high-value wine formerly exported to China.”
The report also noted interstate travel remained problematic for Australia, due to concerns over COVID-19 restrictions.
While the peak summer holiday season had passed, the outlook authors anticipated intrastate winery tours would remain a popular weekend leisure activity for the rest of the year.
“This is especially the case for the many wineries in close proximity to major urban centres. These provide a positive opportunity for wine tourism and cellar door sales. These activities were curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions and their revival will provide a welcome boost to wine sales.”
Hobart’s Mark Smith wrote his first weekly wine column back in 1994. Now more than 1700 features and 25 years later, he continues to chart the successes of Tasmania’s small scale, cool climate wine industry with regular contributions to some of Australia’s leading industry publications.
PICK OF THE CROP
Mark gives you his honest opinions about the best wines available right now from Tasmania’s wine makers.
2020 Merriworth Estate Riesling $27
Merriworth in the Coal River Valley was previously known as Third Child Vineyard. The 2ha vineyard was planted in 2000 by Hobart architect John Skinner. Now owned by Kirralee Hatch and Mark, the property continues to be the source of some excellent, well-priced wines. Three clones of Riesling contribute to this striking Tea Tree wine. Its bright, juicy/limey palate is very refined and elegant. Partner it with a fresh, Asian-inspired salad or simply enjoy as a stylish aperitif wine. Lovely. www.merriworth.com.au
2020 Holm Oak Pinot Gris $28
While Pinot Gris is enormously popular with consumers these days, Tamar Valley winemaker Bec Duffy is determined the variety should nevertheless earn its stripes in her Holm Oak portfolio as a characterful, quality-driven dry white. Partial barrel fermentation with indigenous yeast plays a key role in achieving that goal. The resulting middleweight wine combines flavour intensity with finesse, delivering slightly spicy, honied pear elements as it travels smoothly across the palate. Some fine natural acidity helps sustain a refined but energised aftertaste. Delicious. www.holmoakvineyards.com.au
2019 Craigow Chardonnay $35
The Coal River Valley is a great place for Chardonnay. In addition to having a long history of contributing fruit to iconic brands like Penfolds Yattarna and Eileen Hardy, many single vineyard wines there have impressive show records and reputations for outstanding quality. In 2019, the Edwards family added another to that list. This is a bright, barrel-fermented middleweight, offering a neat and precise mix of high-quality French oak with intense citrus and white nectarine flavour. Balancing acidity shows a touch of minerality. Great stuff. www.craigow.com.au
2018 The Ridge North Lilydale Pinot Noir $47
Sue Denny and Harry Rigney’s 2ha site at North Lilydale is almost certainly Tasmania’s highest vineyard, with its upper slopes rising to 360 metres and overlooking river flats that were once home to the Denny family’s Bridestowe Estate lavender farm. Pinot Noir planted there is wonderfully expressive. This 2018 release is beautifully fragrant, with juicy red fruits, kitchen spices and wild Tasmanian sassafras notes adding real charm to the palate’s red cherry and raspberry vibrancy. Elegance and finesse are its key strengths. Lovely wine. www.theridgenorthlilydale.com
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Source: Tasmanian Times https://www.tasmaniantimes.com/2021/04/cool-vintage-a-sparkling-success/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cool-vintage-a-sparkling-success