Foggy Hill Turns Ten

Author: Brian Croser
Source: Tapanappa
Review Date: Jun 2013

Foggy Hill was planted in 2003.

The 2013 vintage just finished was a wonderful way to celebrate the 10th birthday of this unique and lonely vineyard. Dry and warm by virtue of warmer than average nights, the compete description of the great 2013 vintage is on Tapanappa’s web site here:

The separate Foggy Hill Pinot Noir blocks and clones are finishing malo-lactic fermentation in barrique and already have very good colour, tannin structure and those ephemeral qualities that make Pinot Noir shimmer and entrance like no other variety, when it is grown in the right place.

It’s been a journey, one I have had the good fortune to travel before albeit with different varieties in different places.

The journey can begin with an idea, the concept of a wine style and quality made from particular varieties looking for a home, a terroir to support the idea. That’s the journey I took 35 years ago when I chose The Tiers Vineyard to plant Chardonnay using then radically close spacing and vertical canopy in the cool, 1.2meter rainfall Piccadilly Valley of the Adelaide Hills; this was also the announcement of a new important Australian cool climate region. 

Or the journey can begin with a piece of land, a terroir crying out for the right choice of variety to create something special and unique. That’s the pathway to Foggy Hill, a sheep farm at the highest point of the Fleurieu Peninsula, the peninsula described by John Gladstones as providing “the best conditions of all in mainland South Australia for table wine production”.  But not just any table wine because the very cool 1135°C days heat summation and the very maritime 8.5∞C daily range (cf. Piccadilly 1172°C days, 11.8°C) demand early ripening Pinot Noir as the variety uniquely suited to the terroir. The effect of the 67 million years old ironstone soils of Foggy Hill on wine style and quality could only be tested against the wines produced.

Six vintages on and 10 years-old vines, defined by Gladstones as mature because their root systems are fully exploiting the soil and rock volume available to them, the journey just becomes more interesting and raises more questions than answers.

Did we choose the right vine spacing at 1.5mX1.5m (4,444 vines/hectare)?

Did we choose the right vine height at 0.5m above the warm ground surface?

Is the right bud number the 80,000 buds/hectare we now prune to?

How much should we fruit thin and how much should we sun-expose bunches by leaf stripping?

Incrementally we are accumulating experience and triangulating towards the answers to these questions and myriads more including questions about soil and irrigation management, so while the vines might be mature the viticulturist has a long way to go. The decision to plant (read spend a lot of money on) a new terroir is a heart in the mouth moment of innovation, followed by decades of incremental viticultural innovation and improvement. 

For a moment on the subject of innovation I want to indulge as a grumpy old man being grumpier than usual.

In my opinion the real innovators in Australian wine history have been the pioneers of our now proven viticultural regions, Busby in the Hunter, Kelly in McLaren Vale, de Castella in the Yarra, Riddoch at Coonawarra and in more modern times the doctors Cullen, Cullity and Pannell at Margaret River, Karl Seppelt at Padthaway and Drumborg, Graham Wiltshire, Claude Alcorso and Andrew Pirie in Tasmania, Guil de Pury and Dr’s Carrodous, McMahon and Middleton in the Yarra Valley and the list goes on. It is remarkable that the majority of Australia’s cool climate viticultural regions have been discovered or rediscovered and developed only in the past 45 years.

Then I try not to read about the game-changing introduction of suits of new to Australia, unpronounceable varieties, often of mediocre quality, grown in places of convenience rather than a suited terroir. 

I try not to read about the transforming effects of fermenting in eggs or amphora buried in the ground or natural (no) winemaking.  Then I reflect on the low comparative commitment of capital and effort over time of these largely fashion driven, transient points of difference compared to the initial risks taken and the life of introspection of the committed regional pioneers.  

Creating immediate short-lived points of difference does not equal innovation. For fine wine, innovation requires a significant dividend of quality improvement and the creation of points of difference sustainable over decades.

That off my chest I am grateful that for 45 years I have had the opportunity to think about where it is best to grow what and what is the best variety for where, then to apply incremental viticultural innovation over decades to elicit the best results from a terroir and its suited varieties.

After 10 years I am more convinced than ever Pinot Noir belongs at Foggy Hill and that Foggy Hill is a unique Pinot Noir terroir.

A personal reflection on the first 6 vintages,

  • 2007 – showing the fragility of young vine fruit, complex Pinot Noir with tannin but there is bottle variation and the best are good.
  • 2008 – a warm vintage by virtue of the heat wave for the first half of March, fully ripe strong Pinot with slight undertones of raisins and earthiness.
  • 2009 – wonderful cool vintage, perfectly poised and developing richness and complexity while retaining freshness and vibrant Pinot fruit with a moderate alcohol.
  • 2010 – very warm vintage, surprisingly graceful and subtle, the most floral expression of Foggy Pinot with significant but fine tannins and deepening in colour and character in bottle.
  • 2011 – barely recorded 1000°C days with lots of rain in February and March, wine made but not released. Good fresh Pinot profile but a little dilute.
  • 2012 – great warm year, concentrated, brooding Pinot with sweet fruit middle and persistent tannins, showing the varietal freshness of the 2009 with riper fruit profile.
  • 2013 – has been another very good dry warm year, lovely colour, fruit intensity, strong long finish and very evident tannins, most similar to the 2012 and a work in progress.

It is difficult to assail the bastions of established Pinot regions, Yarra, Mornington, Bellarine, Macedon and emerging Tasmania from the unknown Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, adjacent to the hot spots for Shiraz at McLaren Vale and Barossa.

The perception battle is harder to win than it is to succeed in the technical struggle to elicit the best expression of Pinot Noir from Foggy Hill. There I have a wonderful ally in the unique Pinot defining terroir of Foggy Hill itself.


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