New Kid On Old Block

Author: James Halliday
Source: The Australian
Review Date: Jun 2010

IT was pure coincidence that the day before I left Australia for my usual month in Burgundy three missives arrived, two being emails, the third a bottle of pinot noir.

The first email was an offer by Sydney’s Ultimo Wine Centre of two new single-vineyard releases by Krug. The first is the 1996 Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs, coming from the 1.87ha walled vineyard bought by Krug in 1971 (and replanted with 100 per cent chardonnay). Ultimo had one bottle at a special offer price of $1795 compared with the recommended retail price of $1995.

The second Ultimo offer was two bottles of 1995 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs. It is the inaugural release from a 0.7ha vineyard bought in 1994, realising a long-held dream of making a single-vineyard pinot noir to sit beside Clos du Mesnil. Only 250 cases were made, hardly surprising given the microscopic vineyard, and dwarfed by the 700 dozen-plus bottles and 600 magnums of Clos du Mesnil.

The price of the two bottles was $4995.95 each, reduced to $4495. This for a clos owned for only 12 months by Krug and which had no prior brand existence.

The second email was the second issue of Tappenings, the ever so slightly kitschy name of the Tapanappa newsletter written by Brian Croser. His family is one of three who own Tapanappa, the other two being the Bollinger (Champagne) and Cazes (Bordeaux) families.

My eyes locked on a paragraph on page two. “The problem for Australia in attempting to gatecrash the global fine wine market,” Croser writes, “is not that we are being too elitist by identifying our ‘distinguished sites’, but rather that we are not elitist enough in sending unequivocal signals about the special qualities of our fine-wine regions, and the best sites and wines produced from them.” Whatever else, Krug could not be charged with undervaluing its distinguished sites.

This concept of distinguished sites has been pursued by Croser for more than a decade, and Tapanappa is the realisation of that crusade or, more crudely, a case of putting his money where his mouth is, an unequivocally Australian approach.

Tapanappa has three sites, two of which have been producing grapes for some time: the Whalebone Vineyard in Wrattonbully, South Australia, planted in 1974, and the Tiers Vineyard at Piccadilly in the Adelaide Hills, planted in 1979.

These are not old plantings by Australian standards, but the soils have some lineage. The mix of limestone and terra rossa of Whalebone is estimated to be 34million years old, and the Tiers Vineyard has a hefty 1800 million-year-old calc-silicate geology.

Both have produced high-quality wines with an undeniable sense of place: Whalebone a cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and shiraz blend, Tiers a super-refined chardonnay.

When I heard of the third vineyard and the plans to plant pinot noir on it, I remembered the old saying, “You’ll never regret saying nothing.” I also remembered the one Petaluma Tiers Vineyard pinot noir which, to put it mildly, was disappointing. The site chosen was on part of a Croser-acquired sheep and fat lamb-grazing property on the southern tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula, looking out to South Australia’s Kangaroo Island.

Foggy Hill Vineyard, as it is called, was planted in 2003 at Parawa, at the highest (350m), wettest and coolest part of the peninsula, on 67million-year-old soil. Three Burgundy clones, 114, 115 and 777, selected by Raymond Bernard, a professor at France’s Dijon University, were planted at a very high density of 4440 vines a hectare.

As the nearest vineyard was 10km away and there was no history of pinot noir succeeding in SA outside a few specially favoured sites in the Adelaide Hills, it is small wonder Croser gnawed a few fingernails, even if (on his figures) this was the coolest site on the South Australian mainland.

This week’s From the Region suggests nail-biting can cease for the foreseeable future.

* * *

FROM THE REGION: Intro: 2007 Tapanappa Foggy Hill Pinot Noir

GREAT pinot noir marches to the tune of a drum utterly different from and more difficult than that of any other variety. Having surmounted the imperatives of site, clone, fermentation, type and length of time in oak, sensitivity to bottling and filtering, post-natal care, pondering on the bouquet and finally taking the wine into your mouth, you still have only a partial idea of the quality. It is not until you assess the length of the palate, the character and structure of the finish and the impact of the aftertaste that you can weigh up a new pinot. So it was with the 2007 Tapanappa Foggy Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (96 points), with its echoes of high-quality burgundy, generated by the thrust of the back palate, texture of the finish and intensity of the aftertaste. The vintage was a difficult one, and this was the first crop, but it sent shivers down my spine. There are 850 cases at a paltry $45 a bottle.

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