FEW people are more qualified to speak on the current state of the Australian wine industry than Brian Croser.
He has done it all ? wine educator, global winemaker, wine judge, and wine administrator.
The founder of the famed Petaluma winery in 2002, he joined with the Cazes family of Bordeaux’s Lynch Bages and the Bizot family [ed- Société Jacques Bollinger] of Champagne Bollinger (Olivier [ed- Xavier] Bizot is also his son-in-law and working in the business) to form Tapanappa, with the intention of producing wines of the highest quality ? Australian fine wines of distinction. He has been awarded an AO and also named as Decanter’s “Man of the Year”, about as big as it gets in the wine world.
It is no secret that the Aussie wine industry is currently experiencing a most difficult period in its history. Croser puts this down to the push by the branded commodity producers (names like Yellowtail, Jacob’s Creek and others spring to mind) to promote their own interests, which of course they are perfectly entitled to do, at the expense of the lifting the Australian profile for fine wine, wine of regionality, terroir and even single vineyards.
He believes the missed opportunity is huge but does see light at the end of the tunnel, though he feels that we will not get there until those fighting against it go out of business. And he is convinced that those who stick doggedly to the path of the generic, sunshine-in-a-bottle wines will go out of business. They are simply not the competitive force they once were.
Economic conditions in various countries and the transfer of technology and expertise have eroded our once seemingly invulnerable position. Croser describes our current situation as the “dinosaur’s last groans” and acknowledges that the corpse will smell for a while.
The problem facing us is that of perception. There is no doubt that overseas wine consumers see us in a role of producing those branded commodities and that if we do stretch to any fine wine, it is warm-climate shiraz. They believe we don’t or can’t do finesse and elegance.
As any local winelover knows only too well, this is nonsense but the message is yet to get through offshore.
His own search for such distinguished sites has led to the planting of pinot noir in the Foggy Hill Vineyard on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula. The vines that made his 2008 ($45) were less than five years old and yet they are already showing outstanding potential and have delivered a wine that is far more expressive than last year’s, though vintage conditions also played a role. It offers an evocative aroma with flavours of strawberries, dark berries, root vegetable and more.
There is evidence of that most desirable of pinot characters ? the peacock’s tail. Pinot can have a structure like a tadpole ? some of the lesser pinots of Central Otago exhibit this where all the flavour is up front and then quickly tails off, much as per the shape of a tadpole. With the peacock’s tail, the reverse happens and the flavours fan out on the finish.
His Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2008 ($75) will inevitably be compared with the also excellent wines from this vineyard produced by Petaluma, though Croser’s is half the price. This is tight, lean and linear and perfect to convince offshore sceptics that we can make world-class wine.
The Whalebone Merlot 2006 ($75) has no equal for the variety in Australia and is full of black cherry and plum pudding notes, though the finish drops a fraction. The Wrattonbully vineyard is so named as the skeleton of a whale, there for more than 35 million years, was discovered in a cave below it.
A next door vineyard provides the fruit for a delightful, dense, spicy, blackcurrant-infused 2007 Wrattonbully Shiraz ($35 [ed- $45) while the flagship red is the Whalebone Cabernet Shiraz 2006 ($75). It is more solid and burly than the others but has an assured future.
All wines that will help to convince the world that Australia really can do fine wine.