How do a couple of winemakers achieve such different results from fruit grown in the one vineyard?
Petaluma began its life in 1976 when Brian Croser bought some riesling fruit from Mitchelton, Victoria, and made the first Petaluma wine, with a vision to seek out “distinguished sites”. The next three years saw a gewurztraminer and a series of Cowra chardonnays. But by 1979, Cowra was given notice in favour of a steep, cool, sun-blessed site in Piccadilly Valley, South Australia. It became the vineyard that spawned Petaluma Chardonnay, Tiers Chardonnay and Croser sparkling.
By 1981, the future was in the bag and Petaluma was an amalgam of Clare Valley riesling, Adelaide Hills (Piccadilly) chardonnays and Coonawarra reds.
Petaluma became something of a legend in Australian vinous circles and made its mark globally.
Today, things are different. Brian Croser lost his creation to a corporate takeover by Lion Nathan in 2002 and has quietly sought his livelihood elsewhere, raising lambs and making some superb wine under the Tapanappa label.
Tapanappa follows the same “distinguished site” principle, and its jewel is the Tiers chardonnay vineyard, which the Croser family retained after the Lion Nathan coup. Petaluma shares the fruit from the vineyard and there are “Tiers” chardonnays made under both labels.
Winemaking at Petaluma continues its focus on site and quality under the direction of Andrew Hardy, who has been with Petaluma since 1982.
So we have two wines from different sections of the same site, with different creators but a common philosophy driving their production – Petaluma Tiers Chardonnay ($120) and Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay ($80).
It’s not hard to find common ground in the grapefruit and peach characters and the taut acidity giving both wines their focus. But the Petaluma sits a little closer to the expected style of an Adelaide Hills chardonnay – bright and fine, with oak and barrel ferment characters giving complexity to its piercing, pure fruit.
The Tapanappa doesn’t bear close comparison to any Australian chardonnay I’ve tasted. It is very complex, its fruit surrounded by oak and ferment-derived characters of butterscotch, honey, bread dough and almond meal.
The Tapanappa wines are fermented and put through malolactic using yeasts and bacteria cultured from strains found in the vineyard. Petaluma Tiers is seeded with commercial yeast.
The Petaluma team protects the juice through the pressing process, while the grapes destined for the Tapanappa Tiers are pressed without sulphur (until the juice reaches the settling tank), allowing some oxidation of the juice. This could account for the honey characters.
Finally, Tapanappa relies on a more varied array of coopers for its oak.
They seem like almost insignificant differences, but the effects on the wines are profound. What the two wines share is the quality given to them by the exemplary site on which they are grown, and differences spring from the interpretations of their makers.