“We are not growing tomatoes”
BY DR MICHAEL RYAN
A couple of hours north of Melbourne is the picturesque wine geographé of The Pyrenees. Named by surveyor Thomas Mitchell, it reminded him of the Pyrenees region in France. Vines were first planted in the region in 1848 by Mr Mackereth and later the property acquired by clergyman Mr Dawson. The vines were unceremoniously pulled out perhaps underlining the clergyman’s philosophy or merely reflecting the push for grazing country.
The area is 350-400m above sea level. It is desirable for viticulture with 1392 heat ripening days, a slow ripening season and an average of 20 degrees over summer. This puts it into the cool climate spectrum comparing favourably with Coonawarra at 1365 units. Fortuitously, due to the elevation and slopes, frost is a rare event. Rainfall varies from 500-600 mm per year and falls mainly in winter.
The Blue Pyrenees estate is 450 hectares in size with 150 hectares under vine and is a fine example of the allure of cool climate wines with goal of finesse. The estate was first owned and developed by French company Chateau Remy in 1963. Sparkling wine and distilled wine spirit in the form of brandy was the direction.
Ungi Blanc, known as ‘White Hermitage’ was used for ‘Champagne’ and Doradillo was used in Brandy making. The Doradillo didn’t quite have enough sugars for fermentation and hence distillation. John Robb from the Hunter steered the original development of the vineyard and later Collin Preece enhanced the sparkling wine program.
The devotion to quality Methode Traditionnelle sparkling wine is exemplified by the harvesting of grapes under lights in the cool of the evening. This allows a vibrancy with balanced acidity to dominate the product. Sparkling wines are made, including sparkling Rosé and Shiraz.
French wine makers have been integral to the estates development. The dry grown approach has been welcomed allowing the vine to struggle and hence concentrate flavour and acids. The Blue Pyrenees Estate has a large lake courtesy of a mining incident that released subterranean water whilst sinking a shaft. The French winemaker Vincent Gere was very keen on dry grown vines and despite having plentiful water he commented on the use of too much water – “Gentleman, we are not growing tomatoes”.
Head wine maker Andrew Koerner has done his Roseworthy degree and worked in prominent wine making positions for Hardys, Rothbury and Rosemount. Chris Smales is the other wine maker and studied at Charles Sturt University and they both have a fierce loyalty to the concept of elegant wine. Sean Howes is the viticulturist and keeps the vines in tune with experience in the Yarra Valley, Tunisia, Sicily and Italy.
Sparkling wine consumption was on the rise and a large part of the estate has been devoted to this. Hence the quantities of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. After the Doradillo was pulled, Red varieties were planted and include Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Sauvignon Blanc and now some Viognier have been planted.
Blue Pyrenees Estate has an excellent cellar door and café. There are some cellar door only wines and these are all available in the café by the glass. Some of the big hitters include the Blue Pyrenees Champ Blend Blanc, the Richardson Reserve Shiraz and the Cellar Door Pinot Noir.
NV Blue Pyrenees Luna- this is regarded as their ‘House Style’. A portion of last year’s base wines are added for complexity. Light yellow with pink tinge. The bead is fine. The nose has some strawberry, citrus yeasty notes. Nice plush front palate with the bead and acidity lingering. Nice with oysters. A party starter.
2017 Blue Pyrenees Bone Dry Rosé – light pink colour. Hints of strawberries and rose petals with a hint of spice. The palate is juicy and smooth as a result of malo-lactic fermentation. Nice balanced acidity and dryness. I enjoyed this with some Spanish mussels.
2014 Blue Pyrenees Shiraz- Dark red purple hues. The nose of violets dark plums and spice are typical of elegant cool climate wines from the region. The palate is broad, and fruit driven with soft tannins. The finish is dry and lingering. This is a well-made wine and amazing for sub $20. Have with lamb ragout. Cellar seven years.
2013 Blue Pyrenees Estate Red- 73 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot 19 per cent, Shiraz 4 per cent. Dark garnet colour. Voluptuous berries with cassis notes dominate. Earthy tobacco and oak spice linger. This wine flows effortlessly across the anterior palate, surfs up a mid-palate layer of intensity and relaxes with firm balanced tannins.