chuck hayward

Welcome Home

Welcome Home!

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 1st, 2010

Over the past 15 years, I have probably visited Australia 25 times. The purpose of almost every trip has been to visit wineries or attend wine conferences or tastings. As things happen in the wine business, you get to know a few people over the years. Nowadays, visiting Australia is becoming less about the business of the wine industry and more about catching up with friends.

The wine business is very special due to its convivial nature. It provides folks with a unique window into a country’s culture. You learn about the politics and history. You essentially have your own tourist guide as the locals tell you where to find the best coffee or croissants. I can’t count the times where I have been invited to homes, some mornings eating eggs I gathered from the chicken coop after a brisk morning walk. So when planning my first day back to Oz, I thought nothing would be better than organizing a dinner with friends in the business and getting sucked into some good food and trying some new wines.

 

the infamous Ying Chow

 

And in Adelaide, the only place to have this feast is Ying Chow. More incredible wines from Australia, I dare say from anywhere in the world, have probably been poured at the tables of this venerable Chinese restaurant than at any other restaurant in the country. Located near the city’s produce market, it has seen numerous lunches and dinners hosted by winemakers, wine writers or average folks taking advantage of the restaurant’s BYOB/no corkage policy.  (more…)

Chuck Is Off to Oz!

My Upcoming Journey to Australia

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 26th, 2010

Just like JJ Buckley’s recent trip to Bordeaux, my upcoming journey to Australia is to gather more information about the wines there. Nothing beats traveling and talking firsthand with winemakers, sommeliers, and writers to learn more about the many facets of a country’s wine business. Previous trips have been instrumental in boosting my understanding of Australia’s wine regions and the industry’s history, along with discerning future trends. As a bonus, it’s also pretty fun.

 

 

Trips to a wine region often have contextual issues which frame a visit. Many visits are educational in scope (i.e. to learn more about soils or winemaking), and for the most part, information travels both directions. In many cases, meeting winery owners or government officials leads to conversations about wine trends in America and/or ideas about improving business. Given the current state of Australian wines in today’s American market, I imagine there will be a lot of talking and listening on this visit.

So, what is happening with Australian wine today and what can I expect to find? (more…)

Winery Spotlight:Dry River Wines

Winery Spotlight:Dry River Wines

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 22th, 2010

Dry River is widely acknowledged to be one of New Zealand’s most monumental wineries. Without a doubt, Neil McCallum and his staff produce world-class wines across the board that represent the pinnacle of what’s coming out of the country. The wines from this property have always been scarce, as the 3000 case production is mainly sold to mailing list customers and fine restaurants, with only the most passionate promoters of New Zealand wines seeing any of their output.

map of New Zealand

map of New Zealand

Founded in 1979 during the beginnings of New Zealand’s modern wine industry, Neil McCallum set about planting pinot noir in the Martinborough area located about an hour east of Wellington, the country’s capital. Along with Clive Patton of Ata Rangi, Larry McKenna of Martinbourough Vineyards (and now at Escarpment) and Stan Chifney of the now defunct Chifney Estate, the four winemakers are credited with being amongst the first to make serious attempts towards the production of quality pinot noir in New Zealand. While pinot remains the core of Dry River’s production and its concurrent fame, the winery also excels in other varieties including riesling, syrah and gewurztraminer… with a total of 8-10 different wines produced each year.

Neil came to winemaking from a background in botany, in which he received a doctorate from Oxford. His scientific background led him to be an articulate spokesman on topics regarding the intersection of wine, terroir and viticulture. Nowhere does that fact appear so clearly as on the winery website which contains numerous essays by Neil that delve into these themes (e.g. “Where does the expression of terroir end and that of winemaking begin?,” “Tannins, palate structure and longevity in pinot noir,” or “Musings: The Brain is a blunt instrument.”  Click here to read these and more). They are more direct, detailed and serious writings compared to the sly humor often found in similar jottings from Randall Graham of Bonny Doon.

Dry River Vineyard

Dry River Vineyard

Pinot Noir makes up a majority of Dry River’s production (about a third of the total production) and given Neil’s passionate opinions about winemaking, his style is a personal one. Accordingly, Dry River pinots have become quite controversial compared to the classic burgundian model. As Neil Martin of Parker’s site declares about McCallum’s approach: “It is beautifully crafted in a style that is contradictory to what I believe pinot noir should be.”  The pinot noir of Dry River is devoted to finding the optimal colors and flavors that can be derived from its site. The gravelly soils of Martinborough, along with viticultural innovations from Neil, such as reflective mulch, have created pinots that are intensely dark and opaque in color with a similar density of fruit on the palate. He is devoted to understanding what New Zealand pinot noir is capable of becoming.  He knows, however, “it will take some time before the new styles are completely accepted because Burgundy has been centre stage for so long.”

Where Dry River’s pinot elicits much debate and discussion, the rest of the portfolio seems to garner more universal praise by the wine world. The aromatics (riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot gris) all share pure varietal expression with an initial sense of youthful restraint. It is with brief time in the cellar that the power of the wine reveals itself. Neil’s stickies are rare releases but always have a combination of pristine fruit flavors with botrytis. Meanwhile, the peppery syrah showcases why the grape is poised to become New Zealand’s new wine star.

Dry River Post

Dry River Post

I have been fortunate enough to have sold more than 10 vintages of Dry River pinot noir and have never been less than blown away by the intensity of this wine as well as its impact on those customers lucky enough to have tried it. But as is so often the case with wineries that make more than one iconic wine that captivates critics and consumers, it is tasting Dry River’s entire portfolio that makes one realize the strength of vision Neil McCallum has enshrined within his wines. His commitment to wines that require cellaring– the chance for them to unwind over time– is rare to find in a world of instant gratification. The ability to balance a wine’s flavors on a pinpoint shared equally between power and lightness is a rare skill in the wine world, and Dry River has done that again and again.

Regional Spotlight: Margaret River Chardonnay

Regional Spotlight: Margaret River Chardonnay

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 14th, 2010

Margaret River has a reputation as one of Australia’s best chardonnay growing regions for a reason. Located on a small peninsula in the southwest corner of Western Australia, the cooling breezes coming off the Indian Ocean help maintain moderate temperatures and preserve necessary acidity. The proximity to water also limits the impact of droughts that plague other growing areas throughout the country.

Margaret River map

Map of Margaret River

A relatively new region when compared with the century-old vineyards of South Australia, the first plantings here occurred in the late 60s at Vasse Felix. Yet in less than 40 years, Margaret River has gained international prominence for producing world class chardonnay and cabernet whose styles bear a striking resemblance to those of Burgundy and Bordeaux, respectively. The region accounts for more than 20% of the nation’s premium wines, even though it only produces 3% of the grapes.

When it comes to chardonnay, Leeuwin Estate (2006 Art Series, $69.99) may be the most famous producer in the region, but there are many top quality wineries who have carved out a name for themselves over the years and at more affordable prices. These new arrivals showcase the recent trend towards chardonnay with more finesse and elegance. Interestingly, each of these well-known properties has recently hired new winemakers with incredible track records, poised to take these already renowned wineries to even greater heights.

So explore a few of the following wines to get a better understanding of the beauty of Margaret River:

2008 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay (Margaret River) $21.99

Cape Mentelle Chardonnay
Rob Mann comes from Western Australia’s most famous winemaking family but gained his fame as the head winemaker for Hardys in South Australia. He returns to his home state to take the reins of Cape Mentelle, founded by David Hohnen and Kevin Judd, who also set up Cloudy Bay at the same time.

2008 Hay Shed Hill Chardonnay (Margaret River) $18.99

Hay Shed Hill ChardonnayMichael Kerrigan’s background began as the winemaker at Howard Park but he is now the proud owner of Hay Shed Hill where he can now focus his efforts on a more intimate scale. He has a great understanding of Margaret River’s varying microclimates which allows him to craft multidimensional wines.

2007 Vasse Felix Chardonnay (Margaret River) $15.99

Vasse Felix ChardonnayVictoria Willcox is one of Margaret River’s legendary winemakers. Passionate and knowledgeable, she throws her considerable energy into her work as well as her post-work activities. She is now in charge of Margaret River’s oldest winery and is “stoked” to be a finalist for Qantas/Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year.

A “Novice” in Bordeaux

A “Novice” in Bordeaux

Post by Chuck Hayward | Friday, April 2nd

Working in the wine business has many benefits, not the least of which is the opportunity to travel. In my two-plus decades in the industry, I’ve had the pleasure and fortune to visit many of the world’s great wine regions, to taste the wines, meet the winemakers and sample the local cuisine. As wine is inextricably tied to the course of human history, visiting such places has allowed me insight into the culture, politics, economics and spirit of these areas that few outside the industry will ever know. What is incredible to me now, after having been here for nearly a week, is that during these many years I’ve never been to Bordeaux.

The wine industry has roots in many places— the hills of the Douro Valley,

Taking notes at Tertre Roteboeuf

the steep slopes of the Mosel, the caves of Champagne. But it all pales in comparison to the history and traditions that populate Bordeaux. Without the agricultural traditions and social forces that developed here, there may not have been a modern wine industry at all.

It’s exciting to see an area like Bordeaux for the very first time, but with the palate of an industry “old-timer”. This visit has made me feel new all over again as I swivel my head to and fro to take in each and every vista of hillside vines and wineries hidden behind groves of trees— places whose wines I have tasted many times, but have never visited. For me it has been an incredible freshman immersion, tasting and re-tasting for understanding, but with the palate I’ve gained from years of experience instead of the innocence of my first days in the business.

There are a few things that I can take back with me about my first visit here. For one, it is a big business with an arm that reaches clear around the globe. There are few wine regions that command the attention of the entire world— Bordeaux is one of them. I have met industry representatives from many countries in these past days, some buying, others selling, while even more are here to learn or are working to support our tasks.

Second, I’ve quickly learned that Bordeaux is a complex and diverse area. This is most readily identified in its grossest geographic form— the difference between the left and right banks of the Gironde. The right bank regions of Pomerol and St. Emilion, home to merlot based wines, are populated with small estates on gently rolling hills. You get an impression of artisanal winemakers crafting tiny amounts of fine wine in small cellars filled with the few barrels they can maintain by themselves. The left bank is populated by larger wineries reigning over large estate vineyards. The vineyard landscape is flat and covered with grayish-white pebbles as far as the eye can see. Here, the chais are large, cathedral-like rooms that ask us to kneel to the majesty of cabernet.

Finally, as we taste the newly finished wines we are able to really distinguish the difference between the two basic regions on the palate. The merlot is ripe and round and many of the young wines are so fruity and succulent they could be drunk right away. The left bank wineries are making enticing wines as well, and you quickly see the power of cabernet as the wines here are more structured and robust.

I am excited to have discovered a whole new palette (and palate!) of scents and flavors. And I’ve caught myself grinning, eager to try samples again and again as I did when I was first learning about wine. It was easy to ignore Bordeaux for many years as I chose to specialize in other wine regions. Perhaps what has impressed me the most is how Bordeaux has brought me back to my first days in the business. That power is hard to resist, and I can see now why it has been so successful over the centuries. Bordeaux is not back, it has always been here.