Chuck’s Down Under

Tastes Like Home: Experimenting With Waipara Riesling

Tastes Like Home: Experimenting with Waipara Riesling

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 28th, 2011

Terroir is a hot topic, no doubt. The idea that winemakers are required to transmit the specific qualities of a plot of land to a finished wine is gaining traction, and for many critics, it is considered bad form for the vigneron to leave an imprint that reflects personal style. That camp believes the winemaker’s role is to act as minimally as possible and take a hands-off approach in order to highlight a wine’s terroir.

However, I think it’s impossible to separate the impact of man from winemaking. We as humans are the ones who recognize superior vs. inferior terroir. Growers decide what grapes to plant and how to grow them. Winemakers make endless judgments about when to pick grapes, what yeast to use, how long to age, and so on. The actual decision to practice minimalist winemaking is probably the most important choice that can be made.

Wine writer Dan Berger inspects a bottle of his favorite varietal

Cut to an interesting tasting recently sponsored by New Zealand Winegrowers, responsible for educating consumers and the trade about kiwi wines. In 2010, twelve New Zealand winemakers agreed to create wine from the same batch of fruit— riesling from the Waipara growing region just outside of Christchurch—and were given four tons of uncrushed fruit from Mud House vineyards. They each produced 250 cases of wine at their own facilities, scattered throughout six of the country’s growing regions. (more…)

Not Just for Cork Dorks: The Penfolds Recorking Clinic

Not Just for Cork Dorks: The Penfolds Recorking Clinic

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 22nd, 2011

Australia’s Penfolds is known worldwide for their wines, especially the iconic shiraz-based Grange. Yet it is their unique service, the Penfolds Recorking Clinic, which sets the standard for what chief winemaker Peter Gago calls “service after the sale.” Given the prices of many wines these days, it is seems almost criminal that other wineries do not follow the lead of Penfolds in this regard.

Matt Lane, Penfolds Ambassador, attacks the cork on an old bottle

Developed by the winery some twenty years ago, the Penfolds Recorking Clinic was, until recently, only conducted in Australia. Administered annually in Sydney and Melbourne along with a rotating schedule between Adelaide and Brisbane, the Recorking Clinic now travels to other markets in Europe and America. This week, Penfolds is visiting Washington DC and New Orleans to provide a service that is performed by no other winery and, amazingly in this day and age, free of charge.

Witnessing a Recorking Clinic, especially in Australia, can be quite emotional. Given the reverence for Penfolds there, many families have tucked away a stash of old wines somewhere in their homes. As consumers bring their wines before the winemakers, the tension and nervousness on their faces are palpable. It’s as if they are bringing loved ones to a doctor’s office, anxiously awaiting the diagnosis. (more…)

Separation of Pinots: New Zealand & More Mt. Difficulty

Separation of Pinots: New Zealand & More Mt. Difficulty

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 25th, 2011

Back when New Zealand pinot noir first entered the US market, our collective knowledge of these wines was infinitesimal. The country’s first serious attempts at producing pinot noir production had begun only a decade earlier, so the 1995/96 vintages that made the initial splash had few reference points. At that time, no one could say how Marlborough differed from Martinborough. Rather, the question was how the pinots of New Zealand compared to those from Burgundy, California and Oregon.

As the pinot noir industry matured, it became easier to understand the unique attributes and qualities among New Zealand’s growing regions, which was important so that customers could purchase the style of wine they prefer. Almost right away, however, it became apparent that not all wines from Central Otago were the same and that Marlborough pinots from the valley floor were markedly different compared to those from the southern hills. The quest to learn about a New Zealand wine appellation’s subregionality became important rather quickly.

In Central Otago, where subregional differences first became apparent to me, there are 6-7 loosely defined districts whose pinot noirs offer their own unique interpretations of the grape. Martinborough, Marlborough and Waipara also see differing pinot styles depending on their site, while Hawkes Bay Bordeaux-style red blends show incredible diversity that can be attributed to subregional differences.

Mt. Difficulty Single Site Pinots from 2009


No Difficulty Tasting a Vertical of New Zealand Pinot Noirs

No Difficulty Tasting a Vertical of New Zealand Pinot Noir

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 2nd, 2011

New Zealand is a relative newcomer to the wine scene in the United States. Though the arrival of the 2011 vintage will mark my 20th year working with Kiwi wines, their real growth in America has only occurred over the past decade. Given that New Zealand is a Johnny-come-lately to our shores, there aren’t many chances for a retrospective look at older vintages of any wine. Unless someone in the States actually saves multiple vintages of the wine (how would I find them?) or a winery pulls them from their cellar and ships them over (an expensive proposition), the only option is to cross the date line and taste them in New Zealand (even more expensive).

A vertical tasting of Mt. Difficulty arranged horizontally

So when I heard Mt. Difficulty was going to host a vertical tasting of seven vintages of their estate wine, I cleared the calendar. Sourcing fruit from their vineyards located in the Bannockburn subregion of Central Otago, Mt. Difficulty is one of the region’s leading pinot noir producers. Their estate pinots show the rich and concentrated, yet soft, style that comes from that particular appellation. One of the few New Zealand wineries with a long-term history in the United States, sales date back to the 1998, their first-ever release. (more…)

Regional Spotlight: Tasmania

Regional Spotlight: Tasmania

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 19th, 2011

Tasmania has a hold on many people, enthralling them with its controversial history as a prison island or mesmerizing them with its lush foliage, numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites, the endangered Tasmanian devil and a burgeoning wine industry. With some 90 wineries scattered across the island, the Tasmanian wine industry only produces 0.5% of all the wine made in Australia. However, the small output from the “island of inspiration” has captured the interest of wine enthusiasts worldwide.

Frogmore Creek in Tasmania

Home to nearly 175 producers and 250 vineyards which comprise almost 4000 acres, grapes were first grown near Hobart in the 1820s. (Cuttings from those vineyards were later taken to Sydney and Melbourne to establish viticulture there.) While there were a few plantings by Italian immigrants in the 1950s, modern winemaking really began in 1973 when Andrew Pirie, Australia’s first PhD in viticulture, founded Pipers Brook Vineyard in the northern portion of the island. Meanwhile, the wine industry has grown rapidly over the past forty years, and winemakers look towards Tassie as a source of pinot noir and aromatic varieties like riesling and pinot gris. Nevertheless, most of the island’s  pinot noir and chardonnay are used for sparkling wine that is destined for thirsty Australians on the mainland. (more…)

Australia’s Independent Wine Shops

Australia’s independent wine shops: Educating locals and tourists alike

Post by Chuck Hayward | October 8th, 2010

Wine enthusiasts often seem drawn to browse through wine stores on their travels, as if they were answering a magnet’s pull. They do this partly out of curiosity, as visiting a wine store in another country reveals a bit about their wine culture, and partly for comparative purposes.


Front of Prince Wine Store


Of course, there is the ever-present desire to uncover an amazing bargain or to nab that rare bottle. For me, wine stores represent ground zero in my effort to discern new trends and discover new wineries. So it should come as no surprise that I headed to a few shops on this recent visit.

Melbourne’s Prince Wine Store is at the forefront of showcasing imported wines and promoting new winemaking projects from up-and-coming winemakers in Victoria. This large store has a contemporary look and a very strong selection of Australian wines, as well as imports, including quite a few from California and Oregon.


Emily Laughton at Jasper Hill tasting


The interior is dominated by a large room with glass walls dubbed “The Cube,” where tastings and wine classes are held. In fact, it was a tasting of new releases with Jasper Hill winemakers Ron and Emily Laughton that brought us there. Ron is one of the leaders in Australia’s growing biodynamic movement and producers of cult-level shiraz from Victoria’s Heathcote region. The wines highlighted the intense yet elegant fruit that comes from Ron’s site. (more…)

Realizing What Rockford Is All About

Realizing What Rockford Is All About

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 8th, 2010

the press in Rockford "Basket Press" Shiraz

When I first began to promote boutique estates from Australia, I asked around to see which wines I just had to try: iconic wines that were rare and hard to find.

The name that came up repeatedly was the Rockford “Basket Press” Shiraz. At that point, it had never been sold in the US and only a few bottles had even been brought to our shores. It was almost ten years later when the Grateful Palate arranged to import the wines that I had the first chance to try a bottle. After all the hype and the decade-long wait, I tried some. And in my then-Aussie-wine-infancy, I didn’t get it.

one of those old pumps still in use

Rockford was founded by Robert O’Callaghan in 1984, during a dark period in the Barossa Valley, when century-old shiraz and grenache vines, which, due to lack of demand, were being ripped out and replaced with chardonnay under a government scheme. O’Callaghan had left the Barossa’s famed Seppelts winery to start a new project dedicated to preserving what was rapidly becoming the lost heritage of the valley–the traditions of winemaking and grape growing threatened by modernization.

His winery was founded in a rough-hewn building constructed by Johann Henschke almost a century ago. With no real money to start a new venture, he got by with old machines being discarded by other wineries as they purchased new equipment. The pumps, presses, and tanks might look like they belong in museums, but they are still in use today.