Monday, March 21, 2011

Phillip Island Winery--Good Wine Is Made in the Vineyard

Most winemakers will tell you that good wine is made in the vineyard. But there is a lot more to the process than just letting the grapes grow. When Tim and Tricia O'Brien took over the Phillip Island Winery in the south of Australia, they inherited a small vineyard completely covered by netting. The idea was to shield the young vines from the strong winds coming off the Bass Strait and to protect the fruit from hungry birds. In the early days, the netting did its job, but the vines are mature now, and, as holes have developed, birds who do get in have a field day. One step inside the netting reveals too that the enclosure has created its own micro-climate. It's at least 10 degrees warmer inside and considerably more humid--cancelling out the positive effect of the cooler grape-growing climate and increasing the risk of leaf mold and botrytis. Tim plans to remove the netting soon, restoring the natural micro-climate.

As you may have guessed from the tasting notes below, I spent the last three weeks in Australia, and a visit to the idyllic Phillip Island Winery was a highlight of the trip. Tim and Tricia O'Brien gave us a tour of the vineyard followed by a tasting of the estate's wines and a delightful lunch of salads, home-made dips, and artisan cheeses produced in the area. The wines, which have been given high marks by wine critics, are still made by veteran wine-maker James Lance.

The flagship estate Pinot Noir is sold out, but this year's grapes were nearing complete ripeness when we visited, and I understand that picking started this week. Pinot grows in small berries, nestled tightly in bunches. Even tasted from the vine, it's possible to sense the intense flavors that will be translated into the wine. The tight clusters, however, increase the risk of botrytis--which might be fine for a noble dessert wine such as Sauternes but is not desirable in a fine Pinot Noir. Botrytis had indeed formed in some bunches, and, as Tim explained, it will have to be cut away, lowering the yield even more than it would otherwise be.

When the grapes are picked and the wine made, it will be snapped up quickly. And there is every reason to believe that the wine in the bottle will be as good as in past vintages. In the future, once the netting is removed, you can expect even better things from Prince Island Winery Pinot Noir.

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