Whenever I think of being brave, I imagine charging a machine gun nest. Or more realistically, Sir Humphrey Appleby describing a decision as “courageous Minister”, in order to change his mind. I did ponder the name as I’m not sure I wanted to need to be brave to drink the stuff. But a wine industry friend insisted I ‘get some’ and, after sampling, bravery didn’t come into it. Brave New Wines make wonderful wines, explosive in their flavour and textually beautiful.
The problem with ‘natural’ wine
The biggest criticism I have of natural wine, low intervention, skinsy, textural, and whatever other alternative label you can think of is that they are mostly rubbish. Dreary and fault driven, many of them wear their faults like a hippy wears a sack. As a self absorbed, narcissistic sign of authenticity. Further, beyond the fact that they are largely undrinkable, the fruit quality for many such producers is pretty ordinary. To make up for average to poor tasting fruit, simply naturally ferment, preferably in egg or amphorae, with whole bunches and allow the wine to sit on skins, solids and lees for the foreseeable future. And don’t add sulphur, heaven forbid. It is as if they have forgotten that the source of all great wine begins with the excellence of the raw material at hand. Nathaniel Rateliff sings “tearing at the seams of all that’s been”, and I can’t help but feel that many ‘alternative’ wine producers are doing just that. Since when did wine stop being about the fruit, and the balance of flavour and texture?
The importance of top quality fruit…
The fruit sourced by Brave New Wine is excellent, much of it coming from the Swinney vineyard, who are very quickly gaining a reputation as one of Australia’s finest wine producers. The wines are certainly unique and not necessarily varietal. But the fruit quality is fabulous and you can taste this in the wine. Sourced from organic, biodynamic or sustainable vineyards in Frankland River and Great Southern regions, the grapes are picked just ripe, unripe perhaps for more conventional producers, but this ensures freshness and greater levels of acidity.
Defining ripeness in grapes is academic to the point of impossible. Virtually all high quality producers in Europe believe that grapes must be “fully ripe” to make great wine. This is particularly stressed in cooler, continental climates such as Champagne, Burgundy and the Mosel. Ripeness is craved and they don’t have the problems of inadequate acidity that most Australian wine regions have. That being said, the wines of Brave New Wine are not sour, rather they have a citric cut and higher toned fruit. Is vineyard expression really that important? Shouldn’t it matter more that the wine tastes and feel good, rather than becoming a vineyard, cultural or fashionable expression? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but I believe that it warrants further discussion.
… and deft winemaking
The winemaking at Brave New Wine is certainly low intervention, with no additions, save for minimal sulphur and none for some wines. The fermentation vessels vary from old French oak to ceramic egg. The ceramic egg ensures freshness. Due to the shape, the wine is in constant slow movement within the egg, usually without being racked. The slow movement softens the harder edges of the wine and provides greater complexity due to the lees contact, but without the fatty creamy texture and flavor of vigorous lees stirring. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, every drop of fun and flavour from vessel to bottle ensnared and thrashing in your wine glass.
Whole bunches are thrown into the mix, but I never found them redolent with green plumage. Spices and sleekness, and no sap. I’ve always believed that producers need to be careful here as if you were to eat grapes, or any fruit for that matter, you would automatically discard the stem. The bunches work here however, and it must have something to do with the explosive intensity of Great Southern/Frankland River fruit, that they don’t overwhelm the flavour of the fruit. Unripe stems isn’t a factor either and there’s nothing green about the fruit. Moreover, the stems add a little X factor flavour and texture, without making a statement of themselves.
A magical result
I came to the tasting table with a high degree of scepticism. No doubt about it, pride had nothing to do with it, prejudice, certainly. But I love a surprise, and Brave New Wines are as delicious as they are exciting – and I can afford to drink them. The quality of the fruit is undoubted, and the winemaking pushes the fruit into all the right directions. Nothing is forced and there are no stylistic statements to offend my senses or sensibilities. They are wonderful wines and have pushed my love and interest of wine in a whole new direction. And that, more than the drink itself, is truly magical.