American exceptionalism is an idea spawned from Revolution. Alexander Hamilton, who alongside George Washington is the most indispensable of the Founding Fathers, epitomised this belief. In the first of the Federalist Papers he wrote “it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
If you have read this far, you might be thinking; what’s this got to do with the wines of By Farr? Nothing really. But, I happen to believe that exceptionalism isn’t a fluke.
According to Balzac “there is no great talent without great willpower. These twin forces are needed to build the huge monument of an individual glory. Superior men keep their brains in a productive state, just as the knights of old kept their weapons in perfect condition. They conquer laziness, they deny themselves all debilitating pleasures…Willpower can and should be a just cause for pride, much more than talent.Where as talent develops from the cultivation of a gift, willpower is a victory constantly won again over instincts, over inclinations that must be disciplined and repressed, over whims and all kinds of obstacles, over difficulties heroically surmounted”.
Exceptional Australian winemaking
I subscribe to the view that we in Australia are also exceptional. It is said that we are of the New World. But we are of the Old World too. Nothing stands in isolation and human ideas and pleasures are not rooted to any one place. The accidents of history and thousands of vintages have enabled Europeans to discover the finest locations, the most suitable grapes and the techniques required to create fine wine. Thankfully, the world keeps turning and people and ideas are in constant movement. And the vine travels with them.
Australians through “reflection and choice”, rather than “accident and force” have absorbed the learnings of thousands of vintages. The evidence of their application is everywhere. The wine we produce is wonderful and always of at least “good” quality. But we are not here to talk of good, or sound, or average wine. This is about exceptionalism. Wines created from the sinews of intellect, obsession and sweat. Fluid that is beautiful, captivating, ethereal. Wines thought, grown and made – By Farr.
In the words of the winemaker – Ben Farr
The By Farr reds possess a stylistic signature that is unique in the context of Australian Pinot Noir. Indeed, there is a depth of understanding of their vineyard’s personalities and what can be accomplished with the winemaking that sets these wines apart. Demure and modest colours, soaring fragrance, colossal complexity, cool fruit, satiny texture and the longest, finest tannins. The differences between the wines are due to the unique nature of the vineyards and the Farr’s interpretation of the fruit.
Ben Farr explains, “we let the grapes soak for about 5 days. The grapes must be in perfect condition and intact. None can be bruised or crushed. The fermentation temperatures must be cool, and the ferment is allowed to run for a good 10 days or so. Only towards the end of the ferment do we really know what kind of fruit we have. Before this, no pigeage or pump overs until we know for sure. Elegance is what we’re after, not extraction. We build the structure towards the end of the ferment. We don’t so much as whole berry ferment, we let the grapes burst. Everything is done gently, slowly”.
Whole Bunches? “We don’t like to talk of whole bunches. Every vineyard and vintage is different. We’re not looking for a style that signatures whole bunches. The stems must be absolutely ripe. And not MV6 (a clone of Pinot Noir). We find MV6 stems don’t fully ripen as the grapes do. The whole bunches allow us to build elegance, complexity and structure”. I taste again and remark “there’s an undercurrent of asian spices in all the wines and the tannins are so fine and satin like. The length is long and filigreed. The whole bunches? Ben Farr explains, “Absolutely. But I also love the elegance they bring to the wine. We are able to build structure and length with the whole bunches without the danger of over extraction”.
And the oak regimen? “Every vintage is different, but we are refining this every year. I’d like to say we are pulling back on the oak. We still need oak for our wines, but we are looking for finer flavours and structures. The biggest difference though is the level of toast. We are backing off on toast to the point where we have almost eliminated it.”
From Good to great – we are never content
Ben Farr is obviously proud of his family’s achievements, and so he should be. These are remarkable Pinot Noirs. I cannot help ask him what he thinks the difference between a good producer and a great one is. Here, I think we witness a profound difference in thinking with Burgundy. A Burgundian would always stress the nature of the “terroir” and it is the vineyard that is to be recognised. As an Australian, I would also acknowledge the importance of site, but I think there are so many other factors that need to be taken into account.
For Ben Farr “we are never content. We are always trying to make a better wine. Detail, detail, detail. We prune every vineyard differently, because of their aspect. Some of our vines are less exposed, so we might leaf pluck those. But some years are hotter, so we may leave the leaf to protect the grapes. There is no formula. Every decision is considered. Most people would prune every vineyard the same. We are never content. We are experimenting with native grasses between the vines, to bring greater warmth closer to the grapes”. But doesn’t that create issues of humidity and therefore the risk of disease? “It does, so we have to get the height and grasses right”.
The complete whites
By Farr makes Australia’s greatest Viognier, and incomparable Chardonnay. Threaded together by their virtues, they are remarkably complete wines upon release. It is lovely to taste wines that cannot be broken up into their respective components. Look, see there is the oak. The acid, the sourness of Ph.
The word integration is one used to describe the synergy, or the lack thereof, of a wines components. It is a dreadful word, unsexy and technical. And yet to describe many Australian Chardonnays, it fits nicely. Chardonnay in Australia has never been better and there are so many to choose from. If I am to complain, it is that in so many of them, their virtues are singular. Wines that are built, their components stuck together. Many fit into a philosophy of the style the producer is looking for. Chablis, white Burgundy, fresh, cool climate (heaven forbid warm climate), mineral, fruit driven, creamy. The list goes on and on. Bugger the style, drop your European pretensions and just make the best Chardonnay with the fruit you’ve got. Many of these wines taste good, but are lacking completeness.
The By Farr whites are none of these things. As with the reds, there is an incredible understanding of the vineyard’s bounty and how the wines should be vinified. Ben Farr explains “Refinement is what we’re looking for. Chardonnay from our sites are powerful and have rich flavours. So for me it’s about trying to capture that generosity, but for the wine to never be too heavy. We get some minerality too, so the vinification process must be gentle enough not to sacrifice flavour, but to capture the minerality also. Its a fine line”.
I remark that texture and generosity is often overdone at the expense of the fruit. Ben Farr again; “Cool natural ferments are key. We use solids also. But you know, the fruit needs to be ripe and have a level of intensity and freshness that enables aging and fermenting in wood. We do full Malo, as we have no problem with natural acidity. Other areas struggle with acidity, but we find we can have too much!”
For those who need the comfort of scores and numbers, I haven’t been able to find any for this release. But it is a shame to taste and drink with numbers swirling in the glass. What is the pH? Alcohol? Whole bunch percentages? New oak? Fermenting temperatures? Humidity? Rainfall? Pump over? Punch downs? Critic scores? Who cares.
It is for the Farrs to worry about the jumble of numbers, infinite combinations and random possibilities. Our concern is our pleasure. All the numbers distilled into the essence of refinement.
Such an alluring perfume. If you hold a prejudice against this variety, forget it. Incredible aromatic display of pear, peach and apricot. Fresh, vibrant and pure. Subtle spice and richer flavours of stone fruits and citrus. Gorgeous texture, I would think from the fine lees. But no cream here. Dazzlingly fresh and shimmering fruit. The best Australian viognier I’ve ever tasted.
Has the theme of Farr written all over it. Shimmering fruit of citrus, stone fruits and green apple. Juicy, succulent and tense. Round texture, but coiled power. A lick of cream and the oak is perfectly judged. Just beautiful. Full bodied, but so light on its feet.
The demure colour of Farr’s Pinot’s belies their soaring aromatics. Very complex array of red cherries, kirtsch, plums and spice. Bright acidity and slippery tannins. Extraordinary power, but without heaviness or weight. Great, great, Pinot.
Slightly darker colour, more purple. Very pretty nose of violets, blue and red fruits. Fascinating palate. Talk about cloaked power. The wine has soaked up it’s oak and whole bunches to create an utterly seamless and vibrant drink. Effortless line and length. Beautifully appointed coiled, lacy tannins. This will be very long lived. Great, great, Pinot.