You can’t call an Australian wine Burgundy anymore, and fair enough too. Burgundy and Bordeaux are the most imitated wine regions on earth, setting benchmarks for their varietals and styles, which at their best, have no equal in the world. So, in Australia, winegrowers have a choice. To be or not to be. Should we try and do something different, aka ‘chillable, smashable, gluggable’ Pinot Noir, or heroin chic, anorexic Chardonnays? If we think we know what’s great, and indeed if we are to acknowledge benchmarks, then why not use their methods? Or at the very least be inspired. Burgundy is the standard for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, against which all others are benchmarked. So why not, with the fruit that you have, follow methods that have evolved over the centuries?
Polperro has essentially made this choice, producing distinct wines with clear vineyard definition. All wines are intensely varietal, and furthermore, bear the stamp of place to an extent that I believe is unique in Australia. Like Burgundy, it is fascinating to taste the wines together, as their differences are genuine.
Viticulture is essentially biodynamic, although not certified. All grapes are handpicked and gently pressed. The whites are oxidatively handled, to remove oxidative enzymes from the must. This practice is becoming increasingly common in Burgundy, partly due to a more sparing use of sulphur. The practice tends to make darker coloured wines, deeper cored, with citrus rind and lifted spice notes to the wine.
Sulphur is kept to an absolute minimum, used only after racking. Ferments are wild and the whites undergo full malolactic fermentation, unfortunately too uncommon in Australia. All this takes place in French oak, some new.
The whites are transferred to tank to rest before bottling, which tightens and freshens the wine. No fining or filtration for the reds, and a very light filtration for the whites. There is always some debate over filtration and its application, but rather than stripping flavour, it tends to brighten the wine and finesses definition. Apart from the small amounts of sulphur there is absolutely nothing added, which is extremely rare in the lexicon of Australian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The real deal
Ripeness, freshness, varietal definition and unique vineyard expression is a very difficult act to accomplish, and to do it without manipulation is an accomplishment in itself. Most producers, including many of the most revered, use multiple methods and inputs to achieve a Burgundian-like result. All of the said producers will tell us their main goal is for their wines to have a sense of place, but this is just marketing. The means are irrelevant as long as the end is adequate. Polperro is the real deal. Grand wines, that taste and feel as their sites intended.
“You could neither approve nor disapprove of anything you perceive through the bodily senses unless you had within yourself certain laws of beauty to which you refer every beautiful thing you see outside yourself”. St Augustine