Orange has never lived up to expectations. We visited recently, confirming for ourselves its status as a region full of potential, but one yet to truly define itself. Our visit to Rikard Wines was a bit of a light-bulb moment – delighting in the discovery of a producer, under the helm of Will Rikard-Bell, doing whatever it takes to produce fine wine.
I’m a little confused. There’s every grape under the sun up here. Where should Orange focus?
Yes it’s confusing. In some ways everything suits Orange. We have an elevation ranging from 600 to 1,150m. There’s early ripening, late ripening, sloped sites, flat blocks, warmer and cooler. Mate it’s got everything. The region lacks focus and identity, but the diversity of the region ensures a bit of confusion in the consumers mind. In my eyes, I think Chardonnay is the best performing variety. But early on, when Philip Shaw came here, he nailed his colours to the mast with Bordeaux varietals. Particularly Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Who are we to argue?
That’s right. He’s making some bloody fine wine and its still early days for Hoosegg.
One of the big surprises, a lovely one, was your Shiraz. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Mate it’s very Orange. For me, Shiraz from Orange is unusually floral and aromatic. There’s some carbonic and whole bunch and this can give the wine a Pinotesque nose sometimes. But the fruit is all Shiraz. Black forest fruits and pepper. It’s quite structured too, textured, light in the mouth and long. It’s got a juiciness and rich fruit flavours that I think come from the Basalt soils, or climate.
Where do you turn your gaze for inspiration?
Burgundy. Isn’t it obvious?
True, tasting your Pinots I’m reminded of Burgundy. It’s not just the fruit profile, but the feel of the wine in the mouth. I had a Cahors recently and although there was plenty of fruit, the tannins were something else. Rich, ripe and savoury, not dominating the fruit, complimenting it. I haven’t had tannins like that from an Australian wine.
The biggest challenge up here for reds is structure. Pinot Noir in particular. Every vintage is the same. I don’t care about colour. What I want is flavour, texture and structure. I aspire towards a savoury tannin profile. Added tannin tends to close the wine out. You need to do it with a little bit of wine making trickery. Multiple ferments, whole berry, carbonic, whole bunches. Do you use the press wine, or part of it? Although I’m not sure Australian palates are ready for the tannins of Cahors in their Pinots!
Do you add anything?
Nothing, but I’ll adjust acid in a tough year – only if I really have to. Sulphur is kept to an absolute minimum. I don’t want to be dogmatic about it. Additions detract from the place and the wine doesn’t speak of terroir.
I do look to Burgundy. I love how much they know. They get it. Clones, variety, soils, climate, aspect, canopy management. They get everything down to the finest detail. They know what they want to achieve and how to get there. It’s time and hundreds of vintages under their belts.
Picking. All at once, or multiple passes?
Multiple picking. Partly it’s insurance, to have at least some wine in the winery. I think the best results come from as many components as possible. I like my Pinots to be in the red fruit spectrum, but multiple picks will give me greater flavour and textural complexity. You can’t use your bunches from an early pick, only from the later ones, and this might determine the volume in the first picking. But wine making is like an artist’s colour palate. I go nuts on clones, multiple picking dates, oaks, different size formats, forests, toast, grain, bunches. I try to have as many elements as possible. Layer upon layer.
Are there any worrying trends in the wine styles of Orange?
Look at the Chardonnays in the 1990s. Now we have early picked Chardonnay that sits in the green apple and lemon spectrum. It’s all about balance and I think we can forget that’s the case. Simple freshness is another – there isn’t the will to make fine wine.
Have you ever considered blending? Pinot/Shiraz blends are all the rage these days, no doubt influenced by Maurice O’Shea.
Not with Pinot. That’s the holy grail. We have made a 2017 Bordeaux blend, under cork. I reckon it needed the oxygen to soften some pretty fierce tannins. It’s a sexy little wine, made with 100% carbonic. I’ve delayed the release because of all that stalk tannin.
To experiment as much as anything else. Takes a long time. 55 days on skins. Very, very nervous. Kept it topped up with Co2. It was co fermented, but the frujit was picked only when ripe. Cab Franc first, then the cabernet sauvignon, then the merlot. So they are all in same vat together, but added at different times. Its got Bordeaux characterisitcs for sure, and full on skin tannins. Iv’e got some Malbec this year. You mentioned blending pinot with shiraz. With the Burgundy varieties, I want to be true to location. Once you start mucking around with blending, you lose that sense of place.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for Orange?
There are very few people here to make fine wine. Bloodwood and Canobolas Smith were the first, but I feel they’ve missed the opportunity to make the wine with the cherry on top for the rest of us to oscillate around. Everything was set up in the 1990’s. Its never been about the wine. There are a lot of baby boomers who buy a hobby farm who don’t realise how tough it is. They make $25 to $30 bulk wine. The land has become very expensive and the council is encouraging the push. It’s a money grab for the council, but it means no one can afford to go through the process of making fine wine. The best sites are still under cherries and apples. It’s going to take time. Every region needs a shining light that defines it and creates a demand.
How’s that 2020 Riesling coming along?
Well it’s been snowing here, so it has cold stabilised! There’s no smoke taint, but it’s not really my style. It’s conventional, pretty and aromatic, whereas I look to push the boundaries with skin contact and phenolics. Obviously we couldn’t do that in 2020 with the bush fires.
There’s always something new isn’t there? New challenges, every vintage different. Changing fashions. It’s hard to keep up.
Nothing’s ever the same. I make so many different styles of wine under contract. It’s exciting, and I never get bored. It’s fun to experiment. Everything about this business is slow. It’s the next generation that will capitalise on what we are doing now. Everything about wine is for the future and we just have to keep working and experimenting, before we get it right. It’s coming. It’s coming.