Australia has had comparatively few human casualties from Covid but the financial impact has been immense. The loss of international cellar door trade plus the tariffs imposed by China – as an indirect result of the pandemic – have been keenly felt. Add to this the bushfires and floods and you understand why the Australian Grape and Wine Authority says as many as 30% of the country’s 2,600 wineries could go under. Justin Keay talks to three family-run wine estates to see how they are faring and what they are doing to plan for an uncertain future in the week when Wine Australia launches its new CONNECT digital platform to help bring its producers closer together with wine buyers around the world.
“This growing diversity – regional, stylistic and philosophical – is, of course, why Australian wine today is such a different proposition from a few years ago,” writes Justin Keay.
This is an existential time for the world’s wine industry, with the fall in global trade, the ravages wrought by Covid 19, and the collapse in the on-trade in wealthy nations all having a major impact. Individual countries have had additional crosses to bear: Lebanon’s collapse into economic chaos, with the Lira losing 90% of its value in less than a year, is devastating a heavily import-dependent industry (everything from bottles, corks and labels upwards) whilst South Africa’s off/on alcohol sales and export bans has destroyed producer’s revenue stream there.
But what of Australia, such a long way from the fulcrum of the crises battering the world?
Despite localised lockdowns, the Lucky Country has had a ‘good pandemic’, whilst years of investment in an economy that until last year enjoyed over 20 years of unbroken GDP growth, has generally left its wine industry in buoyant health. Clever producers have consolidated market share at entry level (think Yellowtail and McGuigan) whilst higher-end winemakers have been eschewing oak for fresher and more expressive styles reflecting local conditions and soil. Defining itself by growing regionality and moving away from the French varieties that were once almost ubiquitous here, Australian wine is rightly getting more critical acclaim than ever before.
Yet 2020 was rough. With Australia arguably more impacted by climate change than any other country, producers have had to deal with drought, fire damage and smoke – Wine Australia reckons almost 5% of the national grape crop in 2019-20 was lost this way after the devastating bushfires – and now flood, with Hunter Valley just one of many regions finding itself underwater this month.
And despite the admirable low number of human casualties, Covid 19 has in fact impacted heavily, with restrictions and the absence of tourists hitting cellar door sales hard: last April the Australian Grape and Wine Authority said as many as 30% of the country’s 2600 wineries could go under.
And then there’s the impact of Australia’s grim diplomatic face-off with China, resulting from Canberra’s suggestion there should be a proper international investigation into the origins of the pandemic and its protests at China’s suppression of human rights in Hong Kong and amongst the Uighur Muslims. Beijing’s subsequent tariffs increase the price of a typical Australian bottle in China and Hong Kong by over 200% – potentially devastating given that China was the industry’s biggest export market, accounting for 37% of the total, or $800m. Big names like Penfolds are worst hit but all producers will be struggling to compensate even if they didn’t sell to China, as they fight off increased competition from those who did.
So as 2021 gets underway, what’s the mood? How do producers – particularly the smaller ones – see the future? And do they think international consumer perceptions of Australian wine are changing? I spoke to three premium family-run wineries in three different states to get an idea.
(. . .)
Moss Wood in West Australia’s Margaret River
Almost 3000 kilometres further west, in Margaret River, West Australia, Keith Mugford, owner and winemaker at Moss Wood – the second winery in this region – is also pretty phlegmatic about climate change. A bigger worry has been the potential loss of sales because of the new Chinese tariffs.
“Despite being there since 2006, our sales have only been small, for all sorts of price and strategic reasons. Hong Kong is more frustrating. Our sales there go back to the 1980s. It’s been a good market for us and disappointing the future is now so uncertain,” he says, adding that he will “be happy to pick up the threads” if things improve.
He says the British market has been Moss Wood’s biggest and most reliable since exports started back in 1985.
“It seems British consumers enjoy our wines and we always try to be consistent with style and quality. I hope we can continue this and retain as many existing customers as possible but also promote effectively and introduce new customers to our individual vineyard wines,” he says, adding that Moss Wood is moving towards minimal intervention and further reducing environmental impact.
So is Australian wine changing?
Mugford says Moss Wood has never been a “big oak” producer but reckons there have been wider changes, with Chardonnay made in a leaner, finer style, which he reckons consumers appreciate. With reds generally, and Shiraz in particular, he thinks the picture is more nuanced.
“The popularity of ripe Shiraz continues and there are still “big” wines being made. There are, however, an interesting range of wines which display much more restraint and elegance. Given the range of climates in which it’s grown, this is hardly a surprise. The Barossa Valley celebrates its ability to produce generous, fully-ripened wines, expressing the rich end of the Shiraz spectrum, while southern Victoria makes in a more elegant, complex style.”
This growing diversity – regional, stylistic and philosophical – is, of course, why Australian wine today is such a different proposition from a few years ago. An industry once defined by brands and standardisation has become something much more sophisticated, which is why it will ride out its current challenges and continue to evolve.
(. . .)
One of Margaret River’s earliest and most iconic producers, famed for its Cabernet Sauvignon but also great Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Semillon.
“We try to make wine which consistently presents the individual style of our vineyard and, at the same time, captures the essence of each new vintage”. (Keith Mugford)
Moss Wood 2019 Chardonnay
Youthful yes, but this has a wonderful depth of flavour and character I wasn’t expecting. Perfectly balanced, apple, pear and honeysuckle flavours supported by light oak. Destined to mature wonderfully, if you have the patience.
Moss Wood 2019 Amy’s
Baby sister to Moss Wood’s iconic Cabernet, this has been dubbed “Australia’s best value red” and you can taste why immediately: dry, deep dark cassis, great wood integration and long palate persistence make this a steal (. . .).
Moss Wood 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
Still very young, this is a remarkably layered and complex Cab, with red and dark berry flavours supported by soft oak and warm tannins. Very dark coloured and (. . .) well priced for such sophistication.
Moss Wood 2020 Semillon
The first wine I’ve tasted produced anywhere from that fateful year is actually a real cracker, with a light almost ethereal nose and palate which widens a few hours after opening to reveal green apple, pear and sherbet flavours. Very young obviously but the potential for real development here is considerable.
Moss Wood 2018 Pinot Noir
Light and well balanced, this is a fruit-driven wine with predominantly red fruit and a surprisingly rich middle palate supported by good oak and balanced tannins. Very distinctive Margaret River Pinot.Read More
2021 GROWING SEASON
At the time of writing, vintage 2021 has just got underway with our first pick of Pinot Noir on 1st March. The season has been generally very good to us, if somewhat mild. We had good rains right through spring but we avoided any serious problems with the weather. Mother Nature was in a benign mood and spared us strong winds and hail, although there was one day where she flexed her muscles with the latter but allowed us to get through largely unscathed. Let that be a warning to you appears to have been her message.
The lesson came on 6th February when a cyclone remnant delivered just over 80mm rain and we held our breath for a week or so while we waited to see if we developed any disease. Coming fairly late in the season, as it did, meant the fruit on the early varieties was quite soft and so splitting was a risk. In the end, our spray program worked and damage was minimal. Some berries popped off in the Pinot Noir and there was some splitting in the Semillon, but that was the extent of things, so there were smiles all round. In trying to explain our good fortune, it seems we’re helped by our gravelly soils, which allow the water to drain away fairly quickly, reducing uptake by the vines and also the humidity in the vineyard.
Aside from the above, it has been a very mild summer and so the vines have ripened slowly and we find ourselves waiting patiently for each one to mature. Looking at recent seasons, the temperatures have been slightly warmer than 2017 but slightly cooler than 2018, so we are looking forward to good quality.
As we noted in our recent newsletter, we’ve had a very mild season and the 2021 vintage kicked off for Moss Wood on 1st March with the Pinot Noir. Each variety is being picked around 7 to 10 days later than average and the slow ripening has given us a very leisurely time indeed. Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay have all strolled through to ripeness and the winery has sped up for one or two days to process whichever was ripe and then stopped while we waited on the next. We’ve even had time to go to the beach on nice days!
Yields have been better than the last several years, with Sauvignon Blanc the best performer at a remarkable 14.2 tonnes/hectare, not bad for unirrigated vines and 40% above average. On the other hand, Semillon and Chardonnay were both less impressive, producing 5.87 t/ha and 3.6 t/ha respectively but at least showing improvement. The first pick of the Cabernet varieties was 6th April and suggest yields will be average, or slightly better, which is also great news.
Of course, with all vintages, it’s quality we worry about most and in 2021 the vines have achieved good flavour ripeness across all varieties. Given the conditions, we’re anticipating wines with vibrant fruit perfumes and they appear to be in the style of 2017 and 2018. If so, we’ll be delighted.
Finally, Mother Nature, as is her way, has decided to throw us one last challenge for the vintage by giving us a significant rain threat in 4 days’ time. All the best laid plans of mice and men have now been thrown out the window and we’re now
picking furiously to finish before this arrives. That’s the end of the beach days for a while.Read More
On Wednesday 25th March 2020, the WA State Government introduced temporary restrictions on alcohol sales. Today, Friday 27th March 2020, the WA State Government updated these restrictions. Sales are now back to normal, with the exception of WA customers. For all our customers in the rest of Australia and overseas; there are no restrictions. Unfortunately, with this update, we are still obliged to require all our WA customers to limit their orders to 9L (the equivalent of 12 standard bottles) per customer per week.
On March 25th, 2020 and March 27th, 2020 we sent the WA State Minister letters to voice our concerns about these decisions. You can find these letters below.
We acknowledge the huge support we got from all our members in regard to our first letter and thank everyone very much. We would be pleased to have our WA customers further support on this matter and if they would like to voice their personal concerns, here is how to contact the Minister: firstname.lastname@example.org
We thank everybody for their overwhelming support over this ban.
March 27th 2020
Dear Minister Papalia,
Following my letter to you on Wednesday 25th, I’d like to pass on my thanks to your and your colleagues for listening to our concerns and reviewing and updating the changes made to the Liquor Act 1988 with the Section 31, Notice Number 1. However, with all due respect, Notice Number 2 has solved only a small part of the problem and left major issues still outstanding.
I acknowledge that Public Health and Policing are not my areas of expertise but as things currently stand, even with the changes announced today, I cannot see how the restrictions on takeaway liquor can have any impact on the problem of alcohol abuse. Except in very small communities, which might have only one liquor license, the regulations cannot work because those who are determined to purchase excess alcohol need only go from one outlet to another, buying the mandated quantity each time. In any larger community and especially Perth, people are able to shop at numerous locations, so opportunities for excess consumption remain exactly the same as before the changes came into effect.
Assuming the Government’s intention, for which it deserves credit, is to reduce alcohol-related harm and therefore keep hospital admissions associated with the same to a minimum, I am at a loss to see how either Notice Number 1 or Notice Number 2 contribute anything at all. If I’m missing something here, I’m very happy to receive and consider any explanation to the contrary.
Yes, we are relieved and thankful for the changes introduced in Notice Number 2, allowing us to sell wine, without quantity restrictions, to licensed and unlicensed persons interstate, thereby restoring some of our lost revenues. Sales to licensed customers in Western Australia are also now possible without restrictions, which solves the problem we had with supplying wine to our wholesale agent. Also, the decision to grant occasional liquor licenses for 6 months to allow restaurants to sell wine with takeaway meals is also very welcome.
However, I’m completely perplexed by the decision under Notice Number 2 to limit sales to unlicensed individual customers in WA to one dozen (9 litres) per week. This is lower than was previously available under Notice 1, of 3 bottles per customer per day which is 15.75 litres per customer per week. Most frustratingly of all, interstate suppliers can continue to sell wine into Western Australia without limits. I explained to you in my previous letter how our business, and many similar in the WA wine industry, is especially impacted by this. A significant number of our customers buy more than 12 bottles at time of release with the intention of consuming over many years. Yes, we can work around the 9 litres per person per week rule but it adds significant costs and time to dealing with these people.
So, the question remains, why is the WA Government continuing to significantly disadvantage local companies?
Minister, I am concerned you will look at this and wonder if my complaint is justified. After all, part of the damage has been corrected by today’s changes in Notice Number 2. I don’t wish to appear ungrateful but if there is no gain for the community, why should the WA economy experience any losses at all? My view is it should not.
I reiterate I agree with, and support, the Government in its desire to ensure the safety of all Western Australians. These are challenging times but unfortunately the Law of Unintended Consequences is playing havoc. In anticipating a problem with alcohol abuse, the State has introduced regulation so ill-considered it can do nothing to prevent it. To then add insult to injury, we now have range of new difficulties besetting the Wine and Retail industries for absolutely no gain. Frankly, this shows the Government in a very bad light but this need not be so.
Despite you having already given this matter serious consideration, I ask these restrictions be reviewed again, at your earliest convenience, because there are positive outcomes to be had for us all. If the Wine Industry and Retail Liquor Trade are freed from the unnecessary and disadvantageous limit of 9 litres of wine per person per week, the State’s economy will surely benefit, leaving the Government with at least two fewer sectors to worry about. If there are WA customers buying more online than the regulations currently allow, why not let local businesses make those sales and keep the funds here in our State? We can continue to trade as well as the current circumstances allow, keeping the local wheels of commerce turning and employing as many staff as possible.
March 25th 2020
By way of introduction, my wife, Clare, and I are the owners of Moss Wood vineyard and winery, located at Wilyabrup.
As the Minister responsible for Liquor Licensing, we wish to make clear to you, in the strongest possible terms, today’s decision to restrict takeaway liquor sales under Liquor Control (Section31) Notice 2020 is a mistake and a serious threat to our business.
Expressing a personal opinion about this as a matter of public health, I respect the Government’s desire to protect the hospital system and the community in general, by reducing the possible harm caused by excess alcohol consumption. However, the only conclusion I can draw is this measure is very unlikely to achieve the required outcome. As the restrictions currently stand, they cannot prevent people from buying more than the mandated quantity of alcohol because they can simply visit more than one store. The further complication is these extra human interactions provide more opportunities for the transmission of COVID-19.
Separate from the health issue but just as serious, is the Government’s failure to explicitly exclude online sales and sales to wholesalers, from these restrictions.
Firstly, WA consumers can continue to purchase wine online, in any quantity they wish, from interstate suppliers, so Western Australian wine producers are put at an immediate and significant disadvantage. Minister, this is, without doubt, the issue that really irks me, that the Western Australian Government, in this most difficult of times, has failed to support local producers.
Secondly, in a business like ours with a focus on high quality, high value, low volume production, all our wines are purchased with the intention of ageing them in the cellar and then consuming them over as many as 20 years, or more. The typical purchase is therefore greater than 3 bottles and usually 6 to 12 bottles or higher, if we’re lucky and they really like the wine and have the wherewithal to pay. As a further complication, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and depressed consumer sentiment, we are offering wines with free shipping. If sales in the Direct channel are restricted to 3 bottles per person, the freight charge will increase to the point where our margins will be badly eroded.
The impact of this change has been immediate. Today, since the introduction of the restrictions, we have had to turn down sales of our newest release, totalling 56 bottles, with a value $6468! For a small operation like ours this is heartbreaking and potentially ruinous if things don’t change. I hope it makes crystal clear how badly this decision affects us.
I mentioned above this difficult time and must emphasis at the moment, direct sales to customers, not just in WA but all around Australia, are literally providing us with a lifeline. We have wholesale agents representing us in each state but their businesses have been turned on their heads by the shut down in the on-premise sector, which typically provides at least 50% of their revenues. Yes, that’s correct. At least 50% of income gone almost overnight. While the wholesale market is in turmoil, up until today we have been able to keep cash coming in by selling on line and it is absolutely crucial for us that this channel be immediately and explicitly exempted from the restrictions.
My final point on the loss of the Direct sales is the cost of the changes we have had to make to our website. We find it remarkable that we have spent a large part of today day in discussion with our web consultants and will now have to pay for the best part of a day’s worth of the very valuable hours charged by them, to change our purchase page to sell less wine! I trust you understand just what a bitter pill that is to swallow.
Thirdly, on the subject of wholesalers, our sales to our WA agent are always larger than 3 bottles. It would be prohibitive, impractical and pointless to send wine from Wilyabrup to their warehouse in such small quantities. It is essential that these sales also be explicitly exempted from the restrictions. It may be the Government did not intend for wholesale sales to be restricted under the new regulations. Regardless, until this is made clear, we have to assume otherwise in order to trade within the requirements of our license.
While acknowledging the COVID-19 emergency is a huge public health challenge for the WA Government, I hope it is clear that unless changed, these restrictions will cause a major, negative disruption to our cashflow and put the viability of our business at serious risk. We ask the State Government to completely repeal the new restrictions, as speedily as possible. Failing that, we ask that wine sold in the direct channel, by mail or online and also wine sold to wholesale agents, be made explicitly exempt.
Frankly, Minister, the immediate future is difficult enough for us without adding this ill-considered decision to the list of problems. I respect completely the Government’s commitment the community’s safe but I believe that a review and adjustment of these new restrictions, showing as it would a sensible commitment to the WA wine and retail industries, would very much enhance the Government’s standing.
The Ribbon Vale Project – How Far Have We Come?
It’s almost 20 years to day that we began negotiations with our neighbour, John James, for the purchase of Ribbon Vale. There was a serendipitous meeting of needs. John, having established the vineyard in 1977, was looking for an exit strategy and we were looking to expand their wine production, through the purchase of a mature, high-quality vineyard.
Ribbon Vale suited the bill perfectly, sharing many key attributes with Moss Wood – similar Wilyabrup soils, cane pruning and of course, it was and remains unirrigated. The purchase was settled on 1st March, 2000 and we set about putting our own stamp on the property. What followed has been a fascinating adventure in grapegrowing and winemaking. We had to update the trellising to the new (at the time) Henry system. More challengingly, we had to learn how to make wine styles we hadn’t attempted before – Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. The latter has required us to play the long game.
Merlot has been a challenge but one we have enjoyed far more than initially expected. This variety is the most widely planted in Bordeaux and very highly regarded there. Anyone lucky enough to taste Chateau Petrus or Chateau Cheval Blanc would surely understand why. Australian Merlot, with very few exceptions, is typically of only moderate quality and usually dismissed as soft, generic dry red. We admit to making that very criticism ourselves but once we were exposed to high-quality Merlot and how it is made, a whole new world has opened up. We have had to focus on the wines of Pomerol and St Emilion, looking in depth at their production techniques as well as the demanding task of tasting as many as we can. Very demanding indeed!
Another twist in the tale is, for Moss Wood we felt and still feel, the Cabernet Sauvignon style from that vineyard isn’t enhanced by the characteristics which Merlot would bring to the blend. So, with little or no experience we embarked on a very steep learning curve.
Amusingly, once we got to know Merlot, we discovered it shared several traits with Pinot Noir. Just like its Burgundian cousin, Merlot demands special attention in the vineyard and will only ripen well if the shoots are properly positioned, the canopy is allowing good sunlight penetration and the yield is moderate. This last point is crucial because Merlot will grow a monumental crop if allowed. The record under our ownership is 14.6 tonnes/hectare for the 2000 vintage – not bad for an unirrigated vineyard! Conditions in that year were exceptional and all varieties blitzed their average but we have trimmed it back since. The long-term yield stands at a still very respectable 7.87 t/ha. The quality risk is evident when we note that in the relatively warm year of 2000, the vines needed an extra 2 weeks to get all that fruit ripe and even then, sugar levels were only just where we wanted them and likewise colour depth. Many bad things can happen in 2 weeks, like rain damage and bird attack to name just two and hence the need for careful management.
By the year 2000 we had a long track record of making Cabernet Sauvignon at Moss Wood and this gave us some useful insights into how we might manage this variety at Ribbon Vale. However, every vineyard is different and we had to come to terms with what the new location required. For example, the clone planted at Ribbon Vale is SA126, which performs differently to the Houghton selection at Moss Wood. Even with improved trellising, we still spent several seasons understanding the flavour profile in the grapes and working out what levels of ripeness we should aim for. Exactly the same is true for Cabernet Franc.
Looking back over this period then, it could be summarised in the following way. We spent the first decade improving and analysing how the vineyard performed. As a result, we have spent the second decade seeing a gradual improvement in the quality of the wine style but the job is not yet finished. We have recently added Petit Verdot and Malbec to the Ribbon Vale vineyard and over the next few years we’ll be able to assess what role they may play in enhancing the Cabernet Sauvignon, in particular.
No doubt customers will have their own views on how the project has gone so far. For us, we are most proud of the quality of the Merlot. It’s not so much that we think it’s a better wine than the Cabernet Sauvignon but we are delighted with the overall improvement and are comfortable it is a serious wine, capable of bearing comparison with wines of this style from anywhere in the world.
The Ribbon Vale Cabernet Sauvignon has always been at a higher quality level but we are keen to see it recognised as one of the finest wines in this style from Margaret River. We have evolved it to the point where its primary fruit characters make it almost the complete wine. It has gone from requiring a significant blending component of Merlot, typically at least 20%, plus, of course, around 5-10% Cabernet Franc, to now just 1-2% each of these. If it’s OK with everyone else, we’ll give ourselves a pass mark so far.Read More
Kailis Bros Leederville is organising a Moss Wood dinner on Thursday 31st October 2019.
The dinner will feature the following wines, matched with 6 courses of locally sourced seafood:
Moss Wood Ribbon Vale 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
Moss Wood 2018 Semillon
Moss Wood 2018 Chardonnay
Moss Wood 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
Moss Wood Ribbon Vale 2017 Merlot
Kailis Bros – 101 Oxford Street, Leederville WA
Thursday 31st October 2019 at 7pm
Get tickets here
Moss Wood Portrait of two winemakers
What can you tell me about the history of Moss Wood?
Clare: ‘Moss Wood came about because it was of interest to Bill and Sandra Pannell, after a paper, written by a Dr John Gladstones, who was an agronomist at the University of Western Australia about the consistency of the climate in the Margaret River region. So, his paper informed the first few people who planted in Margaret River. Moss Wood was planted in 1969, making it the second commercial vineyard in the area. It was the first winery to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in the region. By 1979, the Pannell’s felt that they needed a qualified winemaker, so they brought in Keith who had just graduated from Roseworthy college in South Australia, which is famous for striving winemakers and viticulturists. Bill Hardy, who was famous in wine and viticulture, suggested hiring Keith to take over as winemaker. So, they did! They interviewed Keith in Adelaide and he thought it would be a good idea to make wine in Margaret River because he could go surfing and make interesting wine! When Keith and I met, the Pannell’s had always talked about a partnership with Keith, as the Pannell’s had four young children. By that time Keith and I were thinking of getting married, and wondering what we were going to do next, Keith approached the Pannell’s and agreed to lease the vineyard. They went off on holiday, and after six months they came back and asked us if we would like to buy it. As we were only 24 and 26, we thought it was going to be difficult. However, they came up with a good plan, so in 1985 we bought the vineyard and we have added to plantings since; it has been an interesting learning curve for me, it was a complete career change, but we found it challenging and interesting too!’
Keith: ‘We bought Moss Wood in 1985, and then by the end of the 1990s we had four children. If the four of them wanted to be involved in the business, then Moss Wood wouldn’t have been big enough to accommodate all their interest. And so we looked around, and in the end we had a discussion with John James who had established Ribbon Vale Vineyard, a little bit younger than Moss Wood, 1977 was its first planting, but Ribbon Vale was very similar to Moss Wood with similar vines and similar soils, slightly different plantings, the varieties were slightly different, Moss Wood was growing Semillon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon. Ribbon Vale was growing Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. So, John was happy, and in 2000 we bought Ribbon Vale, so in total now we have around 23 hectares between us.’
What is your favourite step in the winemaking process?
Clare: ‘The thing that I find most interesting is the transition from juice to wine. So, pressing for red wines, and end of fermentation for white wines, because it’s the first time you see the finished wines. Tasting those grapes on the vine and then to smell and taste them as finished wine still as an infant for me is the most interesting.’
Keith: ‘The most fun and interesting part for me is picking day. So, when we pick and process the grapes, the combination of standing in the vineyard and monitoring the grapes, and then going ahead and picking them, where we have everybody involved, is really exciting!’
What is the secret to making Moss Wood wines?
Clare: ‘Site. A very special site, and forty years of knowledge of growing the vines on that site and making the wines from it.’
Keith: ‘I agree with that. The location is very important, the Moss Wood has its own individuality because its topography is unique and were in a good area in Margaret River. We have a good vineyard with good soils and then if you look after that, then the grapes can carefully grow, and you take them to the winery and take care of them there. But the most important part is the vineyard itself; that’s where the quality starts.’
What is your best memory since working at Moss Wood?
Keith: ‘There are a lot of memories, most of them good!’
Clare: ‘I would agree, we have lots of great memories! My most treasured memory of working in the wine industry is sitting at Len Evan’s lunch table. He had a Monday lunch group, and we were privileged enough to sit at his lunch table in 1987, and he shared with us a bottle of 1919 La Tâche! 1919 was my mother’s birth year, so that was the thrill of my life, in wine! There were actually a few other thrills around that time, but that occasion was one of the biggest!’
…and the most challenging?
Keith: ‘When there was damage to the vineyard. We had a terrible hailstorm in 1996 which decimated the 1997 crop. So, seeing that and trying to recover from it was probably one of the worst things. Just standing there watching this huge hailstorm come past and there was nothing we could do, just watch, bashing the vines pretty badly and when it’s over, going to see what’s left, see if there’s anything you can do, but I would definitely say that was one of the most challenging.’
What is the story behind the labels?
Keith: ‘The original Moss Wood label which was designed in 1973, which was when the ownership was still under Bill and Sandra Pannell, was all about simplicity. All it had on it was who made the wines, what the vintage was, where the vineyard was located, and that was basically it. You can go down different routes with wine labels, you can choose colourful designs with pictures or you can have something relatively plain, but is simple and easy to read, which is what we went for. Our favourite Bordeaux wine at the time was Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, and Pichon is the classic simple printed label with gold foil, with no doubt about who made it or where its from, and so the original Moss Wood label was inspired by Pichon Lalande! Family crest, Cabernet Sauvignon 1973 and it was that simple, and that is where the label began, and it’s similar to where it is now, but we’ve had to change it quite extensively over the years because of the regulatory environment. Back in 1973 Moss Wood only sold in Australia and then it was so straightforward! It was easier to get the legally required items on the labels. Now it 2018, Moss Wood is sold all around the world and it has to comply with the regulatory environments. Moss Wood is an English name. There is a farm in Cheshire here in England. Bill Pannel’s parents were regular visitors to the UK and it was a friend of his who loaned them Moss Wood in Cheshire. Bill and Sandra liked the name so much, they wrote to the people in Cheshire to ask them if they could use the name for their vineyard. So, Moss Wood became an Australian name as well! It’s a name that people seem to like! They like the name and they like the wine, and we put that down to its simplicity, it’s easy to say, easy to remember, and Moss Wood actually has a pretty connotation with it, if you say it out loud, you think of trees and undergrowth, which is actually what it’s like!’
When is the best time to drink your wines?
Clare: ‘At the stage you most like wines to be! At the developmental stage, if you prefer primary fruit aromas and flavours then drink the wine young. But if you don’t which not everybody does, then give 5, 10, 20 years! The Moss Wood cabernet actually has the history and can give us the confidence to say that you can give it 40 years before drinking it! Especially these days, because we seal all our wines with screw-caps, and we have the confidence that the wine’s seal is not going to fail it unless it has been knocked and the seal has been broken. It won’t taint and it has been sealed with enough oxidative elements to allow the wines to age.’
What type of food pairs best with your wines?
Clare: ‘I think it’s interesting because we’ve just been tasting all our current wines, the Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet and our Amy’s wine, and each one of them has fresh primary fruit aromas and flavours that might pair well with fruits. Sauvignon Blanc with fruits that are limes or gooseberries, Semillon with figs and apples, Chardonnay with peaches, nectarines or nuts, Pinot Noir with plums or red fruit, Merlot is really interesting because it would go well with black or blue fruits, blackcurrants or blueberries, and the Cabernet with red fruit. All of those wines have savoury characters that would allow them to be paired with savoury foods. The limes and the gooseberries in the Sauvignon Blanc would pair nicely with fish or seafood, the Semillon would be very nice with pork or chicken and scallops, Chardonnay goes very well with pork or chicken or turkey or anything nutty. You can’t go wrong with pork or turkey with cranberry sauce with Pinot Noir! Merlot has so really olivaceous notes, yesterday I had spaghetti puttanesca and it would have been really good with that, picking up the anchovies and the olives. Our Cabernet I think you could do rich meats, beef, cheeses and chocolate!’
Keith: ‘Everything! I reckon you can eat anything with any white, and the way I think about it is; if I’m going out for dinner, then I look at the menu, see what dishes I want to try and look at the wine list and see what wines I want to try and I don’t really every try and match them, and I don’t really care to, I just try and enjoy them as they are. I’m happy to drink wine with spicy food, with Asian cuisine, even Szechuan food, something really spicy, like a hot Thai curry, or even central Asian like an Indian curry. I don’t have any problem with people pairing their wines, but I’m happy for Moss Wood to be enjoyed with anything!’
How would you describe the Australian way of life?
Clare: ‘Outdoorsy! We love our swimming, the beach, cricket, outdoor sports, a fresh clean sunny warm environment, not having to wear too many clothes.’
Keith: ‘We have an outdoor lifestyle, but not everybody does.’
Clare: ‘I think that’s more of a West Australia lifestyle. Western Australians definitely prefer being outside.’
Keith: ‘Australians are quite widely travelled, which means we’ve integrated a lot of activities into our lives that have come from other parts of the world. I guess we still have the remnants of our English culture and our Irish culture but adding to that the Mediterranean culture that has come in; Italian, Greek, Serbian, Croatian.’
Clare: ‘Which means we have lots of different types of cuisines. We have lots of inter access to a lot of fish. people love fresh fish and seafood!’
Keith: ‘We find it a nice interesting place to live!’
In the wine industry we have to be patient. To draw an analogy from cricket, winemaking is more Matt Renshaw than David Warner and very little happens quickly. It’s now more than 17 years since the Mugford family purchased Ribbon Vale vineyard, in March 2000. Although it was fully established and producing good wine, we were determined to put our own stamp on it. With the release of the 2015 red wines, of which we are very proud, we thought a review is timely.
Progress has been steady and each vintage has added to our understanding of the site and how it performs. Ribbon Vale is a unique environment and learning how this differs from Moss Wood has proven a fascinating exercise.
The two vineyards offer an insight into the French concept of “terroir”. The same people manage the two locations and their resulting wines, with identical techniques but the wines are not the same, despite there being barely more than one kilometre between them. They even have very similar soil types. However, Ribbon Vale is an elevated location, with aspects out to the south and west, is therefore cooler and ripens more slowly. Moss Wood looks out to the north and east, is more sheltered and commensurately warmer. We’re now getting the hang of what that means for ripening times and fruit flavours.
Improvement in the Ribbon Vale style have also been driven by upgrades we’ve made to the property. Most notable amongst these are the improvement of the trellising by the introduction of the Henry system and also the introduction of the Houghton Cabernet Sauvignon clone.
We must make special mention of Merlot. This is a variety with which we had little experience before 2000 and we freely admit we’ve been on a steep learning curve. It performs quite differently to its Bordeaux siblings, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and needs a different management approach in both the vineyard and the winery. It shouldn’t be over-cropped and it definitely needs special attention during fermentation to tease out its colour and flavour.
Moss Wood wines will feature at a dinner next week at Frenchies Wine Bar, Singapore.
MOSS WOOD WINE DINNER MENU
Duck Rillettes, Cold Cuts, Crunchy Madagascar Blue Prawn
Slow Roasted Hokkaido Scallop
Traditional Beef Parmentier
Australian Wagyu Ribeye
Celeriac Puree, Green Peas, Black Tuille
Selection French Farm Cheese
Clare and Keith will be hosting a dinner in London at the Jugged Hare on Wednesday 14th November, 2018.
MOSS WOOD WINE DINNER MENU
Reception – 7pm
2015 Moss Wood Semillon
Tasting & Dinner – 7:30pm
Beetroot cured trout, dill, horseradish, caper berries
2016 Moss Wood Chardonnay
2007 Moss Wood Chardonnay
Roast lamb loin, shin croquette, crushed parsnips, mint jus
2016 Moss Wood Pinot Noir
2001 Moss Wood Pinot Noir
2015 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon
2013 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon
Artisan cheese board, fruit chutney, biscuits
1999 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon
1996 Moss Wood Cabernet SauvignonRead More