Why Australia wine is some of the most exciting in the world
There’s a lot of momentum in the Australian wine space right now with huge inroads being made into the Chinese market and the slow-burning revival of more traditional export markets such as the United Kingdom and the United States.
But it is the candor at home that underpins the renewed interest and confidence that surrounds Australian wine where winemakers believe in themselves and their terroirs and wines, and our recent tasting of more than 1,000 wines highlights this. In fact, there’s unquestionably a great wine for every palate and preference in this year’s new releases. Today’s message for the wines of Australia is all about quality and diversity.
Freshness can be found in every guise from aromatic whites to bold reds. Australian winemakers have an eye on drinkability at every step. The other big shift is that of confidence. Confidence in terroir, in older vines, in the work to nurture vineyards, respect for the land, and in producing wines that have unique flavor and style. (…) The Australian playing field has leveled between what winemakers used to clearly separate as warm and cool-climate regions and the meeting place is that of balance.
And with so many different regions, styles and vintages, all represented in high levels of quality in this all-Australian tasting report, here are the reasons why Australian wine is back in the game!
For starters, the business is very healthy and the demand for high-quality wine is underpinning trade as much as a thirst for a quality and value proposition from Australian wine. There’s a strong and growing appetite for authentic, regionally specific wine, particularly at premium price points.
Secondly, Australia is now accepted as one of the largest and most widely diverse wine producing nations. It is a vast continent with an almost endless array of stylistic possibilities, now producing a diversity of wines with great complexity. There’s a colorful and interesting life after full-bodied shiraz!
The challenges of the global market for Australian wine over the past decade has driven a period of reflection and soul-searching. Australia’s winemakers have emerged and become more aware, sustainably confident and determined to make great wine.
Australia’s food revolution has also impacted the wine scene a great deal. Anyone who has visited Australia understands the quality of the food and the incredible diversity of cuisines, which are driven by a truly multicultural society. The relaxed image of Australian lifestyle is intact, but the thought and effort poured into growing and preparing food in Australia are deeply connected to the evolving culture of the nation. Wine plays a strong part in this. Good food and great wine are hand in hand.
Moreover, the concept of wine in Australia is now integrated into day-to-day life, and wine knowledge and interest are now passed on to the younger generations with very different ideas. The traditional idea of wine as a status symbol or trophy to be admired has moved to the idea that wine is, first and foremost, for enjoyment and drinking.
Just as Australia’s idea of wine has evolved, our notion of grape varieties has also changed. The obsession with classical French grapes has been tempered with a strong interest in a more diverse set of varieties that are more suited to the Australian climate, cuisine and way of life. The winemakers are looking to places such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece to find grape varieties that are suited to the Australian climate and can produce wines to match.
Let’s not forget the vine age of Australia’s plantings. (…) The mature vines are underpinning more consistent quality and style. They produce wines that are more reliable and more age-worthy.
And just like many great winegrowing nations around the world, Australia has also moved towards more sustainable farming. Australian viticulture has shifted from focusing on very specific (and abstract) data-focused goals to a more holistic approach. With more sustainable and more environmentally friendly farming practices, winemakers produce better grapes and make wines that better expressive their place. (…)
For consumers and the global wine trade, there has never been a better time to get into Australian wine, or get back into Australian wine, and celebrate all that’s great in the offering.
Cabernet and chardonnay continue to reign supreme in Margaret River, and there are many producers to choose from. Watch established names Moss Wood, Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle and Xanadu, as they’re all setting a cracking pace at the top (…) it’s never been a better time to drink Australia’s best wines!
Published August 15th, 2018Read More
One of the first trained viticulturists in the region is still in his vineyards, making complex and elegant wines.
It is just six months shy of 40 years since Keith Mugford first rolled up at the gates of Moss Wood. It was very early days for Margaret River as the
local limber and dairy industries began their technical decline and the locals first saw the odd vineyard planted in the surrounding and picturesque rolling hills. No doubt the many surfers did not know what to make of the influx of vignerons buying up parcels of land with dreams of crafting world-class wines.
Local visionaries Bill and Sandra Pannell had started planting Moss Wood in 1969 and 10 years later Bill began the search for a qualified viticulturist and winemaker to assist. He made inquiries among his friends. including Bill Hardy of the famous Hardy winemaking clan, looking for some talent -and the young Hardy knew of a local doctor’s son who he thought might fit the bill.
Mugford had grown up in McLaren Vale, surrounded by winemaking families, which no doubt led him on to the winemaking path: first into formal wine study at Roseworthy, and then into a job at Moss Wood with the Pannells. Mugford and Bill Pannell worked closely together and formed a strong bond
crafting wines that still drink well to this day. Clare and Keith Mugford first leased and then purchased Moss Wood in 1985 from the Pannells; that bond forged between the two families as they laid the foundations for Moss Wood remains strong to this day.
Mugford timed his move to Margaret River exquisitely, and as one of the first winemakers in the region who had actually trained in viticulture he was at a distinct advantage. The region had already attracted a group of passionate and skilful enthusiasts who would between them set Margaret River on its meteoric rise from holiday destination to the global superstar wine region it is today.
‘It was a wonderful time to be part of,” Clare Mugford says. “Everybody prickled and sparkled with enthusiasm for a new shiny produce that was
interesting, cool, exciting to grow, steeped in history, but so, so new for this area. All the early wine pioneers were idealists, perfectionists in their own careers and determined to bring that resolve and those high standards to what that they chose to pursue in their spare time. Keith and I were privileged to be swept along with them.”
They may have been swept along at first but it was not long before the wines of Moss Wood were also considered among the region’s finest -particularly the Estate cabernet sauvignon. And today, while many of the region’s pioneers have stepped away from the day-to-day management of their wineries and vineyards, Keith and Clare remain intimately involved in all steps of the winemaking process al Moss Wood, with sons Tristan and Hugh keen to follow.
It was not only the skill and hard work of its first vignerons that drove the region’s success – Margaret River also enjoyed a spectacular natural advantage in terms of its climate and natural environment. Close to the coastline, with the moderating influences of water to the north, west and south, the wines from Margaret River manage to retain a sense of elegance in even the warmest vintages and from a wide range of grape varieties. Moss Wood, 3km from the sea, also enjoys gravelly loam soils that provide an elegant savoury style for the Estate cabernet sauvignon, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and 4 percent petit verdot when vintages permit, along with a gentle hand in the winery.
While red wines from the original estate plantings have long been the stars at the winery, recent vintages have seen the rise of new vineyards, particularly Ribbon Vale, and white wines in the Moss Wood stable. Ribbon Vale is planted close to and on similar soils to the Moss Wood Estate and creates superb reds, if in an earlier drinking style than the Estate vineyard. The Moss Wood chardonnay, grown on the original estate, also appears to be gaining refinement and delicacy with every vintage.
The wines from Moss Wood, much like their proprietors, are never flashy and brash; they never jump out of the glass and demand attention. But what they invariably do is show understated strength and power in a reserved and elegant style. That combination of might and finesse is at the core of
what makes the Moss Wood Estate cabernet sauvignon, especially in exceptional vintage such as 2015, worth seeking out.
I have been having a lot of fun lately. No surprise really, because this is the time of the year when some of the big names start to strut their stuff and I get to taste some of the great wines -not just of Australia but of the world. One of the most Interesting is the latest Moss Wood cabernet sauvignon from tho 2015 vintage. You might recall that last year I gave my first 99-point score. This year I am only a point behind, but there will be some who prefer the slightly less opulent but no less extraordinary 2015 to the 2014.Read More
Our distributor in Victoria, Fesq & Co, has organised a dinner at Woodland House next week for the release of Moss Wood 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Moss Wood’s Alex Coultas and Tristan Mugford will host the event. Alex has been Moss Wood’s fulltime Assistant Winemaker since December 2012 and Tristan is back full time in the Moss Wood fold, following 6 years away, studying at Adelaide University and then working on the Mornington Peninsula; both are winemakers and viticulturists, each with 12 years’ experience in the industry.
The line up:
Moss Wood 2017 Ribbon Vale Semillon Sauvignon Blanc
Moss Wood 2017 Semillon
Moss Wood 2008 Semillon
Moss Wood 2015 Ribbon Vale Merlot
Moss Wood 2008 Ribbon Vale Merlot
Moss Wood 2017 Amy’s
Moss Wood Ribbon Vale 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon
Moss Wood 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon
Moss Wood 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
Wednesday the 30th May, 2018
6:30pm for 7:00pm start
78 Williams Road, Prahran
(03) 9525 2178
To book, Contact Woodland House directly via phone or Email.Read More
The latest Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015, is one of the best I’ve ever seen from this exalted winery. Is it the best? Not easy to say, as we have to rely on memory for that, but I do think it’s one of the best in recent years and Moss Wood seems to have moved ever so slightly away from the extremely ripe style that it had been espousing even as the other top Margaret River producers were throttling back on alcohol. I scored in 98, which is very high for me.
At the same time as there are more and more up-market, high-priced cabernets there are also plenty of good-value bottles at affordable prices.
It’s just one of a bevy of beauties in my latest tasting of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet-based blends. The fashionistas may not be drinking much cab, but those who love serious red wine are.
To begin with, the cake was topped by a thick layer of icing in the form of the latest vintages of Vasse Felix Tom Cullity, Cullen Diana Madeline, Yeringberg, Thompson Estate The Specialist, Cape Mentelle, Elderton Ashmead, Te Mata Estate Coleraine and more, as well as Moss Wood. Cabernet is better than it’s been for a long time right now.
Back to that brilliant 2015 Moss Wood Wilyabrup Cabernet Sauvignon. I asked winemaker/proprietor Keith Mugford if he was shooting for a bit more elegance in the wine these days, and received this illuminating reply.
“Yes, we are making all our wines with a view to keeping the alcohol levels to a maximum that is appropriate for the style and which means they’re generally lower than a decade or so ago. In the case of Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, consumer preference means the wine must be free of green fruit notes, which requires it to be picked at around 13.0 degrees Baumé, depending on the prevailing conditions of the vintage. That being the case, it will have an alcohol in the high 13s, specifically 13.7% if it’s picked at exactly 13.0 (Baumé).
“In the past, we were always inclined to err on the side of ripeness, meaning we’d allow a few extra days on the vine to make certain the green fruit notes were lost. It is always better to make a wine slightly too ripe than slightly too green, or at least it is for Moss Wood. Therefore, we’d more likely pick around 13.5 Baumé, or higher, and take the alcohol up to the mid-14s.
“The philosophy hasn’t changed much but we have become much more specific about it and focused on getting the Baumé/flavour mix as spot-on as we can.”
Published May 8th, 2018Read More
Semillon brings the Hunter Valley great international renown but it’s not a noted variety in Western Australia’s Margaret River. Sure Margaret River semillon-sauvignon blends have wide popularity, but cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are the area’s poster children. To Clare and Keith Mugford, however, semillon is the “unsung hero” that has been pivotal in their Moss Wood operation in the northern Wilyabrup sub-region. At a time when Margaret River has been marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 planting of its first vineyard at Vasse Felix, Moss Wood has enjoyed the distinctionof being the area’s second vineyard – established in 1969 by Busselton medico Dr Bill Pannell and his wife Sandra. With the recent release of the Moss Wood 2017 Margaret River Semillon, Clare and Keith have highlighted the 40th birthday of the marque and its impact on them. In their early Moss Wood plantings, the Pannells couldn’t get chardonnay cuttings and in 1972 they defied the conventional wisdom favouring riesling and put in semillon. In 1976 the vines produced a tiny batch of wine that was oak barrel-fermented, but didn’t please the Pannells. They refused to sell the wine but allowed experienced tasters to sample it. Among them was them was the WA Governor, Sir Wallace Kyle, who was so impressed he persuaded the Pannells to supply the wine for a 1977 Silver Jubilee tour Government House dinner for the Queen. It was the only wine of that style and was quickly replaced from the 1977 vintage to the present by semillon made in classic Hunter unoaked manner. That 1977 wine was to have a profound impact on avid surfer and McLaren Valebred Roseworthy College winemaking student Keith Mugford. As a final-year student in 1978 Keith was introduced to the wine at a dinner with two colleagues from Western Australia. Keith, who as a student had done vintages in the Hunter with Tullochs and in the Barossa with Orlando, was much impressed and after his 1979 graduation eagerly accepted the Pannells’ offer of a job as Moss Wood winemaker and viticulturist. When the Pannells retired in 1984 after 15 years running a winery and meeting the demands of family and a busy medical practice, they sold the business to 26-yearold Keith and his wife Clare. Today the couple say semillon is close to their hearts. “It grows like a weed, ripens reliably and produces wines that are lively and vibrant in their youth, but cellarfor decades – a true unsung hero,” the Mugfords say.
March 14th, 2018Read More
Speaking of the 1970’s, it’s worth noting Keith commenced his career at Moss Wood with the 1979 vintage. Those who are good at maths will know he’s now into his 40th harvest which must put him in the veteran category, compared with Clare, who joined him in 1984 and is a mere whippersnapper only up to her 34th! They are both very fortunate all the young folk tolerate their grumpy ramblings!Read More
Our 2018 vintage crew have been rolling in since the beginning of January and they are a very scholarly bunch.
Tristan Mugford is back full time in the Moss Wood fold, following 6 years away, studying at Adelaide University and then working on the Mornington Peninsula.
Also returning is another Adelaide University alumnus, Simon Nankivell, who helped us in 2016 and then spent 2017 in the Napa Valley at Anomaly Vineyards. The big fire presented some challenges but he’s confident they’ve made good wines that aren’t smoke-tainted. Being a small producer, processing only 32 tonnes, they picked as the fire started and got their fruit in before the valley filled with smoke.
We also have some “cucumbers” (Cowaramup fishing slang for newcomers).
Luca Tessari from Borgo-Ticino in Piedmont is currently finishing his degree in Viticulture and Oenology at University of Milan. Amongst other places, he has worked for Domaine de Seguin Manuel in Beaune and Francesco Brigatti at Suno in Barolo. Luca is a thoughtful bloke, who came to wine while travelling in India, where he decided he needed to work in something that involved nature. Upon returning to Italy, he tried some amateur winemaking and became hooked.
Emilie Paquette is a native of Ottawa, Ontario and a Bachelor of Commerce, with majors in Marketing and Consumer Studies, from the University of Guelph. Her interest in wine was sparked when she took the Wine and Oenology elective at Guelph and gained her WSET level 2. This has sent her on quite a journey and seen her work in Australia at Wirra Wirra, as well as Rupert and Rothschild in South Africa. She has recently been accepted into the Wine Program at Niagara College, Ontario (by the Falls) studying viticulture and oenology.
Caroline Caillaud hails from Vertou near Nantes and holds a National diploma of Agricultural Engineering from Bordeaux Sciences Agro and a National Diploma Oenology from the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne and du Vin. Caroline, whose interest in wine, oddly for a French person, was sparked by a Chilean wine, likes the combination of vineyard and winery work at Moss Wood, especially because she wants to be “polyvalent”, as they say in French!
Marie Charlemagne, is from of Le Mesnil Sur Oger in Champagne and her family have 16 hectares in Cote de Blanc at Champagne Guy Charlemagne. Their domaine is named after the founder, her grandfather and they produce 150,000 bottles annually. Marie holds a degree in Agricultural Engineering from AgroParisTech and will shortly finish her second, a degree in Viticulture and Oenology SupAgro in Montpellier. Marie is keen to build her work experience and bring those skills home to work at the family property.
Hannah Beattie, a native of Banbridge, Northern Ireland, is yet another smarty pants, who holds a Master of Arts from the University of Glasgow, with a distinction in spoken French. Her wine interest led her to do the WSET exams and she has almost completed her level 4 diploma. Until her resignation to come on this adventure to Australia, she worked for the very famous Avery’s of Bristol, where she was a Senior Account Manager in private customer sales. It’s nice to have an Avery’s person join us because the late, legendary John Avery was a visitor to Moss Wood in the early years and in recent years visits by his wife and daughter to Moss Wood have continued a contact that we appreciate.
Apart from Emilie, who is on her fourth trip to Australia, the others are on their first trip and report they’re enjoying the people, the beaches and the weather. They are also finding our version of English amusing and challenging but seem to be coping with the local lingo!Read More
We are pleased to report the 17/18 growing season has been very good to us. Rain has come at the right times and temperatures have been mild to warm, so ripening has been slow but steady. Springtime flowering conditions were benign, so all varieties appear to have set a good crop. Initially we had problems with bird attack but between the Red Gum blossom and the application of nets, we’re now holding the silvereyes at bay. We’ve got all fingers and toes crossed in the hope the fine weather continues. At the time of writing, we have begun harvesting Sauvignon Blanc and can confirm yields are slightly above average and quality very encouraging.Read More
People wear fewer clothes in a beach town. Margaret River is a place where T-shirts and board shorts rule. The cabernets of this surf culture share the same aesthetic: dressed down, physically pragmatic, their beauty tied to motion, equilibrium and grace.
What does motion have to do with wine? You might think of it as kinetic energy plus direction, two concepts that don’t often enter discussions about cabernet sauvignon. In Bordeaux, château proprietors often talk about the difference in the soil beneath their vines, the ratios of river stones, clay or sand that distinguish their wine’s expression from their neighbors’. In Napa Valley, there’s talk of soil, fog and prodigious ripeness, along with the grain of the oak barrels that aerates that ripe fruit to succulent grandeur.
In Margaret River, there is the wind, direct from the sea, separated from some cabernet vines by less than two miles of jarrah forest, a coastal landscape sustained by saturating winter rains and temperate, dry summers. Save for the winds, the competition from invasive plants, the hungry birds and the errant kangaroos, cows and other uninvited guests at harvest, there is no more copacetic place to grow great cabernet than Margaret River. Bill Minchin planted the first vineyard in what is now the Margaret River region. Like most of the pioneers, he was based in Wilyabrup, a three-hour drive south of Perth, in the northern third of a blunt promontory of land that juts out into the Indian Ocean on Western Australia’s coast. It’s 62 miles from north to south, bisected in the middle by the Margaret River, a creek running through the small town that shares its name; the region extends inland for 17 miles from the sea, but most all of the great cabernet vineyards fall in two neighborhoods: one west of town, in an area defined by Stevens Road (Cape Mentelle and Leeuwin Estate settled here early on, followed by Xanadu and Voyager), and Wilyabrup, west of Cowaramup and north of Margaret River, where the original vineyards clustered around Caves Road, barely two miles from the sea. You won’t likely find any of Minchin’s Merrifield cabernet. According to a history by Peter Forrestal and Ray Jordan published in 2017 (50 years after the earliest vineyards went into the ground), Minchin lost his first crop to possums and, later, after he’d given up on the vineyard, lost his stocks in a fire that destroyed the family home. Tom Cullity and Bill Pannell, two doctors from Perth, had better luck with their respective vineyards—Cullity at Vasse Felix and Pannell at Moss Wood. They’d both heard the buzz about the potential for viticulture in this untested region, driven by the state viticulturist, Bill Jamieson, who was busy promoting a paper by John Gladstones, a local agronomist. Gladstones posited that conditions in Margaret River were better suited to the vine than conditions in any of Australia’s established growing regions—the only caveat being the need for a site with well-drained soil, given the abundant winter rains.
Cullity, who was out digging soil pits on the weekend wherever anyone would allow it, found a parcel near Caves Road in Wilyabrup, but the owner wouldn’t sell. He got an assist from the local GP, Dr. Kevin Cullen, who was optimistic that vineyards might jumpstart the economy and raise the land values in the area. The intransigent owner of the land happened to work on Cullen’s cattle ranch, and Cullen convinced him to trade the eight-acre parcel Cullity wanted for 16 acres of the Cullen ranch. Then Cullen sold those eight acres to Cullity, who established Vasse Felix on the site. Pannell found 26 acres just to the north of Cullity; the Jupiters, Cullity’s new neighbors, planted vines on their ranch; and the Cullens eventually planted as well, forming the early nexus of Wilyabrup cabernet vineyards. The plant material came from Jack Mann and his son, Dorham, who tended cabernet sauvignon at Houghton in the Swan River Valley, northeast of Perth. Fifty years on, successive generations of those original selections have become a distinctive asset of Margaret River cabernet.
My First introduction to those vines came in the 1990’s. Ted Schrauth had grown up in New England, married a doctor from Perth, and settled there, exporting wines to the states and running fi shing expeditions with friends in the trade o Nantucket Island. Fishing was fi ne, but it was the promise of diving for abalone o the Margaret River coast that convinced me to head to Western Australia. At six a.m. one morning, Schrauth collected me and my duel from Leeuwin Estate and we headed to the beach. We donned wetsuits in a parking lot by the rocky shore and swam out to two massive underwater rock outcroppings, each forming the wall of a channel, where the abalone attached themselves, fattening up on bits of kelp ripped up by the waves. We had to battle the same currents that were feeding the abalone, and my haul was not quite up to Schrauth’s. Too busy catching my breath, then swimming down and trying to pry the creatures o the rocks, I didn’t notice that I’d scraped a gash in my ankle until towelling off.
Schrauth drove us to Moss Wood for first aid. Inside the winery, a simple insulated steel structure with a cavernous door on the west side, Keith Mugford was by the tanks, wrestling with some hoses on the floor which is pretty much the same place I found him when I returned this past November, except the hoses were attached to a mobile bottling line that had backed up to the door. Expressing some relief that he didn’t need to bandage me up this time, Mugford led me out to the vineyard, a sheltered hillside facing north, toward the sun, and east, away from the wind. Within the 29 acres of vines, he still tends some of the original vines the Pannell family planted in 1969. He’s been here since 1979, staying on with his wife, Clare, to lease the property from the Pannells in 1984 and then buy it a year later. The relatively warm, sheltered site ripens cabernet more reliably than a parcel the Mugfords purchased one mile south. “When we bought Ribbon Vale in 2000, the tannins in the cabernet were often hard,” Clare told me as we drove to see it. The parcel is a long, narrow strip of vineyards with a grove of trees in the middle, which they planted to alleviate some of the wind stress on those vines. “Now that the trees provide some protection, we are getting better ripeness and softer tannins,” Clare said.
Back in his aging cellar, Mugford filled a glass from one barrel, the fruit of the short rows at the top of the hill, part of the 1971 planting at Moss Wood, then another from the long rows down the hill, the 1970 planting; the Pannells propagated those vines from the “super selection” of cabernet that Dorham Mann had developed, narrowing his father’s original selection of 29 vines down to five. The wine from the short rows tasted meaty and sweet, with long, graceful tannins. The cabernet from down the hill gave more cassis-driven fruit. And a blend from the “old block,” the original planting (including Jack Mann’s selection and Dorham’s super selection), was rich and spicy, with more openness to the tannins and beautiful red-berry fruitiness. I was thinking about these young wines the next day, at a retrospective tasting of Margaret River cabernet hosted at Vasse Felix. Moss Wood showed the 2005, a cabernet just hitting its stride. The ripe currant tones apparent in the barrel samples had gained resonance, while the wine still carried the energy and freshness of fruit grown on the Margaret River coast, the warm-cool of the sand and the surf, red spice and black fruit, complete and delicate.Read More