The completion of the very successful 2018 vintage saw us celebrate our 10th year of operation! The time has definitely flown by, and it has been an extraordinary journey. From the humble beginnings of just two wines, a Canberra District Rosé and Shiraz (around 300 cases in total), the Gundog portfolio has exploded to almost 30 wines – encompassing 3 regions, and 8 source vineyards, across a total production of around 7,000 cases. That’s not even including the Burton McMahon range – with a further 2 single vineyard Yarra Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. Despite the expansion in the number of products, we remain tightly focussed on a narrow number of varieties, following our desire to pursue only the best examples from the source regions, and vineyards.
Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to receive consistent recognition of the quality of wines we produce, via the wine show circuit and from the inspiring, and humbling, words of endorsement from wine writers. We’ve been encouraged by critics and customers alike to continue developing the wide breadth of styles we produce, from the classical to the truly innovative.
With the first 10 years marked by rapid expansion, what’s next for Gundog? In terms of production, we will continue to grow the business in line with demand, as our vineyard sources allow. Quality will remain the first and foremost consideration in any wines we produce, while innovation and experimentation will continue to drive our exploration of variety, style and regional identity. We will continue to work to forge a place amongst the very best wine producers in the country. On top of this, we are diving into one of the most significant and exciting plot twists in the Gundog story thus far, with the launch of a community focussed partnership that will hopefully change the lives of many (read on in the next article).
Clearly, none of what we have already achieved, and what we hope to achieve over the next 10 years, would be possible without the support of our customers, wonderful Cellar Club Members, and the brilliant work of our staff, so thank you all for coming on this journey with us.
GUNDOG AND PATH 2 CHANGE
Our 10th Anniversary is a significant milestone for our family business and it’s thanks to you - our members and supporters, that we have achieved this. We are choosing to celebrate this milestone and mark our next phase a little differently - by giving back to the community.
Did you know that homelessness is reaching a State of Emergency here in NSW?
Nearly 40,000 people are homeless and the rate of homelessness is increasing at epidemic levels. There was a 37% jump between 2011 and 2016 in NSW, which is more than double the increase across the country. Young people form a significant portion of those experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.
Our young people are a significant resource to Australia yet, without support, many struggle to access opportunities to reach their potential, at great cost to us all. The transition to adulthood can be challenging even for those from safe, nurturing and healthy families. The young people that access Path 2 Change services have undergone profoundly destructive experiences. Many are scared, traumatised, confused, and as young as 15, are trying to navigate their transition into adulthood without the support of family or community. This can lead to poor outcomes – risk of homelessness, disrupted education, lower prospects of employment, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, higher rates of incarceration and struggles with mental and physical health.
We are passionate about doing something at the grass-roots level to change the future of disadvantaged youth. As such, we are thrilled to announce a partnership between Gundog Estate and Path 2 Change.
Path 2 Change are a fantastic, unique, not-for-profit, organisation based in Newcastle that seek to prevent and reduce youth homelessness. They provide care, protection, support & advice through identifying cracks in the current system. They invest in programs to both support and empower those experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness, assisting them to achieve independence and connection within the community.
At Gundog, we see this as a long-term strategic partnership where our business activities can benefit those disadvantaged the most - not just through fund raising, but through work experience, training and mentoring. We are really excited at the potential we have to make a tangible, and sustainable, difference in helping transform the lives of disadvantaged youth.
By continuing to support Gundog you are doing something to help us help others. By buying and drinking great wines you’re leaving a legacy of improved prospects for those not as fortunate.
We look forward to sharing more information about Path 2 Change programs, telling you about how they are benefiting participants, and how your support of Gundog is contributing to this change.
Gundog Estate Owner and Winemaker, Matt Burton, and Path 2 Change Executive Manager, Jennifer O’Sullivan
AWARDS AND REVIEWS ROLL IN
2018 has delivered some brilliant critical acclaim for our wines. Our 2018 ‘The Chase’ Semillon landed GOLD medals
at the Royal Sydney, Royal Queensland and the National wine shows,
while our 2018 Riesling and 2017 Hilltops Shiraz No.1 each claimed GOLD medals at their respective regional shows. Very favourable
reviews have been published across the range of 2018 whites, and
2017 reds – most notably the Rare Game Shiraz,
with reviews including a brilliant 95-point rating from Huon Hooke, and
very kind words from Max Allen in Gourmet Traveller Magazine. In James Halliday’s 2019 Wine Companion,
we retained our prestigious FIVE RED STAR winery rating (top 2% of wineries), with an amazing nine wines
receiving 95 points or above. Added to this, only our second ever
Riesling scored an incredible 97 points from James Halliday and beat out all competitors to feature as the highest rated of
all Rieslings in Halliday’s prestigious ‘Top 100 wines of 2018’.
BEST SMALL CELLAR DOOR OF THE YEAR – HUNTER VALLEY
For the second time since opening our doors 7 years ago, we have been humbled with this prestigious award from Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine. The Hunter is home to over 150 cellar doors, which means this type of recognition is made even more special. The award is an absolute credit to our passionate staff, who deliver a world class cellar door experience, day in and day out – well done team!
CHAT WITH MATT
You know as well as we do that once you become a Gundog customer, you really become part of the family.
It has always been our goal to create wine that brings people together. So we have created a group for Gundog members and friends to connect! We've got members and Gundog appreciators all over Australia so we are so excited to get you all involved!
As part of this exclusive group, we will also include Chat to Matt forums where you can ask him questions and get the inside scoop on all that is happening at Gundog Estate.
To join the group, click this link. We cannot wait to connect with you!
2019 CALENDAR OF EVENTS
We are finalising details for our line up of Members and Friends events for 2019. Mark the dates in your diary and stay tuned for your invitation closer to the dates!
4 + 5 MAY Lunches at Pony Dining, The Rocks 27 JULY Canberra Member’s Lunch 17 AUGUST Hunter Winery Lunch 28SEPTEMBER Brisbane Member’s Lunch 26 OCTOBER Sydney Tasting Event
SUNDAY SOUNDS at the Cork St. Cellar, Gundaroo: 10 March, 14 April, 23 June, 18 August and 13 October
2018 MEMBER EVENT SNAPS
VINTAGE 2019 IS UPON US!
At the time of writing, we are coming out the other side of a hot and compressed Hunter Valley harvest! A relatively normal Spring budburst suggested that the harvest wouldn’t start in earnest until after the January long weekend but relentless heat certainly brought things forward. Thus, Gundog picking commenced on 21st January, with one of our favourite parcels of Semillon, from Dave and Sue Vernon’s dry-grown, and picturesque, Mount View vineyard. One of the more full-flavoured parcels we receive each year, we often break down the batch, and ferment some volumes on skins, like reds, and others cloudy, in tank or barrel. This forms the foundation of our ever-popular Wild Semillon blend! See below: Nick, Jackie, and Matt draining off the first batch of skin-fermented Semillon
We’ve since taken some brilliant parcels of Semillon and Shiraz from the Somerset and Tinkler’s vineyards. These we harvested early while the flavour and acidity were still bright and fresh. Wines produced from these vineyards usually find their way into our award-winning ‘The Chase’ Semillon, and Rare Game Shiraz blends. Image below: Semillon from the Tinkler’s School Block, delivered in pristine condition
Hot years like this tend to deliver more concentrated wines, boasting
generous flavour and mouthfeel. This generally translates into
strong early-drinking appeal in both whites and reds, despite the
extra body and structure. 2019 is the third consecutive vintage
in the Hunter with above average temperatures and very low rainfall.
With the last of the Hunter fruit in, we've taken our first
parcels of Riesling and Shiraz from Canberra and Hilltops, and
each have looked outstanding...very exciting!
FROM THE GUNDOG CORK STREET CELLAR, GUNDAROO
What a wonderful second year for the Gundog Cork Street Cellar! We’ve had plenty of visiting members through, with many guests offering lots of positive feedback on the Cork Street experience, and about how perfect a spot our terrace is for an afternoon cheese platter and a glass of wine!
2018 saw Gundog participate in Canberra’s comprehensive festival schedule; both attending, and hosting, many events throughout the year. Highlights definitely include both the winter Truffle and Fireside Festivals.
During the Truffle Festival, which is held from June through August, Gundog paired up with a local Gundaroo truffle grower, Chris Joshua. Fresh “diamonds of the kitchen” truffles were then shaved on top of oozy French brie and paired with a vertical flight of Gundog Estate Shiraz, spanning five vintages. You can imagine how much of a treat it was to see wines produced from the same vineyard present so differently due to vintage variation alone. The wines ranged in style; from the cooler 2012 season through to the hot and dry 2016 vintage! For me, this really highlighted the unique qualities of boutique wine production, individual qualities that are often lost on a larger, commercial scale.
The Fireside Festival (featuring venues with cosy fireplaces 😊) spanned three weeks and was another chance for Gundog Estate to team up with neighbouring restaurant, Grazing. We paired the always amazing Gundog Muscat with three delectable desserts; Pumpkin ‘Pie’, Salted Hazelnut and Caramel Parfait (my personal favourite), and a Pear Galette.
Excitingly, our Sunday Sounds events continue to build in popularity. These events are held at the Cork St. Cellar door and have really highlighted the wonderful versatility of this site. Holding these events means regular fun experiences for both new, and regular, Gundog visitors, and has allowed us to pair our wines with exceptional meals accompanied by wonderful local musicians. We have had the courtyard glass doors wide open, with the live music serenading those 40 or so people seated inside and out. In winter, with a more intimate number of attendees, we have the fireplace roaring, keeping everyone so very cozy.
Being able to work so closely, and regularly, with Chef Kurt Neumann of Grazing fame has been such a treat and with 2019 dates and menus locked in, these are events that are not to be missed!
The Sunday Sounds Events have proved to be very popular 10 March (first SS for the year) 14 April 23 June 18 August (truffle festival) 13 October
In mentioning all these future events, I’ll recap our last event
in Gundaroo. We finished off 2018 with a bang and, in December,
we hosted a Gundaroo locals event at the cellar door - not
only to celebrate our 18 month trading anniversary in this beautiful
location, but also as a thank you to all locals and visitors for
supporting our venture in Canberra. The evening was enjoyable,
Chef Kurt from Grazing supplying the goods with a honey-glazed
Christmas ham (expertly carved by Geoff) and paired with a scrumptious
slaw...alongside some magnificent Gundog wines of course! I really
enjoyed the chance to mingle with everyone and reminisce on our
opening and how well (and FAST) the past 18 months have gone.
It just goes to show, there is always something fun going on in
Canberra and if you haven’t had the chance to visit, I’d highly
recommend coming down! We have convenient accommodation located
just a few doors down at The Nest, a local pub a block away and,
of course, a fabulous wine district just waiting for more wine
lovers to discover it!
STAY IN BURGUNDY
Audrey and Clément recently hosted Geoff and Sharon at the beautiful Masion des Courtines in Beaune, France. Boasting luxuriously appointed studios and apartments, this is the ideal base from which to explore the vineyards (and restaurants!) of Burgundy.
Geoff and Sharon struck up such a relationship with the hosts that they have since offered the following to any of our wine club members who might be interested in staying with them;
The 2018 season in the Canberra District played out well. Despite a January hail event, which particularly affected vineyards in Murrumbateman, a warm and dry summer delivered minimal disease pressure and promised to deliver outstanding fruit. Fairly typical, early-autumn, conditions ensured ripening which led to sugar accumulation coinciding nicely with flavour development, with the first fruit harvested on the 9th of March.
2018 marks the release of our second ever Canberra District Riesling. Again, we were lucky enough to get our hands on just a few tonnes
of fruit from the talented guys over at the Four Winds Vineyard,
which was hand-picked and promptly delivered to our winery in the
Hunter. Only the first 500 litres per tonne of free-run juice was
used, which was fined and racked prior to fermentation with an
aromatic yeast (QA23). As per the 2017 release, I sought absolute
purity of fruit expression, supported by a line of natural acidity.
For the second consecutive vintage, there was no need to adjust
the acidity whatsoever; the numbers were superb. The wine went
to bottle with a pH of 2.87 and TA of 7.8 g/L, in careful balance
with a residual sugar of 4.3 g/L and an alcohol of 11.3%.
97 Points - James Halliday TOP 100 Wines for 2019
GOLD medal -
2018 Canberra District Regional Wine Show.
2018 'THE CHASE' SEMILLON
Detail, precision, and purity are the key themes driving this wine for us. As per the 2017 release, ‘The Chase’ is produced from fruit grown at the Somerset Vineyard in Pokolbin,
almost entirely from a 1969 planting, set over an old creek bed
that runs through the property. This was the exceptional block
I referred to in the introduction! Despite the very low yields,
and hot conditions, the fruit ripened evenly and held beautiful
acidity to harvest. I can only speculate that it was a combination
of vine age, a really well-established canopy, and protection from
the outright western sun and wind, that delivered us this miracle
parcel at just 10 baume. As the days were so damned hot, I made
the decision to take the block by machine – which, given that this
is our most significant parcel of Semillon year to year, was not
an easy one to make. I must have done something right in a former
life because on the night(s) of harvesting, the temps dropped to
around 10 degrees C – absolutely freaky stuff! The low arrival
temps, combined with our Champagne-like approach to minimal extraction
(450-550 litres per tonne), meant that the juice glowed a luminous
green in tank – and I had a big smile on my face!
Winemaking revisions are minor from year-to-year for this wine
so, following fermentation, we racked from heavy lees, and then
allowed it to mature slightly cloudy in tank for four months to
flesh it out, and bring a sense of cohesiveness to the palate.
Very little fining was required before bottling, as the small amount
of residual phenolic material helped to shape, and add weight,
to the wine.
I believe this Semillon to be as good as anything I made from the
2005, 2009, or 2016 vintages – right up there!
GOLDmedal - 2018 National Wine Show
GOLDmedal - 2018 Royal Sydney Wine Show
GOLDmedal - 2018 Royal Queensland Wine Show
96 Points James Halliday
95 Points Huon Hooke
2018 WILD SEMILLON
I seem to have more and more fun making this wine every year! As my confidence as a winemaker grows, and my belief in this alternative style firms, I get more and more adventurous in the number and style of parcels and ferments that eventually form the patchwork of the blend.
Is the 2018 the most interesting one yet? I’ll leave that for you to decide but, from my point of view, I’m very pleased with the direction we are moving in with the Wild Semillon. The ultimate goal is to craft an enticing, even exotic, style
of Hunter Valley Semillon which will offer the drinker an array
of aromas, flavours, and textures that aren’t usually associated
with the variety. I think this wine works best in hot years and
this is reflected in the quality of both the 2017 and 2018 vintages.
Why? Because the fruit carries a higher level of natural phenolic
content. With bigger flavours, and higher baumés, the fruit
is better able to carry the “work” we apply in the winery. In cooler
years, I think it can look a little forced; with a highly phenolic,
spicy and intense skin fermented portion juxtaposed against a light,
and more traditional, style of Semillon – it just doesn’t seem
to mesh as well as it does in hot years. To aide this, I’ve been
focusing on bringing in a greater number, and broader range, of
bridging components into the mix. These are portions of, usually
cloudy or barely settled, juice that we ferment wild in barrel
or tank. Stylistically, they sit in between the outright ferocity
of the 100% skin ferment component (approx. 12%), and the tamer,
clean-settled, tank fermented parts of the blend. This obviously
requires a great deal more effort in the winery, but I feel it’s
really taken the wine to a new level. There are over a dozen individual
components in this year’s Wild Semillon, versus three or four just
a couple of years ago.
2017 RARE GAME SHIRAZ
I am more than a little excited about this release! We haven’t had a Rare Game since the stellar 2014 vintage and, needless to say, I had a big
smile on my face as this went down the bottling line. In fact,
if I think about it, I can trace the origin of the smile back to
the arrival of two parcels of Shiraz that braved the heat better
than I could have ever imagined. Despite the excruciatingly low
yields, fruit from the Tinkler’s 1948 (old Ben Ean) plantings,
and the Somerset 1970 block, arrived fresh and vibrant. We took
these parcels after the bulk of our other Shiraz was in, so perhaps
they were far enough behind in terms of ripeness that they were
better equipped to ride out the heat; and that they did in style.
Aware of the intensity of flavours on offer, and already thinking
about where these parcels would end up, I decided to run whole
berries in both ferments, and 25% whole bunches in the 48 Block
(which translated to 17% of the final blend). I held both parcels
cold for a couple of days, fermented warm, and finished them hot.
I was looking to capture the full breadth of potential flavours
and all the shapes of tannin on offer. Maturation was then over
14 months, in 30% new French oak, by way of tight-grained St. Martin
I summarise this wine simply by saying, I have never bottled a
Hunter Shiraz offering remotely as much vibrancy, and intensity,
after a 14-month stint in barrel. Defying the heat, there is just
so much personality in this wine. I can’t help but love the way
it encapsulates the enigma that is growing grapes in the Hunter
Valley and, after a couple of wet years, serves as a timely reminder
of why we are here!
95 Points -
2017 MARKSMAN'S SHIRAZ
We were lucky to receive some outstanding parcels of Canberra District Shiraz in 2017. Highlights included Phillip Williams’ Wallaroo, the Four Winds, and Dahlberg vineyards. For each parcel, a combination of crushed fruit and whole-berries were cold-soaked for 2 days, prior to warm fermentations, which we allowed to initiate naturally, before over-seeding with M2 yeast. Maturation then took place over 16 months in (30% new) French oak puncheons prior to blending. As per the 2016 release, the 2017 Marksman’s was produced without the inclusion of Viognier.
Reflecting the extended ripening season, which benefited from warm
days, cool nights, and minimal rainfall, each of these parcels
offered excellent depth of flavour, and aromatic complexity, evident
very early on in the production process. Favourable chemistry,
and outstanding tannin profiles, confirmed the quality of the season,
and I had no hesitation in pursuing another Marksman’s Shiraz blend.
In such quality terms, I believe the 2017 Hilltops and Canberra
vintages to be right on par with 2015. For me, each are stand-out
vintages for the ways in which the resulting wines offer pristine
delivery of fruit flavour, effortless complexity, and a kind of
energy that leaves no doubt as to their immediate, or future quality.
The enduring goal with this range is to create wines that will
challenge some of the winemaking, and sensory norms, usually associated
with the varietals used, and to evoke a sense of discovery in the
drinker. We take an experimental approach to many aspects of the
winemaking, looking to improve and evolve our processes, with the
view to applying successful techniques and approaches to other
wines in the broader Gundog Estate range.
Here’s a rundown of the winemaking behind the 2018 releases!
2018 INDOMITUS ALBUS
Dry-grown Semillon from the Vernon vineyard in Mount View. Fermented with naturally occurring yeast on 30% skins by weight, 30% fermented cloudy in barrel with naturally occurring yeast. Maturation on skins for 195 days. No fining agents used.
2018 INDOMITUS CITREA
2018 marks the very first release of Indomitus Citrea! With this wine, we decided to explore alternative winemaking approaches to Canberra District Riesling. Sourced from the Four Winds vineyard in Murrumbateman, fruit was hand-picked prior to destemming, crushing, and pressing at the winery. Cloudy juice was then fermented with naturally occurring yeast, on solids, in old barrels. Maturation occurred on lees in barrel for 4 months. No fining agents were used.
2018 INDOMITUS ROSA
Our second release of Rosa is based on Nebbiolo from the Freeman vineyards in the Hilltops region (near Young). Pressed after 12 hours on skins, we then fermented as cloudy juice, with naturally occurring yeast, on solids, in old puncheons. Maturation then took place on lees in barrel for almost 4 months. No fining agents used.
This is one of the most exciting wines I have produced. Outside of being the first time I've worked with Nebbiolo, it just kept showing so many amazing aspects of its personality throughout production - and it kept evolving. Be it the range of aromatics and flavours on offer, or even the colour, it was almost entirely different every time I tasted it.
2017 INDOMITUS RUTILUS
Shiraz from the Four Winds vineyard in Murrumbateman. Whole berries, and 25% whole bunches in the fermentation which we ran warm to hot. Maturation was then in old oak and flextanks for 12 months prior to blending. No fining agents used.
GEOFF'S LETTER FROM THE VINEYARD
The property immediately to the west of the GUNDOG ESTATEGundaroo vineyard is also
a vineyard, and its conscientious owners have been precisely tracking local rainfall for the last 35
years. It came as no surprise that the 2018 rainfall total was the third lowest for that 35-year period.
Like the rest of NSW, the Canberra District was in “official” drought for most of the year. Our large
surface dam is now almost empty, each hot day evaporating more water back to the heavens. We
have been irrigating the vineyard since budburst, back in September, exclusively with water from our
subterranean bore. Over December/January the district has experienced the longest period of 40+
degree days in its recorded history.
It is in this difficult, and hazardous, horticultural environment that we undertook our major vineyard project for 2018. As part of a long-term vision for this vineyard we began in late November changing our almost 2000 Chardonnay vines to Riesling, grafting
onto each vine trunk a tiny, new season, Riesling bud, obtained from a vineyard nursery in SA’s Riverland
There was an anxious couple of weeks as each day we carefully watered and examined each vine to check
if the hard little buds had started to soften and become “fluffy”, an indicator of the start of bud-burst.
And then, almost miraculously, there was a widespread bursting and the first tiny leaves began to uncurl.
As predicted by our expert grafting crew we ended up with an above 90% strike rate for the buds, which
was particularly gratifying.
Now, twelve weeks later, most of the new shoots from these buds have reached the cordon wire, 40cms
higher, which will become the main support structure for the future fruit-bearing shoots. Our main
task, at this stage, in addition to carefully regulated watering, is paying daily attention to removing
the new suckers of Chardonnay shoots that continue to sprout from the vine trunks, below the grafting
point. This will continue up to “leaf-fall” stage in mid-April.
With compliant weather in the year ahead we should see our first, small crop of Riesling grapes as
part of the 2020 Vintage.
The second most significant event at the Gundaroo vineyard during 2018 was our decision to take a winter break from the property. Taking advantage of the hibernation of the vineyard, Sharon and I decided to seek warmer climes and headed off to Burgundy for a few weeks. We were not disappointed as every day there was
over 30 degrees and the long summer days only ended after a 9.30pm
We set up in the historic fortified town of Beaune,
situated about halfway along the 60km Cote d’Or,
an ideal base for enjoying the marvellous, intensely cultivated,
Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy, and their associated Chateaux.
We took an apartment on the third floor of a restored 17th Century merchant’s house, near the centre of the town. This magnificent
apartment provided views across the battlements and into the various
Domaines that have cultivated grapevines, right up to the ramparts,
from as long ago as the ninth century. How the 45-year-old
history of the Canberra District Wine Region pales into comparative
For those with an interest in wine, Beaune is heavenly – everything
in this town is to do with wine; its history, production, sales,
and best of all, its consumption. Cafes and restaurants of all
standards serve the classic food of Bourgogne, matched with excellent Burgundy wines by the glass, from Grand
Cru to vin ordinaire, often available exclusively at these cafés.
Patrons choose restaurants by perusing the outside, by-the-glass,
drinks list as much as by the menu de jour.
And don’t get me going about the food…
One of the more gratifying experiences of our visit to Burgundy
was not the eating or drinking, but the opportunity to visit the
manufacturer of Matthew’s favourite French oak barrels, the Tonnellerie de Mercurey…like
everything else, just a short drive from Beaune.
Modern cooperage practice is a great exemplar of modern winery
practice: that is, the combination of basic traditional skills
with the latest high-tech equipment and methodologies. The workforce
on the factory floor, in this case 22 workers, comprise burley
hammer wielding coopers, bashing the steel bands into position
around the bending staves, and “wood engineers” examining wood
grain, porosity and splintering with a fastidious attention to
quality control. Throughout the factory there are laser guided
cutting, planing and shaping machines, replacing the previously
used hand chisels and spokeshaves, which work to within fractions
of a millimetre tolerance. Towards the end of each barrel’s assembly
it is rigorously tested for leakage, joinery strength and other
features, including appearance. At this tonnellerie,
around 60% of the barrels are sent back along the line for some
correction or modification before being branded and wrapped, ready
for shipping to wineries around the world.
To buy French oak barrels from quality coopers like Tonnellerie de Mercurey you must order well ahead – not just to give them time to make
them, but to customise them to the winemaker’s specific requirements,
and in this cooperage there are options for the most fastidious
winemaker to ponder. First there is the barrel size required.
Generally, this is a fairly obvious choice, depending on the type,
and style, of wine that is being made. More subtle factors include
the grain structure of the oak staves, its colour, aroma, length
of drying time etc. The TM company accommodate this range of wood
choices by having source forests in three different areas, all
within a 300km radius of the cooperage. In a similar way that grape
growers discuss the “terroir” of their vineyards, these coopers
talk about the terroir of their oak forests; in this case offering
a choice between soil profiles, from sandy, chalky or stony soils,
differences that produce mature oak timbers of differing grain
size and structure.
Another option for the winemaker is the degree of “toasting” that
is applied to the barrel. Traditionally, once the staves
are assembled for a barrel, and held loosely in place by steel
bands, a small fire, fuelled by oak offcuts, is lit inside the
barrel. The original purpose of this heating was to slightly
soften the staves to assist their bending but in modern practice
the effect of the toasting on the flavour profile of the finished
wine is foremost in the winemaker’s mind. TM offers winemakers
a choice of seven different degrees of toasting, to accommodate
the varying effects of the toasting on the maturing wine.
Wanting to follow, in detail, the construction of one of GUNDOG ESTATE’s
barrels, we were shown a bundle of measured and cut staves that
had just arrived at the cooperage from one of the companies “stave
mills”. Attached to this bundle was a small plastic tag with
a series of numbers and symbols stamped on it. Once this tag is
read by the first computer-controlled machine, into which the staves
are fed, a file is created that stores the timber’s forest, and
milling details, followed by all other relevant details during
the barrel’s construction until finished. Finally, a unique reference
number is created which is chiselled into the top of the barrel,
linking it to the tonnellerie’s data base. An unexpected
leak in one of these barrels, noticed in a Hunter Valley winery
for instance, can be checked against the data base and a possible
explanation of the fault may be identified.
Back in Beaune, there is a superb Wine Museum where we watched a short black and white documentary film made
in 1943 which follows the construction, by hand, of a similar oak
wine barrel to those produced by TM. The wiry old cooper in the
film worked alone in a small stone cellar, with only occasional
help from an apprentice. All cutting, shaping and measuring was
done by hand and eye. It took this master cooper 18 days
to produce one barrel – the single barrel is shown in the last
shot of the film being carted off to a winery, in a horse-drawn
Tonnelliere Murcurey coopers, there are 22 of them, produce 85 barrels a day from start
to completion, or a total of 1,530 barrels in 18 days. Using
modern technology, these coopers are producing 69.5 barrels, per
person, in the same time that the old master produced one!
Sadly, most “retired” barrels are bisected and resold through plant
nurseries as growing pots for ornamental plants. Shameful that
we can’t find a more worthy end for these superb testaments to
Cheers, till next time,
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