Earlier this month Sharon and I shared a meal of very slow cooked lamb shoulder and a glass or two of recently bottled 2010 Gundog Estate Marksman’s Shiraz. It was a quiet celebration in our otherwise crowded and peripatetic lives designed to recognise the five-year anniversary of our purchase of the Gundaroo vineyard and the start of our new and fascinating journey through the world of quality boutique wine production.
July 2006—Where it all began
We laid out a Five-Year Production Plan; I enrolled in an on-line oenology and viticulture degree course at Curtin University, and we threw ourselves into Canberra Wine Region rural living. Meanwhile Matthew waited expectantly for our first vintage grapes. 2006 happened to be the driest year in the Yass River Valley for 25 years with around 300mm of rainfall instead of the 'average‘ of 680mm. Our large earth dam was down to about 10% capacity when we started watering the grapes. Ninety-two year old Jack from over the road said, ―never seen it like this mate!, as we agreed to agist the hungriest of his scrawny sheep on our unused pasture block. We nurtured the grapes and watched with fascination as the flowering, fruit set, veraison and ripening stages transformed the vines into regularly changing displays of the wonder of viticulture.
With military precision I began to develop warlike strategies against the birds that were eyeing off our grapes in this dry, hungry season. Our first vintage was small in quantity but the fruit had ripened perfectly in that hot summer. The berries were small, in tight little bunches, and so full of interesting flavours. Matthew was well pleased and began experimenting with the wines he would be able to make with this bounty.
July 2011—Amazing to be here
Lessons Learned 1: Five-year plans might work well in Soviet tractor factories but they‘re as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike when dealing with the Australian climate.
We may have strayed from the Plan but our overall goals and targets have been achieved in spades. I claimed somewhat immodestly in an earlier newsletter that my Holy Grail was the perfect Australian cool-climate Shiraz. The 2010 Marksman’s Shiraz moves us a giant step closer to that goal. In the family‘s short wine making history we have produced three Shiraz vintages, all made with fruit from the same small block of unique shiraz vines nourished by the same ancient soil lying two metres deep beneath them. The climate, temperature, rainfall, sunshine hours, frosts and winds the only other variables in this extraordinary terroir.
We place enormous importance on the quality of the fruit we use to make Gundog wines. The only other really sig-nificant component of any successful wine is of course the skill of the winemaker and in our case having Matthew Burton performing the alchemy that turns grapes into wine (much more complex than turning lead into gold in my view) is the real reason Gundog has enjoyed so much success over the past five years.
As you know we make Rosé and several Semillon wines – all multi-award winning and testament to Matt‘s skill with a growing palette of wine styles, but it is the way he has taken up the Shiraz challenge with each new vintage building on the previous one, offering up wines of increasing complexity and finesse that leaves one head-shaking in wonderment.
It seems sinful to drink the 2010 Marksman’s Shiraz now, although it tastes great, so I‘m making a new Five Year Plan – I‘m going to put down as much as I can of this fabulous wine, in a locked cellar, to be enjoyed in July 2016 with as many of our friends as I can muster. But who knows what magic the wizard Matthew will be performing during the five intervening vintages?
And now for the weather...
I can‘t finish this letter without a note about the weather; it‘s a very rural thing.
The Weather Bureau says that we are experiencing the coldest Canberra July for seventeen years. Almost every day there has been a deep frost with today‘s minimum, for instance, dropping to -6.3 degrees on the vineyard.
Frosts at this time of the year are fine, although uncomfortable if you are looking to work outdoors, and the following clear sunny afternoons and sunsets are particularly beautiful.
The weather continued...
On Gundog Estate we went into the winter with an almost full dam and there have been a few significant rainfalls in that time. Underneath the frozen topsoil the amount of moisture in the sub-strata is very reassuring.
We will start hand pruning in a few weeks time (when there is no longer a risk of hypothermia to the pruners) which always represents for me the first gesture towards the new vintage and the hopeful uncertainty of just how much better the 2012 grapes, and the wine made from them, can possibly be.
Fine Food & Gundog Estate Wines
Wine and food matching is a fine gourmet activity and consciously or not we all practice this when rummaging through the cellar looking for the most appropriate bottle to have with the dinner roasting in the oven, or scanning the menu and wine list in a restaurant deciding what to drink with which food.
Other factors come into play with this game as well: the price level of the wine, the importance of one‘s dining companion, one‘s expectations and aspirations for the evenings outcome etc etc. For the moment however we will confine our wine list to the increasing stable of Gun-dog Estate wines, and instead of just matching tastes let‘s look at using the wines in the dishes themselves, maybe creating a truly original taste combination.
Take the newly released Gundog Estate Muscat, already outselling expectations at the Hunter Cellar Door in Pokolbin. Tradi-tionally Australian fortified wines, including the great Rutherglen Muscats, have always represented some of the best examples of these wine types made anywhere in the world. It‘s just that as a wine consuming nation we are amongst the world‘s smallest – we drink much less of this wine style than Britain, Spain, Portugal and the rest of Europe. Along with Brian Crosser, who sees the re-invention of Australian fortifieds as the best commercial path forward for the local wine industry, I‘m out to get Muscat, Toquay, Tawny etc back into everyone‘s cellar!
Gundog Estate Muscat goes together perfectly with two of my favourite foods: blue cheese and chocolate. This already sets up an end of meal scenario, but just try poaching some fruit in it, and then reducing the marinade to a delicious, sticky little sauce. This is what I did last weekend:
Pears Poached in Gundog Estate Muscat
- 375 ml Gundog Estate Muscat
- 400 gms caster sugar
- 2 Cinnamon sticks
- Peeled rind and juice of one orange
- 4 Firm but ripe pears cut in half and cores spooned out
Add 500 mls of water to the muscat, sugar, cinnamon, orange rind and juice in a medium sized saucepan and gradually bring to a simmer.
Add the pear halves and cover tightly with a lid (preferably glass so you can watch the cooking process) simmer until the pears are just cooked (15-20 mins) and pour off 2/3 of the poaching liquid into another smaller saucepan.
Leave the pears to cool in the remaining marinade whilst reducing the sauce in the smaller pan over a slightly higher heat for about 10-15 mins or until it reduces to a light pouring syrup.
1. Lightly toast a small slice of brioche and arrange thinly sliced pear on top. Pour the reduced Muscat syrup over and add a small scoop of marscapone on the side.
2. Put a half pear into a desert plate with a scoop of good quality vanilla bean ice cream and pour Muscat syrup over.