Now a week into 2018 and I finally have time to sit and reflect on the epic adventures of 2017. What a welcome to wine it was. Apologies for my literary absence. I have once again returned to my pursuit of wine, what new exciting chapters will 2018 hold?
2017 – a reflection:
This time last year I feel as if my brain must have been a tenth of the size it is now. At that point I may have been so bold as to say I thought I knew a fair bit about wine. I was wrong. The learning curve of 2017 had a Himalayan gradient. Eight units of study started right at the deep-end with a demijohn of flabby Shiraz rose juice and biblical-esq objective to turn it into wine. Now as I occasionally pop a bottle of my first plonk, I remember how scared I was that I’d make 20 litres of vinegar. I’m still amazed that I actually made a wine-like substance. Especially when I had relatively no idea how to evaluate its quality.
Learning to drive some seriously epic heavy machinery and get uber butch on the farm was also a highlight of the year. Without much subsequent practice, I wouldn’t confidently say that I am competent to drive your tractor/quad/forklift – but I have the licences and I can’t wait to use them! Aside from the roar of tractor engines, which from afar are merely comforting white noise, I’ve discovered true tranquillity on farms and vineyards in 2017. They are my happy place, even after several hours of back breaking manual labour. Looking out towards the horizon is a welcome change from a screen.
Surprisingly complementary to each other were my courses in wine chemistry and wine evaluation. Less surprising to me now is the root of my calling to wine: the ever evolving bottle-bound cacophony of chemical reactions. The rabbit hole of wine appreciation is beset by a respect for the numerous processes that produce thousands of wonderful flavours and aromas. The marriage of grapes, yeast and bacteria is simply so special, because they can produce so many flavours that spark our imagination. I often get asked at the cellar door where the flavour of apples comes form in a wine. Not such a strange question, when you are unlikely to find grape aromas in a cider, for example.
Personal preferences change so much on a journey of wine discovery. This time last year I really enjoyed the stereotypical Australian Shiraz; lots of coconut and vanilla from American new oak. Now I much prefer the more savoury, lighter Rhone-style cool climate ‘Syrahs’ of Adelaide Hills. I have truly developed a love affair with Chardonnay, become fussy with Riesling and discovered many new varietals. Most surprising is a new fondness for sticky wines, especially Sauternes and Noble Riesling. Madeline Pukette of Wine Folly sums this up perfectly in this article: The Evolution of Your Palate.
The secrets to training your palate are exposure, concentration and association. Not that I need much of an excuse to drink more wine, but the more experience you have at tasting the better you get. Not any old drinking, it must (at the start at least) be purposeful. Tasting requires concentration to pick out the defining characteristics and time to associate them with previous experiences and sensations. 2017 offered numerous opportunities for this, but two in particular have really contributed to my palate. The first was volunteering at the Sydney Royal wine show. The second, completing my WSET 1 and 2 sommelier awards.
We are slowly ticking off the wine regions with journeys beyond our beloved Yarra Valley to The Barossa, King Valley, Moorabool and Grampians. On the bucket list for 2018 is The Hunter Valley and some the delights of Western Australia. However, they may also be the possibility of a wee visit to France – zut alors!
What’s in store for 2018…
With semester 1 of university fast approaching the pressure to do as well as my first year is on. I got high distinctions across the board – so there will be no room for slacking. Now a domestic La Trobe University student, as opposed to an International Melbourne Polytechnic student (still taught at Melb Poly) it will be cheaper at least. However, with my first big challenge ahead: VINTAGE, I am going to study part time.
After using lots of wine events as opportunities for networking, I was very lucky to be offered two positions at excellent wineries for vintage 2018. I am delighted to be going to join Justin Purser at Best’s Wines in Great Western, the Grampians region of Victoria. In preparation I am doing my best to get super strong, ready for the long days of hard work. I am psyched! Later in the year I would also like to try and get an international vintage in the Northern Hemisphere. Until then I am working at Helen’s Hill cellar door in the Yarra Valley and I love it.
Phil and I are also preparing for our second home vintage – especially now we have a garage/winery rather than just a bathroom to do it in. Phil has been working really hard to build a cooling chamber so he can have a go at making whites and add complexity to his reds. Home alone, he’s signed up to start the degree at La Trobe himself – this wine fever is catching! We still need to bottle 2017.
Look out for our regular vintage updates, wine reviews and more adventures. Thanks for reading! Happy New Year!