Campbell Mattinson is a multi-award winning writer. He won the Best Australian Sports Writing Award in 1996, an Independent Young Writer of the Year Award in 1995, picked up the prestigious NSW Wine Press Club Wine Communicator Award in both 2005 and 2007 (and was Runner-Up in 2006) and was a finalist at the World Food Media Awards in both 2003 and 2005.
In 2006 he released the book Wine Hunter: The Man Who Changed Australian Wine, a biography of the Hunter Valley winemaking legend Maurice O'Shea (Hachette Australia). The book won the NSW Wine Press Club Wine Communicator Award and was described by James Halliday as "one of the most remarkable wine books to ever come my way". His words on wine also appear in such magazines as The Bulletin and Gourmet Traveller WINE.
THE CLONAKILLA DILEMMA
Tim Kirk has a decision to make. A few months back he had a disaster on his hands – frost crackled through his blessed Clonakilla vineyard in the Canberra winegrowing district, wiping his annual shiraz production back from the 85 barrels it produced in 2006 to just eight in 2007. His beloved viognier was decimated too – it went from 30 barrels in 2006 to just six this year. It doesn’t matter how successful a small winery is: losses like this are crippling. Here is one of the best single vineyard reds in the land crawling on its knees in the space of one cold night.
Tough times make for tough decisions – and, oftentimes, new directions. This is where the decision comes in. To soften the 2007 vintage blow, Kirk decided to buy shiraz grapes from other wineries and grapegrowers in the Canberra region. As a result, there will be a 2007 Clonakilla Canberra shiraz – though it won’t be from the unique, Clonakilla vineyard. This is good news for wine drinkers. But a dilemma for Kirk.
The dilemma is this: it just so happens that the devastation of 2007 has come at an opportune time. The Hardy Wine Company has just pulled out of the region. This means that there are now Canberra grape growers who have been supplying grapes to Hardy’s – who are now looking for a new home. This year it’s worked out beautifully for Tim Kirk. The question is: from next season onwards, when (hopefully) his Clonakilla vineyard comes back to normal production – does he keep buying these grapes? How many shiraz wines does he want to make each year?
He already has his flagship, and another – from grapes grown in the Hilltops region. It all boils down to: how much risk – and when you make wine, and take on the costs associated with making that wine, there is always the risk that you won’t be able to subsequently sell it – how much risk does Tim Kirk want to take on?
‘At the moment I’m still making up my mind,’ he says. Which is understandable – he’s made five batches of shiraz from bought-in grapes from 2007, which will in time be blended together to make a single wine, but tasting through them now – they are all very good wines. The grapes are clearly of very good quality – and will probably continue to be so. It could be great for the region, as well as for Clonakilla, if Tim Kirk commits to buying a chunk of these grapes from now onwards.
The cost of all this potential ‘good’, though, is a lot of tacked-on risk. And worry. ‘It all depends,’ he adds, ‘on how entrepreneurial I want to be – or can afford to be. Or maybe on how good I would be at being entrepreneurial.’
Meanwhile, while Tim Kirk works it out, drinkers can look forward to his 2006 vintage Clonakilla shiraz-viognier – the wine that an increasing number of people now refer to as Australia’s best shiraz (a big call, but the wine’s stack up). The 2006 will be released in September – and it’s another cracker. When you look at the Clonakilla shiraz-viognier wines from 2001 onwards, there’s hasn’t been a dud among them – indeed, they’ve all been stellar.
This 2006 is vibrant, floral and spicy, as is the way of the marque, but has a bit else going on too. It has a smoky, graphite-like edge, the tannin structure ramrod straight, the heart of it less precocious than is normal for this label. I’m placing a heavy bet on it being a deadest ripper of a wine on its tenth birthday – it seems to have cellarability written all over it. As, indeed, does the other pet project going on at Clonakilla.
For some time now, Tim Kirk has been toying with the idea of producing a varietal shiraz (sans viognier) from his home, estate vineyard.
Until now, or certainly in the elite modern era of the winery, the general public has not seen what Clonakilla shiraz tastes like on its own; it’s always been co-fermented with viognier. As the fame and regard of the shiraz-viognier grows though, it’s something that a lot of people ponder. Ponder, no longer.
In 2006, Tim Kirk has produced two barrels (yes, just two) of varietal, Clonakilla vineyard shiraz. He’s keeping the wine in barrel for a year longer than he does for the shiraz-viognier – a move inspired by the grand Rhone producer, Guigal. Expect to hear of it again sometime around the middle of next year.
The taste of it? Amazing, of course. Concentrated, elegant, pure and lengthy. And rare. It is bound to be a collector’s piece. That said – I traveled to Clonakilla not only intent on tasting this wine, but keen to declare it even better than the tried-and-true shiraz viognier. I came away with my head pulled in. The shiraz-viognier is the one. God bless its soul.
Campbell Mattinson is the publisher of www.winefront.com.au
Copyright Campbell Mattinson 2007.
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