Thousand Candles is a red wine made from a run-down – but highly promising, given the right love and care – vineyard near Gruyere in the Yarra Valley. Bill Downie is the winemaker, Stuart Proud the viti man, Paul Henry the wine’s marketer. A powerful team with lots of runs on the board. A huge parcel of land has been purchased and so while the owner of this aspirational endeavour hasn’t been disclosed, it’s clear that the owner’s pockets are deep. New close plantings of cabernet sauvignon have gone into the estate and it’s now being farmed using biological/biodynamic principles – I’m told.
This first release, from the wet 2011 vintage, is a field blend of mostly shiraz with minor input from pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. The sauvignon blanc is only a percent or two but it sure makes its presence felt. The asking price is “out there”, and as a result of this and the generally poor red Yarra vintage / field blend / rundown vineyard aspects of the story, it’s fair to say that this first Thousand Candles release has attracted a certain infamy in its short life. Better to be talked about than to be ignored, of course.
I’ve been looking forward to trying this wine since its release – because of its infamy but also because I assumed that I’d like it. I like drinking the better examples of the 2011 vintage and price aside, the wine sounds intriguing. When it was first opened my immediate reaction was: I didn’t know it had cabernet in it? It doesn’t of course, but it does have sauvignon blanc, it was a wet vintage, and it is 100% whole bunch fermented. It’s dusty and mulchy/stemmy/sappy to an exaggerated degree, and as it sits in the glass its stemminess becomes more and more pronounced. Aromatically it works, in its style. It really is quite triumphantly perfumed, in a daring way. Alas on the palate, it isn’t quite as successful. It’s light, acidic, tannic and smoky/peaty. Shape-wise it’s nebbiolo-esque. There are berried notes but it’s sappy stalkiness is the dominant player. It was lighter than I expected, and weaker through the finish, despite its tannin. I had it around the 89-90 mark at first but when I came back to it an hour or more later, I couldn’t quite extend that far. Future releases are bound to be far more interesting. Gorgeous packaging.
The colour is light but clear, the bouquet fragrant, with plum, black cherry and blackberry fruit; the fine-grained, savoury tannins wend their way through the medium-bodied palate, but a distinct line of mint/citrus clings to the acidity... The Weekend Australian Magazine (2014).
Yarra ValleyThe Yarra Valley was first planted by the Ryrie brothers who explored a way through the Snowy Mountains to the Yarra Valley, planting grapes in 1838 just three years after the foundation of Melbourne. A wine industry (developed by Swiss Settlers particularly Hubert de Castella and Baron Guillaume de Pury in the 1850s) thrived during the gold rush era and heyday of the 19th century. However, the end of the gold rush brought the wine industry into decline and it was not until the 1970’s that the modern wine industry started up again. The region is probably Australia’s best-known cool-climate area, yet it is really a patchwork of meso-climates. This varied topography creates an incredible set of variables. Vineyards are planted on elevations of 50 to 400m on varying aspects and management programmes. The more exposed sites are subject to severe spring frosts and winds. Overall, the area experiences a relatively high rainfall pattern and is known for its temperature extremes during ripening. Site selection is crucial, with the best vineyards often located where the original vines were once planted, generally on sandy clay loams and gravels. The Yarra Valley is well known for high quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Blends with Shiraz increasingly garnering attention. Sparkling wine production is also extremely important, with many of Australia’s finest examples produced in the region.