I know there is still a long way to go, and arguably there always will be, but still I feel fantastic and excited about what we have achieved so far. I wonder how many people in life can say they built their dream? Well mine is built so I thought I would try to tell the story so far with a few pictures. Enjoy. I have.
I came across this nicely researched article on Champagne Aubry which I thought worth sharing. They too have planted all seven permitted Champagne varieties although it is shocking to see how little Arbane is in the world. Hopefully, I can help to rectify that. Think I ought to get in touch with them!
As you may have read in “Firing at Both Ends” there have been the occasional moments of concern. Thankfully, we at least seem to have this particular one under control. The picture shows the I10V5 Chardonnay rootlings, (that’s right, they are no longer cuttings,) which are not only the dominant clone in the planting scheme with 40% of the area, but also the final batch of the Tassie cuttings to strike. Interestingly, they have also survived a light frost completely unscathed, which means that our choice to callous them outside in order to “toughen them up” seems to have worked. This will hopefully reduce first year losses in the vineyard.
One of the variables we considered when the sticks were slow to strike was whether taking cuttings soon after vintage and before any significant frosts would affect the level of stored carbohydrates. Of course, the need to access producing blocks before pruning dictated the timing. However, the rapidity with which these CH277 cuttings have thrown roots is interesting as they were taken just prior to bud swell in early spring. (Note to self – much more pleasant AND possibly more effective to take cuttings when it’s warm and sunny!)
I have a confession….With around 6,000 cuttings in the nursery, all the sore hands and aching backs it took to collect them were nothing to the hours of worry and angst brought about waiting for them to callous and throw some roots. To be on the safe side, we ran controls of every kind: different soil mixtures, different temperatures; inside/outside; and so, when ABSOLUTELY NOTHING happened, your’s truly could be seen pacing the floor, tearing his hair out like a nervous expectant stock-broker. Advice and reassurance were sought across the state, (thanks Fred, Shane and AP) with plenty of the former and not enough of the latter. We agonized over whether they were warm enough, cold enough, if they had enough sand in the mix, if there was too much sand in the mix, if poppy meal had been a bad idea after all, if they were too wet, too dry, or whether we’d taken them too early,…
In the end, Lee rolled out the heat mats and rotated the potted cuttings in batches, with the result that most are taking around a week to go from stick to rootling…in fact, any longer and the size of the root ball is going to make it tricky to get them into the planting trays.
Of course, in the meantime, the rain has finally eased, the frosts have (almost) ceased and we have even had a few days of beautiful Spring sunshine. In response, the cuttings are now firing at both ends and have not only sprung into leaf, but some, (yes, I’m talking about YOU pinot blanc,) have even thrown flower spikes, as you can see in the picture. At this rate, we may be the first vineyard to take in a crop BEFORE the vines are actually planted. (Terry Pratchett fans may call to mind the existence of wine made from REANNUAL grapes planted the following year. The snag was that you got the hangover the morning before and had to drink a lot to get over it.)
In my search for the full Champagne varietal pack, I managed to track down the wonderful Mr James Irvine from Eden Valley in South Australia who is, I believe, the only grower of Petit Meslier in the country. Not only did he very kindly send me 2bts of his exceptional wines to try for myself, he has taken cuttings from his vineyard and, with the help of Nick Dry at the Yalumba nursery, has arranged to ship them down to Tas. I cannot tell you how excited I am at the prospect of seeing these rare cuttings alongside the others. Thanks Yalumba and a massive thanks to Jim Irvine who is a true icon of Australian wine. Go and check him out here to see for yourself.
With the tremendous success of Champagne as a region has come the re-emergence of growers own brands, especially in the Vallee de l’Aube. Some of the more enterprising families have decided to place renewed focus on the varieties which have fallen out of favour with the large houses, among them Champagne Drappier, Laherte Freres and Champagne Moutard Pere & Fils. (Click for a video tasting of Champagne Moutard’s Arbane.)
This, to me, seems like a really strong direction to take, creating fascinating wine syles and interesting stories which differentiate these growers from the dominant and hugely well funded brands. It also seemed to me that Tasmania could take a leaf from their book and look at these varieties a little more closely as part of the Tasmanian sparkling wine story. And so…. I am intending to plant all SEVEN of the permitted Champagne varieties. (For more details, read the post “The SEVEN varieties of Champagne – coming soon.”)
The first of the “lesser known” (at least for sparkling wine,) varieties obtained is Pinot Blanc. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Tasmania has not embraced this variety more as it seems perfectly suited to our climate. The enigmatic Professor David Kilpatrick, owner of the magnificent Clarence House Estate, (pictured below,) is the only grower so far to recognize and realize the potential for this grape’s ability to produce fresh, delicate but well textured white wines. He graciously allowed me to take around 500 cuttings which have now joined the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the callousing boxes at Killiekrankie Farm Nursery. Three down, four more to go.