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Talking Aussie Pinot Noir with Giant Steps & William Downie

04 July 2016

Talking Aussie Pinot Noir with Giant Steps & William Downie

David Gleave writes:

After a couple of days in Australia, where I visited the Barossa, the Yarra and Gippsland, my enthusiasm for the best of Australian wine remains undimmed. Tasting with John Duval and Charlie Melton is always a treat and the wines are as good as they’ve ever been. John’s 2014s are elegant and nicely defined, while Charlie’s 2013s are rich and intense, yet fresh and lifted. 

Moving east to Pinot country, both Steve Flamsteed of Giant Steps and Bill Downie waxed lyrical about the qualities of the MV6 and Pommard clones, displaying a clear preference for them over the new Dijon clones. Given that MV6 came out with the Busby collection in 1832 and has had over 180 years to adapt to the Australian climate, this shouldn’t be surprising. Yet its days seemed numbered a decade ago, when the fashion was for the Bernard clones from the University of Dijon.

“I wouldn’t have planted with any other clone,” says Bill Downie, looking at his one acre vineyard on the Guendulain farm that he runs with his wife, Rachel, with the occasional help of their three young children (aged 7, 5 and 3), in West Gippsland, “MV6 has adapted to the intensity of light we have in this part of Australia.” And, Bill goes on to say, it ripens later than the Dijon clones, a key factor in giving the wines their intensity of flavour.

This intensity is also present in the 2015s from Giant Steps. They produced four single vineyard wines in 2015, all distinct yet brilliant and all made from MV6, with some help from the Pommard clone (said to have been imported from California). “If I were planting a vineyard today, I would plant it with MV6,” says Phil Sexton, the owner of Giant Steps.

The discussion over the two days was similar to one I would have had in Chianti about Sangiovese, or in Barolo about Nebbiolo. The best producers continue to innovate and, as a result, are making better and better wines. Yet as I reflected on this, I remained puzzled as to why ‘premium’ Australian wines such as these, which display a great 'sense of place' and offer outstanding quality and value, are undervalued by a large swathe of our wine drinking public.

“My customers say Australian wines give them headaches” and “my customers think Australian wines are supermarket wines” are two comments I’ve heard from restaurant customers in the past year. Of course, a lot of Australian wine is sold in supermarkets at low prices, but you could say the same thing about Italy and France. I suppose the winds of fashion just aren’t blowing in the right direction to billow the sails of these wonderful Australian wines. One day they will and, when they do, these wines will be better than ever - for the likes of Giant Steps and William Downie will have had a few more years to tinker in the vineyards and hone the quality of the grapes they are producing.