Why Vintage Matters at Fraser Gallop

Why vintage matters with Clive Otto at Fraser Gallop

Join Cassandra Charlick with winemaker Clive Otto at Fraser Gallop, where they discuss what vintage is, why it matters, how it affects the wine in the bottle and what to look for when choosing a vintage that pleases your palate.

I'm here at Fraser Gallop and I thought it would be a really great chance to discuss very briefly what vintage is, how it matters, and what you can look for when you're looking for a wine that you can enjoy because we all like different things and we have different palates and whether a year is cool, warm or classic or typical of a region can really play a part in terms of what you should be looking at buying and what you should be looking at buying and drinking now or drinking in the future.

I've taken a few minutes to chat with Clive Otto the winemaker, or he's taken a few minutes to chat with me very kindly we've tasted a few back vintages we are at part of an event called Vintage Matters on a beautiful, beautiful spring day and I hope you enjoy this as much as I have. Now this was filmed during an event in the vineyard so please forgive me for the background noise there's a little bit of wind and a bit of music on the breeze. Listen carefully to Clive's words because they are very, very informative.

Cassandra: Let's talk vintage.

Clive: So today's exercise is comparing cool, warm and classic vintages. In the cooler years you tend to get, there's a late start with much more acidity in the wines, more finesse more elegance in the reds. A bit less colour, a bit less tannin and in the warmer years you get that real concentration of skin to juice ratio in the reds, so you get much darker wine, more concentrated, more alcoholic. Less acid in the chardonnay, and the same thing you get more acidity in the cooler vintage, generally less alcohol and in the warmer years more alcohol, lesser acidity so if you're looking at aging your wines I would be collecting more from the cooler years because they seem to age a lot better.

Cassandra: So to recap if you would like to cellar your wines very often a cooler vintage is better for cellaring because of that acid profile and the flavour characteristics. Let's taste some of the wines. So the 2021 Parterre Chardonnay was a cool vintage and there's plenty of oyster shell minerality, lemon zest, wet stone, a hint of spice, white pepper. The acid is more structured and mouth-watering. I think this would be great with seafood - prawns, crustaceans, that kind of thing.

The 2018 is a classic Margaret River vintage. It's just incredible. There's grapefruit, flintiness, preserved lemon, white nectarine, a generosity of fruit yet there's precision and purity. Incredible length. Minerality, chalkiness, acid drive. It's vibrant and it's a perfection vintage. There was lots of Marri blossom this year which meant there was less bird pressure on the vines it's just delicious. White florals. You can drink now or you could age this a little while.

2020 is the warmest of these vintages and so the fruit is a little bit riper, it's a little bit fleshier it's richer, it's got more of an opulent nose. There's still some of that flintiness and much more breadth on the palate. I even get a little bit of banana. White pear texture, struck match, very ripe yellow nectarine, a little bit of spice, maybe young pineapple, a hint of green mango...I could go on but this is delicious and this is something that I would really say to drink soon. It's a drink now kind of wine as opposed to possibly the classic which would be drink now or cellar. Or that earlier cooler vintage, which would be ideal I mean you could cellar that for 10 to 12 years

Cassandra: Where does the boundary lie in regards to what is cool, what is classic, and what is warm - at least in Margaret River?

Clive: So the way we've classified it is we've compiled 20 years of records from Fraser Gallop and we've gone this is the picking date for Chardonnay if we average all those chardonnays over 20 years and find when the exact picking date is normally occurring we call that a classic year generally. It also it follows if the weather's really good and we don't have rain events and we don't have heat spikes then we'll call that a classic year. In a cooler vintage, usually three weeks later than normal average picking date then that will classify that as a cool year, and generally you can see the acids are higher and everything else. So that's how we've done it but it's just something that we've just done as a Fraser Gallop thing you know.

Cassandra: Where does a vintage start and finish? What's the period?

Clive: So vintage is the year of production and when it's picked, so it's always on the label, the year of vintage. Generally chardonnays are picked the earliest we've ever picked is 2nd of February. The latest we have picked is probably almost the end of February in the latest years. And the Reds we've we pick mainly in March, the first week of March, the second week of March we start picking the Cabernet. The worse, sorry not the worse but the latest here was 2006 where we ended up picking in May which is very late. What was the point, what does that do to the wine? So 2006 you'll talk to Margaret River winemakers about reds and they'll say shocking year because it was so cold. It was like being in central Otago you know, so we didn't start picking until May. The wines were very light bodied, lighter coloured, almost like a pinot in a way which is not what you want for a cabernet.

So you know that's the extreme and I don't think we've seen it really since. 2021 reds were not as bad as 2006, but getting into the cool end you know. So if you love herbaceous wines and lighter bodied reds it's a good year if that's what you enjoy. And that's the other thing you know. Some people prefer to drink burgundies which are light-bodied like Pinot Noir then they will like the 06. Other people who really follow Bordeaux and love the tannin structure and the big dark reds will like the warmer years.

So it’s for everybody really. I mean it's like your children: you know they're all different but you love them all for their differences you know and so 2006 is very different to 2018. I like drinking anything from pinot noir to Bordeaux, so to me I don't really, you know I just see that year as a lighter bodied red. As long as it's well made and balanced it falls in the line of like a burgundy, then that's fine. I like drinking that type of wine. I also like drinking heavier structured cabernet so I'm just saying they're not necessarily better or worse, they're just different.

Cassandra: On that note let's look at the reds that we tasted and how vintage affected them. The 2017 Parterre Cabernet Sauvignon is beautifully perfumed, slightly more herbaceous, floral, elegant lots of red fruits, restrained. It's got a bit of thyme. Very chalky, integrated tannins with a great acid drive and it's slightly paler in colour. This was the cooler of the three vintages. The classic vintage is 2010 that we're looking at and it's mulberry ripe fruit, just beautiful and pure. An almost slightly smoky note as well. It's fragrant with spices and churchy notes of clove and frankincense. It's got a rounder mouthfeel and broader tannins, but like velvet and silky. Incredible length. Purity of fruit. Plum, light pepper, slight graphite a little bit of kelp and salinity this is just a delicious wine that you could drink now or age for sure.

And then the 2011 is significantly riper fruit leaning towards jammy but definitely not getting to that spectrum, but nice ripe strawberry and red fruits, graphite, menthol on the palate. Great tannins. Slightly less silky than the 2010 and a little bit sinewy. Incredible length, dried herbs. It's resinous. Red Earth. It's drinking really, really well right now, so I suggest if you do have a bottle of this at home to crack it open.

Cassandra: I think the beauty of being able to have a single site and a single vineyard is that whether you enjoy it more or less is one thing, but there's a beauty about opening a bottle and knowing that what you've got in your glass is a place and a sense of time.

Clive: Yeah, now I look at some of the things like what Penfolds are doing they've bought a Vineyard in Bordeaux and they're going to construct a wine that's 80% Bordeaux and 20% South Australia. To me that's sort of a little bit weird. To try and make a wine every year from different places and to make them like I almost call it like a Coca-Cola wine because you're trying to create a Coca-Cola recipe from using different vineyards. Whereas on a single vineyard you're exposing the warts and all of vintage variation.

You don't have and you can't hide under anything. So why not appreciate the differences rather than trying to hide them? Well I think it's time and place travel, and if you've got something from one place and one time you can drink that and transport yourself. That's vintage. Where it was a cold year so that was that's how the wines turned out we didn't try to use concentration methods like RO machines or you know dress it up as it wasn't something that it wasn't. We actually tried to appreciate the differences and not hide them.

Cassandra: Thanks for taking the time to chat on a very busy day. Maybe we can chat again soon. Cheers!

This Vintage Matters event was part of the Fine Vines Festival in Margaret River.
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