Innovation - we are told a business must innovate or the world will pass by. In my line of work, which is selling the product of the fermented grape, I wonder what this means as what is left to innovate?
Wine has been around for so long that every possible combination has been tried again and again. You can drink the product when it is youthful or you may try it aged. You can serve it sweet to dry. To preserve the wine you can add more alcohol and keep it in barrels for preposterously long periods. For additional flavours you may add herbs and spices.
Boundaries can be pushed at the margins but they are not innovations. The last big advance was working out how to capture bubbles in the bottle.
Finding a better seal than cork, the aluminium Stelvin, was an innovation. We drink so much better now than during the age of cork and this has triggered thinking about new ways to package and seal wine which will unfold for decades.
In Search of a New Red
In the late 1970's I used to travel regularly to France to buy wines - though lounging around, eating and drinking and doing very little was also an attraction.
The district of Beaujolais was a favourite and to sit outside a café in Fleurie drinking carafes of the freshly made Beaujolais was a treat. Back then I could see Australian table wines had a long way to develop though it did not require innovation, just planting more varieties and experimenting with more climate zones.
By the 1980's a few companies seeking to 'innovate' set about duplicating what worked well overseas and perhaps inspired by the Beaujolais Nouveau idea set out to make the Australian equivalent of Beaujolais. These were not made from gamay as it did not exist so they used what was around, varieties like shiraz and cabernet.
To mirror the Beaujolais style they picked early, used particular methods of gentle fermentation, free run juice and other ways to make a softer style, low in tannin and with less extract than the normal full bodied red.
At least one wine maker, Stephen Hickinbotham, used the Beaujolais technique of carbonic maceration and called it Cab Mac. It was delicious.
Like many others I have carried around the idea of creating and promoting a similar style; the Australian luncheon red, but with flavours which would be approved by serious drinkers. Not a light red for the novice drinker but something complex which was suitable for a luncheon.
I few months back Brian Miller, the thinker about wine, sent an email which sums up his thoughts this way;
Any Pinots, Neros or lighter reds? Try the St Hallett (cellar door only) Old Vine Grenache 2013, fresh and fragrant, a style I am seeking. Whoever perfects it, and fills the sizeable market gap between Shiraz and Pinot at a reasonable price, will make a fortune.
Considering Beaujolais as a model is a problem as varieties like gamay require a coolish climate. Thus to duplicate the lightish palate and the complex, sappy characters of good Beaujolais requires a shift in thinking in a warm climate like Australia.
Seeking the Perfect Luncheon Red
This got me thinking so let's do a theoretical exercise which considers two aspects:
1. Could the wine be made from a region in Southern Victoria or Tasmania which is suitable for a cool climate red variety like gamay or some equivalent or will the wine have to come from a warm region and if so what would be the suitable varieties.
2. The wine must be delivered at a 'reasonable price' and can be expanded to large volume just in case we want to go global. (I add at this point that good Beaujolais is no longer in the reasonable price range.)
There are about 18,000 hectares of vines in Beaujolais which makes millions of cases. Finding such a large area on mainland Australia for our cool climate variety is out of the question; for example the Yarra Valley and Mornington do not allow a 'reasonable price'. Tasmania has the right climate and offers possibilities but with about 1600 hectares of vines after decades I think we can conclude that no such place exists down south.
Thus if we wanted to find a region offering 10,000 to 20,000 hectares in the ideal cool climate zone, it comes as no surprise to conclude Australia is not the place to look.
I digress but these numbers made me reflect on the amazing green paddock we call Marlborough which is a vast fertile plain with ample water positioned in the perfect climatic zone for cool climate varieties.
This would have been the ideal location for the Great Southern Hemisphere Beaujolais but alas we are too late. There are now 25,000 hectares in Marlborough planted mostly to sauvignon blanc with small amounts of other varieties. The scale of these plantings shows why New Zealand can now tackle the global market.
So with that avenue blocked we return to what we have already guessed which is our wine will have to be made from a warm climate variety and from one of the large South Australian regions as only they offer the scale we dream we might need.
Closing in on the Warm Climate Variety
After years of pondering how to make such a wine-style I posed the question to the gifted winemaker McLaren Vale, Nicholas Bourke in 2009. He conducted many blending trials but for several reasons the project did not go ahead though he had already concluded that the ideal warm climate variety was grenache.
This year I asked him to complete the project with a wine to be released for the Glug 10th Anniversary.
Nicholas made a suitable blend of McLaren Vale grenache, a district noted for this variety, and then went to work perfecting the luncheon style. Makers of perfumes have a term for the best fragrances as they show 'top notes' and it was decided this lift was a desirable element in a complex, luncheon red.
To achieve this Nicholas found inspiration in elements from other uncommon varieties which included white wines. Percentage wise not a lot was needed, just enough to produce the top notes, other flavours hints, and a beguiling sappy feel on the palate.
We missed the release date for our September 10th Anniversary and introduced The Perfect Press, on the 18th October. Here are two of the best stories about the Perfect Press.
1. Ben celebrated his birthday in early November with the wine maker Kym Teusner at the 1918 restaurant in Tanunda. Being generous Kym ordered a bottle of Penfolds Grange 2002, from an interesting though unusual vintage. In my experience it's often the mood when you struggle with a great wine and for reasons they find difficult to relate the Grange did not sing that evening. Out came the new release of The Perfect Press and they had what they wanted.
2. And a customer comment I have permission to relate:
"I've just finished a late lunch on the deck in warm blue sky sun, but with a cool breeze, after a period of very unsettled weather, including heavy snowfalls on Mt Wellington, which I can see. Hobart is great! I thought it only appropriate I open a bottle of your 'perfect' luncheon wine - the Perfect Press grenache. I thought I'd better stop when the level got to the top of the label, hopefully that's a bit less than half a bottle. So easy to drink! Very fragrant - I think you said some white was blended in - sauvingon blanc? - or perhaps marsanne? hard to tell, especially if it's only about 5%. Although the light bodied colour (pinot like) might suggest more? Nice colour anyway. I also liked the hint of pepper character - to me, much preferable to raspberry cordial characters. I've been a grenache fan for a long time, especially for lunch, former favourites being jacobs creek grenache shiraz and wolfies red label grenache shiraz. Pre Glug, straight grenache in the 'normal' price range was hard to come by."
I commend The Perfect Press McLaren Vale Grenache 2014 to thoughtful drinkers. The answer to the unusual label design will be discovered on the back label.