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Mark Lloyd, Coriole Vineyards, McLaren Vale, SA
Name: Mark Lloyd
Sangiovese - climatically suited to Australia and increasingly popular with consumers Background
Sangiovese was first planted at Coriole in 1985. The decision to plant an Italian variety was also a decision to plant a 'non French' variety. The prime varieties used at the time were of French origin, so why not an Italian variety? The Burgundians and the Bordelaise - with Cabernet, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir - had ownership of the definition of wine quality. Even the Rhone Valley and Shiraz had questionable credentials.
Early investigations favoured Sangiovese for the following reasons:
• it is a mid to late season ripener
• good natural acidity
• cuttings were available
• it had the potential to make a very contrasting style of wine to Shiraz, the major red variety at Coriole.
There was no knowledge of Sangiovese in Australia at that time. The revolution in Italian wine quality had only just begun and certainly had not reached Australia. Gino di Santo, at Enoteca Sileno, in Melbourne, had imported a few wines of quality and Negociants imported at least Antinori's Tignanello in the mid 1980s.
We had not visited Italy at that time so had no first-hand knowledge of the developing revolution in wine quality.
The reputation of Italian wines and varieties was actually quite bad. It seems that the traditional Italian restaurants of the time always purchased the cheapest wines available. Hence, when we first presented Sangiovese to the market not only did consumers puzzle over the name they would quite often call 'pass' as a reflection on past experiences. This attitude of the Australian consumer was reinforced on a trade trip and consumer tastings in New Zealand some years later. At the mention of an Italian variety the public reacted with interested curiosity compared with the Australian equivalent. An observer pointed out that the New Zealand customer reacted without prejudice as there was very little tradition of Italian restaurants in the country.
Montrose in Mudgee had produced one or two wines around 1979 and 1980 from material of unknown source. About that time, I recall meeting the salesman in Rundle Street in Adelaide after a day in the trade. All the local Italian restaurants had completely rejected the idea of selling an Australian Sangiovese.
Thus, it took a little time to work out that the market was not in traditional Italian restaurants but contemporary bistro styles where there was a wine-interested public.
(Montrose didn't continue its experiments with Sangiovese until 1996 even though winemaker, Robert Paul, moved there after making the first Coriole wine in 1987).
The word Sangiovese comes from Sanguis Jovis, or the 'blood of jove'. Sangiovese may have been known in Etruscan times. However, recently two parents have been identified -the Tuscan grape Ciliegiolo and the ancient Calabrese Montenuovo. Sangiovese is the number one grape in Italy comprising 10% of the winegrape crop. It is most famous as the base of Chanti which is presently required to be made of 90% Sangiovese.
Coriole sourced Sangiovese from the Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa. The clone was H6V9, which was brought from California by the CSIRO in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The CSIRO took some responsibility for that sort of long-term planning in those days.
Clones were very controversial with the Sangiovese variety. This was true in Italy as well. On my first visit to Italy in 1988 we spent a short time with Giacomo Tachis, a senior winemaker with Antinori. He explained to us that there was a large project under way to improve the clonal base of Sangiovese in Tuscany. Since that time there have been rapid improvements in the genetic base and cultural practices with the variety.
The next clones to become available were imported by Yalumba in the early 1990s. These clones, from the Montalcino region of Tuscany, were at first planted experimentally at Coriole and then subsequently increased. The clones Brunello and Grosso have both looked appealing with smaller and more even bunches. We think they have a good future although the best wines are still made from the older H6V9 vines.
The vineyards at Coriole are planted in red-brown earth over limestone. Our other vineyards at Willunga are in deeper alluvial clay-loams.
The Coriole wines of the 1990s varied from good to average. In times when vine manipulation was less common it took a few years to learn the tricks for this highly-productive variety, which in its early years at least produced many very large bunches. Some of these lessons were:
• bunch thinning
• for irrigation purposes treat more like a white grape than Shiraz in the shallow Coriole soils
• high trellis and shoot positioning to ensure fruit was protected.
Some of the significant viticulture regimes include:
• spur-pruned single cordon
• lazy VSP
• 1800 vines/ha
• may prune to single bud
• aim for as much tannin ripeness as we can get away with without over ripeness
• requires far more manipulation and on-going decisions than standard varieties.
Our first experiments in bunch thinning were in 1994. We carefully calculated to remove around 2t/acre in January to bring us to what we thought would be an acceptable level. We finally picked in mid May with 11t/acre. We were amused at the description of this wine in the Washington Post: 'here is a Sangiovese that will knock the socks off anything from California'. It was either helped by the journey across the equator or perhaps the judicious amount of Cabernet that was blended prior to bottling.
During the first 15 years of Sangiovese at Coriole there were various amounts of 'French' varieties included in the blend - from about 2-13%. This was necessary to provide the colour and depth that was deemed necessary. Also, in the early part of this period there was far less acceptance of lighter-bodied red wines by the Australian palate.
In more recent times, with viticulture improvements, the wines have been 100% Sangiovese. Coriole is looking for a savoury Australian style with minimum sweetness in the mouth to marry and cut through a range of foods on the table. Standard winemaking techniques are used with predominantly four-tonne open fermenters. Wines are matured in older oak for one year, bottled young and really appreciate a further year in bottle, which is unfortunately not possible with the present demand.
The question of whether to add very small quantities of other varieties is a decision that is examined each year. Sometimes even 0.5-2% is examined on the tasting bench but is rejected for the element of ripeness that is added to the wine. This ripeness, which may be just acceptable at that time, seems to only detract from the distinctiveness of the wine as it ages. We have often argued that this may be a more critical question in McLaren Vale where there is no natural shortage of warmth compared with a cooler area, such as the King Valley or particularly Tuscany. However, amongst some producers in Tuscany it appears to be also a topic of hot debate.
Sangiovese is frequently marketed as an Italian variety or with an Italian name or reference. In comparison, varieties of French origin are accepted as truly international and while they have benchmarks in France are accepted for their expression in other countries. This is a curious phenomenon that leads to potential importers saying, 'but if I want Sangiovese why buy Australian when I can go to Italy'. We could ask, then, why not go to France for Shiraz?
Rather than market Sangiovese as an Italian experience we prefer to reinforce the uniqueness of this variety - medium bodied; moderate, natural acidity, structure and savoury characters with tart fruit. It is these distinctive characters that set Sangiovese apart and will increasingly give this drink such a robust position on Australian tables.
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