|Grapegrower & Winemaker||Wine & Viticulture Journal||Wine Industry Directory||
||Daily Wine News||
Big rewards in fine detail
Phillip Jones is the first to admit that he is extremely fortunate to enjoy ownership of some of the country's most revered Pinot Noir vineyards.
Although, you might not have heard that being spoken aloud as the man behind Gippsland's iconic Bass Phillip Wines navigated his way through the unbelievably wet summer of 2011. Indeed, you can imagine there was a fair bit of cursing and cussing as he tried coping with the incessant demands imposed on him by the season's dreaded combination of high rainfall and high humidity. Grappling with the forces of nature as you manage vineyards with planting densities as high as 17,000 vines per hectare certainly has a way of taking its toll.
'During the summer of 2011, I was onboard the tractor until 9.30pm or 10pm almost every day,' Jones says as he reflects on the toughest season he has faced since he first planted vines in south Gippsland way back in 1979.
'I ended up with around 83% of a normal crop that vintage, which was quite an achievement for a vineyard run without the use of systemic chemicals. You have to be prepared to work hard if you want to be the best player in the Pinot Noir game. You can't afford to compromise on anything in this business,' Jones said.
Working hard and avoiding compromises have been the hallmarks of Jones's entire career in cool climate viticulture. Far from beginning as a mere flight of fancy, the foundations of his Bass Phillip venture took more than five years of meticulous research and planning. Oddly enough, Pinot Noir was not his first choice of grape variety.
'Having got into wine and spent a bit of time living and working overseas, I'd become a big fan of red Bordeaux wines,' he explains.
'I knew I could never afford to emulate any of the region's First Growths, so I set myself the task of producing Australia's Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. I ended up visiting the property, and later spent countless hours trying to find out all that I could about its climate and viticulture. I wound up working my way through the archives at the Melbourne University library, where I discovered there was data from Bordeaux dating back to the 1870s. The amount of detail there was incredible!
'So, off I went then, armed with my maps and my compass trying to find places around Victoria that were likely to provide me with the best matches for the 100-plus years of climate data I had obtained from my Bordeaux research. Eventually, I ended up at Leongatha South. There, I planted seven acres with varieties that were in exactly the same proportions as they were in the vineyard at Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. I also happened to plant three rows of Pinot Noir and five rows of Chardonnay,' Jones said.
It wasn't long before Jones began to realise his dream of emulating Bordeaux was on the verge of failure. Cabernet Sauvignon, he believed, was absolutely incompatible with his site, both in terms of its rampant viticultural habits and its reluctance to ripen anytime before May in the district's cool to mild climate.
'We had problems with fungal disease, particularly with mildews, and the weeds here grew like trees,' Jones recalls.
'Pinot Noir, meanwhile, just stood up and asserted itself right from the very beginning. After four or five years, I ended up pulling out the Cabernet family and converted to Pinot.'
An engineer by training and, therefore, analytical in thinking deeply about issues, Jones is convinced he made the right decision in committing himself to Pinot Noir production. As a confirmed climate change sceptic, he has no fears about having to go back to Bordeaux varieties at anytime in the future.
Jones has spent more than 30 years refining his theories on what makes Pinot Noir frequently produce such extraordinary wines from the four sites he owns and operates around his home base at Leongatha. In the eyes of some producers, the resulting views mark him as an obsessive lunatic, a viticultural heretic who took 12 years to release his first commercial wines from his adventures with Pinot Noir. Others see in him a curious mixture of terroir-driven dogma and 'dog with a bone' determination to pull off seemingly impossible feats of viticultural brilliance.
Jones certainly has little time for anyone wanting to tell him how to run his vineyards properly. He says experiences have proven to him that it's not possible to adopt a 'one size fits all' approach to viticulture in his part of the world. Working organically since the early 1990s - and biodynamically since 2006 - Jones sees significant differences in the various growing habits, fruit composition, and wine quality that evolve across his four sites, despite them all being separated from one another by no more than 20 kilometres.
Some of the differences can be attributed to different soil types. Only some. On several locations, they are deeply ferrous soils, with traces of buckshot very much in evidence. Travel a little further north and you find silty components entering the picture. Travel south and there's mudstone to contend with, which Jones believes produces wines that can be rather abrupt in terms of their finish.
Be that as it may, there is no escaping the high levels of humidity you find persisting around Leongatha during the district's growing and ripening seasons. Jones readily muses that fungal diseases were invented in his part of the world. But when pushed to explain his need to continue to press on there with his endeavours, Jones says that humidity is indeed a double-edged sword that works in favour of thin-skinned Pinot Noir. It enables the variety to retain its delicate, if not decidedly fragile characteristic aromas and flavours. Provide it with warmer and/or drier environments and Pinot Noir loses those extremely volatile elements during the processes of transpiration.
'A lot of the methods that we have developed here over the years are pretty well home-grown,' Jones explains.
'Essentially, they're what we've found happen to work best in the conditions. The extreme vigour you find throughout central and south Gippsland has pushed us in the direction of near to ultra-close plantings, from 8000 or 9000 vines per hectare to 17,000 vines per hectare. In fact, if we could afford to purchase a vine-straddling tractor from Europe, we'd put many of them even closer together.'
While Jones might be willing to admit there are advantages to be found in working with high humidity, he is no fan of irrigation. You don't find it in Burgundy or Champagne, he contends, because it works to obscure individual vineyard terroir. It is far better to plant on soils that are highly water retentive and manage your viticulture accordingly. If you aspire to produce the best or the ultimate expressions of Pinot Noir, you also keep your vines low to the ground - no more than knee high - because it's down at ground level that you find vineyard humidity at its highest.
Jones's reflections on traditional winegrowing practices in Burgundy have helped him to formulate quite strident views on several other key issues of modern-day viticulture: clonal selections and vineyard yields. So far as Jones is concerned, the two are inextricably linked.
'Clones were originally a great interest of mine, and I started off with 10 different clones as one of my responses to five different soil types,' he recalls. 'I ended up making a close study of their effects and realised that after about 12-15 years, clonal selections don't matter a bean… so long as your cropping levels are below a certain level, and that certain clones are discarded because their behaviour is extreme.
'If you're seeking small-berried but highly fruitful vines for the highest possible quality wine, you could say some clones are more suited than others, but that can vary from site to site. I often have people ring me up and ask what clones they should plant. My advice to them is don't ask me, ask your neighbours.
'I mean, of the 12 clones that we use in our four vineyards, I would probably only replant about half a dozen of them on new sites nearby. Having done that myself a few times, I've also found out that one of our clones - D2V6 - simply refused to grow on a new site I established just 10 kilometres away from its home.
'What matters most is that the best expressions of Pinot Noir can only be achieved at cropping levels less than three-quarters of a kilogram per vine. Translated into typical Australian vine densities, that would mean something less than 0.6 tonnes per acre. Working with Pinot Noir isn't for the faint-hearted if you're serious about what you're doing. I think we've probably achieved our best results at about 300g or less per vine,' Jones said.
Other feature articles
- Natalie Fryar, Winemaker, Jansz Tasmania
- Angelo Puglisi, Ballandean Estate, Queensland
- Dave Cleary, West Cape Howe Wines, WA
- Kim Chalmers, Chalmers Nurseries, NSW
- Tiffany Nugan, Nugan Estate, NSW
- Doug Bowen, Bowen Estate, SA
- Drew Brent-White, Windance Estate, WA
- Ian Hollick, Hollick Wines, SA
- Andrew Nugent, Bird in Hand Winery, SA
- Jim Chatto, Pepper Tree Wines, NSW
- Tony Keys, The Key Files
- Forum in pursuit of Pinot excellence
- Andrew Naylor, Pernod Ricard, NZ
- Samantha Scarratt, Fishtail Vineyards, New Zealand
- Adam Hooper and Elena Golakova, La Curio, SA
- Kathleen Quealy, T’Gallant/Balnarring Vineyard/Quealy Wine, VIC
- Richard Smart, Tamar Ridge Wines, TAS
- Terry Lee
- Ben Glover, Wither Hills, NZ
- David Fonseca Guimaraens, Fonseca and Taylor’s Port, Portugal
- Sam Temme, Lloyd Brothers, SA
- Peter May
- Colin Kay, Kay Brothers Amery, SA
- Mark Deegenaars, Sirromet Wines, QLD
- Peter Dry, University of Adelaide, SA
- Simon Thistlewood, Bimbadgen Estate, NSW
- David Lehmann, Barossa Valley, SA
- Mark Lloyd, Coriole Vineyards, McLaren Vale, SA
- Tom Harvey, Chalk Hill, SA
- Albarino – potentially Australia’s great white hope
- Ian Hendy, Tahbilk, VIC
- Oak trials instigated to create the right balance
- Jason Conti, Paul Conti Wines, WA
- Swan Valley goes organic in its approach to wine production
- 100-year-old vines saved from destruction
- Paul Boulden, Margaret River, WA
- Pinot trophy wine a close call
- Grenache finds its place in the spotlight
- Ashley Ratcliff, Yalumba Wine Company, SA
- Lessons from a fiery day in February
- Prolific Penfolds takes a double triumph
- Great win for Tatachilla Shiraz
- Ian Long, Yarraman Estate, NSW
- Capercaillie looks to future
- Tolley leaves AWBC in good shape
- Julian Parrot, Mandala Wines, NSW
- Yarra Valley’s Sticks grows up
- Rebuilding Bianchet Winery
- Kalleskes take organic grapegrowing to heart
- Vineyards benefit from WWOOF program
- Organic producer in touch with the earth
- BackVintage adopts integrated IT solution
- Lark Hill achieves full biodynamic certification
- Joseph Gilbert of Pewsey Vale – early maker of the classic Australian blend
- Sam Statham, Rosnay Wines, NSW
- Young achiever to study in USA
- Evolving Durif at Morris Wines
- Diane Miller, The Vintage Wineworx, WA
- NZ’s star producer guided by the cosmos
- On the rise: Pinot Gris secures its place
- Killeen wins Winetitles’ scholarship
- Rebecca Wilson, Tamar Valley, TAS
- Liz Riley, Vitibit, Hunter Valley
- The Gilberts of Pewsey Vale: the next generation
- Mark Cairns, Riverside Wines, Hawke’s Bay
- Craigow wins Tasmanian Vineyard of the Year
- Cornwall’s Camel Valley sets Sparkling pace in the UK
- Fred Peacock, Bream Creek Vineyard, Tasmania
- Arneis a winner, no matter how you say it
- WA’s Vanya Cullen named ‘woman of the year’
- McWilliams Mount Pleasant Estate award-winning cellar door
- Planning eases heatwave burden for Mount Horrocks
- Supplier of the Year proves customer service goes a long way
- Meet Ken Murchison
- The journey of Tempranillo to Australia
- Successful events have wineries bursting into song
- Jim Barry Wines winemaker chooses biodynamic option
- Meet Belinda Gould
- Hard grind is paying off for Sangiovese
- Biodynamic viticulture benefits Nazaraay Estate Winery
- Monitoring the key to reducing water use
- Consistently improving the quality and reputation of Australian Cabernet
- Making sure vines are true to type
- Lessons from the drought
- A story of Cuban cigars and a good nose
- A Murray Valley winery has released one of Australia’s first 100% carbon-neutral wines
- John Casella: The brains behind the brand
- Quality Tasmanian Pinot Noir stems from varying degrees of stalk removal
- Young leader forecasts positive future for Australian viticulture businesses
- China’s light shines on Aussie export radar
- Driving the blue bus of industry exposure
- Noble wine proves sweet for Australian wine industry
- Solar energy schemes lack uniformity in Australia
- Solutions for the wine industry’s fiddlier labelling jobs
- Carbon neutrality: The new black
- An understanding of excellence: James Irvine and his life in wine
- Can Australia overcome a harsh reality in the US
- Cape Mentelle treats itself to first place
- Aussies export their expert advice to China
- Bruce Tyrell: the Don Quixote of Semillon
- Why the past could help unlock grape’s future
- Brazil opportunities beckon
- Cool wine regions to benefit from research on new pathogen
- Wineries embrace sensory analysis
- Author reveals first steps to marketing magic
- China - emerging market or competitor?
- Young Vine Decline is studied closely in NSW
- Is the Shiraz berry the biggest loser?
- Small players the big winners for tomorrow’s vineyard
- Save money and wine by choosing the right bentonite
- Significant variations in an Iconic Coonawarra vineyard lead to radical solutions
- Sustainable pest control – now and in a changing climate
- Is there value in adding tannin to wine?
- How do country of origin, closure type and label style affect purchase decisions?
- City sellers
- Selective science – from the vineyard to the winery
- Change agenda includes new thinking
- WineCloud provides future direction for winemakers
- The iron(III) tartrate photochemistry of wine: impacts of bottle colour and weight
- How important are wine medals and how much can we rely on those who assign them?
- Big rewards in fine detail
- Italian inspiration for novel Nero d’Avola making
- Oak deserves its fine environmental credentials
- Machinery maintenance is key to vintage success
- Wine: does vine age really matter?
- SA wineries make a positive and lasting impression
- Magazine pages bring history to life for Rutherglen grower
- Coles tells small wineries to ‘work with us’
- Distinguished vineyard sites are essential for quality fruit production says Petaluma
- From vine to bottle: sustainability a core value for Barossa winery
- Adapt and innovate in a challenging wine business world
- Verduzzo - a 'crazy' white
- Australia’s grapevine germplasm collections under threat
- Expo offers suppliers a chance to shine
- Wineries celebrate end of vintage
- Artisan by name and nature
- Barossa symposium delivers tips for Shiraz vineyard management
- Research to reveal best irrigation practice in dry winters
- Lake’s Folly proves its credentials over 50 years
- New research sheds light on flavour additives in wine
- It’s a three-ringed circus
- Trying to paint the world red
- Where do little winemakers come from?
- A chip off the old block
- The rise and rise of Gatt Wines
- Bizot and Croser – a marriage made in the vineyard
- Wine’s wild man rides into town
- Jeff Bond – a licence to thrill
- The Visionary – who’s laughing now
- Chilling out in Australian wine’s own Ice Age
- Quarter of our wines face Chinese ban
- Four-year research project investigates early influence of oxygen
- Australian winemakers’ views towards oak barrel alternatives matures
- Ready…set…tweet! How you can bank your social media benefits
- Wine show season: It seems not all wine shows would earn a gold medal
- January 2015 Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine out now
- Smart & Sustainable: Jana Shepherd
- Lazy bones: Jo Perry’s ironic nickname
- Can’t sit still: Bleasdale’s energiser bunny
- Meet New Zealand’s best young viti
- Suzie Muntz
- Clare Burder: Ideas are nothing without action
- Steve Baraglia: A tale of two valleys
- The terror of terroir - By Tony Keys