Lake’s Folly proves its credentials over 50 years

HUNTER VALLEY BOUTIQUE winery, Lake's Folly is this year celebrating its half century.
Winemaker, Rodney Kempe proudly claimed the winery as the longest continuous subscriber to Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine - a wonderful achievement with the magazine also marking its 50th year of service to the Australasian wine industry.
'It's a great publication,' Kempe said.
'I'm interested in what motivates both the winemaking and the viticultural side, to read new things and get other people's opinions.'
When the legendary Max Lake planted Cabernet in 1963, his intention was to only make one wine.
'He was a big Francophile who loved all French wines - especially Champagne - and it occurred to him later that he might plant some Chardonnay with a view to producing some blanc de blanc Champagne. But in those early days because he only got up here on weekends and even then not every weekend, the first year that the Chardonnay was ready to pick, he came up and it wasn't ready so he left it and he came back a couple weeks later, but by then it was too ripe to make a blanc de blanc.
'So he put it into bottle and made a Burgundy-style Chardonnay and he jokingly said at the time after he released it to his customers that with the amount of money he made selling his Chardonnay that he could afford to bathe in French champagne.
'So that's how the two wines came about and that's all we've made ever since,' Kempe said.
'We're fortunate to sit on the list of Australia's most collected wines; Lake's Folly being Australia's most-collected Cabernet (alongside the likes of Grange, which is the most-collected Shiraz). A number of the wines on that list are priced in the hundreds of dollars a bottle range, and Lake's Folly sits at a price point of about $65. So when you compare us in that regard, we're at the premium end, but we've always represented good value.'
In 2000 Peter Fogarty purchased Lake's Folly, after many years of being on the mailing list, bringing Kempe in as winemaker.
'It's a pretty simple place to run, it doesn't need a lot of intervention, it just needs to carry on the way it's always been done,' Kempe said.
The simplicity of the operation is represented by the original A-frame building that doubles as both winery and cellar door and incredibly, the scale of production remains pretty much unchanged.
'In those early days they were only making the two wines, and production reached 4000-4500 cases annually and that where we've sat for the last 30 years.'
'We don't have any second-tier lines, and everything sells at full tote odds - to many of the top restaurants in the country and internationally, plus around 65% of the wine is presold to our mailing list every year, so the winery's closed for between three to five months every year, when we are sold out.'
Because demand exceeds supply, Lake's Folly is able to have one set of rules for everyone in terms of prices.
'Thirteen years on, we've just come through a very successful period with sales in the last six months, and that to us speaks volumes that we're still doing all the right things,' Kempe said.
'We're fortunate to have retained a lot of that loyalty, and it's good to see that Lake's Folly as a brand is still alive and well.'
Stepping into the likes of Max Lake's shoes must have been a daunting task. However, Kempe never doubted his ability to make good wine.
With significant winemaking experience in the Hunter Valley, he had the experience and knowledge to know that armed with a really high-quality vineyard, there was no reason why he couldn't make the same calibre wines the winery was already famous for.
What really concerned him was how the change was going to be perceived in the marketplace and whether the new management would retain the loyalty of its mailing list with the aura of Max Lake in the past.
'What could have happened if Lake's Folly had fallen into the wrong hands, and it could easily have (there were a number of bigger players that wanted it) - it could have just become another brand that increased production to 100,000 cases and have lost what makes it unique and so special.
'We only ever make what's grown on the estate - that's all we've ever done.
'A true estate - there's only a handful of them in the Hunter.
'In Europe, estates are the norm. The chateau makes the fruit from the vineyard in front of the winery. That's what we represent. I am the guy who goes out and calls the shots on how I want the vines pruned, how I want the vines maintained, how I want the canopy to be, how I want the fruit load and in turn that then reflects in what's in the bottle.'
Lake's Folly Cabernets is a blend, generally at around 60% Cabernet, with a little Shiraz and a couple of other Bordeaux blending varieties, Petit Verdot and Merlot. They were included in 1994 after being planted in the early '90s.
Prior to '94, it was mostly straight Cabernet, post-'94 it became a blend called Cabernets.
'Every single segment of the vineyard is picked when it's at its optimum,' Kempe said.
'So I will pick seven or eight rows and I will say, 'I want you to stop here'.
'Any isolation of fruit sorting is pretty much done in the vineyard, picking into very small drums, about 80 kg each, and I've also got my vineyard manager on the back of the trailer sorting through everything as well.
'We've got a wee crusher we run it through and then into 2 1/2 tonne open concrete vats.'
'It's pretty standard from then on, we don't use wild yeast, we use cultured yeast, mostly Bordeaux Red on the Reds, fermentation usually takes about six days.
'We don't have the ability to cold soak, so it's all very traditional, just fruit straight in and into fermentation. From there it will go down into 300 gallon casks, where it goes through malolactic fermentation and remains there for six months.
'From there, around this time, in fact we just did it last week, we will transfer that wine into small French oak barriques, one third new, one third one year old and one third two year old.'
Hand bottling follows.
'In an era where wine is as much about how well you market yourself as how well your wine is made, Lake's Folly is the genuine article. Little places like this are really important because the people enjoying their wine on a Saturday night like to think that this is where their wine comes from.
'There are a number of places that really epitomise the whole boutique wine industry - we can't lose those places, they are too valuable to the Australian wine industry.'

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