This week we continue our journey around the three sub-regions that make up the Geelong wine region. Compared with the 200 vineyards on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, the Geelong region only has 40. Most are family owned and concentrate on producing quality wines that reflect the region’s “terroir”.
Terroir is an elusive concept. In French it means “soil,” and it has come to suggest the special character that geography gives to a wine. Put another way, “terroir” is how a wine reflects the combination of soil, climate and growing methods used at a vineyard – the “expression” of the soil in a wine.
Because Geelong is a cool climate region, the wines tend to have lower alcohol levels than wines from the sunny north. Hot weather produces riper fruit with more sugar, which converts to higher levels of alcohol.
Cool climates also mean things like fog, which keeps the sun from the vines. This prolongs the ripening process. As a general rule, the longer the ripening time, the better the quality of the fruit and the resulting wine. Hot climate wines taste like stewed fruit or jam. Cool climate wines are more elegant and less aggressive.
Barwon Plains Estate, to the south west of Geelong, produces excellent pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. Some are sold to the Shadowfax Vineyard near Geelong, to go into Shadowfax’s award-winning range. But these wines are expensive, ranging from $US 30 to 60 a bottle.
Phil Kelly, winemaker at Barwon Plains Estate, produces excellent wines with other pinot noir grapes from his 4-hectare property. The 2005 is a wonderful monster and needs to be cellared. It should be opened from about 2013. The 2006 Barwon Plains pinot noir, also $US 15 a bottle, is another bargain, though stocks have almost all been sold.
Bad frosts meant no wine was made in 2007. The 2008 pinot noir is wonderful, with intense flavours of cherry and musk. It drinks well now but could also be cellared for up to five years.
Kelly is experimenting with a range of other grape varieties that he believes have potential in the region. Unlike pinot noir, shiraz is a relatively easy grape to grow and it produces large harvests. Shiraz will give nine tonnes to the hectare, compared with three or four tonnes for pinot noir.
For that reason shiraz is the most widely grown red wine in Australia – 45 per cent of all red grapes. Pinot noir is less than 5 per cent.
* “Cool on the vine, plenty of time to ripen” in China Daily, 10 July 2010, page 12.