French winemaker Celine Rousseau long held a desire to work in Australia’s cool climate regions to make subtle and delicate wines, similar in style to wines from her own country.
Born in Paris, Celine worked at prestigious chateaux in Bordeaux, Champagne and Languedoc in France before moving to Australia in 1997.
She initially worked in Western Australia, but in 1999 she became the winemaker at Chalkers Crossing in the town of Young in the cool climate Hilltops region of New South Wales. Young is about 370 kilometres west of Sydney.
At Chalkers Crossing Celine was responsible for fitting out a new winery. In 2002 her wines won several national awards and attracted lots of attention from noted wine writers.
That year she was named Australia’s young winemaker of the year – a remarkable achievement given it was only a decade after she completed an MA in enology and marketing from the University of Reims in France’s Champagne region. She also earned a national diploma of winemaking from the Institute of Enology in Bordeaux.
James Halliday, Australia’s best-known wine critic, has praised Celine’s winemaking style, based on showing off the terroir of the wine. In his annual Australian Wine Companion Halliday classified Chalkers Crossing in the top 5 per cent of Australian producers, giving it five red stars, his highest award.
Chalkers Crossing was purchased by a Hong Kong mining resources company, Nice Link Pty Ltd, three years ago. It exports to the UK, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Singapore, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Halliday was enthusiastic about Celine’s 2009 chardonnay, made from grapes from the cool-climate Tumbarumba region of New South Wales. It offers aromas of white peach and stonefruits such as nectarines, with a touch of butterscotch. The wine has an acid zing that works well with the fruit flavours, and it hangs around in one’s mouth like an echo of a delicious kiss.
Celine said she picked the fruit for this wine at night to preserve the acid levels. These acids mean this wine would make an ideal accompaniment for creamy dishes or meals cooked in oil, the acid balancing the richness of the fat. Recent vintages of the chardonnay have won several gold medals and Halliday named the 2009 wine in his top 100 for 2010.
I also enjoyed the 2010 Hilltops riesling, with its intense lime flavours and an attractive floral character with hints of green apple and pear. This is a crisp and elegant wine whose acid zing makes one want to reach for a second and third glass. Its minerality, Celine said, comes from the red sandy loam of the vineyard.
Her 2010 sauvignon blanc is much more like a Sancerre style wine than a flabby Australian version produced from this grape variety. It is dry with aromas at the ripe and passionfruit end of the tasting spectrum. Its dry finish and crisp acid would make this wine an ideal companion for oysters or grilled fish.
The CC2 is the second label from Chalkers Crossing, though one hesitates to use the phrase “second” because this is a value for money wine. The label, interestingly, was designed in Beijing. The 2010 shiraz comes from young vines in the high-altitude Hilltops region around Young.
It has spicy, pepper aromas with a hint of violets, and soft tannins from time in old oak barrels. This wine would pair well with slightly spicy foods like mild curry, or a marsala dosa.
France’s loss has been Australia’s gain.
Published in China Post, 9 August 2012, page 10, under the headline “French winemaker takes her passion for the vine Down Under”. Find a link here.