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Jeremy Oliver's Wine of the Year - 2010 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay!

Australian Wine Annual 2015 - Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 (98 points)

From time to time you meet a wine before its bottled that you simply want to drink then and there.  This happened earlier this year at Giaconda, when having explored the extensive cave that Rick Kinzbrunner has blasted straight into the rock beneath his vineyard, I emerged blinking into the sunlight to observe a gleaming jacketed stainless steel tank, from whose tap emerged a splash of an incredible young wine.

This should come as no surprise to those who know the Giaconda story.  Of how Rick Kinzbrunner, a former electrician from the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland chose a south-facing slope near Beechworth in northeast Victoria to plant what I admit I did predict in 1989 would become one of the most influential sites in Australian viticulture.  Kinzbrunner took a gradual, experiential approach to the accumulation of knowledge concerning his Chardonnay, in the process realising that his site had the potential to fulfil some increasingly high-flying ambitions.

The early Giaconda chardonnays were comparatively simple, with pure, bright young vine fruit that was cluttered neither by oak nor artefact.  By 1992 the wine was acquiring richness and texture, by 1995 it was mineral and savoury and by 1996 it was headline-catching - profoundly rich, nougat-like and with the struck match oakiness that Kinzbrunner has since perfected on full display.  The heat of the 'noughties meant that releases were rather ephermeral (there was no 2003, 2007, or 2009), but spectacular wines from 2002 and 2006 were highlights indeed.  But neither of those vintages was a patch on the 2010 season - and besides, the vines are now that much older again.

Enter then, the best chardonnay yet made in Australia.  Profoundly complex, mineral and textured, with layers of depth and flavour, the 2010 Giaconda is perfectly balanced and should age superbly.  For the Burgundy-focused, it's evocative of Coche-Dury - at its best.  While minerality is perhaps the most striking feature about its bouquet, its palate is all about the marriage of simply remarkable fruit with qualities deftly marshalled into place by Rick Kinzbrunner that derive either from the uniqueness of his site or the techniques with which he has learned to treat his wine.  Kinzbrunner once told me that the outcome of his Chardonnay was due to 60% terroir, 40% to himself.  He's also told me that as a winemaker, he tries always to do the things that might ultimately count towards 0.1% of wine quality, because they do add up.

His great new wine will be hard to find.  The trouble you take to do so will be worth it.

'Funky' town is set to rock

''BEECHWORTH terroir'' was the subject of a recent look-see into the small wine region that sits right in the middle of north-east Victoria.

The star of the show, terroir - the special relationship between climate and soil that can make wine so interesting - made itself known when the thermometer hit 35-plus degrees on day one.

Refuge was found in the 15-degree cool of Rick Kinzbrunner's Giaconda wine cave, detonated out of diamond-hard granite rock, outside town. Beechworth, it was noted, experiences a high degree of continentality. ''Summers are hot and dry,'' the vignerons' seminar brief explained, and ''only deep-rooted plants keep green during the warmest months''. Here was said heat in spades and, yes, plenty of green vines, too.
A Beechworth dozen.

The next day, more than 25 millimetres of rain fell. The town's gutters overflowed. Flash flooding occurred. Temperatures dropped.

Beechworth's vineyards lie in the Great Dividing Range's western foothills, which receive more rain than neighbouring areas. The hills are between 300 metres and 800 metres high, which leads to cooler temperatures. The south-facing slopes (cool) are where chardonnay and increasingly, nebbiolo, are grown, while the warmer north-facing slopes are suitable for shiraz and sangiovese.

But what separates Beechworth from so many other regions, and the thing that really gets wine geeks going, is minerality. It's there, you can see it, with minerals glistening in the sun - slate and shale and great boulders of granite. There are parts that cannot be planted to vines because boulders are in the way.

While some disagree, you can taste minerality and it's there in the wines. Winemakers argue it brings not only structure but also longevity to wines. Minerality is one of the many things I enjoy about Beechworth as a wine region. That, and chardonnay and shiraz.

This is not a place for sparklings but is most definitely the spot for structured chardonnay and, increasingly, shiraz. Julian Castagna at Castagna believes sangiovese has a big future, too, while Barry Morey at Sorrenberg would probably suggest gamay. Savaterre's Keppell Smith might say pinot noir, while Stephen Morris at Pennyweight - the only producer pursuing fortifieds - would champion his palomino-based apera.

Yes, there is a lot happening down among the terroir of Beechworth but let's not forget the work performed in the winery.

''I'm not exactly non-interventionist,'' Rick Kinzbrunner says of his philosophy. ''I do a lot of things in the winemaking. I don't leave the vineyard to do it.''

Beechworth winemakers tend to have come from somewhere else and to have had other jobs before finding their new home. A fair few were once employed at that fertile breeding ground just down the road at Milawa, Brown Brothers. Their styles are their own. Some, such as Marc Scalzo at Piano Piano (a charming Italian name that means ''slowly slowly''), just want to explore what Beechworth fruit can do. ''I want to see the site in the wine,'' he says.

Kinzbrunner, Castagna and Smith are confident about what the fruit can do. They take risks and are happy to explore everything that might provide their wines with complexity and depth: natural yeasts, wild ferments, a second malolactic fermentation (to soften acidity), no fining, little filtration. Basket presses get a big look-in up this way. Some winemaking styles are deliberately ''dirty'' or ''funky''. There is a sense of adventure. Everything seems possible and it is - sometimes we forget this is a young winemaking region.

In a year such as 2010, after a run of drought and fires, winemakers encountered an excellent vintage, one worth celebrating with some of that edgy winemaking. There are few Beechworth wines vintaged 2010 that don't sing with strong fruit, moderate alcohols and good natural acidity and structure.

As for the ageing potential of Beechworth and that small, albeit controversial, question of minerality?

Let's just say the questions were answered most convincingly by two wines: Giaconda 1993 chardonnay (in magnum) and Sorrenberg 1996 sauvignon blanc-semillon.

And, yes, you read that last wine correctly.

Jeni Port, The Age

Dynamite in a bottle

There are tunnels everywhere under the main streets of Beechworth. At the height of the gold rush in the 1890s, the town – deep in Ned Kelly country – was home to a diverse and colourful population of 60,000. It was north-east Victoria’s answer to television’s acclaimed Deadwood western drama.

The community’s less law-abiding characters would use these tunnels – dozens have been blasted into the granite – to evade the local constabulary. The tunnel that leads from the historic Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel under Ford Street was apparently often used for this purpose.

Beechworth’s population has diminished since those days but not its golden lustre. Tens of thousands of visitors walk the town’s flagstoned streets for a glimpse of its pioneering past, which is easy to imagine, given the array of perfectly preserved municipal and private buildings and public spaces.

Some visitors are there for wine, of course. For such a small wine region Beechworth packs a big punch. It is home to several wineries with a cult following, including Sorrenberg, Savaterre, Castagna, and Giaconda, whose chardonnay is admired and cellared all over the world.

It was Giaconda that got locals talking a few years ago – but not for the shimmering excellence of a particular vintage. Rather it was for the thunderous broadsides of shattering granite below the Giaconda winery, which could be heard throughout the district – the first tunnel to be so constructed in Beechworth in a generation.

But this was no escape tunnel; it was a cave for interring barrels of wine for maturation in a natural environment of low, cool, consistent temperature and high ambient humidity.

“It was hell on earth down there when it was going on,” says Giaconda owner-winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner.

“And it was a lot harder than we all thought. We bought a tonne of explosive to begin but then found we needed a lot more.”

In the end, it took three workers 100 days over the course of a year to create the 2.4 metre high, 3.6 metre wide and 60 metre long Giaconda cave.

The first chardonnay to benefit from fermentation and maturation in the cave was the 2010, Kinzbrunner’s favourite, partly because the high humidity has resulted in a slightly lower alcohol wine (alcohol evaporating more readily in this environment).

It was also a stellar vintage for chardonnay in the district.

“In a lot of vintages we couldn’t have made it,” he says. “But it is also the hand of man at work.

“Every year we change what we do, with less work, and solids in the juice, wood selection...”

There’s a distinct struck-match burgundian flintiness about the 2010, which Kinzbrunner seeks. But he admits: “I don’t always know what brings that complex matchstick character in our wines. But I’m pleased it’s there.”

You won’t find this character in any other Beechworth 2010, but you will find wines of stunning quality. The two reviewed with the Giaconda are from the Smiths vineyard, planted in 1978 and the oldest extant vines in the district.

They share an almost granitic, sparkly, mouth-watering juicy core. And like the Giaconda, they will reward some time in the bottle somewhere cool and dark.

Tim White, Australian Financial Review

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