Despite being grown in Australian vineyards since the arrival of the First Fleet, chardonnay really only became popular in the 1970s and subsequently sales boomed through the 1980s. Today chardonnay is the second most widely planted variety in Australia (behind shiraz), with almost 32 000 hectares currently under vine.
Chardonnay is not only loved by wine drinkers, but it is also a favourite of winemakers and grape growers alike, and there are two major reason for this. The first reason is its ease of cultivation. Chardonnay is able to adapt to many conditions and hence is found in vineyards with very diverse climates – from the cold of Tasmania to the warmth of the Riverland. Many grape varieties are not capable of this, with varieties like pinot noir performing best in a cooler climate.
The different climates where chardonnay is grown are also reflected in the finished wine. Chardonnay from cooler climates taste more of gooseberry, grapefruit and lime, while warmer climates produce chardonnay with flavours of tropical fruit and rockmelon.
The second reason that winemakers love producing chardonnay is due to its malleability. There are a range of different winemaking practices that can be utilised in its production. This gives winemakers the opportunity to endlessly experiment with these different techniques. Some of the major winemaking techniques used in the production of chardonnay are:
Wild Yeast. Most wine is produced using cultured yeasts that have predictable behaviour, produce known characters and aromas in finished wine, and will tolerate a high alcoholic-strength environment. But wine can also be produced using the natural yeast strains that occur in the vineyard and winery. These wild or indigenous yeasts often produce some unusual flavours (often termed funky) that can add extra complexity to the finished wine.
Time on Lees. Called sur lie in French, this involves leaving the dead yeast cells, skin, pulp and grape seeds (collectively known as lees) that collects at the bottom of a vessel after fermentation in contact with the wine for two to twelve months (in some styles, even longer). The presence of the lees improves mouthfeel, by creating a creamy texture in the wine, as well as adding cream and yeast flavours. Often times lees-stirring (or bâtonnage), where the lees are regularly mixed in the barrel or tank, is also cemployed: this prevents the formation of off-putting hydrogen sulphide characters in the wine. Leaving a wine on lees also encourages malolactic fermentation to commence (see below).
These are a variety of these techniques that the winemakers at Balgownie use in the production of out two Estate chardonnays. As these two wines originated from two very different climates – the Yarra Valley and Bendigo – they employ slightly different winemaking techniques.
Grown in the cooler Yarra Valley, this chardonnay was fermented with wild yeast to add complexity to the finished wine. It spent 11 months on less while maturing in French oak barrels – a combination of 30% new barrels and 70% old barrels. To maintain the freshness of the wine and its crisp acidity, the Yarra Valley Chardonnay did not go through malolactic fermentation.
The warmer climate in Bendigo tends to produce riper and richer fruit that results in a heavier wine. The Bendigo Chardonnay was partially fermented with wild yeast and partially with cultured yeast before spending 11 months on lees. The wine was matured in a combination of new and old French oak barrels. This wine also did not go through malolactic fermentation to preserve the natural grape acidity and freshness.
The singular landscape of the Yarra Valley has an extensive history of providing a unique environment for agricultural and leisure activities. Long before the European settlement of the country, the Wurundjeri people occupied the lands around the Yarra Valley, centred on the Yarra River. Their dreamtime stories tell how the river was etched into the landscape by the ancestral creator spirit Bunjil - the wedge tailed eagle (https://visityarravalley.com.au/history).
Pastoralists came quickly to the Yarra Valley and vineyards often formed part of the farming that was established in the area. In 1838 the Ryrie brothers planted the first vineyards in the area at their property known today as Chateau Yering. The property was purchased by the swiss-born Paul de Castella in 1850 and he dramatically expanded the vineyard plantings, importing vines from Chateau Lafite in France.
Other famous Yarra Valley vineyards were also established at this time, with Paul’s brother Hubert de Castella planting St Huberts in 1863 and Guillame de Pury establishing Yeringburg in 1864. The ensuring reputation for the quality of Yarra Valley wine rested heavily on these producers and “despite their disappearance in the 1920s, their fond memory would linger… and would lead in no small part to the restoration of the vine to its rightful place in the Valley in the 1970s.” (Beeston, 1995).
Despite there being almost 1000 acres under vine, the turn of the century brought difficult times to the Yarra Valley as a multitude of factors combined to effectively spell the end of wine production in the area. In the late 1890s the vine louse phylloxera was detected at Geelong and with no cure other than prevention it quickly laid waste to vineyards of Victoria and New South Wales. This coupled with onset of the depression and a change of fashion to favour the heavily alcoholic wines from the warm areas in Rutherglen and South Australia, effectively spelt the end of the Yarra Valley as a wine producing area. The final vineyards were removed in the 1920s as pasture for milk production proved to be more financially viable.
The Yarra Valley would need to wait till the 1960s for the re-emergence of vineyards and wine production. Reg Egan, a Melbourne lawyer formed the vanguard, planting his vineyards at Wantirna in the outer eastern suburbs of the city in 1963. 1968 saw the reestablishment of St Huberts, as the Cester family replanted the vineyards and in 1969 the de Pury family replanted vines at Yeringburg. The year also saw botanist Dr. Bailey Carrodus establish Yarra Yering and Jack and June Church plant the nearby Warramate.
The rush to plant in the Yarra Valley continued with Dr. John Middleton selecting land at Coldstream and planting Mount Mary in 1971. Dr. Peter McMahon preferred the slopes of the hills at Seville and established Seville Estate in 1972. Graeme Miller a diary farmer, planted vines at Dixon’s Creek in 1971 and established Chateau Yarrinya (now Debortoli Yarra Valley).
The rush of planting continued into the 1980 with the establishment of famous names such as Diamond Valley, Yarra Burn, Tarrawarra and Coldstream Hills. The establishment of new properties continued through the 1990s and 2000s with more than 40 new wineries being opened, confirming the Yarra Valley as the nations premier cool climate wine producing area.
Spoil Mum this Mother’s Day with a delicious 3 course lunch and glass of Cuvee at Rae’s Restaurant. Enjoy the warm and stylish atmosphere overlooking the vineyards of the Yarra Valley. All mother's will receive a small complimentary gift.
Call Rae's Restaurant on 03 9730 0774
As the leaves on the vines change colour and the cooler temperatures make for more relaxing days, the winemaking staff are cleaning up and putting the wines away to mature in tank or in barrel. The long days and the hard work of vintage are nearly complete and the winemaking staff are delighted with the quality of the wines and happy to return to a regular week once again.
The warm and dry Summer and Autumn – warm sunny days, cool nights and no rain - have given ideal ripening conditions and low disease pressure. Conditions in Bendigo have been particularly good where the quality of the fruit delivered to the winery has been fantastic. Balgownie’s winemaker Tony Winspear is very happy with the depth of flavour and the balance in the fruit, although he admits that the quantity produced may be a little down this year.
The warm and dry vintage conditions proved ideal for the production of Estate Chardonnay in both the Yarra Valley and Bendigo. The warm weather resulted in an early harvest in order to preserve the crisp acidity that forms the backbone of these thrilling wines and to maintain the perfect balance of the finished wine.
The other wines to keep an eye out for when they are released are the Estate Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines for the production of these wines are approaching 50 years of age, and grape vines at this age tend to be stable and reliability produce quality fruit, especially when the climatic conditions are favourable, and crop levels are kept low. These wines are currently finishing fermentation and will then move on to mature in French oak barrels for 18 months before they are released.
Finally, we are proud to be able to secure fruit for our popular Pinot Gris from a vineyard just outside of Macedon. Although technically the vineyard falls into the Bendigo Geographical Indication (or wine production area), it is a lovely cool climate area that suits the production of high quality Pinot Gris and will allow to build on the successful 2017 vintage.
Visit Balgownie Estate Yarra Valley at Easter
Balgownie Estate Yarra Valley Cellar Door is open every day over the Easter Weekend
Good Friday 30th March - 12 midday to 6pm
Saturday 31st March - 10am to 6pm
Easter Sunday 1st April - 10am to 5pm
Easter Monday 2nd April - 10am to 5pm
Sunday 1st April 2018
Join us at Balgownie Estate on Easter Sunday for a decadent 3 course lunch in Rae’s Restaurant, overlooking the beautiful Yarra Valley and Balgownie's vineyards.
Bring the children and enjoy an Easter egg hunt!
Please book directly through Raes's Restaurant on 03 9730 0774
Our ever-increasing number of Sangiovese fans will be pleased to hear that the Sangiovese has been picked. The quality is excellent though the quantity picked is down a touch. A wine to look forward to in two years time after it has been transformed into a fabulous red.
The picking crews have been hard at work in Bendigo and have been working quickly to harvest the remaining Shiraz. After the berries are hand-picked, they are quickly transported to the winery where they are crushed before fermentation begins.
A by-product of the fermentation process is carbon dioxide, which pushes the skins to the top of the ferment. In order to keep the skins in contact with the fermenting wine a pumpover operation needs to performed (see above). The wine from the bottom of the tank is pumped over the top of the ferment, keeping the skins and the wine in contact. This maximises the amount of colour and tannin in the finished wine.
All the Shiraz has now been picked and is safely in the winery, fermenting in open tanks. The Shiraz will be pumped over twice per day while it ferments through to dryness.
The lovely sunny weather has been ideal for ripening grapes and the pickers have been kept busy in the vineyards harvesting the fruit.
In the Yarra valley, the Chardonnay Block has been hand-harvested in two separate passes through the vineyard. This ensures that the grapes are picked at their best before they begin their journey to being transformed into wine. As well the first block of Pinot Noir consisting of 114 clone has been picked. The remaining blocks have been left to ripen a touch more before harvesting.
In Bendigo, the Railway Block which is a vineyard of Shiraz planted in 1999 has been picked as well. The fruit has beautiful balance and was destemmed before being added to the fermentation tanks. Part of the fruit was left as whole berries and part was crushed prior to fermentation. The whole bunches will encourage bright, lifted fruit flavours in the finished wine.
The 2018 Sangiovese has also been picked. The crop has been a little smaller than in the past but this has been offset by the quality of the fruit.