UP TO 80 per cent of 2020 Hunter wine production was written off because of bushfire smoke-tainted grapes but paradoxically some have helped win Australia a major international award.
The Archie Rose Hunter Valley Shiraz Spirit Eu de Vie has been judged by Britain's The Spirits Business magazine the most innovative spirit in the world.
The award comes from a collaboration between Archie Rose's master distiller Dave Withers, senior distiller Trynt Xavier and head of marketing Victoria Tulloch, Tulloch Wines CEO Christina Tulloch, and Liz Silkman, chief winemaker of Pokolbin-based First Creek Wines.
Aware that many small Hunter winegrowers would get no 2020-vintage income because their grapes were written off by smoke taint, the three parties decided to try using 50 tonnes of tainted shiraz and cabernet sauvignon fruit to make brandy and other spirits.
Christina Tulloch and Liz Silkman sourced the grapes from eight growers and Liz turned them into wine at First Creek winery. From there the Archie Rose Rosebery Sydney team distilled the wine into spirit and brandy, putting the Eau de Vie on sale at $99 a bottle and selling out last May.
The project's brandy probably won't be released for two or three years, said Victoria Tulloch.
Eu de Vie, literally water of life, is the French term for colourless fruit spirit that is produced by means of fermentation and double distillation. In Germany such spirits are called schnaps, in Turkey rak, in Czechoslovakia and Slovakia plenka, and in Hungary plinka.
Archie Rose Distilling founder Will Edwards said the venture had demonstrated the very best in Australian spirits collaboration.
Master distiller Dave Withers said as soon as the Archie Rose team heard about Hunter growers taking a hit to crop write-off, they began looking at how they could help, and the operation had provided a great insight into how smoke taint plays into a 2020 brandy and other spirits.
The editor of The Spirits Business, Melita Kiely, said she and the other awards judges were impressed by the background to the Archie RoseInnovation in Production win: "The producer's quick-thinking not only ensured grapes tainted by the 2019-20 Australian bushfires did not go to waste, but guaranteed local growers were supported through the crisis."
The collaboration was not only a wonderful thing for Hunter winegrowers hit with the triple whammy of drought, bushfires and smoke, but also a fantastic example of talented people pushing boundaries.
Wine reviews by John Lewis
SUNDAY is Valentine's Day and this Janz Non-Vintage Tasmania PremiumCuvée is an ideal toast for the day. It is light gold, jasmine-scented and with medium-fine bubbles. The front palate has pear flavour, the middle palate apple strudel, strawberry and nougat elements and a lemony acid finish. It's at janz.com.au and bottle shops. PRICE: $26 to $30. DRINK WITH: canapés. AGEING: three years. RATING: 4.5 STARS
THE Blue Pyrenees 2016 Midnight Cuvée is mainly based on chardonnay from Victoria's cool-climate Pyrenees and Macedon areas. It is green-tinted straw and has busy medium bubbles, orange blossom scents and nectarine front-palate flavour. The middle palate shows fig, lemon curd and meringue characters and a flinty acid finish. PRICE: $30 at Dan Murphy's. DRINK WITH: sushi. AGEING: two years. RATING: 4.5 STARS
BASED on chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, the Clover Hill 2014 Tasmania Vintage Release is brassy gold and has yeasty scents, persistent tiny bubbles and elegant melon front-palate flavour. Strawberry, nashi pear, brioche and creamy oak show on the middle and steely acid at the finish. At cloverhillwines.com.au and bottle shops. PRICE: $45. DRINK WITH: calamari. AGEING: five years. RATING: 5 STARS