Meet the winemaker

Winemakers on Australian riesling

By Halliday Promotion

19 Apr, 2021

Less is more when it comes to this refreshing variety. Here, five winemakers explain their dos and don’ts for creating exceptional examples.

    Purity is a word often associated with riesling. Its bright, fresh flavour profile comes to life with minimal intervention, meaning that exceptional examples begin with dedicated viticulture. Over time, Australian styles have evolved from overly sweet to off-dry or dry wines with tension and acidity. These five winemakers may grow theirs in different regions across the country, but they have one common approach – let the fruit speak for itself. Find out more below.

    Ken Helm AM – Helm Wines, NSW
    H. Why do you love to make riesling?
    K. I have had nearly a lifetime with riesling, beginning with John Charles Brown of Brown Brothers Milawa, who showed me a 1939 riesling in the late-1960s which still drank beautifully. I have enjoyed rieslings from across the world including a 1945 (my birth year) in Germany, and each provided much pleasure. At Helm, we produce four styles all in the premium range. I have now created 45 vintages at the winery, each individually very rewarding, and in 2000 I started The Canberra International Riesling Challenge – now the biggest event of its type in world.

    H. What is unique about your product?
    K. Helm rieslings are unique in flavour and so are their ability to age for 50 years. This is mainly down to the Canberra District’s climate, which sees more sunshine than any Australian capital except Perth. With dry, cool weather in autumn for slow disease-free ripening and a sea breeze in summer for cool nights, riesling grapes grow perfectly for acid retention and low pH for full flavour development. This allows the resulting wines to practically make themselves because they are in perfect balance – in flavour, acid and complexity.

    Vanessa Carson – Plan B! Wines, WA
    H. How would you describe this variety to someone who’s never tried it before?
    V. Australian riesling is delightful purity in a bottle! It’s fresh, vibrant zingy and zesty with a delicate lively acidity approaching minerality, balanced with lemon and lime, star fruit and jasmine. I don’t think there is any other variety that displays such purity and delicacy balanced with power and drive – or displays its terroir more obviously. Riesling grown in the Frankland River region of the Great Southern in WA exhibits a delightful core of fruit freshness with depth and power.

    H. Can you tell us about the style of riesling you produce?
    V. The now well recognised Plan B OD Riesling is unique as we specifically stop the ferment to retain some of the natural fruit sugar to give it Off-Dry status. But just as importantly the wine has to be balanced with its natural acidity and not be cloying in any way. So yes, there’s obvious sweetness on the front and mid palate, but on the home straight we aim for the wine finishing dry, crisp and long. Have the Off-Dry in a nice, large stemmed glass with some Gorgonzola for a party in your mouth.

    Duke Ranson – Dukes Vineyard, WA
    H. What makes Australian riesling special?
    D. Australian rieslings are invariably dry and crisp with a beautiful finish of lime, apple and pear. While European rieslings are remembered as sweet and not very subtle, the best Australian producers have developed a lean, clean, crisp and instantly refreshing wine that is great on a hot day, but also very special with seafood. While dry and zesty in their youth, these wines gradually develop more complexity as they age to produce intense fruit characters that hide the acid and fill the mouth with fruit.

    H. How has your winemaking process evolved?
    D. After 21 vintages, we have slowly adjusted training and pruning techniques to involve a slightly more dense canopy, no fruit thinning and picking based on a combination of sugar, acid and importantly, taste. The appearance of the vines also gives us a good idea of when they are ready for harvest. The ingredients for an exceptional riesling are: careful site selection, continual fine-tuning viticultural practices, a careful spray program to minimise disease, a lot of time walking through the vineyard and finally, a great winemaker.

    Jacob Stein – Robert Stein, NSW
    H. What do you love about this variety?
    R. Riesling is my favourite variety of all time. It is challenging to grow and make high-quality examples because it is so subtle and pristine that no mistakes can be hidden. We always put a lot of emphasis into the vineyard when making our winemaking decisions because it's impossible to make great riesling wine without excellent fruit. When we grow excellent grapes, the wines never need too much work and have great fruit and power expressions without too much intervention.

    H. What is unique about your product and how it is made?
    R. The Robert Stein Riesling is unique because it is grown and made in Mudgee, which is traditionally known for big-bodied reds. We have grown our Riesling up to four wines – Farm, Dry, Half Dry and Reserve – all with distinct attributes that show where they are produced. We have also been quite successful on the wine show scene, winning over 50 trophies and 70 gold medals for our riesling over the past 10 years alone, making it one of the flagship wines of the Mudgee region.

    Jonathan Hughes – Mewstone, TAS
    H. How would you describe riesling to someone who’s never tried it before?
    J. Riesling is expressive of site like few other varieties. It is also extremely versatile, capable of  making wines from bone dry, to syrupy sweet. As a winemaker, the diversity of styles and expression of place make riesling hard not to love. My early days working in New Zealand opened my eyes to some really great textured styles – from there I discovered the racy Australian classics and the benchmarks from Germany.

    H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
    J.  I’m always looking for a wine that delivers complexity of aromas and textures, but with the acidity to age gracefully in your cellar. This begins with low-yielding vines in one of Australia’s coolest regions – Tasmania – and natural yeast ferments in old barrels that typically last for seven to eight weeks. Ferments are stopped based solely on taste with the aim to balance the fruit and acidity and time ageing on lees adds further layers.

    *This article was produced by Halliday Wine Companion in partnership with the featured wineries.

    Top image credit: Wine Australia