Meet the winemaker

Making Australian riesling

By Halliday Promotion

31 Mar, 2020

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

    Pureness and clarity are words often associated with riesling. Its bright, fresh flavour profiles come to life with minimal intervention, meaning that exceptional examples begin with dedicated viticulture. Over time, Australian styles have evolved from sweet to bone-dry wines with tension and acidity. These three winemakers may grow theirs in different regions, but they have one common approach when it comes to their process – hands-off. 

  • Hunter Smith – winemaker, Frankland Estate, WA

  • Located in Western Australia’s remote Great Southern wine region, the Frankland Estate team consider themselves to be custodians of this land. Their viticultural practices hinge on creating ecological balance in the area, nurturing the soils and supporting local fauna and flora. Riesling is the flagship varietal from the winery, producing vibrant wines that speak of where they are grown. Winemaker Hunter Smith describes his approach as one of minimal intervention. “The wines are grown and made with organic certification, which means very little, if anything, is added, helping [the wines] to be a true reflection of site,” he says. 

    “We have been growing riesling at Frankland Estate for 30 years. Its ability to transmit a sense of place through its great mix of minerality and spice, combined with fruit, is why we love making it.” After Hunter spent a few years working vintages in the famous riesling regions of Germany and Austria, he brought back a new vision for their Isolation Ridge Riesling – extended time on lees, with a small portion wild yeast fermented in 550l puncheons. “It helps build a luscious mouthfeel and complex flavours,” he says. “The Isolation Ridge vineyard was planted in 1988 by our founding owners Judi Cullam and Barrie Smith, so the vines are now almost 32 years old. As we have gained vine-age, we have evolved our winemaking to celebrate the uniqueness of the site.” 

  • Elena Brooks – winemaker, Dandelion Vineyards, SA

  • Dandelion Vineyards is in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, but its riesling fruit is sourced from nearby Eden Valley. Winemaker Elena Brooks refers to herself as a lazy winemaker: “My approach is to let our 108-year-old Eden Valley vineyard’s terroir be expressed through the purity of the wine,” she explains. Elena has been making riesling at Dandelion Vineyards since the 2009 vintage. “[At the time] I felt inexperienced when it came to riesling, so when I looked at the fruit from this amazing Eden Valley vineyard, I decided to step back and let the grapes and vineyard expression come forward. That year, the wine won the trophy for Best Dry White at the Royal Brisbane Wine Show. I never looked back,” she says. 

    “As a technocrat and science-based winemaker, riesling encompasses the most profound elements of life – the simplest winemaking reveals the most complicated wines. Riesling is the most extraordinary of all white grapes. It has complex acids and sugars we are only just now discovering.” Elena suggests pairing their Eden Valley Riesling with fresh shellfish or a fish terrine. Or enjoying it: “In reverent solitude, quietude, and without attitude.”

  • Steve Baraglia – chief winemaker, Pikes, SA

  • Of all the varieties they grow, winemaker Steve Baraglia believes nothing conveys a sense of place like riesling. “It really showcases the differences that environment and winemaking play on a wine,” he says. “We try to capture the vineyard and get it into the bottle with minimal winemaking intervention – the most important part of the process happens in the vineyard. We look for cooler sites and healthy vines to produce fruit that has great flavour. And we are now also picking earlier to maintain more natural acidity and bright fruit characters.” 

    Riesling is a consistent variety that can be made in versatile ways. Steve notes that a good producer can make great wines from most vintages in a wide range of styles – from bone-dry to off-dry and sweet. However, his preference is for young wines that are perfumed, limey, tight and fine. “Our best riesling comes from east-facing vineyards with east-west row orientation, allowing the fruit to be shaded from heat during the day. Fermentation is conducted at cool temperatures to maintain dryness, and then the wine will sit on lees for three months to stabilise before filtration and bottling.”

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