Meet the winemaker

Six Australian producers on making sparkling wine

By Halliday Promotion

Discover what goes into some of Australia's most successful examples. 

Prosecco, sparkling shiraz or traditional method – Australian sparkling wines are extremely diverse. Our cool-climate regions produce crisp, complex and delicate examples that have continued to gain prominence as an integral part of the industry. Here, winemakers from six acclaimed producers detail their love affair with the effervescent styles, and how they like to enjoy theirs.

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Jeremy Dineen, winemaker at Tasmania's Josef Chromy winery.

Jeremy Dineen, Joseph Chromy
H. Why do you love to make sparkling wine?
J. Sparkling winemaking is all about experience and patience, so it’s one of the few things in life I’m getting better at as I get older. The grapes and the initial base wine taste nothing like the finished product so you need imagination and experience to envisage what it will look like when disgorged and released. Our style is based on a pinot-dominant blend, so it carries some extra structure and we retain a high natural level of malic acid in the wine to ensure freshness, vibrancy and longevity.

H. How has your process evolved over the years?
J. While our core style has remained constant, we’ve been constantly striving for improvement in the vineyard and winery. We’ve invested in new disgorging equipment, increased our holding of reserve wines and extended the range to include large bottles, sparkling riesling and special release late disgorged wines. Traditional method Sparkling is probably the most challenging wine to change due to the timeframes involved, but also the most rewarding.

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Darren Rathbone, CEO & Winemaker at Yarrabank & Yering Station.

Darren Rathbone, Yarrabank
H. What do you love about these styles?
D. Sparkling wines are such fun to drink. For me, they are generally an aperitif, a way to start a meal, and obviously the drink of choice for celebrations – the wine you open in your happiest moments. That being said, when they are made well, they are also complex and engaging and great to enjoy in their own right. One of the best places I have enjoyed our sparkling wine was on a blizzard day in Falls Creek – we put a movie on, made truffle popcorn and opened a bottle of Yarrabank. It has now become our blizzard day tradition.

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
D. Hand-picked grapes, cool-climate location. We start with creating a tight, clean, racy base wine that boasts high acidity and citrus fruit characters. Using only the free-run juice and fermentation in stainless steel, the base wines are our structure, but are also very delicate and pretty. Then through bottle fermentation and aging on lees in bottle, we begin to build the texture and complexity of the wine. We always strive to strike the perfect balance between building complexity while maintaining delicacy.

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Winemaker Luke Whittle in the Kreglinger barrel room.

Luke Whittle, Kreglinger
H. How do you approach the winemaking of this style?
L. The winemaking process for me is all about respecting what is already there – Pipers River is renowned for producing exceptional sparkling fruit and we are looking to make the best expression of our site with our winemaking style. It’s really just getting it right in the vineyard, getting the winemaking fundamentals right and making sure we don’t miss something beautiful. I love the level of detail that it takes to make great sparkling wine, and with all of our sparklings being traditional method it takes a lot of patience but that makes it even more rewarding.

H. Has your process changed over the years?
L. Our winemaking process has definitely evolved, whether it be with a new winemaking team in recent years, or from always striving to make the best wine possible. With the latter comes learnings from every vintage – mostly subtle changes, but they accumulate with time. Yet in some ways we haven’t changed at all in that we are still looking to make wines that best reflect the Northeast of Tasmania and our unique vineyard sites.

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Chief winemaker Andrew Santarossa in Mitchelton's Nagambie vineyards.

Andrew Santarossa, Mitchelton
H. How would you describe Australian sparkling wine?
A. Australian sparkling can very happily hold its head up high with a reputation that can match the best of Champagne. Thanks to the championing of cool-climate regions, we are starting to see examples that express purity of fruit and palate tension that is the backbone of great sparkling.

H. What varieties do you use in Mitchelton sparkling wine?
A. Called blanc de blancs, meaning “white of whites,” this style is made exclusively from white grapes – in this case, chardonnay. Great blanc de blancs are not just a Chardonnay, but a unique Chardonnay from a great vineyard. Mitchelton has exactly that at our Nagambie Estate. This translates into crisp, tight, well-balanced chardonnay sparkling base with a pure and elegant aromatic intensity. Elegant, lithe and sometimes even a bit austere, this special and subtle sparkling is particularly well suited to pairing with food.

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Geoff Alexander, winemaker at King Valley winery, Brown Brothers.

Geoff Alexander, Brown Brothers
H.  How would you describe Australian sparkling wine?
G. Australian sparkling wine is all about diversity. From premium cool-climate sites such as Tasmania, the Yarra Valley and King Valley, Australian producers are able to craft a range of top quality wines. From exceptional traditional method sparklings, to tank fermented Prosecco and even sparkling reds, Australian winemakers have been able to make quality wines at a range of price points for all consumers to enjoy.

H. What is unique about your product?
G. I look for fresh citrus and lively acid in the Prosecco grapes and capture these characters in a long, cool primary fermentation. A little lees contact gives the Prosecco enhanced weight and flavour. The secondary tank fermentation gives the wine a fresh, aromatic zest and creamy, delicate mousse. Our Prosecco is delicate and fresh with a lovely floral note on the nose which does set it apart.

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Chandon winemaker, Dan Buckle.

Dan Buckle, Chandon
H. How would you describe Australian sparkling wine?
R. Sparkling wine is incredibly well suited to the Australian lifestyle and our broad-ranging cuisines; the warmer climate and long summer afternoons make Australian sparkling an increasingly popular choice. In comparison to our international and Old World colleagues, Australia’s sparkling wines often reflect a vibrancy and fruitfulness which is a characteristic of our vineyard country and our winemaking know-how.

H. Why do you love about these wines?
R. I love sparkling wine because of the connection it has with moments of celebration and joy – weddings, birthdays, anniversaries – it gives it a special place in wine culture. There’s a stronger emotional connection there, and definitely in a joyful way. I love drinking sparkling wines because I love diversity in what I drink – the combination of regions, varieties and methods, as well as the undoubtable thumbprint of the winemaker, makes for a kaleidoscope of flavours, styles and curiosity.

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This article was produced in partnership with the featured wineries.

Top image credit: Wine Australia