Meet the winemaker

The evolution of Australian chardonnay

By Halliday Promotion

The hardy chardonnay grape will grow just about anywhere. So how do you make a wine that stands out? Five Australian winemakers explain what they've learned on the journey to making chardonnay their own. 

    Chardonnay is one of the world's most favoured white wines and the grape is one of the most durable and easy to grow. As such, this varietal has flourished in a range of different regions with varied climates. The result? Wines that are true expressions of the place in which they grow. These five Australian winemakers tell us how they make the highly malleable variety their own and what they've learned in the process.

    Winmark Winemaker John Belsham

  • Winmark

  • Winmark Wines is the reinvigoration of the pre-existing Pooles Rock vineyard – dedicated solely to the cultivation of chardonnay grapes in the New South Wales Hunter Valley region. The vineyard produced award-winning wine until its closure in 2011. In 2016, couple Karin Adcock and John Winstanley purchased the property with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. Their dream has come to fruition and, with it, some exceptional chardonnay.

    Q. How would you describe chardonnay?
    A. Chardonnay is the queen of white wines. She rules because she can be comfortable anywhere, and she responds regally to her environment. One of the wonderful things about chardonnay is that it is not just a variety – it’s an expression of where it is grown, and of the philosophy and strategy of those who make it. Consequently, it can express many personalities while still retaining balance and harmony.     

    Q. How is it best enjoyed?
    A. With great food and great company. And, sometimes, great company can be yourself. Glassware is important, and often underrated. It needs a wide enough bowl in which the aromas can swirl. Traditionally we serve it too cold in Australasia – it should be served between 10 and 15 degrees. One of the great things about chardonnay is its versatility throughout all seasons.

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    Winemaker Bruce Dukes

  • Domaine Naturaliste

  • Winemaker Bruce Dukes has an enviable career in the wine industry, dating back 30 years. After four years at the iconic Niebaum-Coppola winery in the Napa Valley, Bruce set up a consultancy and winemaking business in Margaret River. Domaine Nautraliste is the culmination of these experiences, and the result is some spectacular wine. Named our 2020 Best Value Winery.

    Q. What’s unique about your winemaking process?
    A. My philosophy is to capture and run with the strengths of the fruit’s personality. Each parcel of fruit has a bespoke personality, which I seek to understand, so that I can gently guide the wine on its journey to becoming a meaningful style. The intention is that the pristine, natural composition of the fruit dominates the conversation, barely allowing the winemaking a word.

    Q. Has this process changed at all?
    A. Over the past three decades, my winemaking has been continually evolving. I seek to understand the inherent strengths of the crop, so that the fruit can be translated to the final wine with only gentle guidance. The objective is to make the most pure wine humanly possible – in this case, the succulent Karridale chardonnay is nicely acid-balanced after the full malolactic fermentation, meaning that the style suits the composition of the fruit. 

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    Vigneron Brett Butcher (left) with winemaker Scott McCarthy

  • SOUMAH of Yarra Valley

  • The Warramate foothills of the Yarra Valley is home to the SOUMAH vineyards. The location of SOUMAH of Yarra Valley was chosen with northern Italian and south-eastern French varietals in mind – the climate and topography allow for the production of wines from these regions, but with the provenance of the Yarra. SOUMAH’s cool climate wines are excellent and the winery was awarded five stars in the 2019 Halliday Wine Companion.

    Q. What is your process for making chardonnay?
    A. We intentionally make our chardonnay packed full of flavours and nuance, but manage to retain a lightness. Some new oak is used but the flavour is subtle. Some secondary fermentation is implemented to make the wine creamy but not buttery. The chardonnay clones we planted have the citrus spectrum of flavours for a tight, clean mouthful and picking early retains a natural long, soft acidity.

    Q. How is your chardonnay best enjoyed?
    A. Chardonnay is a very versatile wine and easily paired with many food groups. A fresh new chardonnay is perfect with oysters and seafood, and as it ages it can even be combined with older and bigger cheeses. Always drink at 15 degrees — not out of the fridge, as you will not experience the flavours and nuance a chardonnay can deliver.

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    Winemaker Matt Byrne

  • Evans & Tate

  • John Evans and John Tate planted their winery’s first vines on the northern bank of the Wilyabrup River in the 1970s. In the years since then, Evans & Tate has grown into one of the most prominent wineries of the Margaret River region. Its successes with both red and white varietals has seen nationwide demand for the brand, with the winery receiving five red stars in our 2020 Halliday Wine Companion.

    Q. How could you best explain chardonnay?
    A. As a journey. The flavour, texture and intrigue derived from the soil and climate of a special chardonnay vineyard and vintage is a truly unique drinking experience that sets it apart from any other beverage. To then explore the myriad of exciting styles from different countries, producers and vintages is one of the great journeys in the world of wine.

    Q. What’s special about Evans & Tate chardonnay?
    A. Our chardonnay is renowned for its youthfulness and brightness while revealing layers and layers of textural and flavour complexity in the glass (amplified when decanted before serving). Our later release date provides a rare chardonnay-drinking experience of a wine at the start of its peak – I love drinking the best of Margaret River chardonnay when it is four to six years from vintage.

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    Winemaker Stuart Pym

  • Flowstone

  • After forming a friendship over their mutual love for wine back in the 90s, Phil Giglia and Stuart Pym planted Flowstone’s first vines in 2004. Both with extensive experience in the West Australian wine industry, the duo loves exploring new styles and varieties. The size of the site allows for a hands-on approach and intimate knowledge of the production. 

    Q. What’s your approach to making chardonnay?
    A. Chardonnay has to reflect the vineyard site but also incorporate a wonderful complexity. There is no doubt that I am a fan of white Burgundy, so a lot of my thought processes have some influence from those wines. The result can be a combination of the Burgundian complexity, with wonderfully pure Margaret River fruit. Flowstone chardonnay is a wine from a single vineyard site that I am responsible for, made in the shed next to the house I live in – by me.  

    Q. How has your winemaking process evolved?
    A. My winemaking approach has barely changed over the years. For this wine, turbid juice, 30% new French oak, full malolactic fermentation, one year in barrel on lees with occasional stirring, then two years in bottle. Because I now operate the vineyards, most of my efforts are going into understanding the vineyard sites, and getting the best from them. With fantastic grapes, making wine is easy.

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