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Question everything: Rick Kinzbrunner

Publish Date: 11 May 2018

Authored by: James Halliday

Based in High Country’s beautiful Beechworth, Giaconda is a legend of the Australian wine scene. Here James profiles the retiring winemaker renowned for his transcendent chardonnay and shiraz. 

Self-effacing Rick Kinzbrunner is one of the demigods of Australian winemakers, but is continuing to ask as many questions as he did when he established Giaconda in 1985. Indeed, the questions began 15 years earlier still, when he set off on a 10-year odyssey around the world having graduated in mechanical engineering.

He moved to California to study oenology at UC Davis, working at three leading Californian wineries during the course and topping that off with a vintage at Chateau Petrus. His return to Australia in 1980 saw a stint as assistant winemaker with Brown Brothers, before purchasing his Beechworth property in 1982, and planting chardonnay and the Bordeaux varieties he had worked with in California and France.

Unknowingly, he followed Philip Jones at Bass Phillip, both soon realising their mistake, removing cabernet and co, and replacing them with the varieties that have since made them justly famous around the world. Kinzbrunner's unorthorodox (by the standards of the time) fermentation techniques with chardonnay resulted in the 1996 Giaconda, a giant of extraordinary complexity, still awesome 10 years later.

He has used an organic vineyard regime (and some biodynamic trials) but they're still under evaluation. In 2008, he employed his engineering knowledge to hire a couple, whose weekday job was in a mine in Maldon, to blast an underground wine cellar out of solid granite. He now uses gravity flow in a winery with an unchanging year-round temperature.

Satisfied? No, he's still asking questions, now about closures, as he recently staged a three-dimensional vertical (vintage), horizontal (variety) and closure (screwcap/cork) tasting involving chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz from 2004 to 2010. He has bottled experimental parcels of these wines under both closures for several years, and recently opened the door to a select few tasters to comment on their development. 

There's no debate about chardonnay: it's screwcap, as is pinot noir. With shiraz, it's a choice between high-quality natural cork (not diam) and screwcap, but for the time being it's cork.

2015 Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay
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Fermented in French oak (30% new), 100% mlf, matured for 22 months, not filtered. Pale, bright straw-green; the bouquet is very complex, yet subtle due to emphemeral husky/creamy nuances. The sheer power of the palate is of a category unique to Giaconda, for it is on you before you realise it, the acidity bright and fresh notwithstanding the mlf.

RRP $129 | 2027

2015 Giaconda Nantua Les Deux Chardonnay
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Has the hallmark of the complexity of all Rick Kinzbrunner's chardonnays; the bouquet has some reduction/struck match easily accommodated by the depth of the stone fruit, grilled cashew and creamy flavours, in turn balanced by citrus-tinged acidity. A second string chardonnay of striking quality.

RRP $48 | 2025

2014 Giaconda Estate Vineyard Shiraz
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This challenges Giaconda's Chardonnay for top ranking in the stable; it has an utterly seductive mouthfeel with two strands of flavour welded together: the first black cherry and blackberry, the second peppery/savoury/spicy notes. It is at the ultimate peak of elegance.

RRP $79 | 2039

Next article: Your guide to Victoria's High Country

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