By Fergal Gleeson
Something pretty unexpected happened in London in September last year. A sparkling wine from Western Australia took out two trophies for ‘Best Australian Sparkling wine’ and ‘Best Australian Non-Vintage Brut Blend’ at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships.
Victoria and Tasmania dominate the Australian premium sparkling wine sector with the likes of Chandon, House of Arras and Clover Hill. Traditionally Western Australia was nowhere. This result was quite a surprise.
It was no fluke however. Like most overnight successes in wine it was years in the making.
Jeff Burch, the owner of Burch Family Wines, laughs that the business case for making a world class sparkling wine was sketchy. Method traditionelle sparkling wine is expensive and technically complicated to make.
You’re competing in bottle shops and wine lists with the tradition, expertise and brand power of Champagne powerhouses such as Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Louis Roederer. It’s not a challenge that any in the West have taken up until Jeff.
But if you’ve ever spoken to Jeff Burch he is not afraid of a challenge. Jeff and Amy Burch have built Burch Family Wines into a substantial business with a dizzying range of wines from the super-premium to the everyday under the Howard Park, Marchand & Burch, Mon Tout and MadFish labels.
The first thing you need to make serious sparkling wine is the right site. The Champagne region is at the northern edge of grape growing in France. It has a cool climate where grapes ripen slowly. Jeff settled on a site high on the hillside of Mount Barrow, in Great Southern, as the source for Howard Park sparkling wine.
It’s infertile, has very little water and is exposed to cold winds coming off the southern ocean. It’s the sort of site that would break most farmer’s hearts. But its very stubbornness makes it a great location for premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines.
Then you need to invest heavily. Jeff reckons that he has spent over one million dollars on the specialised equipment required to make sparkling wine at Howard Parks Margaret River winery including a specialist bottling line and riddling cages. This has given Howard Park full control of the winemaking process from grape to bottling.
Sparkling wine also requires the accumulation of large stocks of base wines which are blended into non-vintage sparkling wines. Howard Park’s vintage sparkling wine Grand Jeté 2013 is held for five years prior to release. Neither of which makes an accountant happy.
There is a lot of technique involved in making a premium sparkling wine. This is where the skill and inquiring mind of 2018 Gourmet Traveller Wine Maker of the Year Janice McDonald was brought to bear. First was the fun bit. Extensive tastings of large producer and grower Champagnes to refine the style that they were after.
Then the multitude of decisions that determine success or failure. When to pick the grapes to get the optimum balance of ripeness and freshness. Decisions on malolactic and barrel fermentation. Choices on dosage (the right amount of sugar added to balance acidity).
The result is the Jeté range which takes it’s name from the ballet term meaning ‘to leap’. The choice of Jeté is no marketing frippery. Jeff’s brother David was a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet before becoming a Vineyard Manager at Howard Park. Jeff’s sister Lesley worked with the West Australian Ballet Company. Howard Park is a sponsor of the WA Ballet.
Champagne will always be the ultimate wine of luxury and celebration. What Howard Park is doing in Great Southern by comparison, is on a tiny scale but as the recent success in London shows, Jeff Burch’s leap of faith on Mount Barrow sparkling wine has been validated.
The ultimate test of course for any method traditionelle sparkling wine is ‘Would I substitute it for my next Champagne purchase?’ The answer with the Jeté range is an unequivocal yes.
Three to try
Howard Park Petit Jeté NV RRP $32
Petit Jeté is the newest edition and entry level to the range designed to be a little softer in style. A delicious and sophisticated Chardonnay dominant sparkling wine that’s crisp and dry. The fruit flavour brought to mind granny smith apples. There’s toasty yeast lees flavours and a hint of sweetness to reward you on the finish.
Howard Park Jeté NV RRP $36
Last year’s release won trophies in London. Like the Petit Jeté this wine is made from predominantly Chardonnay with a little Pinot Noir (2%). The grapes are all sourced from Mount Barrow where they are harvested early to maintain acidity and delicate fruit flavours. This has a lightness of touch. It dances on the tongue. The quality of the underlying fruit is really apparent in this wine and it has the complexity associated with 30 months on yeast lees.
Howard Park Grand Jeté 2013 RRP $42
Different flavours to the other two Jetés courtesy of the much larger Pinot Noir input (43%) which provides a strawberry lift to the citrus Chardonnay flavours. The play of the Chardonnay and Pinot are the key to this wine which is made in an extra brut style (extra dry). It’s really refreshing with the added depth of 48 months on yeast lees.
From Marque Magazine