Moss Wood’s New Reds

By Fergal Gleeson

Some of the Moss Wood team- L- R: Winemakers- Alex Coultas, Hugh Mugford, Clare Mugford and Tristan Mugford

This week I talked Pinot, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wth Hugh Mugford, Assistant Winemaker and Viticulturalist at Moss Wood, one of Margaret River’s greatest wineries.

Fergal: Pinot remains a rare bird in Margaret River. How would you compare Moss Wood Pinot to typical styles from the Yarra and Tasmania? 

Hugh: Like Semillon, Pinot Noir has been grown at Moss Wood since the very early days, 1974 to be precise. The variety itself was a favourite of Bill and Sandra Pannell to begin with and this passion was continued on by Clare and Keith after they purchased Moss Wood.

Moss Wood Pinot Noir is one of few out of the Margaret River region and we have subtly tinkered with the style over the years.

Moss Wood has a warmer average temperature than the Yarra Valley and Tasmania and this allows us to make richer, more full-bodied styles of Pinot Noir than these areas. We also have an extremely consistent climate, with a small diurnal temperate range thanks to the moderating influence of our proximity to the ocean.

Hallmarks of the Moss Wood Pinot Noir are generally Red Currants, Cherries, Rose and Musk notes, earthy notes in the background, with minimal need for whole bunch fermentation characters (approximately 8% whole bunch inclusion).

Like all of the wines in the Moss Wood portfolio, the Pinot Noir is a reflection of this location and the season in which it has been grown, and not an attempt to be manipulated in the winery into a certain style.  

Fergal: Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Cabernet hit new heights with the 2018. What changes have you made in the vineyard and winery to continue to evolve this wine. How would you compare RV Cabernet to Moss Wood Cabernet?

Hugh: Cabernet Sauvignon at Ribbon Vale has been a project ever since we purchased the vineyard in 2000. The early days were spent adjusting the trellis to the Scott Henry system (as used at Moss Wood) in order to maximise flavour and ripeness in the fruit.

Ribbon Vale was previously planted with the SA-126 clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, different to the Moss Wood vineyard which consists solely of the Houghton Clone of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Over the years we have been generally more impressed with the wines made from the Houghton clone and as such we have planted and grafted more of the Ribbon Vale vineyard over to this clone of Cabernet.

The newer planting of Cabernet is now mature in terms of vine age and yield, and as such the characters of these vines are playing a greater role in the blend than they did before. It is no coincidence then that the overall quality of this wine has improved with this.

With the 2013 Ribbon Vale Cabernet Sauvignon, we made a change to the blend of the wine by reducing the amount of Merlot we included from around 30-35% to 5%.

We feel that this has also added to the quality of the wine and helped us to continue to position it as one of the premier Cabernet Sauvignons out of the region, and not Moss Wood’s “second Cabernet”.

Aside from the clonal difference between Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon and Ribbon Vale Cabernet Sauvignon mentioned above, there is a key difference in the blending varieties that make up these wines. Ribbon Vale Cabernet Sauvignon is generally comprised of around 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc (yield and seasonal dependent).

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon is generally made up of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc. Whilst the proportions of the blending varieties in these wines are small, they make a subtle difference to the aromatics and structure of each.

The Merlot component in the Ribbon Vale Cabernet fills out and gives weight to the palate of the wine, while the Cabernet Franc contributes to the aromatic profile of the wine.

The Petit Verdot component of the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon adds firmness to the tannin structure and compliments the addition of peppery aromatics from the Cabernet Franc.

Fergal: Moss Wood is one the trailblazers in making a ‘top shelf’ Australian Merlot. Are Australian wine drinkers coming around to the fact that Merlot doesn’t have to be a cheap and cheerful drink for novices but can make red wine of the same quality as the best Cabernet, Pinot or Shiraz?

Hugh: High quality Merlot continues to be a work in progress for Australian wine drinkers.

Those Australian consumers familiar with great examples of Merlot from the Right Bank of Bordeaux have no problem in viewing single varietal Merlot as a suitable, high-quality, red wine option.

Many consumers, however, are still scarred with the perceptions of Merlot as an easy-drinking, generic dry red.

It could be argued that this perception is the fault of the Australian wine industry itself, which perpetuated this image by producing single varietal Merlot’s of average quality for a period up until the early 2000’s.

Here at Moss Wood, we can only continue to produce the best possible examples of the variety from our Ribbon Vale site and re-engage consumers with the wine as best we can.

Anecdotally, we have seen countless customers visit us at the winery and tell us that they’re not Merlot drinkers, only to be pleasantly surprised when they do actually try the wine.

Whether this reflects a general change in perceptions I’m not sure, however, we will continue to do our best to promote Merlot as best we can!

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