By Fergal Gleeson
Is winemaking an art or a science? If the arts are about creativity and science the rigorous application of method, which is the most important in making a great wine? I spoke to two of Margaret River’s leading winemakers from Fraser Gallop and Clairault Streicker to get the answer.
Clive Otto is the Winemaker at Fraser Gallop, a Halliday 5 star winery, founded in 1999. Fraser Gallop have achieved great critical acclaim for their renditions of the Margaret River classics Cabernet, Chardonnay and Semillon Sauvignon blends in their Parterre and Estate ranges.
“I take it more from a science point of view,” Clive says. “Site selection is important. When Nigel Gallop, the found of Fraser Gallop, wanted to establish a winery he didn’t buy anywhere. He conducted extensive soil tests before selecting the current site on which the Fraser Gallop vineyards sit.”
“The white varietals are all planted on cool southern aspects. The reds are planted on north facing slopes where temperatures are warmer. There are also implications on planting the vines north- south or east- west in orientation.”
“East- west rows are more shaded and create a cooler situation which you can do for whites. North- south facing rows capture more sunlight and are preferred for reds,” Clive told me.
Australian winemaking has traditionally been seen as strong on science. There are very few Australian wines made by winemakers that do not hold degrees in oenology and/or viticulture.
Twenty years ago French winemaking was seen as more craft based with techniques passed on from father to son. Given that Clive has spent vintages in Bordeaux I ask him if things have changed in both countries.
“I think the French use the numbers even more,” he says. “Particularly in Bordeaux you will find labs all over the region monitoring every step of the process. They also monitor a wider variety of measures than we do in Australia. I think smaller producers in Burgundy operate more traditionally.”
“For everybody now, we are trying to express the vineyard by not dressing up the wine with too much oak from high impact barrels that mask the fruit, “ Clive says. “You can see it now in single vineyard wines which have become more popular and which attract higher prices.”
Winemakers monitor a range of numbers to determine what the final alcohol, PH, residual sugar and total acid will be. I ask him if winemaking is done by taste or by numbers.
“The art is in the blending side of things because it depends on your palate,” Clive reckons. “You have judgements to make about what type of barrels to use. A lot of winemaking can be analysed to make sure that your quality controls are good such as the sulphur levels.”
“The science comes at harvest time” he adds. “We monitor the numbers on all grapes in the 3-4 weeks before harvest. We plot them on a graph. We also taste the juice and monitor the flavours.”
“If Cabernet tastes too green or herbal we hold off even if the Baume is coming up. The flavour is the most important because you can’t change it. If the flavours are green the wine will never get rid of them.”
More to follow next week….
From Your Margaret River Region Magazine