Wakefield, Crossing Boundaries

Australian wine is not one amorpheous category of course: from the cool climate of Tasmania, to the heat and sunshine of the Barossa, to the ocean-influenced temperate zone of Margaret River, this vast country encompasses enormous diversity of soils, landscape and climate. Regionality is alive and well, and whilst it may not have the thousand-year track record of Burgundy’s villages, many regions have developed specialisms and a reputation for the quality of wines from certain varieties.

I met up with Wakefield’s winemaker Adam Eggins via Zoom, for a tasting of two wines that source fruit from Wakefield’s home base in the Clare Valley, but blend it with a significant proportion from another region that has a specific reputation for the variety. The Chardonnay, for example, blends 66% fruit from Clare with 34% from Margaret River in Western Australia, while for the Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% of Coonawarra fruit is blended with the home vineyard.

The Jaraman project started around 20 years ago, with a good friend and grape grower in Coonawara who had been let down by a prospective buyer, and had Cabernet Sauvingon to spare, so Adam asked Wakefield’s owners if he could take it. The blend was so successful that it sparked off the dual-regional idea, and for the next vintage they began to look for Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, McLaren Vale Shiraz, and other key regional components that would feature in a new premium range, called Jaraman.

Adam touched on the forthcoming 2020 vintage. October and November saw severe frosts that caused a lot of problems with fruit set, then the bush fires swept through nearby regions like Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, but Clare was spared. It did mean that some Adelaide growers suffered smoke taint and the fruit Wakefield could take was greatly reduced.  A heatwave followed, and “vintage 2000 looks really good, though of course Coronavirus has made the winemaking operation very complicated, with social distancing in place and a ‘no contact’ policy.”

2019 and 2020 were both basically drought years, so yields are restricted, but quality is good in Clare – yield down around 30% as it is in some areas. “On the quality side fruit is amazing, on the yield side it’s been a very tough season.” That affects red wines most, because the vines tend to be planted on shallower, less rich soils.

The Wines

I would taste the Jaraman Chardonnay and Cabernet Savignon. Commenting on a flint character in the Chardonnay, Adam says that mostly comes from the Margaret River fruit, though Clare is moving from the richer riper style of Chardonnay, to pick a little earlier, and he is leaving the wine on the solids longer to allow complexity to develop. Comparing it to their St Andrews Chardonnay, he says “St Andrews is a very rich, powerful wine, but Jaraman is deliberating trying to do something different. With oak we are aiming for no oak smell at all, but the subtlest, finest enhancement to the wine.”

He stresses the important of getting the oak right in the Cabernet too: “The acid line of great Cabernet oak is what we look for – the tighter grained oak seems to impart a fine line of acidity – so the wine lives in a natural acid atmosphere. When we fine with egg whites, it helps to just softens the phenolics.”

(2020) This spends eight months in Louis Latour barrels, partly from Meursault, mostly two and three years old. Gorgeous crushed oatmeal and flint nose, a touch of vanilla toast and honey, and very fresh pear and apple fruit. The palate has limpid, pure and quite plush fruit and juiciness, but that fine stony, flinty character adds a lovely edge, the acid lemony and fresh, but with that saline touch that is so mouth-watering and fresh.  There is density to the fruit, and concentration, but great finesses and freshness. £15.99 as part of a mixed six.
(2020) From a cold, wet year before the drought started, but long hang time allowed full ripening. Grapes are de-stemmed but not crushed, so around 20% whole berries. Long cool ferment. There's a fine Cabernet expression here, with a touch of olive and background herbaceous character, but much more minty black fruit and a touch of violet perfume comes through. The palate is medium-bodied and super juicy, lots of zip and freshness, plus there's a gamy, ripe nuance to the black berries. There's a smoothing, chocolaty quality to the oak and to the tannin profile, giving this creamy and supple qualities too. A lovely style. £15.99 as part of a mixed six.

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