There’s something startlingly extraordinary about a wine touching your lips that’s been crafted, nurtured and safeguarded by up to five generations of winemakers...
That said, the mention of fortifieds, like Muscat and Topaque, can conjure images of dust coated wine decanters and grandparents sipping from small glasses after dinner. Not exactly a consideration for a contemporary liquor cabinet… or is it?
With Rutherglen muscat undisputedly renowned as the best in the world, who better than the winemakers of Rutherglen to blow the dust off the bottle and share the magic that is Rutherglen muscat? With fresh, colourful cocktails, exciting new packaging and up-close and personal cellar door experiences, over 150 years of mystery continues to unravel.
So why does this generation of Rutherglen winemakers want to reintroduce muscat to the world? Well, there’s certainly a list, but it starts with the Maker’s Mark.
The Maker’s Mark is unique to each winery and exists as a culmination of generations years of family winemaking. Each vintage, a “stock” is produced which is added to older stocks, eventually resulting in stocks comprised of five generations of product, rich with snowballed knowledge and experience.
It seems only fitting to discuss such a family affair with sixth generation winemaker Amy Sutherland Smith of Warrabilla Wines, who works alongside her father, Andrew, skillfully caretaking and growing the stocks of their forefathers...
And how do younger generations keep them alive?
“They’re really a living organism that need constant attention. You can’t just make them, throw them in the shed and forget about them. You make them, put them in the shed, pull them out in 6 months, have a look at them again, rework them, rework them, make sure the sulphur’s right, check to see if they need more sugar, more concentration, that sort of thing. It’s that constant care and attention over generations and generations”.
Sounds like an enormous amount of work! Is it worth it?
“My Dad always says ‘it’s never going to make a fortune when it takes an average of 5 years to punch out a Rutherglen muscat.’ It’s 15 years work and all the while it’s taking up more and more room in your shed. So it’s not an exercise in making money, it’s an exercise of love. I do it because my Dad did, he does it because his Dad did”.
The other reason Rutherglen muscat deserves a reintroduction is plain and simple - because it’s the best - tried and tested! World leading wine critic and wine advisor to the Queen, Jansis Robinson, has referred to the Rutherglen muscat and topaque as “…some of the most extraordinary in the world, and nowhere else has the vine stocks and arid climate to grow and mature anything like them”.
The region continually gains international attention, with Morris Wines at the front of the pack, taking home a swag of both domestic and international awards every year. Senior winemaker David Morris has worked at his family winery for over 25 years and while still humble as can be, is proud of the muscat his winery and region offers.
Morris Wines are known as one of the best in the business. Where do you start in making an award winning muscat?
“We’ve done pretty well in wine shows over the years, both Australia and domestic, but it’s like football - if you won a premiership 10 years ago it doesn’t mean much today. At the moment we’ve won a reasonable amount of trophies. We just like to make good quality wines.
“We think we’ve got a good clone. We taste our fruit on our vines and we mark the ones that taste better than the others. We select those to take the varietal cutting of that we use in the varietal planting, so hopefully we’re using the best all the time to make the best".
To add to the string of Rutherglen muscat achievements, Campbells Wines recently walked away with the international title of Best In Show at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards 2018. Then of course there’s the $1,000 bottle of All Saints Estate muscat, with its near perfect scores from renowned critics … the list goes on.
When cracking the surface of the muscat story, no doubt one of the first things you’ll discover is the solera process - a centuries old and still popular method of aging muscat by fractional blending. To explain, imagine a pyramid of wine barrels (oldest stock on the bottom, youngest on the top). Each vintage, a portion of the oldest barrels’ volume (from the bottom) will be taken to be bottled as that year’s product. The space created by this will be filled with muscat from the level above and those barrels will be filled with the level above them etc., while the last year’s barrels on the top level will be topped up with wine from this vintage. No container is ever drained, so some of the oldest product always remains in each barrel.
“But why?” you ask. In a word, consistency. Consistency in quality and (eventually) consistency in age. Of course, there are disadvantages to the system, which is why many Rutherglen winemakers follow a modified process, or have their own method, like David.
What's your take on the solera system for muscat?
“We don’t use the solera system in our winery, I tend to rely on blending. I think the solera system is flawed. I only really see that as an averaging system.
We keep a lot of our wines separate. When I go to do a rare, I’ll go and get vintages that are rich and concentrated and even a bit essencie. I’ll go and get a range of middle vintage years that will give me the weight of flavour with a bit of freshness - it can’t just be old and tired. So then I’ll go and get some younger material from a different range of years that will actually freshen and bring into harmony.
With the solera system, if you have about two or three bad or average years, that’s actually going to come through on your averaging. I reckon I can get a better result by having different options”.
It’s about blending to get a better wine”.
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