WineCollective is Canada’s largest monthly wine club, featuring exclusive wines, sourced from around the world. This past August, Oakridge Wines were exclusively launched online in Canada through WineCollective, giving our members a first-look at these premium Australian wines. Oakridge wines will soon be available in Canada through the winery’s DTC program. Oakridge wines have been scoring well with critics internationally, and we are thrilled to be the exclusive online retailer and offer our members insight into Gourmet Traveller’s Winemaker of the Year 2017 winner, David Bicknell, Chief Winemaker.
A conversation with David Bicknell, named Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year 2017.
1. Tell us the story of how you came to be Chief Winemaker at one of Australia’s most premium wineries.
When I was recruited to take over the winemaking at Oakridge in 2002, the place was a mess. Nearly everything was broken, including much of the wine in the cellar. So over several years, I worked at putting it back together again, put a fresh face on the winemaking, and generally cleaned away all the mess. By 2008, I had been nominated by AGT for winemaker of the year, so I knew I was on course.
2. In your time as a winemaker, what has changed most in your style from the time you started to where you are now?
The biggest change has probably been vineyard sourcing. That has unfortunately moved around a bit. Early on, we didn’t have the financial robustness to hang on to some of the good vineyards. But luck’s worth a fortune, and more recently, combined with a better, healthy in business, we have been able to secure vineyards that are potentially better still. The wines from the new vineyards are just starting to filter through now. On a winemaking level, there has been a refinement in picking to earlier dates with superior natural acidity, and that combined with lower oak inputs and fermentation with indigenous yeast , has allowed for better expression of fruit without clutter. It is a minimalist expression, with sharp, clean lines. The wines should be fruit flavoured, not tree flavoured. We refer to barrels as wine coffins, where wines go to die if you leave them long enough. We replace less than 8% of our barrels every year.
3. What was the best advice you received when you entered into the winemaking business?
Keep your mind open. If you think you know it all, then you’re probably dead in the water. It’s one of the things I love about the industry in this land. There is a spirit of adventure and a thirst for knowledge. The pervading will of the winemaking community is always find improvement.
4. What do you think the next most popular style will be to come out of Australia? What other trends are on the horizon in the industry?
It may well be a plethora of styles. There is a drive to experiment with alternative varieties right across the country. One of the things we constantly wonder is what would the Australian landscape look like if we had planted more Iberian and Italian varieties rather than the French staples. The staples might work in the cooler reaches, but what about the warmer parts? Most of the wine produced comes from those warmer regions, so expect to see all sorts of interesting and delicious wine wines made from Touriga, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Fiano, Vermentio, Nebbiolo etc etc
5. What are the most significant changes you have witnessed with regards to how grapes are grown and winemaking processes in your career?
Firstly, A more holistic approach to making wine where the key ingredient (grapes), should not require amelioration to achieve balance. Regions are tending to focus on local hero varieties, where, if you get it right, nothing else needs to be added. Secondly, our ability to cope with climate change. We have had to learn to be more protective of the grapes.
6. What should Canadians know about the recent vintages of Australian wine?
The recent vintages have been very consistent. 2015, 2016 and 2017 are all loaded with good wines. The other thing you have to remember, is that is, like Canada a big country. Most of western Europe fits comfortably inside, so there are a vast range of climates within, so the range of wines is vast too.
7. In your opinion, what is the Yarra Valley’s defining feature that sets it apart from other Australian regions?
Many regions are relatively homogenous. Burgundy is a classic example of consistent geology, geography and varieties. Not so here in the Yarra. We have a mixed ancient geology of both volcanic and alluvial origin ranging from 250-500 million years old (Burgundy is only 200 million years old), and due to our mixed geography with elevations ranging from 90 metres above sea level to 450 metres above sea level, depending where you grow on that scale, almost anything is possible. At the bottom we are a touch cooler than Bordeaux and so can reliably ripen cabernet sauvignon. At the top, a little cooler than Champagne, with only sparkling base capable of ripening. Our focus has been on the mid-sections to grow chardonnay and pinot noir with excellent results.
8. What makes the vineyards you work with unique?
If we believe in the concept of terroir, then all sites, in theory, have a unique taste. We are still exploring that concept and learning what makes these differences and why some vineyards taste better than others. For instance, we are currently working with four different chardonnay vineyards that all make wines of similar high quality, however, all four have distinct differences in both flavour and texture, making them all taste different, despite using the same winemaking technique. In three of these sites, we are the sole producer, so these sets of flavours cannot be reproduced by others.
9. Outside of Australian wines, what region do you gravitate towards when drinking?
In no particular order – Chablis, Burgundy, Piedmonte, the Mosel and Galicia (Ribera Sacra etc).
WineCollective members have received the following wines from Oakridge. As part of the package, members receive our notes and food pairing suggestions. Take a look at our tasting cards and notes to see all that these fantastic wines have to offer.
Learn more about Oakridge Winery and their world renowned wines.
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