One by one, the small Australian wineries imported by Grateful Palate, whose Australian business is in receivership, are re-emerging, including some serious cult classics. Drew Noon, a McLaren Vale producer whose Eclipse (a Grenache blend), Shiraz and Cabernet absolutely fit that description, stopped by for a visit this week. The wiry, soft-spoken Aussie was with his new importer, Ronnie Sanders of Vine Street Imports, whose portfolio includes such insider favorites as Bindi, First Drop and Spinifex.
When Grateful Palate introduced Noon's wines to the U.S. shortly after Drew and his wife, Reagan, took over the winery from his parents in 1996, its strategy parceled out the bottles with an eye-dropper. Imports were limited to only a few cases to enhance the image of rarity. I never saw a sample and had difficulty tracking the wines down to buy them. This kept prices up in the U.S. and lured collectors, even though it's not difficult to find even older vintages at wine shops in Australia.
"I have to admit that was frustrating," Noon allowed, sipping a coffee on a sunny morning in San Francisco. "It felt like we were just window dressing." Sanders added that he intends to bring in significantly more than the 100 cases that were typical before.
We may have to wait to see the effects, however. The shipment of 2009s currently on the water is still very small because of a series of vintages limited in volume by heat waves. "In 2008 we only made Eclipse, and 2009 we lost all the Grenache in the heat and so there was no Eclipse. In 2010 there was no Cabernet crop and in the wet conditions of 2011 we lost all the Shiraz to botrytis." So it will be a while before American consumers can buy a "normal" vintage.
Noon's 14-acre estate vineyard in McLaren Vale grows Grenache and Shiraz, plus a few rows of Graciano, a Spanish grape variety from Rioja. The Reserve Shiraz and Cabernet bottlings come from a grower in Langhorne Creek, a bit further south. Ironically, the wines from purchased grapes sell for more than $100, the Eclipse for $75 (although I found bottles of 2008, remnants of the previous importer's work, on offer online for $50).
Despite these struggles with quantity, Noon said he has been refining his winemaking approach. In particular, he has found a way to tame some of the high alcohol levels that characterized his wines, which have been undeniably muscular.
He started using some whole clusters and even adding stems as the wines ferment on their own yeasts instead of inoculating with cultured yeasts. Aside from gaining more savory character to go along with the ripe fruit, the wines came out with about 1 percent less alcohol on the same sugar levels.
Ironically he wasn't trying to lower the alcohol per se, but find ways to let the wines speak more clearly. "Before it was all about making an impression," he said. "I guess it's a sign of maturity on my part that I can allow the wines to speak for themselves."
He doesn't know why the stems have this much of an effect. Chemical formulas account for only about a one-tenth of one percent drop in alcohol, which should be negligible. But he'll take it. Noon's earlier wines find an impressive sense of balance even though they carry alcohol statements of 15 to 17 percent on the label.
I opened the advance bottle of 2008 Eclipse with a dinner of roast chicken last night. Being more than two-thirds Grenache, it carries its berry and pomegranate richness with a sense of ease, and it has some extra nuances of cocoa, coffee and sage than come and go as the wine expands in the glass. Good to know we might actually be able to get our hands on some more.
Constantine Kalaris — HIGHLAND, MD. ,USA — May 4, 2011 3:08pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — May 4, 2011 3:36pm ET
Scott Oneil — Denver, CO, US — May 4, 2011 4:04pm ET
Michael Opdahl — Los Angeles, CA — May 4, 2011 6:28pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — May 6, 2011 12:25am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 6, 2011 3:52pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions