Earlier last month, two iconic winemakers from two of the most sort-after regions of Australia hosted an intimate tasting session at the recently revamped Capital landmark, The Oberoi New Delhi. Michael Fragos of Chappel Hill from McLaren Vale and Jeremy Gordon of Amelia Park from Margaret River are both winemakers and owners of their respective houses. This was their first such guided tasting and interaction stint in the country, though their wines have been on the shelves with Brindco for over a year now.
They’re highly acclaimed and have won a pleathora of accolades between them including the International Winemaker of the Year, 2007, and the Best Australian Producer for Michael and Jeremy lifting the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy in 2008 and winning the James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge in 2017.
MARGARET RIVER WINES
Winemaking reached the shores of Margaret River in the 1970s, and its first three wineries were setup by doctors. From that it’s easy to understand the research, detailing, and precision that would’ve gone into their work. Hence, it isn’t surprising that the quality benchmark was setup really high. And, the testimony of that is in the volume of awards the region has won for the country. Their quality and repute are easy to vouch for. However, that comes at a price, making them a rare find in the price-sensitive market of India. Located on the same axis and with identical geographical features, Margaret River’s Cabernet-Merlot blends challenge those of Bordeaux, Bolgheri, and Napa. It just lacks the same PR and positioning muscle as these regions.
Amelia Hills is a recent addition to the region. In 2009, Jeremy and his wife, Daniela, and business partner, Peter Walsh, joined hands to setup a venture that would produce high quality wines. It bore fruits in the shape of being named amongst the Ten of the Best New Wineries by James Halliday in his 2010 Wine Companion. Jeremy’s love for Semillon is visible and shows in his Trellis Collection white, while we also tasted the red.
MCLAREN VALE WINES
McLaren Vale has an earlier start in the 1838. It was quick to realise the potential for Shiraz, Grenache, and Cabernets, leaving the whites for its neighbours in the Adelaide Hills. Though the region has exploited the touristic draw, it has been a victim of Adelaide’s urban sprawl. Located close to the oceans, the cool winds relieve the lands off of heat and create brilliant costal conditions under which its reds retain their acidity that help their wines mature in to age-worthy, confident, and astute propositions.
Chapel Hill, as the name suggests, is built on the site of an 1865 ironstone chapel which still stands and is an integral part of the winery’s tasting room. The first plantings here were in 1972 and 1975 was their first vintage release. Michael has been here from 2004, and was presenting their 2016 Parson Shiraz and McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon.
THE BIG TALK
I had a tete-a-tete with Jeremy and Michael and they were rather candid in their responses. Read on
What are your first impressions of the Indian market?
Jeremy – We’ve been looking at India for a while now. We’re not in any rush of collecting our returns as it is a big market and the best way to tread is to go slow and steady. We do understand it will be a slow brand building exercise and we need to push on education.
What attracts you to India?
Michael – The Aussie wine market hasn’t grown in size for a while, though it has in value. It is exhausting to enter in to India but we see it as a long term proposition. India is a developing powerhouse sitting on a massive possible drinking population. Drinking wines is trending and will soon become a full-fledged culture. It’s always better to have an early foot in the door.
Aussie Chardonnays and Shiraz have become a brand in themselves. Is that good or bad for your business?
It’s definitely good, it gets us an entry and this sort of branding generates trust in Australian produce based on the connection one can form on a personal level. 65% of McLaren Vale produce is Shiraz, which works.
Australia has numerous obscure varietals. Which of them do you see holding great promise?
Jeremy – We’ve been making wild ferment Grenache roses and are experimenting with bush vine Tempranillo. Also look out of Fiano and Vermentino in the whites, they have a huge potential to make a mark
Michael – Grenache has had a long history in the region, given it wasn’t affected by Phylloxera, we have some 1983 bush vines that are really exciting to work with.
What makes your wines different?
Intuition and experimentation. We do not make wines for shows or to impress. There’s no formulae to making good wines but show the purity of fruit and the aim for balance.
What is the support you seek from the Indian market and the Australian High Commission in promoting your produce?
There’s a need for education and trails. We will supply to Brindco to do whats needed, which is to build a relationship with our clients and our consumers, and keep telling our stories. We need more hands on the ground in the form of industry professionals who keep telling the story of our country, our region, our wines, and the experience that Australia is.
What do you see as the future of wines in India?
We are trying to establish that and it’ll be imperative to keep our eyes open. It’s definitely the time for smaller wineries to come in and create a more personal connection for the drinkers by telling our stories and pouring hand-crafted wines that have families behind them. The market will only change for better hereon.
Being your first visit to India, apart from wines, has it broken any myths for you?
Jeremy – The amount of cricket played on the streets is astonishing. Everyone’s playing, everywhere, and at all times.
Michael – The curries aren’t hot enough. I’m yet to have one that makes me sweat and knocks my socks off!
First published in Spiritz Magazine in December, 2019