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Biodynamic wines of Beechworth, Part One

You would wonder what a former money broker, an engineer, a film producer and a former pear farmer have in common. They all praise the concept of biodynamic or organic farming. Developed by Rudolf Steiner, the concept was seen as a way of enhancing production and quality. Various bacterial cultures are mixed into the soil and, by being in tune with nature’s forces and cycles, one can dramatically elevate the final produce.

06 May 2012

By Dr Michael Ryan

You would wonder what a former money broker, an engineer, a film producer and a former pear farmer have in common. They all praise the concept of biodynamic or organic farming.

Developed by Rudolf Steiner, the concept was seen as a way of enhancing production and quality. Various bacterial cultures are mixed into the soil and, by being in tune with nature’s forces and cycles, one can dramatically elevate the final produce.

So, to Beechworth in the north-east of Victoria which, with a good Mediterranean climate, an elevation of 400 metres and decomposing granitic and clay soils, has become a serious producer of iconic, and potentially iconic, wines. 

The ex-money broker is Keppell Smith from Savaterre.  Though well-schooled, with a stint in the police force and an almost finished law degree, these careers did nothing for his ambitions. In 1996, after extensive research, a sheep farm where the Kelly boys once roamed became home.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varieties are planted on a southerly aspect to help reduce extremes of heat exposure. Old world techniques with the classic grape varieties, combined with the biodynamic influence, results in individual wines of great personality. No pesticides, close planting, hand pruning and picking, plenty of wild yeast influence and generous balanced oak exposure are the norm.

Keppell has been also experimenting with Shiraz. So far, two vintages have been made – though not yet for public release as he tweaks the style. Keppell’s philosophy is simple: “I want to create a wine of great character, expression and excellence”.

The barrel samples are magnificent; cool climate Shiraz with stalk exposure and judicious oak influence. Juicy red fruits, with pepper and spice nuances and a lingering tight tannin structure, aid the ever-aging backbone of this wine. Final words from Keppell on this year’s vintage: “2012 looks great! All I have to do is not manage to stuff it up in the winery!”

The next stop is Giaconda, created by former mechanical engineer Rick Kinzbrunner in 1980. Rick worked vintages in America and France after developing his passion for wine. His scientific background has made some aspects of winemaking less turbid, but the application of his art is founded in the resolute belief in the organic soul of the vineyard. His wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz, are legendary in Langton’s wine classification guide, and sell out before release every November “en-Premiur”.

 Rick was kind enough to let me barrel sample the outstanding 2010 and 2011 Chardonnays as we visited his new iso-climatic underground ageing room, which is a big tunnel dug into granite.  The 90 per cent humidity and constant 15 degrees Celsius makes for a slow and undisturbed maturation process that allows the wines to retain freshness with complexity. They are cracking good wines, and it is astounding to think that those I sampled are only “half cooked.”  Rick’s baby looks like being Nebiollo, which is from his Red Hill site in Beechworth. We barrel sampled the 2011 Nebbiolo and Rick’s eyes sparkle like a proud father. Another potentially stunning wine.

The Wines

2009 Savaterre Beechworth Chardonnay- Pale lemon/straw colour. An exuberant nose of lemon citrus, hints of grass and honeysuckle, even spice, it glides across the palate with white peach flavours, curt acidity but a lingering mouth feel.  Try with spanner crab brie soufflé`.

2009 Savaterre Beechworth Pinot Noir -ruby/garnet colour. A complex nose of dark cherries, mushrooms, rose petals and cheeky stalks. The palate is layered; initially with subdued fruit, then a silky mid-palate, followed by a crescendo of a back palate joyride that jolts the senses.

2010 Giaconda Yarra Valley Beechworth Pinot Noir (available November 2012) - this is a complex wine with aromas of dark berries/cherries, funky earthy notes and hints of stalk and spice. The palate is luscious and balanced by acid and tannin, with moderate oak influence. Any game meat with berry jus would match. Stock still available but maybe not for long, as demand will be high.  

2010 Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay (available November 2012) - Whiffs of white peach/lemon float seamlessly over a bouquet of mineral scents and flavours and “meal”. The palate is a joy, even at this early stage, and is balanced by acidity that will ensure longevity. Burgundy influence is strong and it would go well with a rabbit ballotine.


Published: 06 May 2012