On an Even Keel – unearthing a new Mornington superstar
(This article appeared in a recent edition of Lattelife. Sam's wines deserve more attention, particularly those 2010s)
Much is made of ‘age’ in the wine industry. Old wines are held up as more prized than younger examples. Ancient old vines are almost uniformly considered superior to younger ones. Old heads are generally expected to make better wines. Maturity, in what is effectively a primary/secondary production process, seems to equal better results.
Given such a context, when you see genuine superstar wines turn up from an unknown young producer, you start digging deeper for the experienced hand behind it. Young guns do pop-up overnight sure, but rarely do serious successes get achieved without a wisened wine guru and some high quality vineyards on the scene.
After tasting the the Polperro and Even Keel Wines I thought this had to be the case. How could a relatively unknown winemaker (Sam Coverdale) manage to craft such profound single vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs without anyone knowing about it?
The answer: it’s all about age and maturity - about an old head, a young body and, particularly, some tip-top experience. That a clever head can make good with anything.
Speaking of experience, whilst Sam’s Even Keel and Polperro labels themselves are less than 6 years old, his journey into wine kicked off fifteen plus years ago, when he took a holiday job as a Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley cellarhand. This ‘casual job’ - as an eighteen year old - was the catalyst you see, kicking off a process that would ultimately lead him to completing a degree in Wine Science at Charles Stuart University and a life of wine.
For further experience post-degree, Sam notched up a decade in Australian wineries too, with a notable stint at the Canberran young-gun hotbed winery of Kamberra (Hardys famed Canberra sparkling and cool climate wine facility) whilst also completing vintages in Spain, Italy and France along the way too.
One of the more thought provoking stints on Sam’s winemaking resume was the time spent at Burgundian producer Domaine Lafage, a jaunt that not only convinced him that his future would be Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coloured, but also imprinted the idea that great wines need not be overly manipulated to be great.
Given such a winemaking back-story, it’s probably of little surprise that the wines are at least solidly drinkable and varietal. What propels them from ‘good’ into ‘pass me another bottle’ great though is the final piece of the jigsaw – the grapes themselves.
Again maturity plays a part here. Sam has been managing – from 2009 – a set of 18 and 20 year old (respectively) Mornington Peninsula vineyards located in prime grapegrowing country. These established vineyards are farmed organically, and with Sam cutting the yields again since taking over, the fruit produced is tip-top. A mature vineyard to match that mature head.
Ultimately the proof is in the pudding, and by pudding I mean wines. The 2010 Polperro Landividdy Lane Pinot Noir is a perfect example – a powerful, savoury and intensely flavoured Mornington Pinot Noir with the sort of ethereal power and weight seen in the very best Australian wines. Even the standard Even Keel Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay has a balance between richness and minerality to be admired. All of the wines show a level of evolved savouriness so rarely seen in Australian wines, particularly from a label that is just a few vintages old.
Admittedly Sam is no wunderkind, nor is he just utilising someone else’s experience to his own advantage. He’s just making wine like an old fart and generally doing it better.