I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – winemakers who don’t bullshit in their tasting notes make better wines.
Tim Shand, Punt Road winemaker, doesn’t bullshit. There is enthusiasm, but it’s also backed by reality. It’s easy to just make up things as a producer, but here, you feel like you’re living the vintage first hand.
This insight comes direct from Tim’s email talking about the 2016 Yarra Valley vintage at Punt Road. To mine, this is gold:
‘2016 was uniquely early, and ridiculously compressed. This was due to a warm, dry Spring, then a very warm late January, early February. It was a year for the quick and the dead. If picking decisions were dithered over, then the moment had passed. If the logistics of the winery was not humming, then the fruit could not come in as quickly as it had to. Grape juice nutrient levels were low, and alcohols potentially higher, so ferment management was critical (at a time when the winery could easily slip into chaos)… It was a vintage for the logistically minded, not the romantic. Terroir is rarely brought back to people, but it was a crucial element for us in 2016. There was no room for error. All the improvements we have made at Punt Road allowed us to pick the grapes and make the wine as we would want to, not as we were forced to… This is a pair of wines we are proud to have made from a fairly tough year.’
What’s of interest then is what isn’t said. How much fruit was lost? How many ‘right’ moments were passed? It’s another realisation that we just see the final product and judge whether it’s good or not. There is so much more that isn’t said and that we don’t know, a winemakers omerta that means we never now just how bloody hard it was to turn grapes into bottle.
Still, these two wines are good. A step behind the benchmark ’15s, sure, but they feel real – a struggle, but one that delivered real wines.
Punt Road Napoleone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016
Again, I hope Tim doesn’t mind that I’m quoting large slabs of content, but for mine, this is the most interesting perspective around. Welcome to the winemakers world:
‘In making the 2016 Punt Road Pinot, we were cognisant that our house style (and the quality bar) was set in 2015. Even from a warm year, this wine would still need to be supple, fragrant and full of energy. No small task in 2016. To maintain quality, we re-jigged a touch. Older blocks were picked a touch earlier, to maintain freshness. Young blocks, and clones such as 115 and 777, didn’t make the grade. All the fruit came from MV6 blocks, all at least 20 years old. We used more bunch as hot years can not only degrade freshness, but also tannin. We upped the new oak portion to 20%, as mid-palate sweetness seemed lacking in the ferments.’
Despite the vintage challenges, this is a convincingly attractive wine. There’s a slightly syrupy edge to the cherry fruit, the acid lower, the stems a little more prominent. But it still follows through with a languid and really quite complex expression that is proper Pinoty, and comes complete with a rasp of tannins to carry the finish. It’s not as sexy as the ’15, but there is much to chew on here (and more to come). Best drinking: 2018-2022. 17.5/20, 91/100+. 13%, $29. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Airlie Bank Pinot Noir 2016
This is the cheaper wine of the two and is made in a lighter, simpler style.
From the Airlie Bank Vineyard. Some whole bunches, a little Shiraz, and little oak.
‘In a hot year, I am more intent on maintaining freshness than concentration of flavour… If we’d let the fruit hang, or used clumsy oak, or left it in the winery before bottling for too long, then there is a risk of (this) wine turning into ‘dry red’. You can get decent dry red for $12 a bottle, so that’s a dangerous place for a Pinot to sit. Pinot lovers have a good idea what they like, and we aim to deliver that. Savouriness, harmony, prettiness. Hopefully you see it here.’
Light and spicy, this is bonier than the Punt Road but still packs in the drinkability (and comes with proper tannin). Importantly there is fruit through the middle for the structure to hang off, even if it’s not plush or full. Again, length is admirable for the dollars – no shrinking violet. Again, real Pinot, few dollars, even if doesn’t set hearts on fire. Best drinking: 2017-2020. 16.8/20, 89/100. 12.5%, $21. Would I buy it? A glass would do.