Vigneron Simon Grant can look out to his vineyard while having his breakfast. He can take about 20 steps and be standing in the first row of vines – inspiration is close at hand. The sloping site is home to his favoured nebbiolo grapes and is a constant reminder of his motivation for leaving behind his former life. “Many things brought my partner Helen (Murray) and me to Beechworth, but the potential to make fine wine was the most compelling,” he offers. “Nebbiolo has become my focus.”
A handful of barrels occupy the basic winery on the site, but you can see the glint in Grant’s eye and his heightened excitement as he talks of the potential of the variety from not only Beechworth, but his unique plot. Tasting the first bottled vintage of nebbiolo from Traviarti’s estate vineyard is a pretty special thing, done with a sense of ceremony.
The 2017 Traviarti Beechworth Nebbiolo (A$65) is a chewy, dark-berried wine of choc-berry character, liquorice, anise and fine black tea tannins. There’s a firm and exceptionally long draw of flavour, and the wine shows a lightness yet a curious depth. It’s easy to see the concentration but what follows is a sumptuous and, in Grant’s words, succulent assertion of structure and power. It’s an exceptional wine of grace and yet grip, and the best is still to come.
While nebbiolo might be the primary focus there’s a stellar array of wines that surround it, and Grant crafts an excellent chardonnay. The 2018 Traviarti Chardonnay (A$40) opens with the faint warm almond scents of nougat, Parisian almonds, and strong whiffs of stone fruit and baked apple behind the more savoury characters. The palate tells another story; assertive, firm in chalky texture, driven with citrus squeezed on apple flavours and showing a crunch of saline minerality. It's a wine of quiet power and good fruit character.
Tempranillo is perhaps Grant’s second grape love, and his version shows a finesse often missing in the broad landscape of Australian examples. “The idea that Australia is kindred with Spain is so misplaced, the elegance you can get from growing it in a cooler place, where the combination of spice and structure is all you need from the variety, is more appealing for me.” In the 2017 Traviarti Tempranillo (A$35) there’s no new oak used but tannins from grapes are emphasised.
It shows sweet cherry-cola aromas with whiffs of rose water and choc-berry. It’s juicy and fleshy in the palate, very silky and soft, then the finish works a corkscrew of pickled cherry-sorbet tang and gnashing gummy tannins. It’s a wine of brightness and freshness, a mouth-filling slew of fruit, acid and spice, evening out to a drink of ease and fun.
Likewise engaging, the 2017 Traviarti Rosso (A$30) is a clever blend of nebbiolo, barbera and cabernet. It’s a moreish wine, pitch-perfect for guzzling with gusto, opening with hearty scents of warm brown spice, forest berries with a lift of maraschino and briar/bramble characters. The palate shows a supple wash of dark fruit with an appealing peppery spice. Draining your glass is easy.
From Fighting Gully Road vineyard, the 2015 Traviarti Cabernet Sauvignon (A$30) is a serious wine. Tannins are a feature, rolling al dente and long through the palate, though it’s the perfume that first grabs me, almost exotic with scents of green herb, dark berries, faint walnut and something high-toned akin to brined black olive. Flavours sit at medium weight, soft in the palate, with dark berry characters and more licks of that black olive tapenade note. It completes a collection of wine that marks the rise and rise of one of Beechworth’s most considered producers.
Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown
Tessa Brown and Jeremy Schmölzer are a duo who should be stamped firmly into the consciousness of all fine wine lovers. Smarts, nous and grit combine to a great degree; their work yielding amazing wines, and a vineyard, Thorley, that will become a landmark under their care.
Brown will be familiar to some for her winemaking tenure alongside winemaker Sandro Mosele at Kooyong/Port Phillip Estate, she’s also a figurehead of wine intelligence for those in the know in the Australian wine scene. Indeed, I often catch her acting as a source of wisdom for other winemakers, filling in the role of viticulture encyclopedia. Schmölzer is a can-do, whip smart architect-turned-vigneron whose input has been formidable here.
The couple settled in Beechworth. “We were seeking altitude and cool-climate sites; ones that were almost marginal, and something unique,” explains Brown.
When showed Thorley Vineyard in Stanley, a stunning natural amphitheatre fringed by Australian bush, they knew “it was the one”. “The site was magnificent,” says Brown.
While Thorley is a work in progress and just beginning to yield fruit for wines, the Brunnen Vineyard, a mere 0.7 hectare plot of vines bearing their other significant grapes, is co-planted (randomly at that) to chardonnay, pinot noir and nine (yes nine!) riesling vines.
The 2017 Schmölzer & Brown Brunnen Chardonnay (A$44) would be arguably the pair’s milestone wine, and my favourite yet – fragrant with stone fruit, faint cream and blanched almonds, it segues to a mouth-watering palate of fine citrus and green apple flavours. I particularly like the light pumice stone-mineral texture and the flicker of flinty character to close. It’s a sleek, long and fresh expression and just wonderful to drink.
The 2017 Schmölzer & Brown Prêt-à-Rouge (A$29) is an homage to the Hunter Valley tradition; the blending of shiraz and pinot noir. This red is just shy of medium weight, with crunchy texture and a peppery spice-laden, red cherry feel. It’s a perfect, bright, summery red, but there's more here of course, and a little cellar time will serve this well, too.
A delight for me was the 2017 Schmölzer & Brown Brunnen Pinot Noir (A$44). Not for those seeking plusher, seductive styles, instead we have an acid-driven, refreshing rendition of the variety with cellophane-like texture, and a vivacious, appealing mixed red berry freshness. Amongst the fruit character you’ll find suggestions of green herb and faint ‘Aussie bush’, with the palate echoing these details. It’s a finely structured wine, tense and rippling with fine, chewy tannins.
The 2017 Schmölzer & Brown Thorley Shiraz (A$39) was produced from a mere 350kg of fruit, becoming one barrel, and the first wine from the Thorley site for VS&B. It’s a young, nervous wine, showing wild herb and peppery scents, brambly-berry perfume and some just ripe strawberry, faint almond and walnut notes. It is surprising how much is going on. Overall, it speaks with a very appealing array of pepper-spiked cherry flavours, and brisk acidity that build pucker.
Some cult wines seem to just arrive, others are the result of diligence and vision. The latter applies here. We’re now in a position to get at these wines with relative ease, before it was a struggle to source them.