National Zinfandel Day with an Aussie Zin from Lowe

Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia Zinfandel

Hmm…is that allowed? National Zinfandel Day is celebrated in the US and is supported by ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers). While the majority of Zinfandel is grown in California, where it arrived around 1850, it can be found around the world. You’ll hear about Primitivo in Italy. Is it the same as Zinfandel? Well, they both are clones of Tribidrag from Croatia that migrated and evolved in their new locations.

Zinfandel from Australia

Lowe Wines – David Lowe

Our Zin for Zinfandel day is from Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia. We spent an afternoon with David Lowe at the winery when we visited Australia. He is fascinating to speak with about many things, but we tried to keep our conversation to wine.

In Australia, Zinfandel is not one of their top grapes, but you will find it doing well in the Barossa Valley, Riverina, McClaren Vale & Mudgee. So how did David Lowe get into wine and then into Zinfandel? After deciding to be a winemaker at 15, David at one point went to work for a wine company and was exposed to wines from around the world. He even met Robert Mondavi. With his boss he tasted, the 20 top rated wines in the world at that time, 9 of which were biodynamic or organic. That had him hooked. In the 2000’s the biodynamic conference in Australia really gave him the information he needed to take his property that direction. 20 years later, they are still constantly improving on their biodynamic/organic property.

David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia
David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia

David fell for the wines of Sonoma and Dry Creek. The best Zins in California come from Lodi, Paso Robles, Amador County or Sonoma. He met Fred Peterson of Peterson Winery, who became a mentor for him.

David’s Mentor – Fred Peterson

Fred Peterson began as a viticulturalist developing vineyards in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek in 1983. In ’87 he launched his winery. His philosophy is Zero Manipulation. He is an iconoclast and farms with low tech and high attention. His style leans toward old world style and he is well respected in California.

Fred came to Lowe and suggested that they plant Zinfandel. Like California, they found quartz soil here, which is common to gold mining areas. This quartz soil holds minerals and is well drained, good for grapes. When Fred suggested planting Zin, he told them to “treat it badly”.

Head pruned/bush trained vines

Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel Vines bush trained
Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel Vines bush trained

Zin can often have huge bunches that can get to over 3 pounds. They can be massive and have great difficulty with humidity causing mold and disease late in the season. To keep the bunches smaller, they head pruned. This keeps the vines low to the ground in kind of a bonsai style. The bunches and berries stay smaller, with tougher skins and a greater skin to juice ratio. This also allows for better airflow in the vine, keeping the humidity issues down.

Planting density and spacing for tractors

Bush trained vines at Lowe Wine in Mudgee Australia
Bush trained vines widely spaced at Lowe Wine in Mudgee Australia

In planting density they went 10 by 10 feet (or 3 x 3 meters). Some of this has to do with tractors. Newer regions, plant vineyards to fit the tractors. In the old world, the vineyards came first, so you will see tractors built to fit the vineyards. Here the 10 x 10 spacing with the bush vines allows them to mix up their tractor drives. It’s not just one row that you are constantly driving back and forth between the trellis’. Here they can mix it up, driving 8 different paths between the vines (think like cutting a pie!)

Zinfandel in the Lowe Vineyard

Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia
Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia

The vineyards for the Zin sit near the cellar door at 500 meters (1640 feet). We walked the block that is in front of the winery. It was early spring and we were just a little past bud break, with the knarled vines, just tipped with green.

This region, sitting on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, starts it’s season a little later than the more coastal areas. While in Shoalhaven, Southern Highlands and driving through the Hunter Valley, we saw lots more green on the vines. Here the higher altitude and the location inland, keep the bud-break a little later.

Local artist Rachael Flynn was commissioned to illustrate the tour via a map which is available at the cellar door.
Local artist Rachael Flynn was commissioned to illustrate the tour via a map which is available at the cellar door.

They have a map for a wine walk that takes you around the biodiverse property, through the fruit orchard, past the compost and bird habitat through the vineyard blocks and nut orchard. We strolled taking in the space. Cloud covered but still dry, the skies were overcast while the brown dirt in the fields belied the fact that it was spring. Just in front of the winery there were planter boxes filled with vegetables and greens. The patio had a trellis’ roof covered in vines. There were tables and games in a stand of stone pines down the drive for picnicers.

The Zin House

Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel
Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel

We did not have time to visit the Zin House, the farmhouse restaurant on property run by David’s wife Kim Currie. This is local food, centered around their biodynamic garden, served with Lowe wines as well as other local wines. Alexander, Kim and David’s son, oversees the cellar and wine selection for the restaurant. We met him the following day as he stopped in while we were speaking with Sam at Vinifera Wines. This is a small community and the comradery between businesses is wonderful to see.

Lowe Wine Zinfandel Style

Lowe 2016 Zinfandel Mudgee Australia
Lowe 2016 Zinfandel Mudgee Australia

The style of Zin they make a Lowe is more elegant. It is not the big jammy Zins (you remember Tobin James). These are lighter and more elegant. They are hand-harvested from 5 head trained blocks around winery from biodynamic fruit. They ferment in was lined concrete fermenters. The label says they are “naturally brewed with indigenous yeast from the vineyard”. These age in 4500 L American oak casks for 2 years and are unfiltered and unfined. This wine does sit at 15.2% abv.

2016 Lowe Zinfandel

I remember David speaking of loving the smell of Christmas Cake in Zinfandel. At the time, my translation of that was “fruit cake”. I remember my mother making fruit cake when I was a child. All those bright died colored squares of some kind of fruit. The blue pieces scared me a little. But Christmas Cake….well that conjures pictures of the party at Fezziwig’s! There’s a little more depth just thinking of that cake. It’s not one that I have actually tasted, but I know the smell now, from dipping my nose in that glass. (Confession…we are early decorators for the holidays and I smelled and sipped this wine in a tree lit room…for research, of course).

The nose on this wine is big. It is dried fruits, like raisins and currants all plumped up in brandy and spices. Yep, Christmas Cake. The nose is almost syrupy.

Lowe 2016 Organic Zinfandel from Mudgee Australia by the tree
Lowe 2016 Organic Zinfandel

After a whiff, I looked at the glass on the table, backlit by the tree and could see the ruby color with the light shining through. I think after that nose, I was surprised that the light came through. Then I swished it in my mouth. Here came the elegance. The mouth feel was vibrant and medium weight and those red tones certainly indicated a level of acidity. The tannins were lightly chewy and smoothed out gradually. When I stuck my nose back in I found a bit of mint behind all those plump raisins and some cooked berries with baking spices.

Michael had made some homemade chili early that day, and we curled up on the couch with this wine, the chili, the tree and a little late night TV. I closed my eyes briefly and did a little virtual revisit to Mudgee. Here’s a bit for you.

A virtual stroll at Lowe Wines

We visited Mudgee while we were in Australia for the Wine Media Conference in October on #OurAussieWineAdventure. For more information on the region you can visit the following sites

Visiting Lowe Wines

If you make your way to Mudgee and want to find Lowe Wines head out to Tinja Lane just outside Mudgee,

327 Tinja Lane, Mudgee NSW 2850

where they are open daily from 10-4:30 for tastings that their cellar door. They also have tasting platters available from 11-3.

Happy Zinfandel Day!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Exploring New South Wales – Shoalhaven Coast & Southern Highlands #ouraussiewineadventure

Cambewarra Mountain lookout

Australia…it’s the other side of the world and a day away. Far from our normal life. A place where they drive on the other side of the road and sit on the other side of the car to drive. Where the signs on the road tell you to watch for kangaroos and wombats. But…the language is the same, well, mostly. The slang can be a bit of a hang up to translate.

In October, we got on a plane for the short (that’s sarcasm) flight to Sydney. Our destination was the Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley which is north of Sydney, but we flew in early to visit a bit more. Mind you Australia is a large country, almost as large as the US, so we focused on the region of New South Wales which surrounds Sydney and of course, primarily, we were looking at the wines of this region.

If you’ve followed our trips before, you will know that we are not afraid of a little bit of driving. That held true on this trip, as you can see by the map below. It allowed us to take in quite a bit of New South Wales, but not all of it. This region has quite a bit to explore.

Map of our travels in New South Wales
Our Aussie Wine Adventure

New South Wales

New South Wales is the region surrounding Sydney.  Good ole’ Captain James Cook discovered and named this region.  Okay…we will amend this.  He didn’t “discover” it.  It was there and inhabited by aboriginal peoples.  But none the less, he donned it with the name “New South Wales” and soon the Brits were sending Convict Ships this way. (The American Revolution meant they couldn’t send their convicts there any longer).

The first fleet of six ships included the Scarborough (that name will come up again later).  They landed in what is now Sydney. In this region you find the Gadigal people.  Future settlements moved up and down the coast and inland and provided the infrastructure for much of the region as it is known today.

Map courtesy of Destination NSW and NSW Government New South Wales
Map courtesy of Destination NSW and NSW Government

We visited 5 of the 14 wine regions in New South Wales: Shoalhaven Coast, Southern Highlands, Mudgee, Hunter Valley and Orange. These are the regions closest to Sydney. A little further north on the coast takes you to Hastings River, then even further north and inland you find New England. Inland to the West of Sydney (and mostly to the south) you find the regions of Cowra, Hilltops, Gundagai, Canberra District, Tumbarumba, the tiny Perricoota and the really large Riverina. We would have needed far more than 2 weeks to explore all these regions.

Sydney

(don’t worry we will come back)

Our visit started and ended in Sydney which sits on the coast of New South Wales. It sits only a little closer to the southern border with Victoria, than the Northern border of Queensland along the 2137 miles of coastline.

Royal National Gardens & the Sea Cliff Bridge

The road to Shoalhaven Coast and the Sea Cliff Bridge New South Wales Australia
The road to Shoalhaven Coast and the Sea Cliff Bridge

We drove south from Sydney on what was (unbeknownst to us) a holiday weekend and into the Royal National Gardens. Sadly we had no time to hike and explore (the Figure 8 pools sound amazing, but that was a 2.5-4 hr hike!). Instead we took in the scenery (and met a stick bug, who dropped in our window landing on my shoulder and sadly lumbered away before I could get a photo) as we drove through. The coast is beautiful and we drove across the Sea Cliff Bridge as we made our way south, stopping for lunch and a view in Gerrigong.

Shoalhaven Coast

The Shoalhaven Coast is about 2 hrs south of Sydney. This is a popular weekend getaway for people living in Sydney and the area has embraced tourism. Gerrigong, where we enjoyed lunch was a cute town with small shops and restaurants, the perfect beach town with a view. Our lunch at The Hill, set us up with high expectations for the food we would encounter in New South Wales.

The vineyards here often have a view of the ocean, so the maritime influence is a major factor in the vineyard. The primary concern here is summer rainfall, which can create issues for ripening as well as problems with disease and molds. We also heard that birds can be a huge problem, sneaky birds that get under the netting during harvest and can gobble up and entire crop.

Coolangatta Estate

  • Coolangatta Estate Originally opened in 1822, renovated and reopened in 1972. Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Mt. Coolangatta in the morning mist. New South Wales
  • Lush greenery at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Our suite in the Servant's Quarters at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Coolangatta Historic Homestead Shoalhaven Coast, New South Wales Australia
  • The view to the lower vineyard next to the stable building Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • The old brick main building at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Coolangatta Estate photo 1914 Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

We arrived at Coolangatta Estate to meet with owner/vigneron Greg Bishop. The Estate is a renovated historic convict built estate where we stayed in the servants quarters.

This historic property of a convict built estate, and was the first European settlement on the South Coast.  The name derives from “Collungatta” which was the Aboriginal word for “fine view”  The Estate sits at the foot of Mt. Coolangatta from which this “fine view” can be enjoyed.  The Estate fell into disrepair in the first part of the 1900’s.

In 1947 Colin Bishop acquired land here for farming.  He and his wife (Greg’s parents) then began to restore the property and turn it into a historic resort. 

  • The lower vineyards at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales AustraliaNSW Australia
  • Spring Vines at Coolangatta Estate in the Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Rolling vineyard in the shadow of Mt. Coolangatta, Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • White wines at Coolangatta Estate New South Wales Australia
  • The 2018 Winsome Riesling just won the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, Scoring 95 points Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

Greg planted the vineyard here in the 1980’s and they are producing a wide variety of wines including: Semillon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Verdelho, Savagnin, Chambourcin, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and surprisingly a Tannat.

After our conversation with Greg, it was time for a bit of a nap before enjoying dinner at their restaurant Alexander’s paired with Coolangatta wines.

Two Figs

  • Two Figs Winery on the Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales AustraliaNSW Australia
  • View of the Shoalhaven River from Two Figs Winery Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

We did stop by Two Figs to take in the views, and tried to do a tasting, while we were in the area. But remember I mentioned it was a holiday weekend? Two Figs does tastings by reservation and we had not pre-booked. The place was packed and hoppin’. The views had to suffice.

Southern Highlands

The next morning we awoke early to head inland to Southern Highlands. Our drive took us through Nowra, where we picked up a quick (and delicious) breakfast at a gas station. (Really the food here…it’s like getting every meal from Whole Foods!). We then drove into the mountains in the Budderoo National Park, through Kangaroo Valley, past Fitzroy Falls and finally into Mittagong.

The region, on a plateau, was a place for the colonial squires to escape Sydney’s summer heat (think Hamptons). The villages are picturesque, the streets wide and tree lined and the region sees all four seasons. It was most definitely spring when we arrived with flowers blooming everywhere.

As to growing vines here? It’s altitude and cool climate make it perfect for crafting beautiful white and sparkling wines. You will also find Merlot, Shiraz and some Pinot Noir grown here also. The region has 12 wineries around 6 towns: Berrima, Bowral, Exeter, Mittagong, Moss Vale and Sutton Forest.

Tertini

  • The Tertini entrance sign, unpretentiously nestled in the trees Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The Tertini Cellar Door near Mittagong in Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The elegant Tertini Tasting Room Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The Patio at Tertini Wines in Australia's Southern Highlands, New South Wales
  • Panorama of the Tertini Winery in Australia's Southern Highlands in New South Wales.

Our destination in Southern Highlands was Tertini Wines near Mittagong, to visit with winemaker Jonathan Holgate. Jonathan spoke with us about the region and his wine making style before taking us out to see the winery and then to visit their Yaraandoo Vineyard. We returned to the cellar door for a tasting, and I look forward to telling you later about his spectacular wines, which include a decidedly unique Arneis.

  • Spring Vines in Tertini's Yaraandoo Vineyard in Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • Tertini's Yaraandoo Vineyard in the Spring  Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia

Jonathan’s Private Cellar Collection Arneis is made from fruit from their Yaraandoo Vineyard which is partially fermented in French Oak. This is unlike any other Arneis you will taste.

We left as the tasting room filled up with booked seated tastings, some of them scheduled specifically with Jonathan.

Artemis

We made one more quick stop for a tasting at Artemis Wines. This winery is set up to host. Views of the vineyard right around the tasting room, with a patio that was set up for wood fired pizza. This is a gathering place, and it was crowded when we arrived. We did a pretty hasty tasting of their wines with a very knowledgeable (and busy) staff member. They also do tastings of ciders and beers.

Camberwarra Mountain Lookout

On the way back to Coolangatta we took in the views from Camberwarra Mountain Lookout. You can see Mt. Coolangatta out toward the coast as well as the Shoalhaven river that runs out to the coast. The lookout has a tea room, so it’s a lovely spot to take in the views and a cup.

Australia Shoalhaven Coast, New South Wales-
Australia Shoalhaven Coast, NSW- The view from Cambewarra

Newcastle

After enjoying another evening soaking up the great atmosphere at Coolangatta Estate, we drove North, swinging wide around Sydney and up the coast to Newcastle.

This port city north of Sydney is Australia’s second-oldest city and 7th largest.  It is known for shipping coal.  Mind you the Aussie’s are environmentally minded and don’t use much coal.  They do however mine it and ship it out for other countries to use. 

As an important side note here, every vineyard owner and winemaker I spoke with in Australia acknowledged the affects that climate change was directly having on their vineyards.  In addition (or as a result), the bush fires have increased in the northern part of New South Wales and in Queensland.  They are in a drought, the second in a dozen years.  The sad cycle of lack of water due to climate change, causes agricultural businesses to struggle, and I can’t help but feel that this leads back to exporting coal to support the economy, that same coal that leads to further pollution and climate change.

This city is on the coast of the Hunter region.  We soaked in a bit of beach, had dinner wharf and enjoyed an artsy stroll through the downtown district back to our hotel.  The arts college is here and walls are covered in murals, music on this October long weekend (a holiday weekend that we didn’t realize we were in the midst of) poured out of doorways with pubs and cocktail bars.  The town was busy and full of people enjoying the holiday weekend.

Places to stay…

Here I will do a shout out to our hotel.  In the states, most Holiday Inn Expresses are mid to low range hotels.  We find them in the smaller sections of wine country and they are always reliable.  Here we were staying in the Holiday Inn Express in Newcastle, a relatively new hotel.  It was pretty spectacular, much more like the Hotel Indigo’s at home, but larger.  The design was beautiful, the staff friendly and helpful and the included breakfast…?  I’m ruined for breakfast ever again.  It was fresh and beautifully laid out.  I felt so elegant eating so healthy.  It was the perfect meal to send us off for our drive into Mudgee, where we will continue Our Aussie Wine Adventure.

For more information on these regions:

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Dean – CGC Wine reporter at Large – from McLaren Vale Australia

Vineyards in McLaren Vale Australia

I had a brief remote trip to McLaren Vale wine country the other day via my wine drinker in the field Dean! I was sitting at work when fantastic photos started popping up in messenger.

Dean is in Australia touring with Cirque du Soleil and had a little time off. He is not a “wine drinker” per se, but some of his friends tossed him in the back of the car and set out to explore some wine country. Mostly I got photos and a couple of videos and later saw a Facebook post by the friends he was travelling with of him asleep in the back seat. I imagine it was quite a day! So here I am going to research some of these wineries and fill in the gaps on his visit!

McLaren Vale Australia

So to begin, McLaren Vale is South Australia. About 45 minutes south of Adelaide. This area has a Mediterranean climate and is best known for Shiraz (Australian for Syrah). Grapes were planted here as early as 1838.

Because this is Australia, Harvest is January or early February here running into the end of April.

They have a wide variety of soils, in fact one of the most diverse in the world and there is a fascinating map on the soils of the region if you are into that kind of geekiness like me. Really the McLaren Vale site is brilliantly informative!

d’Arenberg Winery

They started the day with d’Arenberg Winery.

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Established in 1912 when Joseph Osborn and director of Thomas Hardy and Sons, sold his stable of prize winning horses to purchase this property. Funny thing is, Joseph was a teetotaler! (Okay, if you are not familiar with Australian wines, this probably doesn’t mean squat to you. Here’s the deal: Thomas Hardy is known as the Father a South Australian Wine. He planted ¾ of an acre of Shiraz back in 1854. Thomas Hardy and Sons was the largest wine producer in Australia in the last 1890’s)

His Son Frank joined them and they acquired more vineyards and when Joseph died in 1921 and Frank took over the business.

In 1927 they built a winery to make their own wine, shortly after Francis Osborn (known as d’Arry) was born.

In 1943 d’Arry left school at 16 and worked full time in the winery since his father Frank was ill. He took control of the winery in 1957 when Frank died and launched his own label d’Arenberg in honor of his mother Helena d’Arenberg who died giving birth to him. d’Arry’s son Chester joined the biz in 84 and is the Chief Winemaker.

They crush grapes in small batches, and foot stomp two thirds of the way through fermentation. They use basket presses for both red and white wines.

On their website they have a charming video about the multitude of experiences you can choose from at the winery, include a full day with a scenic flight in a bi-plane over the region and beaches, followed by an interactive wine blending experience and finished with a leisurely degustation at their Veranda restaurant paired with their wines. (Dean didn’t do this one….)

Coriole

Coriole Shiraz McLaren Vale Australia

A selection of Shiraz at Coriole Winery

Next stop was Coriole

Coriole has shorter history, founded in 1967.  The cellar door (it’s what Aussies call a tasting room) is in the original farmhouses that were built back in 1860.  the original vineyards here date back to just after the first World War.

This is a much smaller spot than d’Arenberg, but they make Olive oil, Vinegars, Vico (their version of vin cotto or “cooked wine in Italy that is used as a condiment), and Verjuice (Verjus or Green juice, made from underipe grapes and used in place of acids or vinegars).

They primarily make Shiraz (65%) as you can see by the tasting.

Samuel’s Gorge

From there they were onto Samuel’s Gorge

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Okay, even newer still is Samuel’s Gorge established in 2003 by Justin McNamee.  Here the cellar door is in a farm shed that was built in 1853 (lots of historic buildings around here!).  The clincher is that the shed is overlooking the Onkaparinga River National Park.

Justin is farming Biodynamically, and feels great importance with staying connected spiritually with nature as you farm, following the phases of the moon.  He believes in staying traditional and tuning into what’s around you staying connected to the land.

The historic farm shed is beautiful as you can see with an old press in the middle with glasses for the tastings.

Maxwell

The view at Maxwell Vineyards McLaren Vale Australia

Maxwell Vineyards McLaren Vale Australia

The final stop of the day was at Maxwell Wines where Mark Maxwell, the owner and manager, gave them a personal tour!

Red wine in the Winery at Maxwell McLaren Vale Australia

Red wine out of tanks at Maxwell Winery

This vineyard was founded in 1979, but the family is also well known for their Maxwell Meads. (Dean gushed about these).

Also, the Ellen Street Restaurant is onsite, with Chef Fabian Lehmann pairs “unpretentious, tasty food” with the wines of the region.

 

As harvest is just over, there were punch downs to do and they got a taste of how hard that is!

They also got a tour of the Lime Cave. The Lime Cave was dug out in 1916 and is a 40 meter cellar where they age wine and grow mushrooms.  Dean tells me they also rent the space out for private events.  Imagine a dinner party down here!

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So while I long for a trip to check out Australian wines, Dean provided me with a virtual trip…now to go pick up some Australian wine!

And stop back to visit us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more Chronicles of the Grape. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

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