Our story begins in 1982, a time when no-one in Australia was making cool climate, traditional method, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sparkling wine. John and Ann loved champagne, especially the richer styles of Bollinger and Krug, so they decided this would be the pioneering wine they would pursue.
Following extensive research, they decided to settle on the Macedon Ranges - arguably Australia’s coldest winemaking region. As fate would have it, the perfect block came up for sale; south facing, 650m elevation, steep gradient and beautiful views.
The couple bought the bare block of land, know as 'Jim Jim' and got to work!
The heart of all wine - The vineyard
In order to make great sparkling wine you must start with very cool climate grapes. This is none more so the case when making a style of sparkling wine that requires a long period of time to produce. The more acid the grapes have in the beginning, the longer the wine will be vibrant in the bottle.
As we mentioned above, the Macedon Ranges is the coldest grape growing region in mainland Australia, arguably the whole of Australia. Our particular site has an unobstructed line to Antarctica - we possibly have one of the top dozen coldest vineyards in the country.
To make great sparkling wine, you need to plant the right grape varieties. Back in 1983, John and Ann decided to look to Champagne for their variety choices. They planted two popular clones of Pinot Noir (D5V12 and MV6), four clones of Chardonnay from the Mumm Champagne House collection (they were being trialled at the time and we believe we are the only ones in Australia to have them), and a Swiss clone of Pinot Noir called Mariafeldt, which closely resembles that of Pinot Meunier.
Making the Base Wine
Before we can think about bubbles, we need to make the base wine.
In order to make the end product refreshing and complex without being too fruit driven, we pick the grapes very early (nearly under ripe), press them lightly to avoid skin contact and ferment them to ‘base wine’. Wondering how we make white wine out of Pinot Noir grapes? Well, all of the colour, flavour and tannins in wine grapes are in the skins.
To ensure we have none of these in our sparkling wine, we press the grapes so lightly that the juice is drained away from the skins....and as quickly as possible.
Barrel ageing using a Solera System
A major part of why our ‘Macedon’ is so unique, is due to the amount of time our base wine spends in barrel - in our case an average of 4 years.
Each one of our 20-plus-year-old barrels has never been washed, which means that over the years tartrates and lees have fallen from the wine and settled on the bottom of the barrel. This sediment acts as a preserving agent, meaning that we have no need to add sulphur to the barrels.
Our base wine is kept in a ‘Solera System’, a system that is most commonly used in sherry production. Traditionally a solera is a pyramid of barrels. Every year, half of each of the bottom barrels are emptied and then topped up with the barrels above them. Those are then topped up with the barrels above them and so forth. The latest vintage is then added to the top barrels. This way the producer is able to maintain a consistency in their house style. In our case, the old wine in our solera is from 1987.
Blending the Base Wine
In theory, while our base wines are stored in a solera system, in practice it is a little more complicated. Before each Cuvée of Macedon is bottled, a team of our own winemakers along with other highly trained sparkling wine-makers come together to make the best wine possible that aligns with our house style.
Each winemaker is given the task of developing their own blend. They are presented with approximately 30 wines, made of different varieties, years, clones and blocks of the vineyard. Each is given a glass of our current release and a glass of Krug, the idea being to make a wine that looks like wine 'A' but is closer to wine 'B'.
Each blend is then tasted blind by the panel, with the most popular choice then selected.
Bottle Ageing 'On Lees'
After the base wine is tirage bottled (bottled into sparkling wine bottles with yeast and sugar), the most important part of traditional method sparkling wine production begins - the bubbles are made.
In all sparkling wine production, it is the yeast eating sugar and turning it into carbon dioxide and alcohol which produces the much loved bubbles. The time that the yeast spends in the bottle either fermenting or decomposing and creating a yeasty flavour in the wine is called ‘time on lees’.
The difference between our Macedon and other sparkling wines on the market, is the time that our wines spend on lees. In the case of our Macedon Rose it’s 5 years, the Macedon Brut Cuvee is usually 10 years and our Macedon LD is the oldest Australian sparkling wine on the market, spending 15 years on yeast lees.
To remove the yeast lees from the bottle, it needs to be dislodged from the edge of the bottle and coaxed into the very tip of the neck of the bottle. Traditionally in Champagne, this job undertaken, we’d imagine, by a hunch-backed, grumpy old Frenchman, whose job was to pick up each bottle, give it a little shake and then place it back in the rack, a quarter of a turn further than when he had found it.
Luckily, today there are very efficient and effective machines called Gyro Pallets. Whilst we disgorge everything by hand, we’re not crazy, machines are good for some things. Besides, grumpy old men who have spent their life refining the art of riddling are a little hard to come by in Australia (and we would be very surprised if there were any left in France).
Disgorging sparkling wine is the process of:
Freezing the neck of the bottle;
Removing the yeast lees;
Topping the bottle up whilst adding a dosage which may contain some sugar, sulphur dioxide and perhaps some table wine for colour;
Plunging a cork into the bottle; and
Securing it with a muselet.
The vast majority of sparkling wine producers around the world use high tech machines to carry out this process. Due to the age of our wine, the yeast lees stick to the bottle - we therefore disgorge ours by hand to ensure that each bottle is crystal clear and in perfect condition.
Below are a series of photos of our old fashioned but reliable disgorging line: