|I first met up with David and Jane a year ago over lunch in Glasgow
where I was introduced to their impressive range of wines. Unusually, both David and Jane are hands-on, committed winemakers for the family company: David makes the whites,
whilst Jane makes the reds, though they do admit to some cross-over. There is a strong Scottish connection, as Jane is a native of Oban on the west coast, who graduated as a vet from
the University of Glasgow before emigrating to Australia. Jane's sister-in-law, the irrepressible Amanda Wilson, now distributes their wines in the UK.
One year on, and David and Jane are back in Glasgow, and we are lunching again as we taste through their latest vintages, and a new project which they have taken on as consultant winemakers.
If the personality of the winemaker is an influencing factor on the stuff that ends up in the bottle, then the Lowe Family wines should be packed with an intriguing blend of philosophy,
fun and committment, with a large streak of competitiveness running through the centre. This is a fabulous double act, constantly ragging each other over who knows best, and
squabbling good-naturedly as only close family can, over details of their operation. Most times, David gives up in face of the immoveable force which is Jane.
David is a vastly experienced winemaker. He met Jane at Rothbury Wines in the Hunter Valley, where Jane was spending some time as a "cellar rat" (the unglamorous life of an on-the-job trainee winemaker), and David was chief winemaker.
David quit Rothbury in the early 90s, and spent time as a consultant, including a five year stint in Bordeaux, working for the Moueix group amongst others.
In 1994 he and Jane, by then his wife, started the Lowe Family Wine Company, from their Mudgee base. Jane too has completed winemaking stints in Bordeaux, Beaujolais and California's Dry Creek valley.
Perhaps its that Dry Creek experience which has influenced David and Jane's decision to dry-farm their low-yeilding bush vines. Lack of irrigation (which is usually practised in Australia)
is one of the reasons they cite for the intensity of their red wines. Lowe Family could certainly be classed as a "boutique winery", producing quite small quantities of premium wines,
but the Lowes are a pragmatic and down to earth couple, who give the impression that they do nothing more than make the wines they like to drink, with little thought of compromise.
These are distinctly European wines in character, where acidity, balance and complexity is uppermost. Theirs is a hands-off approach as far as possible, using wild yeasts and open
fermenters in the winery, and ensuring each of their blocks of grapes is treated with individual attention.
|Sangiovese, Barbera and Zinfandel are grown - challenging grapes in this
environment - alongside more traditional varieties like Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay, and have a superb mid-priced range called "Tinja", as well as making the wines for Belgravia
Vineyards on a consultancy basis.|
David and Jane were accompanied on this trip by the Principals of Belgravia Vineyards, owner Richard Hattersley and General Manager Alan Hardy. They explained how their large,
190 hectare estate in Orange, New South Wales, has until recently grown fruit exclusively for Southcorp, the giant producer of Penfolds wines amongst others.
|Now, they have take the decision
to bottle premium wines under their own label from selected parcels of fruit. Richard and Alan are hard-nosed businessmen who, having sounded out various sources, settled on
David and Jane to make their wine because "basically we think alike" says Richard. That means a completely free rein is given to simply "make
the best wine they know how". David is working closely in the vineyards to identify the key plots and suggest changes to plantings and viticulture if necessary.
And so to the tasting. These truly are benchmark "new wave" Australian wines in my opinion, benefiting from David and Jane's European leanings and hands-off approach. They are being made in a balanced, savoury style, yet with abundant fruit which also makes them terrific food wines (in fact, the bulk of UK distribution is exclusively to restaurants). Retail prices are from Strathardle Fine Wines (firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 01389 830643). Approximately £10=$15US/€15.
Lowe Family (Australia) Hunter Valley Semillon 2002 - £11.25
This is David's home territory, having made great Semillons whilst at Rothbury, and having studied with the Bordelais. 2002 was an exceptionally hot year which necessitated an early harvest. David feared this might make the wines "skinny" - not thin, but too influenced by the grape skins to show oily texture and flavour. In fact he has avoided this through very delicate handling (this has only 10.5% alcohol) and his low-yielding vines where the rows are planted 15 feet apart; "planted to suit the fruit, not machines" quips David. It has light aromatics and a beautifully crisp lemon and lime fragrance. Very bright, but just a background suggestion of creamy honeysuckle and butter. Very tight mouthfeel, though a rich texture, with lots of waxy citrus fruit and a lovely delineation of natural acidity. David is sure this will age for decades.
Tinja (Australia) Sangiovese-Merlot-Barbera 2002 - £8.25
I was knocked out by this wine last vintage (a "wine of the month" in October 2002). This has a lovely chocolaty, rich cherry nose with some plum and fragrant black fruit aromas overlaid with sweet vanilla. It is juicy and savoury on the palate with flavours of dried cherries and herbs, and a lovely earthy dryness. There is depth too, with fine tannins and bittersweet fruit into a long finish. Another terrific effort.
Lowe Family (Australia) Mudgee Merlot 2001 - £12.25
Until 2000, the Merlot was made from Hunter fruit whilst the Mudgee vineyard proved its quality. This is their first bottling of Mudgee fruit as the flagship Merlot. These are dryland bush vines, and David says in the drought conditions of the Mudgee in 2001 he expected the merlot to struggle but that in fact it "breezed through". It has a very attractive nose, with a big cedary component over sweet blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Quite an elegant style here. The palate has a really silky texture and continues that picture of a wine with finesse, with ripe, supple tannins and fine balance. Long and complex, this is another very good indeed/excellent wine.
Lowe Family (Australia) Hunter Valley Shiraz 2000 - £12.25
Fine, deep, solid cherry red colour. The nose is inviting, with definite hints of super-ripe, mulberry and mint, but also a chocolate and spicy oak layering and some elegant, lighter cherry nuances. Lovely palate, with fine fruit; lots of raspberry and cherry cut to richer berries, underpinned by sweet oak tannins. Good acidity too, with a little orange note, in a medium- to full-bodied style. Good length, with purity and savoury balance. Very good indeed and will age well.
Belgravia (Australia) Orange Chardonnay 2002 - £9.65
The winemaking philosophy David and Jane have adopted for their clients at Belgravia is identical to that for their own wines. The Chardonnay, for example, is barrel fermented using wild yeasts, introduced to barrel at different stages to provide a spectrum of flavours. Small blocks of grapes are handled separately; "there is no 'averaging out' effect" says David. The nose has a lovely full weight of vanilla, spice and a little honey and sesame seed. The palate has a rich texture and a definite nuttiness. With fine orangy acidity and notes of almond and marzipan it is quite complex. Good fruit and length complete the picture. Very good indeed.
Belgravia (Australia) Orange Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot 2001 - £9.65
Basically this area has suffered drought in every vintage for a hundred years, so a lot of work is needed in the vineyard to maintain quality. Belgravia's vineyard sites are on the lower slopes of some mountainous territory, and are naturally low-cropping. This wine is aged in French oak. David and Jane say they are some time away from really defining an "Orange style", but constant work on identifying the best soils and varieties is ongoing. This has quite a dusty, schisty nose, with minerals and black pepper and dark, chocolaty fruit. It is quite cool and minty too, and that impression carries through on the palate with soft, ripe fruit and silky tannins. This is balanced and quite easy drinking, yet has good structure and length. Very good indeed.
Belgravia (Australia) Orange Reserve Shiraz 2001 - £10.99
Jane and David assess the barrels of Shiraz at at least three stages before deciding which will make it into the reserve blend. David mentioned that avoiding "cellar palate" was something of which every winemaker should be careful; becoming so attuned to your own wines that you lose perspective on them. He says consultancy work and judging frequently on the Australian show circuit is a definite help with this. Some of the reserve spends time in new French barriques, some in large American barrels. It has a big, chocolaty, deep nose with bittersweet damson and plum to the fore, meat-stock aromas, and backed up with sweet vanilla. There is a good quality of chewy black fruit on the palate, though with lots of freshness through polished tannins and good acidity. Excellent length too. Very good indeed/excellent.
Belgravia (Australia) Late Harvest Semillon 2002 - £6.95 (37.5cl)
Last year, Lowe's own Botrytis Semillon was my "Sweet Wine of the Year" in my annual round-up of the best of the best, so my hopes were high for this. The Lowe wine is only produced around three times per decade when conditions for Botrytis are right, but here the technique of cordon cutting is used (basically the bunches are severed from the vine but left hanging) as well as spraying with a yeast-food and water mixture to encourage Botrytis, which affects about 30% of the harvest. It has a deliciously tropical-fruited nose, with notes of marmalade and honey. The palate is beautifully balanced, with peach skin, a syrupy lushness, and a pure core of rich, waxy citrus. Fine acidity balances a rich mouthfeel, and this has a lovely sense of purity into a long finish. Excellent.
Belgravia wines also available from Friarwood Wines, Edinburgh (0131 554 4159)