Friday, May 25, 2012

Moss Wood

It's Boo's and my final day Down Under; so, we need to make it count. Our time throughout the trip has simply flown by - but especially here in Margaret River. We haven't even been able to take a tour of the "farm" part of our Farm and Breakfast. So, the four of us took a bit of a wander around Burnside Organic Farm before we needed to check out and move on.

Our hosts, Jamie and Lara McCall have put 15 years into developing their property into the inspirational and productive home - and business - that they have. Their 70-plus acres is now an "intensive, certified organic farm." They not only strive for self-sufficiency for their own family in meat, vegetables, fruit, wine, milk and cheese (that a neighbour makes for them from their milk), but they have commercial production of eggs, macadamias, avocados, capers, olives and animals.

Not to mention a bit of wine to boot.

Our little tour may have barely allowed us time to wander around the perimeter of the farm, but it did leave us wishing that we had time to experience more and actually learn about the operations at hand.

The farm backs onto a national park that offers even more trails for hiking and biking - none of which we got to enjoy of course.

So much on offer, so little time to enjoy it all.

I really regret not having had a chance to chat to the McCall's about their small wine operation. They currently only make the Zinfandel that we tried last night; however, the hope is that, over the next couple of years, their preparation of the land and planting of Vermentino - a white varietal of Italian heritage that is rarely grown in Australia - will give them a white to go along with the Three Boys Zin.

It's not a foregone conclusion that the Vermentino will work out. The vines are being dry-grown from the start and they're still a ways from fully establishing themselves. With all the roos cavorting and feeding in the neighbouring fields - and jumping fences - the dry farming is only one hazard that these vines will have to overcome.

I can only hope that we'll get the chance to return to Margaret River to experience the parts of Burnside Organic that eluded us this time - and get the chance to try some of the Vermentino yet to come.

As our last Margaret River discovery, Lara had arranged an appointment for us at Moss Wood. I knew nothing of Moss Wood prior to our visit - except that I'd heard I should grab a bottle if I ever ran across one. They don't export to Vancouver but I'd heard talk of them at a wine event where two independent folks sang the winery's praises. A smaller scale, premium producer in the region, visits to Moss Wood are only available by appointment and only on certain days. Thankfully, Lara, being a local from down the road, was able to wrangle a visit for us.

We were originally met by Erika, a transplanted Seattleite, who started us off with a bit of the winery's history. I think that, when the first question out of anyone's mouth was "what do you use as a clarifying agent," she quickly realized that we might be a tad longer than the average group of visitors. Since she had to leave shortly to head to an event in Perth, she ran to grab Moss Wood's assistant winemaker, Richard Vuletic, who took over from there. When we'd first arrived, Richard was involved in racking off their current vintage of Chardonnay and Erika said that she could tell that he really wanted to interact with patrons in any event.

Richard continued with the tour and, not only regaled Boo with more scientific information about the making of wine than we could ever likely comprehend but, impressed Merlot Boy and Margarita with their virgin barrel samples. Those samples included some of that Chardonnay that he'd been racking off - thereby giving our two Melbournians their first ever taste of wine that was still in the initial stages of crushing and fermenting as well. We were told that, despite Chardonnay's current stature as one of the foremost Margaret River varietals, Moss Wood's vines were among the very first planted back in 1976. The Chardonnay planting was experimental at the time. It appears to have succeeded.

Richard's very informative talk may have blinded us with science, but it was also the most comprehensive discussion of various decisions that need to be made during the winemaking process that any of us had ever been party to. Merlot Boy and Margarita both stated that they had no idea there were so many different avenues or approaches that could be taken. Clone choices, malolactic fermentation, canopy management, yeast choice, accentuating phenolics, they all popped up. And each one of the decisions to be made can lead to entirely different results. When the winery only produces around 13,000 cases in total - and that includes two distinct brands - those decisions need to be made with upmost care.

Our opportunity to try the barrel tastings - and taste the resulting wine from those decisions, especially Moss Wood's flagship Cabernet Sauvignon - was particularly agreeable since the winery doesn't really do tastings of their bottled wines. It can be difficult for visitors to sample wines when there is no specific tasting room. When we finally went to buy a couple of bottles, we found ourselves shuffling off through the winery offices. The first look we got from one of the staffers was classic "Who the f*ck are you?"

With our bottles in hand, it was time to say good-bye to Richard - and to Margaret River. The road back to Perth was beckoning but we were all glad that our little jaunt ended on such a high note. Indeed, Merlot Boy was so enamoured with the tour that he offered to fly out to Perth to be a picker during the 2013 vintage. Richard said, "Absolutely." If M.B. seriously looks into it, I'm going to be awfully tempted to find a way to join him.

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