Last year, one of Australia’s leading wineries, Henschke Vineyards, branched out. The Henschkes opened Hill of Grace, a fine dining restaurant in downtown Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval, a place filled with tradition and lore as cricket test matches are played among various national teams. The restaurant’s wine list is centered on a Henschke wines but includes other Australian and imported wines. Wines from Henschke Hill of Grace, arguably Australia’s finest single-vineyard wine, are currently available back to 1990 and a glass of the 2010 can be yours for $125 US. When I spoke with Stephen Henschke recently in New York, he said the restaurant was doing very well and they were thrilled with the reception.
While that’s great for locals and tourists to Adelaide, it does leave the American wine mind wondering…why are there no winery restaurants away from wineries in America? Where’s the Screaming Eagle Nest at SF’s AT&T Park? Harlan Estates on Houston in Lower Manhattan? Franzia on Freeways?
The simple reason is that vertical integration is not allowed in the wine industry. In the aftermath of Prohibition, various state and federal authorities passed various regulations that split the industry into three tiers (producer, wholesaler, and retailer–or restaurant) and banned them from overlapping (with some exceptions that allow for one company to straddle two tiers). Tied-house laws, as they are called, go so far as prohibiting wineries from even providing incentives to retailers. On a related note, given that AB InBev seems intent on siphoning many beer brands–and even spirits with Diageo rumored as a target–into one giant keg, tied-house laws have thus far prevented the emergence of the Bud bar, Stella saloons, etc.
So, if you want a dine at a winery restaurant that’s not at a winery, you’re out of luck in America. Better hop on the plane(s) to Adelaide.
One of the founders of Yellow Tail wine has been charged with involvement in a drug ring. For the details, we cut to this from the crime editor of the Sydney Morning Herald:
Marcello Casella, the youngest brother in Australia’s largest family-owned winery, Casella Wines, is alleged to be part of the criminal syndicate that produced, distributed and sold commercial quantities of cannabis and methylamphetamine throughout southern NSW…
Police first raided a property linked to Mr Casella just outside Griffith, a town long synonymous with marijuana cultivation, in February. He was charged with offences relating to the improper storage of two pallets filled with shotgun cartridges and 60kg of gunpowder on the Yenda property.
The piece details that Marcello Casella, 54, also owns one of Australia’s two ammunition factories. He distanced himself from Yellow Tail after the charges and next goes before a judge in January.
Yellow Tail rode the American market to rapid commercial success, eclipsing the 10 million-case mark.
What a twist in the story. I’m sure Hollywood is assigning writers to fictionalize this right now.
Usually, mega wineries are supposed to harvest economies of scale as well as grapes. But Casella, the maker of Yellow Tail, is trapped between a strong currency and a hard price point, which has led to their balance sheet spilling red ink.
A WSJ story squarely blames the $31 million shortfall on the strong Australian dollar and competition in the American marketplace. “There is no volume issue, it is all about the exchange rate,” CEO John Casella said. Failure to secure a new loan by January 30 could lead to asset sales.
A Bloomberg story recently reported that bulk exports shipped in giant plastic bladders overtook the volume of bottled wine exported from Australia. While this offers cost savings, it also reduces wine’s carbon footprint.
The strong currency does provide a significant obstacle to Australian estate wines becoming the Next Big Thing.
When Paul Grieco uncorks, people listen. I recently sat down with him, partner and wine director at restaurant Hearth, the four Terroir wine bars and the man behind the Summer of Riesling. I asked him one question: what’s the next “it” wine?
He warmed up by by clearing his throat, tipping his proverbial hat at the undiscovered wines of Portugal and Central Europe. But then he got rolling. Below are excerpts from our chat.
“Australia is the most exciting new world wine country on the planet.
“Earlier this year, I went to Izakaya Den, an incredible restaurant in Melbourne. They had fifty domestic wines from small producers on the list that I didn’t even recognize.
“Australia is fucking exciting. Old vines aren’t the guarantee: There are 80-odd wineries in Tasmania alone! The Yarra Valley is huge and dynamic can grow everything well. I would love to see Australia as the next big thing. Oh, and the most exciting grape? Chardonnay.
“Yes, there’s shite, and they ship it to us. For the small producers, we’re too big a country for them to deal with. What Australia needs is a Terry Theise, to take them by the hand and introduce them to America. There are importers who do a good job today but Terry is an evangelist: look what he did with Gruner Veltliner and the revival of Riesling. This person should focus on five US markets and target somms. Each group of sommms looks to differentiate themselves from the previous generation.
“We have access to so many wines here: There’s no excuse for having a bad wine list in NYC.”
The 2008 vintage of Henschke Hill of Grace has not yet been released. But when it comes out, the wine that is arguably Australia’s finest single-vineyard wine, and priced at around $500, will be sealed with neither screwcap nor cork; It will be closed with Vino-Lok.
Stephen Henschke became enamored with the technology when he presented a paper at a conference in Germany in 2004. He brought some of the glass closures back to Australia and tested some bottles of Hill of Grace with Vino-Lok in collaboration with the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI). Now with five years of testing and bottle age, Henschke is pleased with the evolution and will convert half of the 2008 production of Hill of Grace to Vino-Lok. The past few vintages have been entirely under screwcap.
“We have always viewed screwcap as a transitional closure, poised between cork and, well, we don’t know what,” Henschke told me in New York yesterday.
Vino-Lok, known (if at all) as Vino-Seal in the US, is a glass stopper that has an inner elastic ring that forms a seal with the bottle. Over on the Vino-Lok site, they say that it opens with a “click.” Henschke says they look “cool.” He’s so pleased with the closure that he has just installed the first Vino-Lok bottling line in Australia at his winery.
Vino-Lok touts its ability to age wines. And Henschke agrees that the evolution is slow, akin to magnums that are considered the ideal size for cellaring. “I call a [750 ml] bottle under Vino-Lok a half a magnum,” he says. “That’s how well it ages.”
Is the world of fine and collectible wine ready for a new closure? We will find out in the next year or so with the release of the 2008 Hill of Grace.
The Contours vineyard at Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley.
The Seppelt Drumborg Riesling 2010 has the fresh lime aromas of a young Aussie Riesling. But on the palate, the dry wine is tightly wound, wrapped in a crunchy, almost impenetrable shell of acidity. By contrast, the 2003 vintage of the same wine is much more accessible, with toasty almost honeyed notes, and a much rounder texture.
The Australians like their Rieslings young, fresh and dry. Wednesday, at a trade tasting in New York City, I tried six Aussie Rieslings from the 2010 vintage–yes, 2010, as in that year that just finished 28 days ago. But these weren’t first-release sort of wines as they included big guns such as the complex Grosset, “Polish Hill” bottling, widely acclaimed as the standard-bearer for the category. The wines had a gum-tingling acidity that that sometimes was crackling, electric fun (for me, the Frankland Estate Riesling) and sometimes too austere with subdued aromatics.
The question arose of whether Australian Rieslings need more bottle age. Read more…
Flipping through the pages of porkmag.com the other day, I was surprised to see that [yellow tail] has donated $100,000 to the Humane Society of the United States. Farmers are now protesting the move by dumping the wine on camera, such as the video above entitled “Yellow Tail is now yellow fail.” The farmers dislike the HSUS because the organization opposes factory farming. [yellow tail] has sold tens of millions of cases of wine around the world since being launched in 2001.
In response, a [yellow tail] representative wrote to porkmag.com, “now we are specifically directing our $100,000 donation to HSUS’ Animal Rescue Team, which launch on-the-ground missions to rescue animals in peril…We may not always agree with 100 percent of what an organization represents, but rescuing animals displaced from natural disasters is a cause we support.”
SIPPED: user feedback
[Yellow Tail], the ubiquitous Australian wine, wants your help! The producer has decided to open the naming of their new, unoaked Chardonnay up to readers. The contest may have risks as this article points out, the crowd sourcing initiative for naming the new blend of Vegemite and cream cheese (really, why ruin good cream cheese?) drew 48,000 entries, but the winner drew “near universal” condemnation. The [Yellow Tail] contest comes with a prize–[Yellow Tail]! Make your name suggestions in the comments here (sorry no, prize).
SIPPED: place names
Chateau Montelena and other wineries in Calistoga will soon be able to put Calistoga on the label. After a protracted struggle over whether wineries with Calistoga in the name would have to use exclusively Calistoga fruit, federal authorities granted AVA status to the area in the north of Napa. Wineries with Calistoga in the name have three years to begin using grapes from Calistoga. [SF Chronicle]
SIPPED: lightening up
When you have a collection of 450,000 bottles, is it time to lighten up? If you’re the owners of the Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris, the answer is yes to the tune of 18,000 bottles, including some 18th century cognac and Corton from 1895. The auction today and tomorrow is estimated fetch about $2 million, which will aid the restaurant’s bottom line as it feels the tourist slowdown. Apparently, during the occupation, the owners built a fake wall in the cellar to prevent the Nazis from finding some 20,000 bottles. NYT, Telegraph]
SIPPED: Craggy Range
I participated in a kiwi Pinot showdown over at Forbes.com Tower. Eric Arnold has the story.
SIPPED: Green certification
A national certification program on various environmental factors have been launched for Australian wine. Quotage from Stephen Strachan from the Winemakers Federation: “The retailers more and more are requiring the companies that are selling to them to be able to come to them with certain proof in terms of their environmental credentials.” [ABC, WFA]