Jacques Lurton’s first vintage in Australia was in 1984 with McWilliams in Griffith, NSW. From that time on, Jacques held the dream of establishing his own vineyard in Australia.
When Jacques visited Kangaroo Island in 1997 he was struck by its natural beauty and recognized the island’s considerable viticultural potential. Three years later Jacques returned to the island in order to find a suitable place to grow vines.
Jacques was looking for a large property offering a combination of agricultural and vineyard potential. The property had to be on north-facing slopes with heritage vegetation.
A 300-hectare property located near Parndana in Kangaroo Island’s heartland came up for sale and with
the help of the Paxton team an 11-hectare vineyard was planted in the year 2000 with varieties Jacques had enjoyed working with around the world - cabernet franc, malbec, sangiovese, shiraz, grenache, viognier and semillon.
Close spacing (5000 vines per hectare) with vertical canopy was chosen for all the varieties except grenache and shiraz which were planted in bush vines at 1900 vines per hectare. The close spacing of vines is a quality control factor - limiting the yield per vine helps achieve greater concentration of flavour and phenolic compounds. The aim for production is 1kg of grapes per vine per vintage.
The soils are quite friable which allows for easy vine root penetration – very important when establishing a new vineyard – with pockets of clay helping to retain water. Jacques considers the soils to be quite similar to those of Fitou in Languedoc-Rousillon, Southern France. He finds Kangaroo Island to be a very interesting place to grow grapes as there is an immense amount of variation in terroir: soils, rainfall, aspect and winemaking style, all of which influence the resulting wine.
A modern 70-tonne winery was erected on site with most of the equipment shipped from France. This included sorting tables to hand-select the best grapes after de-stemming, concrete open fermenters with temperature control and a combination of large wooden vats and smaller barriques for aging, settling and blending of the wines. The open fermenters double as lockable tanks and the extremely fine-grain concrete from which they are made requires less maintenance than traditional wax-lined open-fermenters. These vats are actually produced by a French tomb-maker and come in a range of sizes – 4000 litres for a 4-body tomb, 8000 litres for an 8-body “family-sized” tomb!
Kangaroo Island is heavily influenced by the Southern Ocean’s breezes which play an important role in the ripening process. Although there is lots of sunshine on the island, crucial in ripening the grapes, the cooling sea breezes help protect the grapes from over-ripening on the vine. Even during periods of extreme heat Kangaroo Island’s vines are better protected than most mainland vineyards thanks to these maritime breezes which also lead to much cooler night-time temperatures, giving the vines a much-needed break from the heat in the warmer months.
With Jacques’ Bordeaux upbringing it is perhaps unsurprising he considers blending of varieties to be a crucial element in creating great wine. In the same way a great chef uses a range of ingredients to make a complex dish, blending provides a winemaker with the opportunity to pick the best bits from different grape varieties to create a more complete and complex final wine.
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