I am not feeling the love from Tasmania. I’m sure it’s my fault – I spend most of my time in South Australia, and while I’ve been to almost all the other state capitals, I have not yet been to Hobart. But despite having written about a wine from the Freycinet Coast, I’ve had only a half dozen visitors from Tasmania to date. I guess that’s an improvement, as I had none prior to that post, and to be fair, I didn’t exactly rave about that wine. Also, I wrote a pretty complimentary review of a Georgian wine and I’ve had exactly one person from Georgia take notice. However, I’m hoping for a breakthrough because I did enjoy this Heemskerk Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay 2010.
Heemskerk is, to my ears, an unusual sounding name, but that’s only because I can’t speak Dutch, in which it means something along the lines of “home church”. It’s the name of a town in the Netherlands, and also the name of a Dutch explorer and admiral. However, the name of the producer is based on those origins only indirectly, because it is more immediately named after a Dutch ship which was under the command of Abel Tasman on the voyage which took him around the southern coast of Australia in 1642. His name graces Tasmania itself, the sea between Australia and New Zealand, and a wide variety of other features, geographical and man made, thoughout Australia and New Zealand. (Tasman himself named the island Van Diemen’s Land after the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies but history shows it didn’t stick.) The name of this Chardonnay refers to the storm that faced Tasman when he first attempted to land there.
Heemskerk, the wine producer, is a brand within the Treasury Wine Estates stable, which is worth a mention on its own. I’m going to try very hard to get the order of this right, but the ups and downs of the Australian drinks industry are sometimes difficult to follow. (I’m sure a lawyer will be in touch if I get anything particularly wrong.) Once upon a time there was a brewing company known as Fosters, which I remember from before I could drink for importing their beer into the USA in cans that were of a similar size to motor oil cans, 25.4 ounces. (That is how much fluid is in a typical bottle of wine, or more than twice what is a normal can of beer in the USA.) In the mid 1990s Fosters began to develop a portfolio of wine companies, eventually acquiring a large Australian wine company, Southcorp. Alas, it was not a happy union, and a year ago all the wine operations were split into their own company, Treasury Wine Estates. It has a huge collection of brands (54 according to their website) across Australia, New Zealand, the Americas and a couple in Europe, with some of the more famous being Penfolds, Wolf Blass, and Wynns Coonawarra Estate.
So, I’ve done the boat and Treasury – it’s probably time to actually tell you about Heemskerk, and as it turns out, Abel’s Tempest. According to their website, Heemskerk was founded by Graham Wiltshire who first planted vines in 1965 and then spent two decades making Chardonnay. There’s a bit of a blank spot as to what happened between 1985 and the present day, though presumably being bought up by Fosters and expanding the range to include Riesling, Pinot Noir and a traditional Chardonnay / Pinot Noir sparkler feature in that bit of the story. Flash forward to right now, and they have something of a rockstar winemaker and native Tasmanian Anna Pooley, who was The Wine Society’s 10th Annual Young Winemaker of the Year 2010. In terms of branding, Heemskerk is making the most of the Tasmanian qualities of cool climate, purity of nature / fruit, and with that a winemaking style of minimal intervention.
I’m not sure if Abel’s Tempest deserves its own paragraph, in that it’s made by Anna Pooley and features the Heemskerk name on the label. The Treasure Wine Estates treats it as its own brand, but to me it looks like a slightly less expensive version of Heemskerk, in that this Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay features less new oak, uses some large casks/barrels and doesn’t cite a specific region within Tasmania, whereas the Heemskerk Chardonnay uses just barriques, with a higher percentage of them being new, and sources all its fruit from the Coal River Valley. Oh, and the Heemskerk Chardonnay costs a fair whack more. Abel’s Tempest also produce a Traminer, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir, and a Pinot Noir / Chardonnay sparkler under this label.
Also, as a completely arbitrary and subjective indicator of quality, there is a bottle of the Heemskerk sparkler in my fridge that was brought to a party at my house by a Master of Wine who helped tutor me through the Diploma. If it’s a wine he’s happy to bring to a party, it’s a wine I’ll be happy to drink.
In the glass this wine had a pale lemon colour. On the nose it was of slightly less than average intensity, but had a developing character with notes of honeycomb, blossom, and sandalwood. On the palate it was of medium intensity, with more complexity and fruit than the nose – I got lemon and green apple, as well as some almond and white pepper. It had medium plus acidity, alcohol, body and length, with an apple and pepper finish. Most of all, it was unmistakably a Chardonnay. Varietal typicity for the win.
I really liked this wine. It has something of a full style, but I enjoy that. While no one would confuse it with a steely Chablis, it was true to its cool climate origins. I also like a bit more oak (provided it’s good oak) in my Chardonnays, so I’ll have to give their higher end version a try, because if it’s a significant step up from this I’m sure it will be a treat.
Funnily enough, I was having a difficult time finding a Heemskerk address but there’s one on the Abel’s Tempest site. However, when I had a look, it’s at the Cascade Brewery, which is owned by Fosters, so I’m not sure if that’s up to date. In any case, it’s another pin in Tasmania, so I hope I won’t get put back on the plane when I land there for a visit later this year.