For as much of my brain that is occupied with thoughts of Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills, you’d think I’d be writing about one every other post. Imagine my surprise when I went back and checked to find that I’ve only actually written about one varietal, from Ashton Hills, though to be fair, the Tilbrooke Estate sparkler has a fair whack of Pinot Noir in it as well. So today the featured wine is the Lucy Margaux Vineyards Domaine Lucci Pinot Noir 2008.
Domaine Lucci is a trio of wines from Lucy Margaux Vineyards, which is run by the winemaker Anton van Klopper along with his wife Sally and daughter Lucy. They grow Pinot Noir across ten acres in an area of the Adelaide Hills known as Basket Range, and have access to and fruit from a number of other neighbouring vineyards. The produce a range of wines, including single vineyard Pinot Noirs, an estate Pinot Noir, varietal Merlot and Sangiovese, and a red blend. That doesn’t really begin to scratch the surface in terms of what this producer is about.
The first thing to know is that Lucy Margaux Vineyards is run according to Biodynamic practices. I think I made my personal feelings on the topic pretty clear last week when I spoke about the Marchand & Burch Bourgogne, so I needn’t get into that again. Instead, let’s move onto the second thing to know, and that is that they practice natural winemaking, which deserves some discussion.
Natural wine and winemaking is something of a thing at the moment. Broadly speaking, it is the belief that there should be as little intervention as possible by the vigneron and winemaker in the process of growing grapes and making wine, and that by not getting in the way, the wine is best able to express its terroir. As with many high minded philosophies, it has noble intentions. How it plays out though is where it gets sticky.
A big issue is that there is no standard for what defines “natural” winemaking, or perhaps the opposite is true in that there is no agreed upon standard and many competing ideas. Common concepts to many definitions include things such as no irrigation, no spraying, no pesticides, no commercial fertilizer, no herbicides, no fungicides, no commercial yeasts, no fining, and no filtering. Some definitions also include things such as no mechanization in the vineyard, no pumping, and/or no sulphur at bottling. The fact that different people can mean different things when they call their product “natural” is obviously a problem, but as a modern concept, natural winemaking is relatively young and if it is to move forward, that will be sorted out with time and possibly some standards body.
Unfortunately, “natural” is a terrible term to describe wine. First off, it is unnecessarily divisive, in that the inverse is “unnatural” – the obvious label that could be applied to anyone who isn’t calling their wine “natural”.
But more than that, it’s not an accurate term. A vineyard is about as natural as a Christmas tree farm, with perfectly controlled vine density and row spacing. Furthermore, a vineyard of Vitis vinifera Pinot Noir in the Adelaide Hills is about as natural as a Douglas Fir Christmas tree farm in the Sahara. Worse still, the practice of cultivating a single variety or clone, over and over, across hundreds, thousands or millions of vines through cuttings (as opposed to planting seeds) is one of the most unnatural things I can imagine. It would be like cutting off your arm and having it grow into your clone instead of just having a child. Vines don’t produce grapes for wine – vines produce grapes to carry seeds to make more vines. It’s a similar story in the winery, where if by some natural process a pile of grapes were to find themselves heaped together in some vessel and underwent fermentation, it would very naturally move from that brief moment when it was wine to something completely undrinkable. The most perfect butterfly, at the peak of its beauty, is not naturally found contained in a 750ml bottle, or if it is, it doesn’t stay beautiful for long.
So should we only make wine from wild grapes, and drink it right out of the vats when fermentation is finished? No, but then I’m very comfortable with winemaking as an example of humanity bending nature to its will, because that’s exactly what it is. Calling any wine “natural” is just a lie.
So you might think, therefore, that I hate natural wine, but you’d be wrong. I hate the term, but I agree that “less is more” with regards to winemaking can be beautiful. One thing that Stephen Pannell said of winemaking at the tasting earlier this week was “it’s harder to do nothing than to do something” and I think that’s absolutely true. The temptation always exists to employ the winemaking tricks to make just the wine you want, and for some styles of wine, that’s exactly the right thing to do. However, if you’re making a high quality wine of a very specific place, the more difficult task of staying out of the way of the wine can be the better thing to do.
So what does any of this have to do with the wines of Lucy Margaux Vineyards? They in fact are making high quality wine of a very specific place. They adhere to most of what I described above in terms of natural wine practices, with no irrigation of vines, no applications of chemicals to the soil, vines, or wine, and no fining, filtering (except for their rosé to prevent in-bottle fermentation) or even pumping. Say what you will as to the impact that any of those practices individually have on the resulting wine, but taken collectively a huge amount of care goes into the process, and I think that absolutely comes through in the wine.
Another thing to know is that Anton van Klopper is one of the members of “a collaborative experiment in natural winemaking” called Natural Selection Theory. It’s made up of four innovative winemakers based largely in South Australia. Together they make what I can only describe as very interesting wines. Some are fantastic expressions of texture and flavour, while others push the boundaries of what some people would consider drinkable. But pushing boundaries is what they’re about, and if you want to try something edgy, it’s worth finding their wines and judging for yourself.
After all that, it’s time to actually talk about this wine in the glass. It has a medium minus garnet colour, and both sediment and cloudiness. I’ll take the blame for poor decanting as far as the sediment, but the cloudiness is likely because the wine is neither filtered nor fined. On the nose it is fairly intense, with some signs of development, but much fruitier than I was expecting, with raspberry, some cherry, a bit of peppery funk, and sweet spice. Overall it’s a very sweet smelling nose. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, flavour intensity, and alcohol, with a medium body. The fruit is tending more toward the sour end of the spectrum (and developed in that direction in the glass), with sour cherry and cranberries, but still retaining the raspberry freshness. There’s also the peppery funk from the nose, along with some dark chocolate.
This is a very good wine. One complaint some people have with natural wine is that it’s often cloudy, and this one certainly is, but I value aroma and taste far above appearance, so it doesn’t bother me. I chalk it up to style, not a fault, like volatile acidity in Chateau Musar. Despite a somewhat light colour, the wine does not lack for concentration on the nose or the palate, nor complexity with fruit, funk and spice. I recommend this wine without hesitation, just don’t try to tell me it (or any wine) is natural.
Full disclosure – I believe the vigneron/winemaker with whom I’ve worked this past vintage has sold grapes to Lucy Margaux Vineyards and they may be making use of one of his properties next vintage.
Pin in the map is Basket Range, but that’s as specific as I can get.