Meet Your Maker: The O’Briens Winemaker Experience 2013

Posted November 13, 2013 in Food & Drink Features

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“All our wines epitomise where they come from,” says winemaker Peter Saturno, “and we’re very particular: if it’s a bad year, we sell the fruit and we don’t make any wine.” Saturno and his brother are the proud owners of Longview Winery in the Adelaide Hills, Australia, producing their range of Nebbiolo, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Riesling to exacting standards. I stick my nose into my glass of his Epitome Late Harvest, a golden passito-like wine harvested later in the season, closing my eyes to breathe in a sweet but clean aroma of raisins and apples.

I’m at the O’Briens Winemaker Experience, a two-day event giving attendees the opportunity to meet 45 of their finest selected producers. All the proceeds go to Our Lady’s Hospice & Care Services and, with over 250 wines to sample, this is my kind of charity event. The Round Room in Dawson Street’s Mansion House is a perfect setting, with star-like lights studded in the great domed ceiling and producers’ stands lining the edges of the circular chamber.

I move on to Chile, where Alvaro Espinoza of Emiliana winery is eager to tell me all about his organic range. This company is the leading organic producer in Chile, and Espinoza has recently taken things one step further by obtaining a full biodynamic certification for his flagship wine Coyam, a softly-tannic, cherry-red beaut full of raspberries, plums and black pepper. I ask whether they embrace every aspect of biodynamic production, including the lunar calendar and the very specific herbal preparations – both of which arouse witchcraft-like connotations in my cynical mind. Espinoza nods. “All the preparations come from the same estate. This way we pay more attention, it’s more hands-on,” he says. “Doing it this way helps us to understand the vineyard better, and that is the key to making a very good wine.” As I swallow the last of my Coyam, I reluctantly reflect that this is a very good wine indeed.

Over in New Zealand, Insight owner Fleur McCree lets me taste her superb Gewürtztraminer, brimming with notes of lychee and rose petal, and her beautifully dry, citrussy Riesling. The Insight wines come from a single vineyard, originally a sheep-farm, and the company have recently started “celebrating the sensory nature of wines.” This means funky labels packed with helpful aroma and taste descriptors, alongside cute “Come Dine With Us” leaflets of tasting notes and recipe suggestions, all aimed at making wine tasting more accessible to your average Joe.

Off the coast of Kiwiland on Waiheke Island, the family-owned Man O’War Winery uses traditional labour over 76 sites to produce well-balanced wines with noticeable acidity. “They sound like something out of Game Of Thrones,” I proffer, gazing over Dreadnought Syrah, two Cabernet Franc/Merlot mixes named Ironclad and Warspite, and the Gravestone Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon. Winemaker Duncan McTavish explains that the owner’s mother hails from Finland, and the nomenclature reflects the family roots in Scandinavian history and mythology. He also informs me that, despite the entire planet lying between us and New Zealand, Ireland is the biggest market for Man O’War’s Champagne-style sparkling wine, Tulia. Once I taste it, I understand why.

As the evening progresses, I drift happily from the New World to the Old. The Piedmontese wines from producer Matteo Ascheri are beautiful examples of this region of Italy, with delicately bubbling, floral Moscato d-Asti vying for attention with classic, deep red Barolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. These wines are carefully hand-crafted, and vividly expressive of terroir. Remaining in Italy, the much-acclaimed Giuseppe Rizzardi is here to represent Veneto and display his exceptional range, including a light, crisp Prosecco and an earthy Valpolicella.

My perennial favourites, those flinty, mineral whites from France, are well-represented by Sophie Bertin and her family-owned and family-run Loire Valley winery. I sink my teeth into her “very expressive” Pouilly Fumé, followed by her zesty, grassy Sancerre. Wonderful stuff. I continue to make my way around France, glass in hand, sampling Sauvignon Blanc from Dourthe winery in Bordeaux before moving on to Champagne.

As I begin my shuffle towards the Spanish Riojas, things start to get a tad warm and fuzzy around the edges, and by the time the evening ends at 8pm I am more than ready to head out for a burger. All in all, this is a superb opportunity to try new wines, meet their makers and discover their stories, and at just €15 a ticket (or €20 for two) it is fantastic value for a great cause. This event comes highly recommended for next year; we’ll see you there.


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