Wine appreciation groups take many forms, but the most popular embodiment is of a haughty, patronizing collective dripping in sham formality and suspect expertise.
Rightly or wrongly, such cliques have become zesty fodder for parody. They are seen as a bunch of explicitly snooty citizens swirling, sniffing, sipping, mumbling, nodding sagely, and sometimes choking on corked Chateau Margaux ’45.
They tend to spout malarkey about ‘cheeky presumption’, ‘smoky nuances’, ‘violets’, ‘white peach’, ‘blackberry’, ‘sweaty saddle’, ‘nice length’,’ too young’, ‘ageing gracefully’, ‘long legs’, ‘good body’, etc. Indeed, it can start to sound like a different kind of club altogether.
Yet Margaret River’s eclectic Club Nectar, while definitely a wine appreciation group of the highest order, is a creature of a different stripe: far less cliquey, more egalitarian, earthy even, and witheringly outspoken.
They are a mob apart, and as such, probably wouldn’t go down well swanning it with the Knightsbridge Wine Sippers Guild, a social impasse of which they are justly proud. Membership is an Invite Only arrangement, since they believe too much democracy can ruin a good time, and usually does.
While a motley crew outwardly, the Nectarines are a bubbling fount of wine knowledge and views, and hence Club Nectar is much sought-after for its interpretations of all things vinous. Theirs is the opinion of the practised wine-drinking layman coupled with the deep knowledge of some serious experts in the field.
They hail from all walks of life – winemakers, lawyers, viticulturists, marketers, tradies, agents, writers, vineyard suppliers, marketers, managers – basically a hotch-potch of personable blades with a love of the good oil. Club meetings are a way to catch up, chin-wag, solve the world’s most trivial issues, and harangue one’s fellow brethren.
In the last few years the group has reviewed and eschewed many wine varieties, styles, labels and regional vintages. Sometimes they are wines from the ranks of the Nectarines themselves; other times from far-flung exotic locals like the Rhone, Napa, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Marlborough – even the product of the enemies from east of the Nullarbor, in places like Coonawarra, Hunter and Yarra.
Wines tasted are summarily anointed or crucified with extreme prejudice. However, mercy is not strained, and each gets a fair assessment – even if the bottle remains four-fifths full after the tasting (always a good indicator ), or rolls around empty on the floor.
Candid statements like “An aroma of dead cat in a bucket of Ribena” and “This Sauvy could strip grease off a bulldozer” and “Mine tastes like grogan on a strawberry” are common. But so too are the laconic, understated nods of approval unique to the Australian male when he is furtively excited about something. These gestures are surprisingly common at the Nectar sessions.
Hence, anyone seeking a straightforward opinion about a wine (be it a winery owner, buyer, or the lady of the house hunting the best drops with which to impress with at her big dinner party), would be hard-pressed to beat Club Nectar for sagacity and excruciating candour. The group’s vastly varied opinions, distilled into a unified Nectar assessment, provide a very accurate appraisal indeed. This, need we add, is indicted not with a star rating, but a Nectarine Rating, going from one to five.
The Long and Wining Road
Most Nectar sessions are evening affairs and take place on a weekday after work in the Edwards Wines shed at Margaret River, surrounded by palettes of cases ready for shipment, the fork lift and the various trappings and gizmos of vinification.
The tasting is usually augmented by a few cleansing ales and diverse slapdash nibbles, as well a barbecue commandeered by the Barbie Master, Mr Andrew Proud, sanctioned Nectar Chef d’Partie. His speciality is brazed chorizo sausage, christened Alamogordo Snag, as it often resembles the heavily scorched landscape at the Trinity atomic bomb test site.
Yet the most recent Club Nectar was a different affair. The static, nocturnal model was tossed out with the empties. Seeking a change of scene and routine, the restless Nectarines turned it into a moveable tasting/feast. The Club directive was to take the show on the road, visiting the Margaret River locales Edwards Wines, Fraser Gallop Estate, Amelia Park and the Cheeky Monkey Brewery & Killerby’s .
A communique circulated bidding all card-carrying members appear at the winery at 9.45am sharp. Amazingly, nary a Nectarine was tardy, and all in suspiciously high spirits, primarily because it was Friday morning and they’d weaselled their way out of work. Mobiles phones rang incessantly and a fantasia of inspired excuses were proffered to bosses, confused staff and leery better halves, but the Nectarines were Go! Wine has always been a flexi-time business, anyway.
The Starfish tagged along for the ride.
Friday 09:30am: Edwards Winery
Nectarines started arriving in dribs and drabs, bearing leathery service station egg and bacon toasted sangas, six packs, fine wine and an ineffable enthusiasm. The idea of a Nectar Club road trip had a curious energising effect on the group and it was the largest turnout ever in the fluid attendance history of Nectarism.
The Edwards brothers, viticuluralist Christo and winemaker Mike, had set up the traditional long table in the winery with the bottles lined up for sampling.
The “Eddies” are among the new wave of innovative, youngish Margaret River winemakers producing marvellous new-age wines. The Margaret River vineyard and winery was a pet project of their late father, respected physiotherapist Dr Brian Edwards, and Christo and Mike and have done him proud. The Edwards Wines mascot is the bright yellow Tiger Moth bi-plane that Brian piloted in an epic solo flight from the UK to WA to raise funds for Legacy. The plane sits in its own hangar on the property. The Eddies were the founding fathers of Club Nectar and their property remains HQ.
Back to the line-up. It was to be a Chardonnay and Cabernet extravaganza. The wines were blind-tasted – the old brown paper bag method, known to many an earnest aficionado, and the odd chap on a park bench), and on this occasion were primarily supplied by the wineries run by, or associated with, members in the room. Hence, it had the potential to unfold as a nail-biting affair of home truths, sad realisation, tragic bon mots and all out brawls.
On the contrary, things remained remarkably polite: after all, though they don’t look it, these are civilised men. In fact it was something of a joyous revelation, and although the sun was not quite over the yard arm, was a distinguished morning of tasting. The group went through six Margaret River Chardonnays and four Cabernet Sauvignons.
Where the wines were concerned, the general consensus was that, though different in many ways, the quality was excellent across the board, not a sub-standard drop amongst them. At the risk of sounding trite, The Starfish must chime in and say that the standard of winemaking in Margaret River is among the very best in the world, and all the wines can be highly recommended.
You can find a colourful summary of the wines tasted at the latest Club Nectar here in the Yum section under ‘Necked Nectar Notes’. These were prepared for The Starfish by celebrated Tassell Park winemaker and Club Nectar stalwart, Mr Peter Stanlake.
10.40 am Edwards Wines
Palates cleansed of the vestiges of Chardonnay and Cabernet with Becks, Coopers and Little Creatures, the Nectarines mooned around discussing the pros and cons of the line-up, the infernal complexities of the AFL and why they should have eaten more blotting paper for breakfast.
Soon our trusty coach capitano John ‘Johnno’ O’Connor of Wine for Dudes hove into view, spotted the waiting Nectarines outside the shed, sped up momentarily, seeming to opt for a quick getaway, but thought the better of it and pull over to commence a day enduring 21 boisterous stowaways.
We dutifully pilled on board for the run over to Fraser Gallop Wines. The chatter of Nectarines was animated and deafening, not unlike the gibbon enclosure at the Taronga Zoo after the bananas ferment in the sun. “Here we go, here we go, here we go…”
Winter is a charming time of year on the Cape with the vines dormant and the farmland and national park green and lush after the dry Maritime Mediterranean summer and autumn. However, during our little odyssey, one couldn’t help but notice a quite a bit of debris along the highways and byways. The area got hammered by a couple of nasty early winter storms, and there were trees down all over the place and quite a bit of structural damage. Some of the trees were enormous so the area obviously copped a few tornadoes and cock-eyed-bobs to boot. Climate change can be messy in the forest.
What, with terrible bush fires, sharks, biblical tempests and even an earthquake a few years ago, one almost expected the obligatory plague of locusts to darken the sky and fill the bus at any moment. But Il Capitano Johnno was not deterred by the debris of the most recent cataclysm, and the bus flew happily through the captivating Cape countryside.
We headed over to Cowaramup, where we picked up a straggling Nectarine, up Bussell Highway, and cut west through undulating countryside along Metricup Road, home to many a famous name in WA wine. The area is in the northern-eastern reaches of the renowned Wilyabrup sub-region. Perhaps no other location in Margaret River has the capacity to consistently produce such an exciting fusion of varietal fruit intensity, elegance and style in its wines.
11.00 am Fraser Gallop Estate
Fraser Gallop Estate is a little more elevated than most Wilyabrup wineries, and hence the vineyards enjoy slightly cooler conditions, imparting a refined, yet vibrant fruit character to all the wines. Though a youngster in the MR stable of premium producers, the Estate has already accumulated a swag of serious awards, including the Decanter International Trophy for Best Red Bordeaux Varietal in London a few years back. Not bad for such a youngster.
While the location is exceptional, a great deal of credit for the wines must to go to winemaker and Nectarine, Clive Otto, who is one of the most innovative and hands-on winemakers in the country today. He is the kind of mad scientist of Margaret River wine, but like Einstein, the final formulas are pretty damned impressive – plenty of method in this madness.
We were met by ebullient winery owner and wine lover Nigel Gallop who seemed a tad bemused to see this a crowd of chaps pilling onto his premises, but was pleased that the winery was getting so much attention from the eclectic gaggle of serious sippers.
“Get ready for an hour of power!” crowed Christo Edwards as we piled off the coach and trundled into the barrel room to go through a few wines and barrel samples with the informative and passionate Mr Otto.
First off the rank was the 2010 Parterre Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, a white Bordeaux of great finesse and character, and one that Fraser Gallop is perfecting as a flagship to join its fine Cabernet and Chardonnay. Margaret River has real potential for making world class wooded SSB, and the FGE team are in the vanguard of those making this happen.
Clive ran through how he makes the Parterre. In a past life with Vasse Felix, he had access to numerous vineyards to source his fruit, so could give his wines a nice cross-section of nuances in the blending process. However since the Fraser Gallop wines are from a single vineyard he achieves the same effect by using different forms of storage.
We tasted the same Semillon juice from a barrique (small barrel), a puncheon (large barrel) and a steel barrel (small metal barrel). All were outstanding, but each very different. So basically, he doesn’t need to hunt around for different vineyards selecting grapes for a desired effect. He simply takes very good Semillon, stores it in three different ways, blends it and adds 30% of sauvignon blanc from a barrique. The result is a fine, multifaceted wine of great depth and character. The Parterre may already be the best white Bordeaux in Australia, so the future is bright.
Clive also does a lot of experimentation and “layering” with his reds to create elegant fruit-driven wines that differ slightly from those of the great estates in the lower parts of Wilyabrup to the west. We barrel sampled the 2011 cabernet, malbec and merlot, all of which showed great potential and were further evidence that the Fraser Gallop Estate location is second to none in Margaret River.
“Jeez, and he does all this with only one vineyard!” marvelled one befuddled Nectarhead, talking to his own warped reflection in a steel barrel.
One of the prerequisites of making wines at Fraser Gallop was that Clive be able to access the best equipment. Serious wine connoisseur himself, Nigel was happy to comply and hence the winery is one of the most technologically advanced in the area, if not Australia. The combination of terroir, proven traditional methods, excellent vineyard management, experienced winemaking and top flight equipment are producing wines of real consequence.
Clive took the group on a brief tour and we checked out some of the super-duper winemaking equipment. All were suitably impressed with the vinous goings-on at Fraser Gallop Estate.
The customary beer and discussion was conducted in the car park, before it was time to pile back on the bus and head over to Amelia Park for a tour and lunch. The bus set off and the chatter level hit a new crescendo – by now it was at about 1398 decibels.
Johnno pointed the chariot in a north-easterly direction and we headed through the back country to Vasse on the north eastern side of the Margaret River wine region, home to the beautiful Amelia Park.
12.30 pm Amelia Park
This historic property has been owned by the Walsh Family for over 50 years. Originally it was used to run beef. Today, it has been transformed into a state-of-the-art horse racing stud & adjistment facility. The Walsh family also own V & V Walsh, Western Australia’s largest meat processing facility, located in Bunbury, where Amelia Park products are processed.
V & V Walsh was established by Vern and Jean Walsh in 1957. Their sons Peter and Greg Walsh own and operate the business today. They are the driving force behind the Amelia Park brand, which they started in the mid-1990s. It’s grown to become an international business with products being exported around the globe to China (where they have a permanent office), Japan, Hong Kong, Mauritius and The Philippines.
Of course, Amelia Park is also a wine producer, as evidenced by an excellent Cabernet Merlot tasted earlier at the Club Nectar tasting. (See the tasting story here in Yum). It got an easy 4.5 Nectarines from the panel.
The man behind the winery and that particular wine is Jeremy Gordon. He is one of Australia’s highly regarded winemakers with a suite of awards to his name. He started his career in Western Australia working for high profile wineries such as Evans & Tate and Houghton’s before moving to the eastern states to broaden his experience.
Back in the West, Jeremy was instrumental in the starting up of the multi-award-winning Flametree Wines, winning the coveted Jimmy Watson Award right off the bat. He created Amelia Park Wines in 2009 with his wife Daniela and business partner Peter Walsh. Jeremy believes that Amelia Park’s success lies in a hands-on approach to every step of the process, attention to detail and an unquenchable passion for making consistently fine wines.
When you arrive at Amelia Park, you know it. This is one serious spread. It incorporates the stud, adjustment facilities, winery and just oozes style – kind of curious combination of high-end Kentucky breeding facility and colonial Australian grange.
The Nectarines fell off the bus and took a guided tour with Jeremy. We visited Peter Walsh’s impressive new residence, which is currently under construction on the site.
“Obviously the world still likes meat,” blurted one Club Nectar member as the group soaked up the grandeur around him. We were standing in the giant indoor swimming pool facility attached the new house. Vasse has certainly come a ways in the last half century; weren’t too many giant indoor pools in that sodbuster territory way back then.
Amelia Park’s a true indicator that the GFC hasn’t greatly changed the tastes of the world’s carnivores and that business remains strong and stable.
Lunch was laid on by Amelia Park and was just what a hard working horde of winos needed. Arguably WA’s best steaks came off the barbeque, prepared to perfection, and were coupled with a selection of tasty salads. This, coupled with a selection of Amelia Park wines and those toted on site by various Nectarines, a few more Coopers, and it was one enjoyable luncheon indeed.
Then it was back on the chariot for the run over to the new Cheeky Monkey Brewery in the heart Wilyabrup. It was at this juncture that the travellers reluctantly burst into song, led by choral maestro, Clubster Brother Carl. The chosen ditty was the ever popular vaudeville favourite ‘Ow ya goin’, mate?’ A song of great lyrical and musical complexity, the gathered company sang along with little error: the name of the song being the only lyrics in the song, repeated ad nauseam, until it died with a whimper and poorly-supressed burp.
4.00 pm Cheeky Monkey Brewery & Killerby’s
One of several great boutique breweries in Margaret River, Cheeky Monkey gives the non-wine drinkers (as well as plenty of committed vino guzzlers) the chance to wet the palate with liquid hops. Less than a year old, it is going gangbusters with its range of approachable ambers, cider and good hearty fair.
The Nectarines came ashore at the Cheeky in good spirits and made a bee-line for the Killerby Cellar Store to go through the range of wines. Killerby’s wines shares the facility with the Monkey and also offers a great facility on-site for the inveterate shoppers.
Usually after a day of tasting, the late wines can come up a little lack-lustre, but the Killerby range was vibrant and really smart, occasioning several appreciative nods and grunts from the club members. The winery produces five whites and three reds, all very much in the quality, easy drinking style of the region.
The emphasis is on varietal fruit and length of flavour, which the cool climate of Margaret River bestows on each grape variety. The Merchant Trader range is designed to be enjoyed upon release and is attractive when young. The wines are modern, bright, aromatic and balanced with all the freshness you come to expect from Western Australia.
The Killbery Premium series is produced in small quantities and dependant on vintage conditions each year. Select parcels are chosen to produce wines that are unique, elegant and representative of Margaret River.
Last stop for the day was right through the door into the Cheeky Monkey Brewery, Cidery and Restaurant. The Nectarines bellied up to the bar (quite literally by this stage) and ordered from the flavoursome menu of ales…several times. No better way to drown and forget the stresses of a tough day on the job.
A couple of hours went by, the Nokias and iPhones started ringing again and numerous slurred excuses greeted whoever it was with the rolling pin at the other end of the line. Johnno awaited in the bus, so we decided to join him and free the man from our fabulous company once and for all.
At around six, we whizzed south back towards Edwards Wines along the long and wining Caves Road. Christo Edwards regaled the merry men with a disturbingly accurate La Cage aux Folles-esque monologue about the residents and proprietors of properties we hurtled past in the dark. The Starfish had stopped taking notes at this juncture, which was probably a good thing.
The bus finally pulled up where it had chuffed off hours earlier. The last of the travelling eskies now dry as a dead dingo’s donger, the fellows bid each other farewell until the next Club Nectar, and slowly dispersed into the chilly, star-spangled Margaret River night – some singing ‘Ow ya goin’, mate?’ – but not many.
Anyone wishing to have wines reviewed by the Club Nectar panel can contact Mr Christo Edwards on +61 8 97 555 999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org For more waffling by Peter Rigby, subscribe to The Starfish – it’s free – and please encourage chums to do so too.