by Lilani Goonesena
Giaconda winery sits atop a granite hill in cool climate Beechworth, Victoria. Dig a little deeper into its clay and gravel soils, however, and you’ll unearth its secret weapon; a subterraneous cellar that houses all of its barrels, and underpins its winemaking philosophy.
We are privileged to have a private underground wine tasting with assistant winemaker, Nathan Kinzbrunner, on the 3rd day of the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence 2015 produce tour. We crowd around a wooden table, the stark light from bare light bulbs bouncing off the rock walls and rows and rows of dusty glass bottles: winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner’s private wine collection. We’re in good company.
The cellar is an integral part of Giaconda’s winemaking process: a climate-controlled “maturation cave” and a perfect environment for ageing and fermenting wines. There is even a mineshaft to run the juices straight from press to barrel.
“It’s a mine,” Nathan tells us as we peer down the damp, cobblestoned passage with wooden barrels stacked floor to ceiling on either side. “It was built by a mining company in 2008. It took three people 100 days, and it will be here in 100 years.”
The cave, like the wines and the winery itself, is part and parcel of Rick Kinzbrunner‘s vision. He bought the land, “just a rocky outcrop”, in 1981 and planted the first vines in 1982. Since then Giaconda has gone from strength to strength, winning both wine and winemaking awards. These days, Rick’s son Nathan shares the management and winemaking responsibilities.
“My tastes and everything are entirely influenced by my father,” Nathan explains. “It’s very much a collaboration; for half the year, I run the winery on my own while he’s away, then he returns full of ideas. The prime opportunity is to be here and learn off my dad.”
“Our Pinot Noir is down in the valley in the richer soils; Chardonnay is on the southern slopes, and the Shiraz is up on the north-facing block,” gestures Nathan as we stand outside on the rocky hillside. There is also an “experimental” Nebbiolo in Beechworth that’s “just for fun at the moment.”
“Dad and I planted a new Nebbiolo vineyard in Beechworth,” he explains with enthusiasm. “It’s a very different terroir to here; really rich, fertile, clay soil with more elevation and moisture, and nice conditions all round. We planted four years ago and now have five barrels in the winery.”
Giaconda is not certified organic but applies organic principles, including no filtering before bottling, the use of gravity flow, wild yeast, and wild malolactic fermentation, and no herbicides or fungicides in the vineyard. It’s natural winemaking, helped along by “less back breaking methods” including state of the art equipment from France.
Nathan shows us a vertical de-stemmer commonly used in Bordeaux. “It’s very gentle and it actually knocks the berries off the stems. It sorts the stems out one way and also sorts any rotten fruit or botrytis or underdeveloped berries. It doesn’t work so well on Nebbiolo; the skin comes away from them but it works really well with the other grapes,” he says.
The juices then run by gravity down the mineshaft and into barrels. There, they are left to undergo a full malolactic fermentation using wild yeast that occurs naturally on the skin of the grapes.
“Your primary fermentation is yeast converting sugar to ethanol, and your secondary fermentation is a bacterial one converting malolactic acid to lactic acid. From sharp acid to a full, richer, more mouth coating acid and that’s what helps add to the roundness, complexity, characters, flavours, richness, texture to the wine,” explains Nathan.
“Once the full malolactic fermentation happens, the wine has a shot of sulphur dioxide and then it’s aged in the cave for 20 months,” he tells us. “We’d never subscribe to no sulphur as a lot of our wines are cellared and aged. But we do have lower total sulphurs.”
A focused future
As we sniff and taste the Chardonnay appreciatively, Nathan is enthusiastic in its praise.
“The 2010 Chardonnay is the best wine we’ve ever made, easily,” he says enthusiastically. “Obviously you taste your own wines all the time but I get excited to drink the ‘10. There’s a lot of anticipation. We’ve set aside 30 6-packs because we like it so much.”
In the pursuit of such perfection, Giaconda has elected to stay small and focus on what they do best. As such, the 4-hectare winery produces only 2500 dozen bottles each vintage. The premium Estate Chardonnay is always capped at 1000 dozen bottles (40 barrels).
“Our passion lies for the estate, for this property, foremost,” Nathan tells us. “We’ve got to a level where we’ve given ourselves less to do. Less wines, less vineyards, less joint ventures, less distractions, with the aim of concentrating on and improving the estate wines; not having ten varieties but just a few.”
And while those wines gently rest in their barrels underground, Nathan assures us that he’s rarely far away.
“In summer, it’s 40-odd degrees outside and in the cave, it’s 16. You’re looking for work to do in there.” He’ll be in good company.