Dawson & James – more Tasmanian treats

Last Wednesday I wrote up a visit with Vaughn Dell & Linda Morice of Sinapius. During our visit Dell observed, with the rising influence of other artisanal “young bloods” (professionally trained vignerons like himself), Tasmania has its opportunity to take things to the next level. As he also pointed out, the big companies know it too. What’s more, so do their personnel. Before visiting with Sinapius, I spent time next door with ex-Hardy’s/Bay of Fires’ winemaker Fran Austin who, with husband Shane Holloway, now owns Delamere Vineyards. And Dell name-checked ex Hardy’s boys, Peter Dawson and Tim James.

The pair, who are collaborating on the eponymous Dawson & James label, represent another aspect of new investment in Tasmania – they’re not based on the island, nor do they own vineyards there. Rather, they’ve alighted on a single vineyard from which to source grapes for their impressive debut releases – a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It’s the Meadowbank vineyard in Derwent Valley, first planted in 1987. In 2010, it was also a source of Shiraz for Nick Glaetzer-Dixon’s Jimmy Watson bagging Shiraz (click here for my notes on this wine and an interview with Nick).

Here are my notes on the maiden Dawson & James wines – I tasted the Chardonnay in Tasmania in February and the Pinot Noir in London in June:

Dawson & James Chardonnay 2010 (Derwent Valley, Tasmania)

This gold medal winner at the 2012 Tasmanian Wine Show immediately struck me as a world apart (or more accurately Bass Strait apart) from other Tasmanian wines I’d tasted. Stylistically, it’s much more in tune with the mainland trend towards tautness and flinty reduction. And in that mold, it’s very good, tight and lemony with a fine, long citric spine – good drive – and savoury, slightly funky cashew notes. As with the Pinot Noir (see below), I really like the acid structure here, though I wouldn’t mind if it lost some of its matchstick and sulphide reduction so you could really taste the terroir. 12% abv.

Here are the wineakers’ notes on the wine: the grapes were handpicked on 30th March when flavour accumulation remained balanced by lively natural acidity. The berries were fresh and crunchy and displayed a beautiful green, gold translucency.

After whole bunch pressing the free run juice was fermented in French oak barriques, one third of which were new. We were seeking natural fermentation character through using a selected yeast that was hybridised from known naturally occurring yeast species. This provided the comfort of an even, somewhat controlled fermentation that would not impact on the innate character of the fruit and terroir. Using this approach we have captured the minerality of this site combined with primary grapefruit/lemon characters of the grapes along with an alluring wildness both on nose and palate. An extra layer of complexity was derived from partial malolactic fermentation and finely integrated oak.

Dawson & James Pinot Noir 2010 (Derwent Valley, Tasmania)

This single vineyard wine has a deep ruby hue and garnet rim. I like it’s combination of structure, precision, savouriness and spice. Most definitely at the drier end of the spectrum, it shows earthy, savoury sous bois, mushroom and leather nuances to its dark black cherry fruit, with lifted five spice and pine needles. Fine tannins carry a long, fluid, precise finish. Lovely balance, depth and poise. Very good. 13.5%

Here are the winemakers’ notes on the wine: The grapes were handpicked on 6th April after early season bunch thinning to achieve even ripeness and maturity. Our picking decision was guided by a desire to attain bunch stalks and seeds that were lignified at a pleasingly low level of sugar ripeness, and grapes with positive flavour accumulation and bright natural acidity. The desire was not to interfere with the natural chemistry of the resultant wine.

Following hand picking, 10% of the whole bunches were retained with the balance lightly crushed into a small open fermenter. Fermentation relied on natural yeasts and was managed with regular hand plunging. At the completion of primary fermentation the wine was run off, and skins were basket pressed prompting further fermentation from the pressing of whole berries.  The wine was racked into oak barriques from a Burgundian cooperage, 30% new and the balance 1 – 3 year old barrels.

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