A visit with Joe Holyman at Stoney Rise, Tasmania

Former Tasmanian wicket-keeper Joe Holyman is well travelled around wine.  He grew up on the island where his father had “a hobby vineyard.”

After studying marketing at Roseworthy in Adelaide he worked in sales for Negociants (premium wine exporters & importers), prior to a four year stint as a buyer for The Wine Society in Sydney.

Wanting to get back to vineyards, following vintages in Burgundy, Provence and the Douro, he set up his own brand, Stoney Rise, while working for Cape Jaffa in Robe, on the Limestone Coast.

Four years later, in 2004, Holyman brought the Stoney Rise brand home to Tasmania and, specifically, to the Rotherhythe vineyard, which he bought with his wife, Lou (not that it’s put a stop to the travels – when we met he was planning to do vintage stints in Burgundy and Austria this year).

As it happens, the vineyard is located on a stoney (gentle) rise – an old river flat, rising from 5m to 30m asl – with lots of river gravel, including a pure white patch, and hard pan clay. Located in the Tamar Valley, wines from this four hectare former apple and pear orchard had enjoyed show success in the past.

Holyman explains that, because of its proximity to the River Tamar (c. 1.5 miles) and slight rain shadow, it’s a very warm, relatively frost-free site – one of the first table wine sites to be harvested in Tasmania.  This precocity, together with vine age (the vineyard was planted in 1986) and naturally low yields (around 5t/ha) persuaded the couple to restore it to its former glory.

Having joined Tasmania’s Pinot Noir forum, the first step was to pull out 0.8ha of Cabernet Sauvignon and plant new Pinot Noir clones, including D4VZ (New Zealand’s Pommard clone), 777, 114 and 115.  Holyman says he has 13 clones across seven rows, some close planted, nine of which are on different root stocks.  In total, Holyman has around 3ha of Pinot Noir, 0.75ha of Chardonnay, 0.2ha of Gruner Veltliner (Tasmania’s one and only example) and a dash of Nebbiolo.

No doubt influenced by Cape Jaffa’s biodynamically cultivated vineyards, Holyman uses a few biodynamic preparations to improve soil and vine health.  Though keen to reduce chemical inputs and irrigation (he’s not watered the older vines since 2006), he’s not pursuing organic let alone biodynamic status – “I’ve got a bank manager,” he retorts.

And the bank manager crops up again in the context of Holyman’s labels.  He describes the Stoney Rise label as “my bank manager’s wine…early drinking [as were the South Australian wines made under this brand).”  As for the Holyman label, it’s more site focused and, as you’ll see from my tasting notes below, requires more patience of producer and consumer alike.

Take the Holyman Pinot Noir which hails from a select 0.6ha parcel named Jacques, after Dujac’s Jacques Seysses, for whom he worked.  A clonal mix, it produces the best fruit and gets the kid gloves treatment – vineyard operations are entrusted exclusively to two women.  Because the stalks are well lignified, around 20-25% is whole bunch fermented Dujac-style, because Holyman likes structure in a wine.

However, in general, Pinot Noir grapes are de-stemmed.  Because he believes the flavours become “too cooked” with post-fermentation macerations Holyman carries out a long cold soak – for a week to 10 days – then lets the wild ferment begin.  He presses “as soon as the hydrometer reads zero.”  The Pinot Noir is settled overnight before decanting into barrel, while the Chardonnay is pressed straight to barrel, where it is topped up continuously.  Describing himself as “a barrel hugger,” Holyman uses lots of different coopers for additional complexity.

The wines were tasted in February 2012.

Stoney Rise Gruner Veltliner 2011

With a tender vine age – 4-7 years old – this lacks a bit of concentration, but I like the subtle texture and pear and citrus flavours.  The old “New World” philosophy of the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit hasn’t impinged on alternative varieties and it’s to the good.  12% abv

Holyman 2010 Chardonnay

Made from 26 year old vines which Holyman reckons are planted to the Penfolds clone, there’s no issue with concentration here.  He says this is a fuller wine than the cooler 2009 vintage but, since he’s not one to encourage malolactic ferments, it remains trim and well focused.  Attractively savoury on the nose with a lemony undertow, in the mouth it’s ripe fruited and leesily textured with spicy pears, a hint of ginger even, followed by a long, limpid, mineral finish.  The oak (100% new, but puncheons/500l) is worn lightly,  Lovely intensity and texture.  Very good.  13.5%

Long & Stoney Pinot Noir 2011

This label is made especially for a Sydney Thai restaurant called Longrain.  The 2011 comprises a four batch (each of 500 kilos) blend of clonal trial Pinot Noir.  As Holyman puts it one part is Bill Downie (he de-stems and leaves this batch to ferment with no cap management), one part is Max Allen (no sulphur/no settling) another is Larry Cherubino (market friendly – Holyman “throws the whole kitchen sink at it”), the last batch is clonal (115).  And I like it – it’s pale and interesting – quite funky – a lighter, prettier red fruited, floral, silky style – very digestible…for now.

Stoney Rise Pinot Noir 2010

This wine contains a good deal of fruit from Relbia, to the east, from Tamar Ridge’s White Hills vineyard.  North-facing and on top of a wind swept hill, it’s a low cropping vineyard which Richard Smart homoclime matched to Martinborough.  Though there’s more depth to nose and palate, it’s a pretty, lively wine, with ripe but bright red cherry and strawberry fruit, fleshier plum layered with five spice and a hint of dark chocolate.  There’s a touch of warmth to the finish, but it’s well done.  14%.

Holyman Pinot Noir 2010

First made in 2007, this single parcel wine from Stoney Rise’s own Jacques’ parcel is much firmer, with taut, textured tannins – plainly for the long haul.  A bright, deep red hue and cassis and beetroot nose hint at the concentration of deep seated fruit beneath. In the mouth, though the fruit is held back, the palate is fresh and well-delineated – it just needs time (a couple of years) to flesh out. This vintage saw around 40% whole bunch ferment and was aged in 30% new oak (barriques) for 16 months.  Very promising – I just wished I’d had time to linger over this and the other Holyman wines – especially those from the much rated 2010s, which needed a bit more air and time to reveal themselves.  14%

Holyman Pinot Noir 2011

Like the 2010 vintage, this included around 40% whole bunch ferment and 30% new oak which here sits atop the fruit, though the black cherry and earthy raspberry fruit is still more expressive, or at least less sulky, than the 2010 vintage.  A lick of five spice adds lift and the whole is well supported by grainy, chocolatey tannins.  Good concentration in a trickier vintage.  13.5%

Holyman Pinot Noir Project X 2010

This experimental 50 case batch of 100% whole bunch fermented Pinot was aged in brand new 500l barrels for just nine months. Deepish in colour, this is a strapping, big-boned, savoury wine with an earthy, sasperilla finish and charcuterie notes.  Like the Holyman 2010, its dark, brooding fruit is more than a tad sulky but, with time, I’ll bet it’s more than a match for this wine’s imposing charge of ripe tannins.  Powerful.  13.5%

Holyman Project X Pinot Noir 2011

In its first flush of youth, once again the 2011 is more expressive than the 2010, seemingly much earthier and spicier, with sous bois/dried pine needle and floral notes to its deliciously juicy, sappy chocolate-edged red berry and cherry fruit.  Firm but ripe tannins lend texture and line.  Very attractive, but it’s the 2010 which makes the more lasting impression.

Holyman Pinot Noir 2006

With a few more years under its belt, this savoury, spicy wine shows earthy mushroom as well as wood-derived, roast coffee/mocha and charcuterie notes to its red cherry fruit; firm tannins maintain line and reinforce the savoury, dry gravitas which distinguishes the Holyman label from the Stoney Rise Pinots. A mature Pinot, still going strong. 13.5%


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