Revisited: Sinapius, Tasmania

While the Hanigan family, 3rd generation growers at Derwent Estate, have put their back into vamping up their winemaking capability since my last 2012 visit (my report here), fellow Tasmanians Vaughn Dell and Linda Morice of Sinapius have been hard at work too.  In their case, re-vamping and extending the Pipers Brook vineyard which surrounds their home, cellar door and winery.

Like a meticulously pruned garden, this north-east-facing and south-facing vineyard – an ampitheatre – speaks of superior green fingers.  Gloved fingers which, says Dell, “shimmer and sparkle” at the end of the day after cultivating the brown soils, with their fine quartz crystals. There’s a palpable love for the land here.

Keen to extract what they can from it, since buying the vineyard in 2005 (which was originally planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 1994), the couple have re-planted and planted vines at higher density, more than doubling, even tripling the number of vines per hectare from 3,636 to 7,700 and, in some parcels, 10,250 vines/ha.

I guess that explains the low fruiting wire (40cm), not to mention super low yields, averaging less than 500g/vine.  Pity the pickers!  But the resulting fruit continues to impress in the glass.  For Dell, it’s about “wanting the wines to taste like they are grown here.” Small bunches not only deliver up intensity of flavour and structure, but also attain physiological ripeness at lower baumés (12.5, when historically it was 13 degrees).

Since I last visited, new plantings of Chardonnay to Burgundy clones have come onstream and Gamay, the other focus of new plantings, has made its first appearance.  The multi-clonal vineyards now total 4.5ha, of which 3ha are bearing.  Other alternative varieties include Pinot Gris (in truth pretty common in Tasmania). Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer.  Sinapius now has its own Riesling after the vineyard from which it sourced fruit was grubbed up.

You can find chapter and verse on the clones and the vineyard’s two soil types – red basalt and brown ironstone gravel with quartz here.  For Dell, moisture-retentive red soils give body and a red fruit profile to the wines, while the ironstone tends to produce purple wines with violets and more tannin.   On another taste-the-difference tangent, Sinapius’ first release of individuated parcels of Pinot Noir from the original Home Vineyard and high density The Enclave block allow you to explore the impact of planting density and clone.

Whilst visiting, I had a chance to look at 2016 Chardonnay blending components in barrel.  The first came from Old Block (which is planted to the original Penfolds P58 clone); it forms the core of Home Block Chardonnay (50% of the 2015 release).  It is tight, a little smoky, with grapefruit and some texture.  Fresh.  A second barrel sample showcases Bernard clone 95 from 6-8 year old vines.  More complex, with white peach, floral notes, incipient honey, vanillin and a savoury leesy character.  Sample three is made from the 809 Macon clone (in 2015, it accounted for 20% of the blend).  Very different again, with some greengage bite to get the saliva glands going. The oak sits on top at the moment, but there’s a chalky minerality and a breeze of cool, fresh lime juice beneath.  The final sample comes from Old Block and is ageing in the tightest grained oak – from the Damy cooperage (Dell spotted it in Burgundy last year).  Though this wine has lots of fruit, it’s really corseted and complex, with a tension to its white peach/ orchard fruit, nutty oak and a dry, firm finish.

A barrel sample of 100% de-stemmed Pinot Noir with a dash of papery, gravelly Pinot Meunier from a re-worked block is dry and firm.  From The Enclave high density block, a sample which saw 85% whole bunch and is being aged in new oak has a delicate sweetness to its well defined cranberry and red cherry fruit, with minerals/mineral acidity and charcuterie notes.  Though de-stemmed, a third barrel sample seems to have more tannins; the fruit is darker and it has a dusty, earthy note.  Finally, a sample of 100% whole bunch MV6 clone from the Enclave Block which underwent eight days of carbonic maceration and spent 20 days on skins sports a fine, long, persistent push of redcurrant and savoury whole bunch undertones.  Tight and long with terrific line.

When we taste a 2016 barrel sample of Gamay from first crop three year old vines, Dell remarks (and I agree) that it is closer to a Loire than Beaujolais style, “with a bit of violet, a bit of purple – lots of personality,” which is why, he adds, they have planted 3000 more vines.  He plans to make a Passe-Tout-Grains red with it (blending it with Pinot Noir).

As for the latest crop of finished (2015) wines, they were released in September.  Dell told me “ideally it would be nice to have a bit more time in bottle, but demand is trumping that.”    All up, Sinapius produces around 2000 cases; around 50% of production is sold at the cellar door, the balance going to Australia-based distributors.

You can read my report of my 2012 visit here, which feature verticals of earlier vintages of Rieslings, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Sinapius Clem Blanc 2016 (Pipers Brook, Tasmania)

This wine came about because, said Dell, “I was looking at a vineyard blend – – piecing together the percentages – focused on Riesling and Gruner Veltliner.  But not knowing what it would be like.  By planting a bit of everything else, I hedged my bets.”   Clem 2016 is a field blend of Gruner Veltliner, Traminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling.  It tickles the palate in different ways – with its chalky, incipiently waxy texture, tingly, persistent acidity, yellow plum and satellite timing Gruner pepperiness – the lift in the tail.  The Riesling keeps it precise.  The blend (plus winemaking) make for an entry level white which is textural and spicy rather than fruity.   It was mostly whole bunch pressed and wild co-fermented in stainless steel tank or puncheon.  A couple of puncheons went through malo and it spent five months on lees. 12.5%

Sinapius Home Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 (Pipers Brook, Tasmania)

This is a sophisticated, structured Chardonnay with subtle texture and slow burn intensity of flavour.  I loved its chalky texture and oyster shell notes.  Some Chardonnays are citrus-driven.  Here the citrus (lemony) is in the back seat.  And no, it’s not a back seat driver.  Rather, the minerality and firm acid backbone take charge, while the chalky lees and not the fruit bring the softness.  An incipient honey note prompts me to draw a comparison with Chablis.  Dell points proudly to his inspiration on the cellar door trophy shelf – an empty bottle of Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis Premier Cru La Forest.  It was at a visit with Dauvissat that he spotted his new tight grain barrels.  As for this Chardonnay, it’s the first to have undergone a full malolactic fermentation.  Dell told me, “historically, I played with it, but I made a conscious effort to get through it while ensuring no diacetyl build up [which creates the buttery flavours].” Very good indeed.  13.5%

Sinapius Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 (Pipers Brook, Tasmania)

The Home Vineyard cuvée comes from 21 year old dry grown vines.  This vintage underwent 70% whole bunch ferment and 30% whole berry ferment (all natural ferment).  The wine spent 21-43 days on skins before being pressed, then 10 months in French oak barriques (25% new).  Youthfully tight, it has a meaty, slightly reduced character to the nose.  In the mouth, it’s much more delicate than the nose would suggest.  It reveals well delineated, fresh red fruits with subtle charcuterie and high toned wild floral notes.  Fine but firm tannins and mineral-sluiced acidity underpin the whole and make for a well-focused, tapering finish.  Very good.  13.5%

Sinapius The Enclave Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 (Pipers Brook, Tasmania)

This first release of Enclave is sourced from younger, close-planted (7700-10250 vines/ha) Pinot Noir (12 different clones) from the North-East facing mid-slope of the property.  Since the point is to extract every inch of flavour the land delivers, I guess it makes sense that this wines underwent a 100% whole bunch ferment.   It was aged in French Oak barriques and hogsheads (40% new) for 10 months and bottled unfined and unfiltered.  With its fretwork of tannins, it has good grip and texture to the palate.  Meaty, spicy undertones also speak of whole bunch but, once again, there is a levity and delicacy to the flesh – crunchy cranberryand red cherry fruit is sluiced with mineral acidity, which pushes out a long, salivating finish. Young but very promising, with plenty to intrigue.  A Pinot which will pull you back to the glass.  13.5%


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