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Thursday 11 May 2023

Is nature paramount in winemaking, or is nurture more important?

Nature or nurture?

Is terroir the key factor when it comes to making good wine?

Or are viticultural practices the key?

Perhaps it is the vintage that is of paramount importance?

Or maybe it all comes down to winemaking?

A group of us put together by Blend PR got together to discuss these important matters on Zoom earlier this week.

We were a disparate group; media, sommeliers, influencers.

And we looked at four wines that had one thing in common: they were all Margaret River chardonnays.

The wines for the Margaret River Sub-Regional Chardonnay Tasting were from Howard Park, McHenry Hohnen, Trait Wines, and Windows Estate, so they covered the gamut of Margaret River north to south.

And there was an international component, too, with Traits wines made by Theo Truyts, a South African who has lived in Lesotho, and McHenry-Hohnen wines made by Jacopo Dalli Cani, who is from Italy.

In order, the wines were the Windows Estate Petit Lot 2021 Chardonnay ($64), made from Yallingup fruit from the far north of the region; the Traits Wines 2021 Margaret River Chardonnay ($89) from a vineyard just north of Margaret River township; the Howard Park 2022 Chardonnay ($60) made mainly from fruit grown at Karridale; and the McHenry Hohnen Laterite Hills 2021 Chardonnay ($45), also from a cooler Karridale site in the south of the region.

So three wines from the cooler 2021 vintage and one from warmer 2022.

The Windows Estate fruit was farmed organically biodynamically and underwent 50% malolactic fermentation; the Trait wine came from high-density plantings and had "forest and ocean influences"; the Howard Park wine was matured on yeast lees for 10 months was unfined and unfiltered, while the organically farmed McHenry Hohnen was hand-picked, whole bunch-pressed and underwent wild fermentation.

There were, of course, dozens of differences in approach. And we haven't even mentioned clones. 

What the wines had in common; they were all very pure chardonnays, varietal and texturally impressive.

If you like wines with struck match character and intense minerality then the Windows Estate might be for you. If you go for flinty complexity and tension then the Trait is your bag; the Howard Park has layers of flavours ranging from grapefruit to cashew, while the McHenry Hohnen has lashings of up front fruit flavours and is terrific value.

After 90 minutes of tasting and discussion, I am still not sure whether site, or winemaking philosophy was more important. Vintage clearly plays a role and viticulture - particularly biodynamic farming - will be of importance to some consumers.

There were many similarities, but probably more differences.  

The overall verdict: there are few better places on the planet to explore the many marvels of chardonnay than Margaret River. What nuances appeal most are up to individual palates.

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