wines of Stonier,
Mornington Peninsula, with Geraldine McFaul, winemaker
I’ve been a fan of the Stonier wines for a while.
They’re pretty serious. Unlike many Australian producers that
grow a zillion different varieties and make one of each, Stonier
concentrate on what they can do well, which in this case is
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
is now part of the huge Lion Nathan wine group, which includes
amongst the jewels in its crown Brian Croser’s Petaluma and St
Hallett from the Barossa. I met with winemaker Geraldine McFaul
when she was visiting London, together with PR guy David Lindsay.
The three of us chatted, I asked far too many questions, and we
had some lunch and tasted her wines.
The Mornington Peninsula has a climate that is cool:
it’s even milder than neighbouring Melbourne’s. However, the
good news is that they don’t get frost early in the season.
Weather usually breaks during Autumn here, so it’s no good
trying to grow Cabernet. Instead, the region as a whole
specializes in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. The first
vines were planted in the Mornington Peninsula in the early 1970s.
Stonier came along and planted Pinot Noir in 1978: they never
expected to make red wine from it – the intention was to use it
as a base wine for sparkling. But soon they realised they’d hit
upon a winner.
‘The development of vineyards here was a bit of a
steep learning curve’, says McFaul. ‘Pinot is so site
sensitive, and we’ve had it in the wrong place before. We’re
at a stage now where we are happy with what is planted where’.
So it’s only taken 25 years or so!
Stonier have a full-time viticulturalist and four full
time winemaking staff. The disease pressure is a big viticultural
issue here, with occasional cool, wet, windy conditions. The damp
spring brings a risk of powdery and downy mildew. Also, netting
against birds is essential close to harvest. Harvest here is done
by hand: McFaul points out that one of the disadvantages with
machine harvesting is that the petioles (the bits that attach the
grapes to the vine) add bitterness to the wine.
McFaul did the vintage 2002 at Domaine de L’Arlot in
Burgundy. ‘It was a spectacular vintage’, she recalls: ‘The
first time ever that they haven’t chaptalized any of their
crop.’ It’s reassuring to encounter winemakers who have
broadened their horizons in this way.
Since then, she has experimented with some whole-bunch
ferments, using reserve quality fruit. This is only done with top
vineyards in Burgundy. From 2003 the Reserve has about 5%
whole-bunch fermented wine, and a little (50 cases) was bottled
separately. The idea with whole bunch ferments is that the
presence of the stems – when these are ripe – adds something
to the wine. In many cases this is a fine, spicy structure which
can sometimes be confused with oak in young wines.
The Reserve Pinot Noir wines spend 10–14 days on
their skins, hand punched. The regular Pinot has 5 days on skins,
and is mainly fruit from quite young vines. Small open fermenters
are used for the reserve, but some larger fermenters are used for
the regular Pinot.
Like many young winemakers, McFaul isn’t afraid of
modern technology in the winery, Reverse osmosis, for example, has
been tried. However, this was a slightly unconventional use: it
was used to remove water from a batch of Cabernet that got rained
on, quite literally in this case. Rather than the water being
removed prior to fermentation (the typical use of reverse osmosis
in cool climates is to concentrate musts from otherwise ripe
grapes that have been rained on), in this case there were 9 inches
of rain in 24 hours and it got into one of the open fermenters, so
the water was taken from the finished wine. McFaul isn’t keen on
the technique, though: she thinks the pressures used in the
filtration process alter the wine.
She thinks that the high alcohol levels can be a bit of
a problem with Chardonnay. Her response though is to wait until
the vines are a bit older when they’ll get better flavour into
the grapes at lower brix.
2003 wines are universally impressive, with the basic Pinot Noir
being somewhat of a bargain at £9.99 in selected branches of
Sainsbury. The Reserve Pinot Noir could justifiably claim to be
Australia's best effort yet with this grape - if there's a better
one, let me know. For availability details contact UK agents www.bibendum-wine.co.uk.
Stonier Chardonnay 2003
Quite an impressive minerally, creamy, herby nose with a
pungent smokiness. The palate has nice balance between the rich
fruit and a lovely weight. There’s a lot of complexity here,
with delicious herby fruit overlaying the slightly toasty
character. Very good/excellent 92/100
Stonier Reserve Chardonnay 2003
Intense, toasty, complex herby nose. Very bold with some
minerally richness. Lots of weight and richness on the palate,
which has a lovely texture and herby, toasty notes. It’s a well
integrated, powerful wine. It’s made in a forward style, but
there’s a lovely lemony, minerally freshness too. Very
Stonier Pinot Noir 2003
Smooth, sweet cherry and black fruit nose with nice purity.
The palate has lovely weight and freshness, showing elegant, pure
fresh cherry and berry fruit with nice spicy acidity on the
finish. A really lovely wine. Very good/excellent 93/100 (now in
Sainsbury at £9.99)
Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir 2003
Bright complex nose of dark spicy cherries and red fruits. The
palate is concentrated yet elegant with wonderful fine spicy
structure. Great balance between the fruit and the spicy
structure. Great balance – a brilliant interpretation of Pinot
Noir. Excellent 96/100
tasted Sept 2004
Older notes from November 2001:
Reserve Chardonnay 1999
Brilliant stuff. The intense nose displays rich toasty and
pronounced bready characters, yet retains plenty of freshness.
Good balance on the palate with lovely crisp, bready citrus fruit
and subtle oaking. Apparently this went through a natural
malolactic fermentation, and only some of the barrels used were
new. One of the very best Aussie Chardonnays I have had. Excellent
(£20 Classic & Rare Wines, tel: 01293 525111; 1998 is
available from Hailsham Cellars)
Reserve Pinot Noir 1999
A pale red/pink colour this has an intense nose of sweet
herbal and cherry fruit, with a touch of mint. The bright palate
with good acidity and some tannin. Quite tight but shows great
potential. Very good/excellent (1998 is available from Portland
Wine at £19.99)
a more recent review of these wines (Jan 2011)