Two Aussies were at the recent Chenin Blanc Congress in Stellenbosch, as well as 70 growers from Anjuo/Saumur and Vouvray, and of course a lot of South Africans. Garth Cliff and Nick Peterkin both make Chenin in Western Australia, and Garth presented on the history of Chenin in this part of the world, while Nick talked about his journey, and how a chance encounter with Bertus Fourie who brought three South African Chenins to Australia changed the course of his winemaking career.
Chenin has been important in Western Australia, which was cut off from the rest of the country: it took until 1840 for the first land-based crossing from Perth to Adelaide, and the road wasn’t metalled until the 1960s.
The first vines came to Perth in 1829, via Thomas Waters. He established a winery in the Swan Valley in 1830, and had learned to make wine during his travels to South Africa, 1823-1829. The wine grapes he introduced had odd names, but later these were shown to be Semillon, Verdelho and Chenin Blanc.
The colony out west grew slowly. Perth began with a population of around 3000, and by 1900 this had grown to just 30 000: still small. Because of strict east to west quarantine of agriculture, the grape varieties of the east didn’t make it out west, and most of the vine material came from South Africa. By 1840 Waters had a vineyard of 12 000 vines.
Most of the Chenin was made into sherries or distilled, but in 1936 Jack Mann put Western Australia’s table wines on the map. His Haughton dry white won at the Royal Melbourne show in 1936 and then repeated the feat in 1937. The wine, a Chenin, was likened to white Burgundy, and became known as Haughton’s White Burgundy. The vineyards grew to 100 hectares and the wine became a blend of around 50% Chenin with other varieties.
The first wines from the region labelled as Chenin Blanc were Sandalford (1973) followed by Kosovic (1975) and Moondah Brook (1978). Amberley began making a very successful wine in 1986, in an off-dry style. Albert Haak who made the wine was of South African heritage and was harvesting 25 tons a hectare, and couldn’t get enough Chenin. He started blending in Sauvignon and signed up contract growers on 7 year deals for $1500-2000 a ton.
Western Australia makes half of Australia’s Chenin, with 1600 tons coming from the Swan Valley and 900 tons from Margaret River.
Now, after a period where it was very hard to sell – Nick got his first batch for the price of picking – Chenin is suddenly cool again, and there are lots of interesting wines emerging.
Most of the vineyards are at least 30 years old because no one has been planting it. And it became popular with the natural wine crowd because it was affordable, and with high acid it makes wines that do better with no intervention than lower acid varieties.
There are a vast diversity of styles. ‘You can’t pigeonhole Chenin Blanc,’ says Nick. He’s right.
Corymbia Chenin Blanc 2019 Swan Valley, Western Australia
This comes from the Rocket’s Vineyard in the Swan Valley, owned by Rob and Genevieve Mann. 35 year old vines, certified organic. They also sell a bit of this fruit to Vino Volta. Concentrated, fresh and supple with a saline twist. Nice brightness and fruit purity here, with a lovely pear and melon fruit character. Has just a hint of cabbage, too. 93/100
Vino Volta Chenin Blanc 2019 Swan Valley, Western Australia
Garth and Kristen Cliff make this wines from grapes they buy from the organically farmed Rocket’s Vineyard owned by the Manns. High solids ferment in older 350 litre barrels. Lively and textural with lovely depth and some crystalline citrus fruit characters. Saline and mineral, and very expressive, showing purity and concentration. Great balance here. 94/100
SWV Skins Chenin Blanc 2021 Swan Valley, Western Australia
Deep orange colour. Very aromatic with floral orange peel, mandarin and lemon fruit – so expressive and pretty. The palate is salty, a bit structured, and nicely textural with lovely depth and intensity. Very fine. 94/100
Marri Wood Park Chenin Blanc 2021 Margaret River, Western Australia
Textured, rich and saline with nice depth, and pure melon and pear fruit, showing some peach too. Rich, warm and textural with some spicy depth. 94/100
LAS Vino CBDB Chenin Blanc 2020 Margaret River, Western Australia
Lovely intensity here: saline and mineral with green apple, pear and peach, showing nice intensity and depth. Lovely complexity here. Really rich. 95/100
Kroos Chenin Blanc 2020 Margaret River, Western Australia
So saline, spicy and vivid with high acidity and lively crystalline pear and citrus fruit. Precise and mineral with keen acidity and nice weight. Great intensity. 94/100
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