There are currently six grape varieties producing in the vineyard – four whites – chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris and gewurztraminer and two reds – pinot noir and shiraz. The whites and pinot noir all ripen nicely in March indicating that they are all well suited to the site. The shiraz ripens later and comes into its own in the warmer vintages that we have been experiencing in recent years.
Pinot noir – the prince of black grapes – is generating a lot of excitement in the Orange Region, especially in the higher, cooler vineyards. At Colmar Estate pinot noir comprises one quarter of the vineyard and has proven to be a great success. In the warmer seasons most of the fruit goes towards red wines, which have been getting better and better as we refine our approach to viticulture. In 2018, Colmar Estate’s pinot noirs took out four trophies at the Orange Wine Show, including Best Wine of Show.
There are three clones (genetic variants) of pinot noir currently producing in the vineyard, all of which have something different to offer. MV6 is a structural clone with good tannins and acidity, providing shape and longevity to the wines; 115 is lighter and adds perfume and delicacy; and 777 has a round, fleshiness which fills out the palate nicely. Each clone makes a nice wine in its own right but we usually blend various combinations of clones to make pinots with different personalities. Excited by the quality of the pinots coming from the estate, we have recently added a new clone, known as 667.
In most years we also use pinot noir to make rosé. As with all premium rosés it’s made from the vineyard up – several rows of pinot are set aside for the wine each year and it’s hand-picked when just right for rosé – a little earlier than for red wine. And with pristine, perfectly ripened fruit we then ferment the wine dry to make a style that goes beautifully with food.
Cooler years provide yet another opportunity for pinot noir – sparkling wines. Pinot noir comprised one-third of our trophy winning 2015 sparkling wine and in 2017 we went further with a blend that was 80% pinot noir, the remainder being chardonnay – an exciting work in progress.
Shiraz is a new addition to our Colmar Estate vineyard. This variety has an excellent reputation in the Orange Wine Region, though the wine styles vary considerably in the line with the attitude at which the grapes are grown. Grapes grown at lower altitudes produce wines that are fuller and richer while the fruit from higher altitude sites makes more elegant, spicy wines.
We had always thought that our Colmar Estate vineyard, at 980 metres above sea level, was too cool to regularly ripen shiraz. However, we became intrigued with a clone of shiraz (a genetic variant) that ripened early with a low yield. It goes by the splendid name R6WV28, though it is more commonly known as ‘Tahbilk’ after the vineyard in which it was first identified. This clone is being planted in Tasmania and, generally speaking, if a variety or clone works in Tasmania, it’s likely to work at Colmar Estate.
We picked our first crop of shiraz in 2021 and our plan is to blend it with pinot noir. Although there is a long history of blending shiraz and pinot noir in the Hunter Valley, the recent blends that have interested us have been from cooler climates, such as the Yarra Valley. In warmer years we may make a 100% shiraz, so watch this space.
Local winemakers absolutely love the chardonnay that the Orange Region produces. The wines are typically more elegant and age-worthy than the more obvious chardonnays from warmer regions. This is especially the case at Colmar Estate where our elevation of 980 metres above sea level delivers beautiful, refined wines with cool, grapefruit and white peach flavours, and crisp naturally acidity – classic chardonnay.
We have three clones (genetic variants) of chardonnay in the vineyard. The original plantings were of the P58 clone, also called the old Penfolds clone, which makes a tight, linear, long-ageing style of wine. It also works beautifully in a sparkling wine. When we bought the vineyard, we grafted one of the under-performing red varieties to two new clones of chardonnay – 95 and 96, so-called Dijon clones. The wines these clones make tend to be a little rounder and fatter. Our Block 2 Chardonnay typically contains all three clones.
Riesling is an ancient, aristocratic grape that fascinates like no other white variety. Some leading wine experts argue that riesling is simply THE best white grape, immediately causing arguments with those who say the crown rests with chardonnay! Like the red variety pinot noir, riesling is renowned for tasting of where it comes from – communicating its place of origin through nuances of aroma and flavour.
At Colmar Estate we knew we had something special when our rieslings from 2015 and 2016 won the Best Riesling trophy at the New South Wales Wine Awards two years in succession. Such beautiful wines and they continue to age very slowly and well.
Initially, there were two patches of riesling at Colmar Estate, in Block 5 and Block 6. These blocks are just a couple of hundred metres apart and the same clone of riesling is planted in both. So, you would expect the wines to taste much the same, but they don’t. Block 5 is a little lighter and finer; Block 6 is a little fuller and richer. So, rather than blend these differences away into one wine we pick the blocks separately and make two wines. Vive la difference!
Excited by what we were seeing in riesling from Colmar Estate we recently grafted some more vines to this noble variety, which produced their first crop in 2019. We left these grapes on the vines for as long as we could in the long, warm, dry autumn and made our first late-harvest riesling.
Pinot gris is a pale-skinned version of pinot noir and the grapes appear grey-pink on the vine – much darker than most grapes used to make white wines. Consequently, pinot gris wines often have a slightly coppery colour, in stark contrast to the ‘water white’ colour of most young white wines.
The world has gone mad over pinot gris and they have certainly gone mad over ours – it’s currently our top selling wine. Pinot gris needs a cool climate to bring out its best and that’s exactly what it gets here at Colmar Estate, elevation 980 metres above sea level. In our cool environment pinot gris hangs onto its acidity as it gradually ripens allowing us to leave it on the vine a little longer, letting the flavours slowly build. We can pick a little later, giving a wine that’s fuller, richer and more aromatic – the classic aromas being akin to poached pears and apple strudel, sometimes with a whiff of honey. Our wines are very much in the gris style, rather than the leaner, more neutral grigio style.
At its best gewurztraminer makes some of the most distinctive white wines in the world, with heady aromas of lychees and rosewater. On the palate the best examples are rich, textural and full-flavoured. But, sadly, we seldom see such wines from Australia and the reason is simple – most of the country is simply too hot for it. Gewurztraminer needs a very cool climate to show its best and there are few areas in Australia that really suit it – just a few spots in the Victorian alps, some parts of Tasmania and ... the highlands of Orange, which has produced some stunning wines from gewurztraminer.
Although there was no gewurztraminer at Colmar Estate when we bought the vineyard, we were so convinced of its suitability that we immediately grafted some vines to gewurz. And the early wines in 2016 and 2018 were so good that we recently grafted some more vines to ensure an adequate supply of this great grape in future years.