Hanging with the cool kids
The map for cool climate wines is expanding, with more countries and regions gaining recognition as producers of quality wines.
Alongside this, a growing number of consumers are discovering the styles produced from grapes grown in countries that have a longer growing season, often with warm summer days followed by drops in temperature at night.
Laura Jewell MW, Wine Australia’s regional general manager EMEA, says Australia’s cool-climate wines are winning many fans.
“Alternative varieties can be found in many regions across Australia,” she says. “Examples from cool-climate regions include Grüner Veltliner in Adelaide Hills, Chenin Blanc in Margaret River, Gamay and Nebbiolo in Yarra Valley, Tempranillo and Vermentino in Mornington Peninsula and Gewürztraminer in Tasmania.
“Australia offers a wide range of regions, grape varieties, styles and price points, from bright, juicy Pinot Noirs to super-crisp Rieslings. Australia offers so much diversity and there really is a style for everyone.”
Jewell notes that in the past two decades there has been a surge in interest and plantings of new and emerging varieties in Australia, as well as rediscovery of long-established but lesser-known grapes. She adds: “We’re also seeing more
Australian rosé wines, especially from the 2020 vintage. The Aussies are snapping up these light, pale, dry styles, so we don’t get to see many of them yet here in the UK. It’s a category to watch.”
It’s not just about alternative varieties, Jewell says it is also about the classic, iconic styles.
She says: “Australian Chardonnay established a reputation on rich, opulent styles with concentration, full flavour and ripe fruit, but now there’s a new wave of fresh, elegant, cool-climate Chardonnay. These wines are refined, complex and balanced; they can complement a broad range of dishes and they have ageing potential. Aussie Chardonnay is exciting again. Even the artisans and pioneering young guns are championing Chardonnay, such as Timo Mayer and Mac Forbes in the Yarra Valley, and Julian Castagna in Beechworth.
“Our producers are an eclectic and innovative bunch. Without laws restricting what can be planted and where, they’re willing to challenge convention, experiment, and do things their own way. It’s all about making great wine that they enjoy drinking – and so do we.”
Paul Braydon, buying controller at Kingsland Drinks, says the company has secured listings in Majestic for two cool-climate wines from Australia: Vandenberg Six Brothers Adelaide Hills Chardonnay and Six Brothers Tasmanian Pinot Noir – as well as Vandenberg Adelaide Hills Chardonnay in the Co-op. He says demand for these is also being driven by a trend for lower abv wines, sustainable winemaking practices and some newer grape varieties.
Braydon says: “There is certainly a growing interest in and appetite for cooler-climate wines here in the UK. Australia’s most exciting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grown in cool places, be that the likes of the Adelaide Hills, Upper Yarra, Mornington or Margaret River.
“Wines such as Riesling from Washington State (as it’s cooler in relation to other US regions), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are working well in cooler climates and performing well in terms of sales and consumer demand.
“Demand is increasing for lighter, fresher styles of wines, so retailers should definitely stock up and draw attention to cool-climate wines in-store. A growing number of consumers, certainly in the UK, are looking to moderate alcohol intake and seeking lighter, lower-alcohol and more refreshing wine and cooler climate wines fit into this trend.”
Carmen Augschöll at the Austrian Wine Marketing Board says Austria is also seeing increasing demand from the UK for wines which are light, fresh and authentic with moderate alcohol.
She says: “Consumers are looking for food-friendly wines that match the large range of dishes in their everyday life and these kinds of wines match their desires.
“Generally, cool-climate wines are vibrant, with an elegant body and a well-integrated acidity – a great backbone for long-lasting wines that are present and alive after a couple of years or even a decade in the cellar. And, not being overpowering, they prove to be fantastic wines to go along with a huge array of dishes.
“Fresh and precise wines like Grüner Veltliner or Riesling from the classic regions along the Danube and from the Weinviertel are performing very well. If you are looking for a region a bit off the beaten path, give the Traisental a try. It’s a small region in Lower Austria with a cooler climate and calcareous [chalky] sedimentary rock.”
Augschöll notes that Waitrose now stocks a Traisental wine by producer Huber. She adds: “If you have tried all Grüner Veltliner styles, from fruity and spicy to wild and savoury to complex and dense, astonish your customers with a cool wine from Austria, like a high-quality Sekt PDO, a Gemischter Satz (field blend) from Vienna, a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Blanc from Styria or rarities like Zierfandler (white) or St Laurent (red) from Thermenregion, as well as Roter Veltliner from Wagram.
Chris Stroud, marketing manager Europe for New Zealand Winegrowers, says the maritime climate is central to the success of New Zealand wine and the “highly distinctive nature of our wine styles”. He adds: “New Zealand is famed for its Sauvignon Blanc and the cool-climate enables the development of the unique flavours and characteristics.
“However, these conditions allow many other varieties to flourish, with cooler-climate styles such as Pinot Noir, Riesling and other aromatic varieties cultivated with great success.
“The long, cool ripening season allows development in wines of bright fruit flavours and refreshing acidity.
“Other varieties to consider include Chardonnay, which is grown throughout New Zealand in a wide variety of styles and offers great value for the quality delivered. Rosé is growing in popularity and there are excellent examples of Sauvignon Blanc rosé now reaching the market here.”
Stroud also points to high levels of innovation in New Zealand, with alternative varieties on the rise such as Albariño, Grüner Veltliner and Viognier.
The interest in lighter and lower-alcohol wines also benefits cool-climate regions, as Stroud notes. “We have a lighter wine programme where we have developed the art of growing cooler-climate, slow-ripening grapes boasting full flavours and less natural grape sugar to ferment into alcohol, which means the resulting wines are not only of the very highest quality, they’re also lighter in alcohol at around 9%.”
Paul Beavis, managing director at Canada’s Iconic Wineries of British Columbia (IWBC), highlights the Okanagan Valley as “one the world’s last great undiscovered wine regions”. He says the warm days, cool nights and the fact it has one of the lowest levels of rainfall of any wine-producing region in the world means it is an “optimal climate” for producing wines with “tremendous elegance and distinctiveness”.
He notes that Okanagan is tiny compared with other regions, with just 10,500 acres of vineyards in total, against 1 million acres in California, 2 million in France and 400,000 in Australia.
“In order to create wines in the Okanagan Valley that can truly stand next to the best in the world we must focus on quality, and nowhere is this more important than in our vineyards.”
The family-owned company has 45 vineyards in the Okanagan Valley, which it is in the process of converting to 100% organic. Its portfolio includes Checkmate Artisanal Winery and IWBC will continue to roll out Checkmate’s range of Chardonnays and Merlot across the UK.
Beavis says the company has seen a “definite increase” in sales through its own subscription service and in retailers such as Hedonism Wines and the mail order company Private Cellar.
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND TARGET UK
Wine Australia UK has been running webinars and virtual tastings since June 2020, including ones specifically focused on its cool-climate regions. Its Margaret River event from October 22 and Tasmanian Pinot Noir on November 19 last year are available to replay on the organisation’s website.
It will be continuing with virtual events, as well as continuing with digital engagement and social media.
Webinars and virtual events are in the pipeline for 2021, focusing on cool-climate regions and styles, including Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley. There will be a joint session with New Zealand Winegrowers on Chardonnay, featuring wines that are influenced by the Southern Ocean.
In addition to the joint project with Wine Australia, New Zealand Winegrowers is running an independent retail promotion from April to June to showcase the diverse styles of wine available from the country. Retailers have to list six wines from New Zealand featuring three different grape varieties.
It is also running a Virtual New Zealand Wine week in February, which will feature a wide range of topics. Events include a webinar on Pinot Noir soils from the key cool-climate regions and What’s New, What’s Next to show what is happening behind the scenes in the cellars of New Zealand.