Peter Ranscombe joins specialist retailer Honest Grapes to see if a former Australian hairdresser’s French wines can ‘cut it’.
EVERYONE has a story about an Australian traveller – whether it’s the backpacker who kipped on your couch for a month or that lost night drinking with the Bruces and the Sheilas who congregated at Walkabout in Glasgow, it’s hard to avoid them when Australians decide to “do” Europe.
Jane Eyre had another idea; instead of grabbing her backpack to come and visit the Pomms, she gave up her job as a hairdresser in Melbourne in 1998 because she wanted to make wine.
Eyre’s travels took her to France, where she fell in love with Burgundy’s chardonnays and pinot noirs.
Back in Australia, she enrolled at Charles Sturt University to study winemaking and – equally as influential – took a job with retailer Prince Wine Store to expand her knowledge and palate.
After harvests at Cullen in Australia’s Margaret River, and Ata Rangi and Felton Road in New Zealand, Eyre returned to Europe in 2003 and worked with Ernie Loosen in the Mosel, before landing a job with Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Burgundy the following year.
She became the assistant winemaker at Domaine Newman and then setup her own négociant business in 2011.
In Burgundy, négociants would traditionally buy grapes to make wines – including many all-encompassing blends – under their own labels.
Eyre has put her own Aussie twist on the model; she searches for small parcels of grapes – often from tiny vineyards in overlooked areas – and produces wines that express the character of the places in which the fruit was grown.
It’s an attitude and approach that rang bells with me as it’s exactly the same way of working that’s been embraced by some of the most exciting winemakers I’ve met, whether it’s Taras Ochota in Australia, Alex Krause in California, or John Seccombe in South Africa.
I tried her Jane Eyre Volnay 2017 (equivalent to £39.67, The Fine Wine Company) at wholesaler Liberty Wines’ portfolio tasting in Edinburgh back in February and was blown away by its fresh and fruity style, with tonnes of acidity balanced by crisp redcurrant and cranberry but also sweeter and more concentrated raspberry jam.
That meant I was really excited to gate-crash last night’s first online meeting of retail specialist Honest Grapes’ “Premier Crew” wine club, with Eyre as its special guest.
The wine club would usually meet in person in London every three months, but Honest Grapes has been at the vanguard of taking its regular events online, with “Wine Therapy” sessions every Thursday night and a slate of “Meet the Grower” evenings.
There was a clear rapport on the Zoom meeting between the members of staff from Honest Grapes and their clients, with Eyre regaling them with stories about her work in France and her newer wines from Australia, where she’s been popping back to press grapes since 2012 from the Mornington Peninsula, Gippsland and now the Yarra Valley.
France was last night’s main focus and Eyre explained that the very light colour of her Jane Eyre Côtes de Nuits Villages 2017 (£31.50, Honest Grapes) was due to the larger harvest that year, with farmers thankful for higher yields after a series of tough years with hail and frost.
What it may have lacked in colour it made up for with a classic nose full of wood smoke, damp leaves on the forest floor and raspberry and redcurrant notes – all the classic aromas in which Burgundian lovers revel.
Teeth-squeaking acidity on the palate was balanced by that same mixture of sweet spun sugar and raspberry jam flavours and fresher redcurrant and raspberry notes – a delicious combination.
This is accessible and approachable Burgundy as it’s meant to be – and I can’t wait to try Eyre’s Aussie creations to see how she brings her same light touch to Antipodean pinot noirs.
For more stories from Peter Ranscombe’s The Grape & The Grain drinks blog visit https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/category/grapegrain/