McHenry Hohnen makes a statement
A short walk with winemaker Jacopo Dalli Cani through the rows of McHenry Hohnen’s Hazel’s vineyard was a real eye opener.
In fact, it went a long way to explaining how the wines from this Margaret River producer have soared to new heights.
First things first. The vineyard, like the rest of the estate, has been transitioned to biodynamic farming.
It’s a demanding process requiring total commitment, but Mr Dalli Cani and owner Murray McHenry firmly believe in it and its potential to improve wine quality.
Having tasted these wines in recent years I have no doubt that they have moved into another rarefied zone.
But alongside that has been a more philosophical approach to creating the best wines.
For the purposes of this column, we are speaking about chardonnay.
The winemaking and viticultural team decided that, rather than create the best wines through selection of batches after fermentation, they would go back to the source: the vineyard.
Of course, the fact these are small production wines means the barrel selection approach is not an option anyway, but the concept of ensuring the best fruit from the start makes complete sense.
Through careful assessment of flavour, structure and intensity, they determined that the crème de la crème of the best chardonnay was to be found halfway down Hazel’s vineyard.
This was, if you like, the Grand Crus Burgundy quality.
The evidence was clear by simply comparing the bunches.
The ones from higher up the hill were bigger and with bigger grape size, while those in the middle were tighter, smaller and, as a result, more intense and flavoursome.
“The middle of the vineyard is where you see the power of the top with the finesse of the bottom combining in the most balanced way,” Mr Dalli Cani told Business News.
“You can see it in the bunches and canopy, and you can see it is the best even before you taste the fruit. We have spent a lot of time in isolating plants and panels to identify the grand crus within the premier crus.”
Hazel’s vineyard, which is part of the home block in front of the winery on Rocky Road, is one of three vineyards chosen for the single-vineyard releases of chardonnay.
The others are Calgardup Brook and Burnside, with each imparting distinctive and different characters on the wines based on site, soils and proximity to the sea.
A fourth chardonnay, called the Laterite, is a combination of fruit from the three vineyards plus a fourth from which they buy fruit.
In general, the Calgardup Brook is a finer and more delicate style with a precise salinity, Hazel’s combines precision with power, and the Burnside is richer and more generous while retaining its defining chalky acidity.
Ray Jordan is one of Australia’s most experienced and respected wine journalists, contributing to newspapers and magazines over more than 40 years.