06 December 2010
CAB MAC v COKE - AUSTRALIA v FRANCE
STEPHEN HICKINBOTHAM 1983 - photo WHITELIGHT
Making A Pause Refreshing Having Bought Jacob's Creek France Copies It
by PHILIP WHITE - two recent additions to the archive
2 July 2010
In the early ’eighties a brilliant young winemaker, Stephen Hickinbotham, decided Australia needed a bottled red wine that would fight off the dodgy French Beaujolais Nouveau which was threatening to catch Australian attention.
An early adherent to the notion of premium wines having a sense of place, a home base, and a distinctive terroir, Hick was also aware that the irrigated Murray-Darling was about to start producing a lot more amorphous red than Australia could drink.
To make the most of this, he modified the Beaujolais winemaking technique called maceration carbonique, invented and sought patents for the simple, cheap equipment his new technique required, and registered the name Cab Mac. His elegant script logo was deliberately designed to look like Coca Cola.
But like Beaujolais Nouveau, which vanished in an international currency shift, Cab Mac only threatened to catch Australian attention: after a few exciting vintages, Hick was killed in a plane crash, and the whole exercise fizzled out, in spite of it being sold for expansion to John Valmorbida, who then owned Mitchelton winery.
It was a great pity, because Cab Mac was reliably a much better wine than the baby Beaujolais, and was vastly superior to the bladder pack reds which now make up a great deal of our red output (last year we drank 96.7 megalitres of bottled red vs. 56 megalitres of bladder pack).
Last week, Valérie Pajotin, the diva directrice générale of the Association Nationale Interprofessionelle du Vin de France, or ANIVIN, announced that France should now approach its wine manufacture in a totally new way. She even named that great French-owned product, Jacob’s Creek, and triggered an international frisson when she said “It’s like creating a well-known brand name, like Apple or Coca-Cola”.
After interminable Gallic wrangling, this new ANIVIN body has the job of promoting France’s new Australian-style refinery-made wine. In a sense, Pajotin has replicated the young Hick’s dream, and even dared to mention the C-C-words.
Most of Australia’s grapes go into amorphous bottom-shelf blends which sell in the vulnerable nether regions, where the tiny profits are at the mercy of endless currency fluctuations, and the whims of new rival countries which can produce similar products at lower costs than we can manage.
Their labour is cheaper; they usually have much more water than us, and their environmental awareness and controls are nowhere near as restrictive as Australia’s.
Add a flash of critical discontent like our plonk has attracted in the USA and UK in recent years, and a great degree of the Australian wine business suddenly looks a lot more rickety than anyone seems ready to admit.
And just when we thought we had France licked, Mme. Pajotin has lurched it back into the picture, big time.
There are 861,075 hectares of wine grapes in France. Australia has 162,550 hectares.
While the pointy end of Australia’s premium wine business is finally beginning to understand the importance of local geologies and terroir, which the best of the French have understood for centuries, the rest of the French have finally legislated to make possible enormous inter-regional refinery blends, just like the dud end of our business.
This new megabulk appellation is called Vin de France. And while it appears, on the face of it, to be more along the lines of your baby Beaujolais than Cab Mac in quality, Mme. Pajotin’s threatening to very quickly rattle the trendy end of Australia’s cage.
She’s taking the great Ocker wine refinery doctrine, demolishing France’s inter-regional blending restrictions, and is about to replace France’s knowledge of wine regions with a new knowledge of varieties.
She’s determined first to teach French lasses whether they’re Pinot grigio girls, Sauvignon blanc girls or Chardonnay girls – she’s a Chardonnay girl – but is already challenging the vast grapeyards of France to open their floodgates with giant blends that Australia simply cannot match.
While Colombard/Chardonnay and Carignan/Shiraz sound uncannily workaday Ocker, this country simply could not mount a counter-attack with Chardonnay/Gros manseng, Terret/Sauvignon blanc or Gamay/Shiraz, which Mme. Pajotin’s right onto.
And she’s looking way past the borders of France: she’s determined to win back the shelves of the UK, the USA, and Germany, with fewer brands of more consistent varietally-labelled mega-blends than ever before.
In the same week that every Australian politician with a propensity for travel and red teeth was leading a delegation of their favourite Australian winemakers into China, Mme. Pajotin uttered that C-word, too.
One thing about the Chinese. Their wine business has been inextricably entwined with France since the days the English poured them a Cognac as they paid for their tea with shiploads of opium. French wines were the only grape-based alcohol in the courts of Beijing and Shanghai long before Mao took his walk, and China still proudly thrusts forward bottles of Dynasty, the Remy-Martin joint venture that commenced with Frenchmen teaching China how to plant and manage vineyards right when Hick was working on his first Cab Mac.
JACOB'S CREEK IS NOW AN INTERNATIONAL TORRENT: PERNOD-RICARD CONSULTANT AND FORMER BOSS WINEMAKER FOR JACOB'S CREEK, PHIL LAFFER, NOW WORKING ON BIG NEW PERNOD-RICARD VINEYARDS IN NORTH CHINA
Now we see Pernod-Ricard, the giant French pastis empire which owns Jacob's Creek, busy establishing vast vineyards in China. Who knows - If the history of the Pernod and Ricard families' attitude to such important terroir as Steingarten is any indicator, we may soon see a Chinese Jacob's Creek.
The Chinese prefer long-term relationships.
Winemaker Of The Year Dutschke Resurrects Cab Mac At St. Jacobi The Perfect Sunshine Slurp
1 October 2010
Wayne Dutschke, Barons of Barossa Winemaker of the Year 2010, slunk a slinky blast from the past onto the market during the winter. He’s rekindled Stephen Hickinbotham’s early ’eighties invention, Cab Mac.
The ingenious Hickie had been infuriated by Australia’s infatuation with Beaujolais. The macho Aussie Dollar bought many Francs in those days, and to quote John Cale, “the Beaujolais was raining”.
Beaujolais is the impossibly cute vignoble south of Burgundy en route to the Rhone. It grows Gamay, an audacious juicy red which the vignerons traditionally vinify by carbonic maceration, where bunches are fermented whole in small containers so the wines can be sold quick and fruity.
The most obscene marketing perversion of this was the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release, when vignerons hired helicopters or whatever it took to get the first wine from the new vintage to market. I recall wine-bearing paras leaping into the Thames to get it into London gullets one year, and distributors doing very silly things to be the first into Sydney with the barely-fermented folly.
Eternally scheming of ways of outdoing the French, Hickie reached into his winemaking father Ian’s vast knowledge and theories about collapsible plastic wine containers. In the ’sixties Ian had worked hard on the adaption of the Italian vinegar bladder pack for use as a fine wine container – the wine “cask” - with David Wynn and Penfolds, and had also played with the idea of using bag liners in concrete wine tanks to minimise oxidation during the industry’s post-war conversion from sticky fortifieds to premium dry wines.
Shipping containers fitted with such liners are the standard bulk export containers now: giant oxygen-free bladder packs.
Instead of tanks, Hickie used potato pallets, those wooden pallet-sized boxes of about a metre deep, designed to be shoved about and stacked by forklifts. He patented a plastic bag liner which could be sealed to prevent oxygen ingress, but was fitted with a valve, so the normal CO2 of ferment could escape under its own pressure.
You simply picked grapes directly into these big bags in boxes, zipped them shut, and left the grapes to ferment within their own skins. Sometimes, to preclude oxygen and cool the fruit, he’d put big chunks of dry ice – frozen CO2 – in the bottom of each bag.
The shallow nature of the pallet ensured there was insufficient pressure on the bottom bunches to squash the berries, so there was absolutely minimal free juice running in absolutely minimal oxygen.
If you wanted to hurry the ferment, you left the pallets in the sun. To slow it down, you put them in the cellar.
Each berry is its own little sealed tank in this technology. As the wild yeasts of the vineyard begin to ferment the juice within each grape anaerobically, they extract a different spectrum of phenolics – tannins and colour - to those that would be exctracted from the same grapes submerged in juice in a normal whole bunch ferment.
Once the average alcohol reaches, say, six percent, the bags are tipped into the crusher and the ferment continues normally in tank. No oak is required, and largely regardless of the red variety used, the wine displays an intense cherries, nuts and berries freshness with a sort of gentle spiciness that normal ferments rarely produce.
While it’s dry, and not sweet, the result is a little like the effect of botrytis on sweet whites: this peculiar method naturally produces a smoothed-out flavour of its own, which can be more pronounced than the normal varietal indicators.
Hick registered the name Cab Mac, had a logo drawn that matched the cool breeziness of the Coca Cola calligraphy, and released a string of reds that were immediately noted for their vivacity and unabashed freshness of fruit.
JENNY REGAN AND STEPHEN HICKINBOTHAM. MID-EIGHTIES
John Valmorbida, owner then of Mitchelton in the Goulburn Valley, bought the system and the brand and continued with it for years, with the input of winemakers Don Lewis and Wayne Dutschke.
Hickie was killed with his partner Jenny Regan and five other close friends in a plane crash at Cairns, and Cab Mac became another of his brilliant ideas and inventions that were never fully extended.
Remembering this at a time when Australia is blamed with making wines too strong and too thick for easy refreshment, Wayne Dutschke took a look around the internet, and discovered the Cab Mac name was available for a song. The product had been let languish when Brian Croser bought Mitchelton, and since he sold his empire to Lion Nathan, now part of Kirin, the giant Japanese brewer, Cab Mac simply and stupidly slid into oblivion.
Dutschke couldn't believe his luck.
His wine is from old vine Shiraz from his home block at Lyndoch. He used small airtight tanks, where the berries sat for nearly a fortnight before crushing. The ferment was finished normally, and the wine bottled and released.
The resulting Cab Mac 2010 is a modest 13.2% alcohol and is the perfect sunshine slurp for spring or summer weather. The normally floral nature of Lyndoch Shiraz, reminiscent of the best of Beaujolais anyway, has an extra layer of bright maraschino and marello cherry, and a subtle nutmeg spiciness that looks all the world like good oak.
So, we have a spunky 2010 dry red that slots neatly between Grenache and Pinot in style, at a cool $20, and an easy 92 points. You should be into it by the time your patio vine casts a proper shadow.