Every year Decanter Magazine holds the world’s biggest wine competition, the Decanter World Wine Awards. This year an incredible 16,903 wines were judged, the best of which were awarded Platinum Best in Show, followed by medals (in descending order) Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals.
“The most impressive result appears to be Tapanappa’s Tiers Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, from the Piccadilly Valley in the Adelaide Hills, which won Platinum Best in Show for chardonnay, tying with two grand cru Burgundies for the honour. This means the trio beat every other chardonnay in the competition, from every country.” Huon Hooke.
So let me tell you a little more about Tapanappa. It’s the work of Brian Croser, an extraordinary man about whom so much has already been written. Suffice to say, he’s a true visionary and giant in the Australian wine industry. And he was the first in Australia to recognise and promote the importance of matching grape varieties to specific regions and sites.
Over the years I’ve heard Brian speak on a number of topics and was struck by his incredible depth of knowledge of both winemaking and grape growing. Brian’s smart, as Huon Hooke noted back in 2004: “he’s in a higher league than most of his contemporaries in Australia.”
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Brian studied horticulture at the Uni of Adelaide and began his career in the wine industry with Thomas Hardy and Sons in 1969. In the early ‘70s he moved from Hardy’s to The University of California at Davis for a masters program, then back to Hardy’s and on to establish the Wine Science program at Charles Sturt.
With wife Ann, Brian started the iconic Petaluma winery in 1976, planting with Cabernet and Merlot in Coonawarra, Riesling in Clare and Chardonnay and Pinot in the Adelaide Hills. He set up the Petaluma winery in the Piccadilly Valley (Adelaide Hills) and eventually floated the company in 1992. I bought a small parcel of shares based pretty much on my belief in Brian. The shares took off but I was disappointed when Petaluma was the subject of a hostile takeover by Lion Nathan in 2001 and performance waned under the new ownership.
While Executive Chairman of Petaluma, Brian served the wine industry as Chairman of Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney wine shows and as a founder and two-time President of the Winemakers’ Federation. After leaving the Winemakers’ Federation in 1998, Brian joined the council of the University of Adelaide and became deputy chancellor until 2007. After this he was awarded the Uni’s highest award, becoming a Doctor of the University for his service.
But there’s more… In 1997 Brian was awarded what is commonly regarded as the highest honour in the Australian wine industry, the Maurice O’Shea Award. In 2000 he was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia for service to the wine industry, and he received a Centenary Medal in 2001. In 2004 he was named Decanter Magazine’s ‘Man of The Year’ and more recently in 2016, he was named Gourmet Traveller WINE Viticulturist of the Year. Surely there aren’t many more gongs left to get! These days Brian is deputy chairman of Wine Australia.
“In the course of a lifetime dedicated to improving the cause of Australian wine, Brian Croser AO has been frequently misunderstood and at times reviled. His daunting intelligence and the rigour of his analysis of any situation means his judgment is never clouded by sentiment or uncertainty. He speaks quietly, even when angry, unless he is watching his beloved Adelaide Crows.” James Halliday, The Australian, July 2017.
In 2002 Brian founded Tapanappa Wines in partnership with Bollinger Champagne and the Cazes family of Lynch Bages fame (Pauillac, Bordeaux). The name ‘Tapanappa’ comes from a 550 million year old geological formation that underlies the Fleurieu Peninsula where the Croser family have a vineyard and a sheep farm.
Three top sites were acquired:
In 2014 the Croser family bought out their two other partners and in a homecoming twist of fate, reacquired the original Petaluma winery, which sits next to the Tiers vineyard. Not only that, Petaluma’s former chief winemaker, Con Moshos (who had been at Mt Adam) returned as managing winemaker, assisting Brian in the crafting of Tapanappa wines. These days Brian’s daughter Lucy and her husband Xavier Bizot, a dynamic wine couple in their own right, are also involved in the business.
The basis of the success of this wine is of course the Tiers vineyard, which sits at between 450-600m elevation in the beautiful Piccadilly Valley in the Adelaide Hills. Planted in 1979, the vineyard pioneered cool climate viticulture in South Australia. “It is absolutely suited to Chardonnay, being an almost perfect homo-clime of Burgundy and especially mirrors the southern end of the Cotes de Beaune, where the great Montrachets are grown.” Brian Croser.
Tapanappa Tiers Vineyard 2016 Chardonnay
2016 was a warm year in most of southeast Australia and the hand harvested fruit was picked 10 day ahead of schedule, on the 12th and 13th March. The fruit was cooled to 2 degrees before being pressed. In white wine making, the ferment (in most cases) occurs without the grape skins, whereas red ferments occur with the skins. The juice was allowed to settle before being transferred into French oak for fermentation - 33% new oak and the rest was once and twice used. The yeast strain was selected by Brian from the vineyard around 40 years ago. After ferment, the wine was matured for further 10 months in French oak and as it was a warm year, malolactic fermentation was prevented. MLF converts malolactic acid to lactic acid, resulting in lower acidity. In a warm year, the fruit is already riper with lower acidity so ‘malo’ isn’t necessary. Alcohol 13.8% Screwcap.
Small bunches of Chardonnay grapes are selectively hand harvested into 0.5 tonne bins and transported to the Tapanappa winery at the bottom of the vineyard.
“Bright, medium to light yellow colour and it has a lovely nougat, toasted almond and toasted cashew bouquet, while the palate is intense and refreshingly crisp, with concentrated lemon and citrus fruit and tremendous refinement. The wine is superbly intense and sustained, the flavours lingering long after the wine has gone. It's tight and needs more time to realise its full potential.” 96 points, Huon Hooke.
“The complex but clean bouquet hints at the layers of flavour that duly appear on the palate ranging through stone fruit, fig and a hint of honey, the finish with crisp acidity. Drink to 2026.” 95 points, James Halliday.
“Pale green-gold in colour. Scents of beaten cold cream mingle with iris root and gentian: classy, distinctive, haunting. The wine is light, fresh and delicate on the palate, its alcohol fittingly invisible, with all its flavoury richness clustered around the evolving (but not yet fully evolved) acid core. An Adelaide Hills Chardonnay which you could continue to age with confidence, and which will certainly have further complexities concealed in its artfully hidden recesses. 2018-2030.” 97 points, Best in Show, Decanter World Wine Awards 2018.
The Tiers Vineyard sits in a sheltered valley that catches the last rays of sun at the cool end of the harvest.
The Decanter gong is really is amazing. “Platinum Best in Show for Chardonnay, tying with two grand cru Burgundies for the honour. This means the trio beat every other Chardonnay in the competition, from every country.” One of those Burgundies is Domaine de La Vougeraie-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Corton Charlemagne 2015, available in Australia for over $300 a bottle.
Gold Medal and Critics’ Choice - Sommelier Wine Awards, May 2018.
Gold Medal, Global Chardonnay Masters 2017, The Drinks Business.
I won’t offer any more superlatives.
I can offer it for $85 a bottle. Click here to order