Australia Dispatch No. 3: The Other Shiraz – Jamsheed and Timo Mayer

Gary Mills and Timo Mayer aren’t making Shiraz to rebel against the Australian Establishment. They’re simply making the wines they love.
Gary honed techniques alongside Paul Draper at Ridge. German Riesling winemaker Timo ignored the modern Australian winemaking movement when he moved Down Under in 1990.
Both winemakers turn out complex, compelling Shiraz.

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J A M S H E E D
Gary loves Granite soils for the nervous energy the rock imparts in wine. He has sourced grapes from Granite vineyards from around the Continent. Vibrant energy defines Jamsheed Shiraz.

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Extreme Skin Contact
Gary stresses patience in the winery. He doesn’t aggressively crush his fruit. Instead, grapes ferment whole-cluster. Many of the grapes remain intact to allow for carbonic fermentation. He briefly wets the cap each day, not worrying about thorough pump-overs.
The top cuvees spend 40-65 days on the skins prior to pressing and barreling. Gary believes a bell curve exists when it comes to managing tannin. Tannin extraction peaks after a couple weeks on skins but then begins to soften if juice is not drained off. The saturated skins further integrate with each day. In such gentle conditions, appealing fine tannins absorb rather than harsh and abrasive textures.
Perhaps the most major shift away from commodity Shiraz – Gary’s protocol eliminates the need for de-stemming machines.
Likewise, Gary shuns sweet oak flavor. Any new oak barrels purchased must first season a few years filled with declassified wines. No new oak flavors gets in the way of the prestigious Jamsheed vineyard-designated Shiraz.

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Shiraz Profile
We tried all of Gary’s 2014 wines in barrel and a few 2013 Shirazes out of bottle. As I type, the 2013 allocation rocks gently on the Pacific set for a March 2015 US release. The wines scream of quintessential Syrah secondary flavor: bone marrow and olive tapenade. The fruit is ripe yet fresh with touches of citrus. The stems impart raw tobacco leaf but do not over-power.

 

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T I M O  M A Y E R
From his estate vineyard overlooking the Seville region of Yarra Valley, Timo, proudly recounted the story of his 2006 vintage. “WA (Wine Australia) forbade me from exporting my 2006 Shiraz because they thought it was too green. The board was made up of only South Australian tasters!”

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To demonstrate this extreme of style he opened his Big Betty Shiraz from the rainy 2011 vintage. The light-bodied, stemmy wine was certainly a world away from the popular perception of Shiraz.
Like Gary, Timo believes in whole-cluster fermenting his Shiraz. In a problematic vintage like 2011, he drained the juice after only 11 days, before the green stems absorbed completely. In normal years like 2012 and 2013, he left the wine on skins and stems for 2 months. These vintages show off a more approachable wild berry profile.

The Inherent Risk
Mechanical de-stemmers and super yeasts accelerate and homogenize commodity winemaking. These tools give winemakers the power to exert control over the process. Crushed juice evenly circulates throughout large tanks to extract tannin and color. Fountain spouts splash wine over the cap to feed yeasts with plenty of Oxygen to digest high sugar levels. Daily lab samples allow for detailed analysis representative of 10,000 gallon tanks. The lab results trigger cellar hands to give yeasts doses of nutrient-solution or to add acid.
The result of these wonderful innovations: most wine produced throughout the world tastes pretty much the same.
Not Mayer and Jamsheed wines: Whole clusters and slow native fermentation take away all of these modern conveniences.

Fermentation proceeds at a snail’s pace. Volatile acidity might spike.

Universities teach enology students to avoid these headaches. But when done right, and patiently, the artisanal wine produced displays the personality of a great vineyard – and no one will argue – there are sublime old-vine vineyards in Australia. Gary and Timo’s wines show off a few of these sites. Their Shiraz can hang with the best Syrahs in the world.