If you had told me 5 years ago, that the first white made under our family label would be a Savagnin, I would have asked you what you were smoking (and why weren’t you sharing!) I was familiar with the variety, in that I knew the story of it’s mis-introduction into the Australian viticultural landscape as Albariño. However, I doubt I’d ever knowingly tried one, much less considered making a wine out of it.
Fast forward 3 years and I’m drinking a wine from a guy named Francois Rousset-Martin, based in the Jura. At this stage, I know next to nothing about the Jura, but a Sydney based importer named Andrew Guard brings in Francois wines. I’d heard of Andrew, and his reputation for importing some really interesting wines, particularly from less fashionable regions like the Jura. But I’m telling you, this wine was spellbinding, the kind of thing that causes a paradigm shift.
I could bore you death with tasting notes, but they're irrelevant, I connected with this wine on a very personal level. At the risk of sounding like a complete wanker, I felt like I had known this wine all my life. It felt like walking along the track at Gnarabup in winter, with the wind ripping sand over my feet and salt spray in my face. I could smell the coastal scrub and I felt like I could taste the granite and limestone. It resonated with me deeply and I’ve never forgotten that wine.
I did, however, forget about Savagnin for another couple of years. Until I left Deep Woods, to take up a vineyard role with Arimia, and went hunting for fruit to make our first vintage of Heretic Wines. We had sourced Vermentino from Phil and Lyn Foster when I was working at the Woods, and I was hoping there might be a bit spare. Phil simply smiled and said he could sell his Vermentino three times over, but would I be interested in some Savagnin? Now, I don’t know if the universe was pointing me in this direction or if it was just dumb luck, but here was this variety again. It felt like we were being presented with an opportunity, and that we should run with it.....so we did!
Fast forward a few months and Phil was loading us up with our first ever grapes. I'd never made Savagnin before (I'm now a veteran of 2 vintages!) but we were pretty set, philosophically, on how we want to approach our wines. No adjustments, no additions, no filtration, no new oak, very little lees stirring and as little movement of the wine as possible. Basically, we put our faith in the fruit and get the bloody hell out of the way.
We tend to sulfur quite late, because I like the savoury, textural notes that white wines get when ageing on lees without sulfur. As a result, we suspect the wine went through MLF. We're not 100% on that, because we never checked, but there is another textural dimension to the wine which I'm pretty sure is malo-related. What was also really interesting was the depth of flavour and texture in our pressings barrels - they ended up being a critical component of the wine. It makes sense, in retrospect, Savagnin is also known as Traminer (it's closely related to Gewurztraminer) so of course it's going to have a lot of character in the skins.
Which brings us to now. It's been very cool how our wholesale customers and the general public have embraced the Heretic White (so much so that it's now sold out) - we're very thankful for the support. The 2018 version is progressing along very similar lines, although (unfortunately) in much smaller quantities. We hope to make a bit more in 2019 and, long term, will have to look at ways of getting access to more fruit (plant, graft, other growers....not sure!) It's been a weird old road to releasing our first Heretic White, but it felt right to us and we're very proud of the wine.