Vineyard News & Carolann's Musings

Here is where we’ll share blog posts and periodic musings by Carolann Castagna. Other recent happenings can be found via our SOCIAL MEDIA 

The Beechworth Wine Region is leading the way

As you all know, because I go on about it all the time, I think Beechworth is one of these very special places in Australia to grow fine wine, but it’s not very widely known and really, only recognised by the ‘Wine Cognoscente’. So, it was with a great deal of pleasure that I recently read a some of reviews coming out of America which recognises that specialness. I think the reports are worth a read.


Australia’s Cool-Climate Regions Are Redefining – Wine Down Under

By Christina Pickard


Tucked into the foothills of the Australian Alps in northeast Victoria, Beechworth is a beautifully preserved historic town that, like many in Victoria, tells a story of mid-19th-century colonial occupation, a Gold Rush and a booming wine industry that went bust by the early 20th century. After nearly 80 years, Beechworth’s wine scene was revived in 1982 and 1985 respectively by two pint-sized but now-iconic wineries: Giaconda, known for its opulent, cellar-worthy Chardonnays, and Sorrenberg, famed for elegant, silky Chardonnay, Gamay and Cabernet blends.

A third producer, Julian Castagna, arrived in Beechworth a decade later, but both his farming and his wines have been equally game changing.

In 1996, Castagna decided to leave his career as a Sydney-based filmmaker behind. “If I was going to change my life, I needed to have a chance at making a world-class wine,” he says.

Beechworth was a still-unknown (and therefore affordable) territory. So, Castagna moved his wife and two young boys into a trailer 1,640 feet above sea level in the Beechworth foothills. The whole family chipped in planting Shiraz and Viognier vines, building a winery and their future home. Never one to follow the grain, Castagna became the first in Australia to commercially plant Sangiovese—a tribute to his Italian heritage. He also became one of the first Aussies to farm biodynamically in the early 2000s, as a way to build up the topsoil in his rocky granite, quartz-filled vineyard.

They thought I was this crazy hippie from Sydney,” he laughs.

But Castagna persisted, encouraging many others Down Under to farm biodynamically, too. Meanwhile, the wines went from good to great: The “Genesis” Syrah-Viognier is floral, textural, ethereal—more Côte Rôtiethan Barossa Shiraz; the “La Chiave” Sangiovese is reminiscent of Brunello di Montalcino while treading its own path. The evergrowing range now includes Nebbiolo, Roussanne, Chardonnay, a serious rosé and one of the best Chenin Blancs in Australia. There’s a second, equally lovely, label made from younger vines called Adam’s Rib, which is made by Castagna’s eldest son, Adam, a winemaker himself now.

Two and a half decades in, Castagna’s caravan days are over. But his passion for Beechworth, and the distinctive wines that can be coaxed from it, hasn’t waned.


Australian Shiraz: The Chameleon Grape With a French Pedigree

By Christina Pickard

In Victoria’s northeast, at the foothills of the Victorian Alps, a small region called Beechworth is proving to be one of Australia’s most exciting Shiraz regions. Here, finessed bottlings are crafted by small, quality-focused producers like Giaconda from volcanic, mineral-rich soils composed of granite or old sandstone and gravel over clay.

[Beechworth’s] warm days and cool nights make Syrah sing,” says Julian Castagna, a biodynamic winegrower who makes varietal Syrah, as well as a blend with Sangiovese, a sparkler and a rosé. All are ethereally elegant, beautiful examples of this variety, “if what you like is Syrah with the soul of Pinot Noir,” he says.


Beechworth Is the Best Wine Region You’ve Never Heard Of

Thomas Smith, Australia Buyer –

In Victoria’s northeast, at the foothills of the Victorian Alps, a small region called Beechworth is proving to be one of Australia’s most exciting Shiraz regions. Here, finessed bottlings are crafted by small, quality-focused producers like Giaconda from volcanic, mineral-rich soils composed of granite or old sandstone and gravel over clay.

[Beechworth’s] warm days and cool nights make Syrah sing,” says Julian Castagna, a biodynamic winegrower who makes varietal Syrah, as well as a blend with Sangiovese, a sparkler and a rosé. All are ethereally elegant, beautiful examples of this variety, “if what you like is Syrah with the soul of Pinot Noir,” he says.

Yes, I knew about Giaconda (a producer whose Chardonnay has a global cult following), but that was literally my only reference point. The day I spent here was absolutely eye-opening. I was jaw-on-the-floor astounded by the wines, their unique styles, and the incredible producers that are tirelessly working to put this footnote of a wine region on the global map. I am utterly convinced this is the world’s best wine region that you’ve never heard of.

Like many of the small towns dotting North East Victoria, Beechworth is an old gold rush town that dates back to the 1850s. A quick glance across Main Street, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in California gold rush towns like Placerville or Mariposa in the Sierra Foothills. The vineyards themselves are tucked into slopes and escarpments of the area’s rugged hillsides at the base of the Victorian Alps. Over the years, winemakers have been drawn to this site for its continental climate as well as a diverse mix of soil types like old sandstone, gravel, and granite. The footprint is miniscule—there are only 30 producers here, with just over 300 total acres planted (about the same size as Hermitage). Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz make up the top plantings, but the real shocker was the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, which were easily the best examples of the variety I’ve ever seen grown outside of Italy. I’ll say that again: the best Sangiovese and Nebbiolo made outside of Italy are from Beechworth, Australia.

An incredible visit was on the outskirts of town at the home and winery of Julian Castagna. I had met Julian a few days before at a Wine Victoria showcase in Melbourne where we happened to sit next to one another over dinner. Julian’s passion is wine. He spent a career producing film in Melbourne before retiring to his idyllic hilltop home and vineyards in Beechworth, where he now focuses on Nebbiolo, Syrah, Riesling and really, whatever he feels like playing with year to year.

But don’t take his playful attitude for lack of seriousness. Julian is incredibly dedicated to producing the best wines possible. Here’s an example. All Australian Sangiovese comes from a single UC Davis clone that was brought to the country by the Lloyd Family in the ‘70s. But Julian, unhappy with the quality of the fruit, found a neighbor with a grape vine that looked suspiciously like Sangiovese Grosso, a Brunello clone, and after consulting an ampelographer, propagated his vineyard with it. Yet, a few days later on my trip, another winemaker remarked, “Yeah, that’s total bullsh*t. He flew out to Montalcino and was sneaking around in the night stealing cuttings from Mastrojanni.” Regardless of the validity of either story, it is clear that what’s good enough for everyone else in Australia, isn’t good enough for Julian.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that Beechworth has almost no recognition in the U.S. so far, there are only a handful of wines from Castagna that make it here. But luckily, the two wines that I loved the most from that tasting were both available. The 2015 Castagna “Genesis” Syrah Beechworth $99.99 is light in color for a Syrah, and supremely focused on savory, umami undertones above a ferocious tannin profile and piercing acidity. In terms of cool-climate Australian Syrah, this is one of the best out there. My other favorite from the lineup is the 2013 Castagna “Segreto” Syrah/Sangiovese Beechworth $99.99. Made from suspicious clonal material that was planted in 1996, the Segreto shows off beautiful blue-fruit character, pointed acidity that shoots down the center of the palate, and abundance of meaty, charcuterie with rigid, vertical tannin. An absolutely amazing wine.

Beechworth was an utterly eye-opening experience. The small group of dedicated winemakers are crafting stunning wines that have been completely overlooked by the rest of the world. I encourage you to try these wines and see for yourself why the wines of Beechworth can be described as nothing short of incredible.

Ned Goodwin MW looks at current release

Ned Goodwin MW came to visit recently and we looked across our portfolio together, I think his thoughts are worth a look, even though some of the wines are sold out here so no longer available from us, but of course may still be available in restaurants, retail and in your own cellar.

Grower’s Selection Quasibianco 2018: Resolved and courageous. By this I mean that Julian Castagna has found his mojo with this style: a rich, powerful and intense Riesling that belies its lowish alcohol and balletic precision. 30 days on skins. Orange blossom, apricot pith, rooibos tea and spiced ginger crystals. The acidity, juicy and saline. The finish, pithy, nicely chewy and beautifully detailed, unravelling like an intricate quilt of patterns as flavours and the weave as textures, light and dense all at once. This is a superb Riesling of immense character 96

Adam’s Rib 2017: A Chardonnay and Viognier meld. Leesy and bright, with the exuberance of Viognier’s Orange verbena and apricot compote riding shotgun. Camomile, too. Mid-weighted, fresh and imminently gulpable. An immaculate wine of flavour, intensity and an easygoing drinkability belying substantial depth 93

Grower’s Selection Chardonnay 2018: A powerful, rich, creamy and palate-staining experience. Superb value, here. A melody of stone fruits, vanilla pod oak, brûlée and citrus blossom, lifting the mid-palate and zinging across the long, plush finish. A whiff of match strike pungency, too. A great deal of wine stuffed into the glass 94

Grower’s Selection Savagnin 2018: A big wine. Picked late, to be sure. Rooibos, mandarin, cinnamon, star anise, oatmeal and poached pear, nuts and orange. A marzipan-doused finish, warm, unctuous and rich. This demands food, with a phenolic composure as-if not more-important than the trickle of acidity keeping it on the straight and narrow 93

Ingenue 18: The attack on the cooler side for the variety. Pickle, garden herb and mezcal, segueing to apricot pith and blossom. A fine interplay of herbal freshness and textural intrigue. Not as ripe and exuberant as in past years, but fresher. Arguably Australia’s greatest expression of this capricious variety. Long and luxe and the more I stick my nose into this, the more I intuitively want to accommodate it and explore its eddies in greater detail. I drank the 2010 soon afterwards and given how well that has aged, I expect no less from this 95

Grower’s Selection Roussanne 18: Rooibos, quince paste, pistachio and toasted almond. Expansive and full-weighted, but impeccably placed. Each component in synchronicity. Richly favoured, but a bow of tension defined as much by a pungent mineral undertow as by a granitic precision, serving as a pinion between weight, density and freshness; shades of light and dark. A strident wine across the palate, alluding to the suitability of the variety to the region 95

Adam’s Rib The Red 18: Nebbiolo with a smidgeon of Syrah. Delicious drinking now. The shins and knees of adolescence sitting pretty in an almost Cru Beaujolais-esque gulpable swagger. Sour cherry, sapid notes of clove, briar, anise, garden herb and sandalwood, bound by a squeegee of freshness. Delicious drinking. In the zone. At its very best 93

Barbarossa 2017-18: This is the first time I have enjoyed this cuvée. Perhaps, a project of experimentation and contemplation. Finally! Finally! Absolutely brilliant! Suave tannins of a spindly edginess and diaphanous transparency framing notes of petrichor, campfire, sour cherry, sandalwood and bergamot. Sumptuous Nebbiolo, twisting its way across a ravine of spindly tannin and a rivulet of juicy acidity drawing the flavours long 95

Un Segreto 16: 60%/40% Sangiovese/ Shiraz. Raspberry compote, anise, brush, sandalwood and menthol. Finely tuned alloyed-smooth tannins, curtailing the plush mid-palate. Full-bodied but medium of feel as is the wont at Castagna, as much due to the structural latticework as to the granitic soils and sub-alpine setting. Riper and softer than usual, but no less delicious 94

Un Segreto 17: A very different animal to the 16. Herbal. Sassafras. A carapace of firm twine soused tannins binds the more reclusive fruit to future possibility, rather than imminence. Sour cherry, orange zest, scoops of liquorice all-sorts and cardamon. Mid-weighted despite the higher alcoholic buffering. More savoury and bony over sumptuous in this nascent stage. The 17’s boast a saline core with ferrous edges. Mulch and forestry undertones meld with Sangiovese’s inherent friskiness, serving to mitigate the higher alcohol of the vintage. Ironically, this vintage feel more compact and mid-weight despite the higher alcohol 95

La Chiave 16: Jubey, dark and sour fruited of nature with a core of crème de cassis mitigating the brushstroke of spice and scrub. Highly savoury with a ferrous core of tannin, looser than usual perhaps. But quelle tannins! Attenuated and detailed, they sweep across the mouth in a plume of authority, while conferring an immense core of savoury umami. A thoroughly delicious wine 95

La Chiave 17: A brew of forestry scents of pine, autumnal mulch, mint, anise and porcini broth, warm and nourishing. The tannins, fine boned and long limbed. As yet unresolved. Yet this wine promises the most of the Italianate expressions here. The darker tones of fruit, a backdrop. The oak, an addendum. Long, edgy and fresh. An extremely convincing wine with pedigree and ageability written all over it 96

Genesis 16: Lilac, smoked sweet meats, boysenberry, darker cherry, kirsch, tapenade and iodine. A sweeter, riper year conferring a plush approachability. Peppery, to be sure, while doused with an Indian spice sachet of star anise, clove and cardamon, The tannins, exceptionally fine despite the richer fruit. A more forward expression than usual, backed by a skein of sub-Alpine acidity 94

Genesis 17: A great nose. Superlative before it hits the palate. Tight. Compact. Wonderful tension. The tannins, a benchmark of extraction for others to emulate. Clove, pepper, nori and blueberry. Mid-weighted and beautifully furled, unravelling screw by screw; joint by joint; joinery by joinery; detail by detail, strongly suggesting that this will be a wine of the ages 97

Genesis 06: One of the few older expressions that Julian held back for posterity’s sake. And now it is time. Indelibly Rhône-like, boasting whiffs of cardamon, pepper grind, salumi, iodine and violet, the youthful blue fruit allusions giving way to dried porcini, mace and umami with age. Still electric with life as it crackles through the mouth, this is going to sit pretty for a further five-years at least 97

Allegro 18: Syrah with a dollop of Viognier. Mandarin of hue with onion skin edges. A potpourri of clove, Seville Orange, pink grapefruit, sour cherry and cinnamon stick. A curl of firm tannins transcends the usual structural lattice of a rosé, making for a more sophisticated wine closer in aura to a light red 94

Chenin Blanc 18: Dry, tensile and gently lanolin. Rapier-like of intensity and thrust. Pear granita, nashi apple, lemon drop and honey dew melon. Spice, too. Mid-weighted and highly textural, yet this could use another degree of ripeness, more time on lees and a bit of envelope-pushing. The oak, impeccably nestled. A fine wine at is nascent point of development and ascendancy. After all, everything takes time 92

Sparkling Genesis 2009: A deep mottled garnet segues to scents of spiced liquorice, black cherry, dark berry allusions, sassafras and bracken, all smeared with a marinade of clove, tapenade and pepper grind. Intensely flavoured, yet light on its feet as the fizz imparts refreshment factor, the tannins detail and grit and the acidity an uncanny etherealness. With a mere 6 grams of dosage, this is a lesson to the rest of us on how to keep this most traditional of Australian styles current and meaningful 95

Pet-Nat Allegro 2017: Strawberries and cream-type aromas, with a whiff of fennel and lemon verbena for perk. The fizz-gentle, persistent and attractively frothy-sets a tone of lightness, vibrancy and most importantly, joyousness. This is surely the wine’s MO. The acidity, a juicy linger in the background, serves to tow the melee long. A ‘thrills with a chill’ type of proposition 93

A perspective on Biodynamics and Intuition

When people come to visit us, they often ask questions and want to find out more about biodynamics. I try to explain that to fully understand biodynamics requires a shift in thinking, a shift in thinking that requires judgments to be not solely scientific.  I suggest that embracing biodynamics requires an instinctual understanding of the space we inhabit, the land we farm, and an understanding of the importance of intuitive perceptions. Acceptance of intuition is something that our scientific community finds difficult to embrace.  In an earlier Newsletter I quoted a scientist – Professor Stuart B. Hill now of the University of Western Sydney – about the scientific basis of the BD preparations.  I would like to quote him again if I may, this time about intuition:

 “A purely scientific approach does not allow for the intuitive understanding of the ‘good’ farmer. Most people, including scientists, make decisions partly based on ‘feelings’ and intuitions, probably more often than they recognise, but science makes no allowance for that.  In fact, most aspects of science are in denial about the phenomenon, and scientists set-up experiments which ignore it.” 

“Those feelings or intuitions are, in fact, based on readings of inputs we don’t consciously recognise, and while most tertiary courses provided no support training for use of those intuitive registers, and in many instances actively worked against them.”

 “In social ecology we talk about mystical or spiritual dimensions, which are not scientific but represent our best attempts to acknowledge that conscious human knowledge represents only a minute portion of the sum of knowledge in the world.”  To illustrate his point he refers to an image, used by André Voisin, a French agronomist, where a minute dot beside a huge circle represents the sum total of human knowledge with the circle representing the knowledge there is to discover  

“There is no doubt we need to get better at recognizing and making use of these intuitive inputs”.

To further reinforce his point he talks of his grandfather, an ‘uneducated man’, who knew intuitively just when and where to plant particular vegetable crops.  

“He couldn’t explain it. He just knew the time was right and that is what he should do.  Although the reasons may have been inexplicable, but the inputs he was tapping into were still real, and the results he achieved with his intuition out-stripped those of people taking the more limited ‘scientific’ approach.”

“It’s the same with really good farmers, although the modern trend to put farmers through degree programs strongly focused on conventional science is tending to kill that by closing them off to intuitive inputs, which are real even though they can’t be easily measured.”