Five minutes with: Michael Hatcher

By Liani Solari

Michael Hatcher is chief winemaker for Hungerford Hill, which recently released the eponymous cool-climate 2008 Tumbarumba Chardonnay grown in the Snowy Mountains, NSW. MiNDFOOD reports.

MiNDFOOD: What makes the Tumbarumba area so conducive to chardonnay?

A combination of things. In general, the higher altitude is perfect for developing subtle chardonnay characters. The poor decomposed granite soils are great for minerally and flinty chardonnay characters. The moderately warm days and cool nights tend to ripen chardonnay just right; that is, with just enough “ripe” flavours coupled with intensely tight grapefruit and citrus flavours. Physiological ripeness for chardonnay in Tumbarumba generally occurs at lower sugar/alcohol levels, which promotes fruit and structure in wine and not heat from alcohol.

Why was 2008 one of the best years for your Tumbarumba Chardonnay?

In my experience of Tumbarumba – a period of a decade – vintage 2008 stands as one of the finest for wine production. Rain fell at the right time, not affecting harvest, and while the days were beneficially moderately warm, the nights were almost cold (<8 degrees Celsius). This diurnal temperature difference is great for not only the development of flavour but also the retention of it and other chemical parameters. It was a year where the chemistry of the fruit was in perfect harmony with the flavours of the grape. This meant the juice needed no chemical adjustment in the winery. Pulp-to-juice ratio was good, meaning the juice for white fruit had the right amount of skin for flavour extraction without too much phenolic influence.

What do your tasting notes say about the 2008 Tumbarumba Chardonnay?

This is a wine of enormous textural beauty. On a canvas of fine French oak an intensely flavoured palate is superbly synchronised with fine natural acidity. The chorus of flavours balance beautifully and live long in the mouth.

For how many years should the 2008 Tumbarumba Chardonnay be allowed to age if you like a mature chardonnay?

When you possess a wine of this pedigree it is difficult to say. However, on the recent form of good Tumbarumba wines from the ‘90s, I’d have to say the 2008 vintage will see out 15+ years. But it depends on what you like to drink. There will be many points over that 15-year range that make individuals feel that the wine is perfect for them at that particular age.

What do you anticipate your tasting notes will say in 15 years’ time?

When I write tasting notes I generally steer clear of talking about aroma. People don’t go around and smell wine all day, they drink wine. Aroma will change and will move from fresh citrus fruits to more complex stone fruit and toasty characters. More important, however, is the texture of the wine when it is in the mouth. It must be balanced as a young wine, as bad wine never becomes good through ageing alone. The depth of fruit and acid will ensure the palate of this wine remains fresh and crisp for many years despite taking on the better hallmarks of mature white wine.

Tell us about your “hands off” approach to the 2008 Higher Octave Tumbarumba Chardonnay.

This is a style that really tests a winemaker’s good judgment and certainly everything I was taught. It involves crushing the grapes and then transferring the unclarified juice (juice with all the pulp in it) to new French oak. There it rests and waits for a colony of “wild”, or endemic, yeast to commence fermentation. It is occasionally stirred to build the texture of the wine and, in the case of the 2008 Higher Octave, the wine remains in oak for eight months. The result is a wine that has incredible texture and complex flavour.

Do you think we’ll see more winemakers adopting this “hands off” approach in the future?

Perhaps. Chardonnay is getting classier, more slick and certainly more modern. You can get amazing results with this technique but it will not work with all types of chardonnay fruit. There are many different ways of making chardonnay and in the end you just have to react to what the fruit is telling you about how it wants to be made.

Why is it important to you to use French oak barrels?

French oak is more subtle. The more expensive and tighter grained the oak, the less oak “flavour” is extracted while more subtle textures from the oak are revealed. I look for oak influence that is prominent though always in the background of the fruit flavours of the wine.

What sparked your passion for winemaking?

A host of things, ranging from horticultural pursuits to just loving alcohol! The important thing is my passion builds with each passing vintage.

Passion and patience seem to be vital ingredients in a winemaker. What other qualities are important?

With so many wines currently on the market, a winemaker should also have a good understanding of business, including competitors, and intimate knowledge of selling wine on all levels. It is important to be a good orator, as the unique message of the wine really does create that little bit of magic that contributes to making the wines what they are.

What was the most important advice your winemaking mentor/s gave you?

“Good wine starts in the vineyard,” which relates to “you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.”

What advice can you give to those who can’t resist raiding their wine collection prematurely?

I definitely cellar worthy wines away from my home – it’s the only way I can build on my collection. However, the other side of the coin is that many of the disciplined among us tend to hold onto wines for too long; by the time they drink them the wines are well and truly past their prime drinking age. So choose the right occasion and drink merrily!

When you’re not drinking chardonnay what other styles of wine do you enjoy?

I’m a massive fan of Hunter Valley semillon – terrific for drinking now and as an aged style (good semillons can age 20+ years). Hunter Valley semillons are criminally affordable but this will not always be the case, so start stocking up. I enjoy champagne when I get the chance but, again, that’s chardonnay.

If you weren’t making wines what would you be doing?

Something completely polarised is my best guess!

More about Hungerford Hill 2008 Tumbarumba Chardonnay

Harvest date:

February 28 to March 11, 2008.

Vintage conditions:

The growing conditions leading up to vintage 2008 were superb with the only negative being a very light spring frost. Some moderate rain in January was enough to sustain the vines through to harvest. The quality of the fruit was of a very high standard with some varieties being harvested with a near-perfect chemistry balance of sugar and fruit acid.

Wine style:

This classic cool-climate chardonnay grown in the cool alpine region of Tumbarumba expresses intense and crisp varietal flavour. The slow ripening affords a wide spectrum of mouth-watering natural fruit acids. Fruit of this quality is enhanced with the careful integration of new French oak. Forty per cent of this wine was fermented and matured for seven months in new French oak barriques. It is a style of chardonnay that will have the ability to age over the medium term.

Colour: Pale straw with green hues.

Nose: Aromas of lemon, nectarine and white peach. The new French oak component provides complexity with subtle flinty and vanilla characters.

Wine analysis:

Alc/Vol: 13.0%

Acidity: 6.5g/L

Residual Sugar: 1.0g/L

pH: 3.43



Hungerford Hill

1 Broke Road, Pokolbin, NSW 2320

Cellar door open seven days

T: +61 2 4998 7666


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