Coriole Vineyards general manager Mark Lloyd recalls the first steps in bringing a new variety of wine to Australia – six sticks, wrapped in wet newspaper, offered free of charge from a nursery in France.
It’s taken seven years to get from that point to releasing the first Australian vintage of Picpoul – a white wine grown primarily in the Rhone Valley and Languedoc regions of southwest France.
Coriole has a history of pioneering new varieties in Australia – it was the first to make a Sangiovese, and a Fiano – but this was Mark’s first experience importing the plant.
“We’re very interested in new varieties to Australia,” explains Mark.
“The first time I tasted Picpoul I was with some Irish sommeliers at a winery on the Mediterranean coast in southwest France. Straight away I said ‘wow, what is this?!’. And I started learning about Picpoul - this lip-smacking, lean, high acid wine, which is sometimes called the oyster wine.”
However, Picpoul was relatively unknown in Australia, and there were no samples of the grape vine available.
“I looked for a nursery in France where I could source some sticks, and it took me a little while before I got a lead and a contact. So I contacted the nursery and requested some sticks, which they did very happily – no charges even, they just wrapped up six sticks in some wet newspaper, put it in a bag.
“I contacted AQIS and then sent the sticks to the quarantine station. They then keep the variety for two years in a few pots, spending that time testing to make sure the sample does not have any diseases that are unknown in Australia. After that two year period the samples can be released to the customer – in this case, us at Coriole.”
Mark got two pots from AQIS and then handed those plants over to local nurseries to cultivate and to create as many young vines as possible.
“Once I had vine material, I sent it off for DNA testing in France to confirm that the variety was correct.
“From those initial two plants, you might be lucky enough to get 200 or 300 a year, and two years later – four years after I received that initial sample in France – we plant them out on the low slopes of the eastern McLaren Flat foothills.
“In fact that proved to be a little bit of a challenge – they are quite slow growing, weak vines. Even in the nursery they were half the size of Shiraz vines.
“We had a tiny bit last year, but effectively 2015 is the first vintage for release. “
Mark says the wine has been very enthusiastically received in the industry, with an increasing trend towards alternate wine varieties.
“Increasingly, new wines are received extremely well, particularly in cellar door. Cellar door visitors are quite adventurous – actually Australians in general are adventurous when it comes to new varieties. They find it exciting to find new tastes and new experiences. This trend for alternate varieties – or new Australian varieties, which I prefer to call them – has accelerated in recent times.
“It still takes a long time for names to become known. When people first saw Sangiovese in the 1980s they didn’t know the name, it took many years, but now most people that drink wine know the name Sangiovese. The time it takes for new wines to be known has shortened, but perhaps it depends a bit on the name of the wine. Fiano has been relatively quickly received, but it still has a way to go.”
Mark says consumers are moving towards a greater range of wines because Australians are looking for something unique for their table when it comes to matching with food.
“Australia comes from a background, decades ago, of fortified wines when the range of table wine produced did not need to have a range of varieties. Now we move on and on into wines that are really going to suit certain foods, and have a niche on the Australian table.
Coriole Vineyards winemaker Alex Sherrah explains that for Coriole, it is not about trying to make versions of European wines, but instead using those varieties to make wines that will really match certain foods.
"If you’re at a BBQ you want a big rich red, if you’re having a fine dining experience you want an elegant structural red, if you’re having pasta and pizza and oily foods you want Sangiovese, if you’re sitting on your own having a glass of wine before dinner, maybe a Nero d’Avola - and for oysters, then Picpoul is perfect.”
Picpoul was selected by Coriole Vineyards general manager Mark Lloyd as having potential as a new variety for McLaren Vale. We imported the cuttings from a nursery in southern France and some years later have our first commercial release of around 1800 bottles.
The variety has proven itself to be well suited to our Mediterranean climate and has found a new home in the region. Its fresh acidity and lively texture make it a great accompaniment for seafood, especially oysters and other shellfish.
A subtlety perfumed nose of apple and lemon along with green olive, pine and dried grass and a little floral jasmine. The palate is fresh, juicy and textural with flavours of green apple and lemon zest.
Edit: May 2018
For many years we've talked about our Picpoul project and hopefully you have had the chance to try a bottle or two. Many grape varieties around the world have a vast range of synonyms; Shiraz or Syrah, or Mataro/ Mourvedre/ Monastrell. Piquepoul is commonly known around the world as Picpoul, Piquepoul or Picapoll. Last year we spent some time travelling throughout the Pinet region that is well known for growing Picpoul as well as the Southern Rhone valley where the variety is also grown. We enquired as to the origin of the different names and it was confirmed on several occasions that Picpoul is most commonly used in the Pinet region to make the AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) wines of Picpoul de Pinet.
In Chateauneaf du Pape where the variety plays a minor role it is more commonly referred to as Piquepoul. As Picpoul de Pinet is a protected appellation we've taken the step to change the name we use from Picpoul to Piquepoul.
Same vineyard, same wine, slightly different name!