16/10/2007 - 22:00

Lenton Brae makes white choice

16/10/2007 - 22:00

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It’s hard to imagine a sales climate where a winery is afraid to call a wine a semillon sauvignon blanc.

Lenton Brae makes white choice

It’s hard to imagine a sales climate where a winery is afraid to call a wine a semillon sauvignon blanc.

After all, it’s a blend that consumers can’t get enough of at the moment.

Grape prices have been soaring on the back of strong demand, and many wine producers have been able to pass the price increase on to the consumer – the first time they’ve been able to execute price increases in a number of years.

The price surge is also a result of drought-effected shortages on the east coast, which have sent big wine players like Foster’s Group shopping in the west to source enough fruit to produce their popular semillon sauvignon blanc blends.

But, back in 1987 when Lenton Brae’s Tomlinson family were labelling their first semillon sauvignon blanc, they called it a semillon.

They did the same again in 1988.

In hindsight it was a “cowardly” move, according to winemaker Edward Tomlinson.

Back in 1987, however, no other producers in the Margaret River region were producing the blend.

Lenton Brae decided to make a couple hundred cases that year.

This year, the winery will produce about 4,500 cases of SSB bearing the semillon sauvignon blanc name, making it the winery’s biggest selling wine.

The production includes a substantial order from Qantas.

The Tomlinsons may have been pioneers of the style in the South West, but it wasn’t long before others around them began to catch on that this was a blend that Margaret River could do well.

Mr Tomlinson reckons the winery’s once-seemingly easy task of selling its solid-performing SSB became a lot harder about five years ago, a signal that more semillon sauvignon blanc had hit the market.

“When we started selling to the east coast in 1988 we had the market to ourselves for about two or three years but it was in early 2002, when we made a really good wine and as much as we had ever made, it didn’t fly like it used to do. We stood back and said we can’t keep increasing what we make.”

Highlighting the explosion of the variety is the upcoming 2007 Qantas Wine Show of WA, where Mr Tomlinson has helped judge 84 semillon sauvignon blanc entries.

“You could triple that number if you included every man and his dog doing it on the east coast,” Mr Tomlinson says.

Producing semillon sauvignon blanc was the result of some tough lessens for the founders of Lenton Brae, Mr Tomlinson’s parents Jeanette and Bruce.

They bought the Caves Road property in 1982 and were advised to plant mostly pinot noir and chardonnay. But the crop quickly became affected by the Rutherglen Bug, which bred freely in a warm, dark and moist environment created by plastic laid to conserve water in the unirrigated vineyard.

They sought more advice, this time from ex-chief government viticulturist Bill Jamieson, who told them that Willyabrup producers would make some of Australia’s best dry reds but not from pinot and that the vineyard should restructure with red and varieties grown in Bordeaux firmly in mind because of climatic and maritime similarities.

They replanted vines and used consultant winemakers to help produce the styles they were after, which included branching out into semillon sauvignon blanc.

“We thought that if there were climatic similarities between Margaret River and Bordeaux for the red varieties, why shouldn’t we do the same for white?” Mr Tomlinson says.

This year Mr Tomlinson, who took on winemaking duties in 1995, has made a sibling wine to its long-running popular semillon sauvignon blanc blend.

The new 2007 Lenton Brae Willyabrup Semillon Sauvignon Blanc is an estate-grown wine with five to 10 per cent of barrel fermented semillon.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel but we do want to be recognised for making a top semillon sauvignon blanc, so we have barrel-fermented some fruit to give it some background textural flavours,” Mr Thomlinson told Gusto.

The winery has also continued to make its popular blend, which is simply called 2007 Lenton Brae Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.

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