McHenry Hohnen has embraced biodynamic farming, and the results have taken its wines into a rarefied zone.
A short walk with winemaker Jacopo Dalli Cani through the rows of McHenry Hohnen’s Hazel’s vineyard was a real eye opener.
In fact, it went a long way to explaining how the wines from this Margaret River producer have soared to new heights.
First things first. The vineyard, like the rest of the estate, has been transitioned to biodynamic farming.
It’s a demanding process requiring total commitment, but Mr Dalli Cani and owner Murray McHenry firmly believe in it and its potential to improve wine quality.
Having tasted these wines in recent years I have no doubt that they have moved into another rarefied zone.
But alongside that has been a more philosophical approach to creating the best wines.
For the purposes of this column, we are speaking about chardonnay.
The winemaking and viticultural team decided that, rather than create the best wines through selection of batches after fermentation, they would go back to the source: the vineyard.
Of course, the fact these are small production wines means the barrel selection approach is not an option anyway, but the concept of ensuring the best fruit from the start makes complete sense.
Through careful assessment of flavour, structure and intensity, they determined that the crème de la crème of the best chardonnay was to be found halfway down Hazel’s vineyard.
This was, if you like, the Grand Crus Burgundy quality.
The evidence was clear by simply comparing the bunches.
The ones from higher up the hill were bigger and with bigger grape size, while those in the middle were tighter, smaller and, as a result, more intense and flavoursome.
“The middle of the vineyard is where you see the power of the top with the finesse of the bottom combining in the most balanced way,” Mr Dalli Cani told Business News.
“You can see it in the bunches and canopy, and you can see it is the best even before you taste the fruit. We have spent a lot of time in isolating plants and panels to identify the grand crus within the premier crus.”
Hazel’s vineyard, which is part of the home block in front of the winery on Rocky Road, is one of three vineyards chosen for the single-vineyard releases of chardonnay.
The others are Calgardup Brook and Burnside, with each imparting distinctive and different characters on the wines based on site, soils and proximity to the sea.
A fourth chardonnay, called the Laterite, is a combination of fruit from the three vineyards plus a fourth from which they buy fruit.
In general, the Calgardup Brook is a finer and more delicate style with a precise salinity, Hazel’s combines precision with power, and the Burnside is richer and more generous while retaining its defining chalky acidity.
McHenry Hohnen Calgardup Brook Vineyard chardonnay 2021 ($80)
A wine with a pristine purity that is part of the vineyard DNA. There’s a delightfully fresh pastry-like character without the butterscotch. It has a lip-smacking salinity which is from the vineyard. The short rows of the vineyard have super-low yields and they are from cuttings off Leeuwin’s famous Block 20, so the bunches are very small. The fruit centration is superb with a pear and jasmine character that lifts off the nose with a distinctive flinty character with a light talcy influence.
Cellar: 12 years
McHenry Hohnen Hazel’s Vineyard chardonnay 2021 ($80)
This has a lovely aroma of floral notes with some savouriness, while being very powerful and precise at the same time. Has a touch of breadcrust character, which comes from the very small amount of malolactic fermentation. There is a lot of power and intensity in the middle palate but retains a vibrant crunchy mouth feel. Has a tart nectarine and mandarin line with a slight nougat and almond character.The palate is energised with a zingy acidity.
Cellar: 14 years
McHenry Hohnen Burnside Vineyard chardonnay 2021 ($80)
There is a very strong influence of the soil and slope of this vineyard, which has never been irrigated. The fruit comes off the top eight rows at the top of the vineyard and there is also a section of UC Davis clones from another eight rows in the middle, adding the richer pastry nougat characters. It’s a rich and generous wine but retains that fine chalky acidity. Has a slightly savoury element with some nice lemon pastry.
Cellar: 15 years
- Ray Jordan is one of Australia’s most experienced and respected wine journalists, contributing to newspapers and magazines over more than 40 years. In 2017 he co-authored The Way it Was: The History of the early years of the Margaret River Wine Region