What is Rob’s favourite variety?

Somerled Chardonnay

In his top three anyway…

I’m hearing a lot of “shiraz” being muttered around the room. If that was your guess, then ok, technically you’d be right… but wrong in the context of this post! Let me rephrase the question slightly… what is Rob’s favourite WHITE variety?

As a matter of fact, Rob considers Chardonnay to be one of the all-time classic varieties. For him, no other variety carries flavour and texture quite as well as Chardonnay. And he loves to work with these two elements through the use of oak and malolactic fermentation.

Last week saw a pre-release of our first ever Reserve Chardonnay to our Jockey Club members. Given it’s also Heather’s favourite variety, we launched it on Mother’s Day served with her favourite accompaniment – chicken, chips and coleslaw! And I must say… it went down a treat! According to our tasters, it was “rich and lush, but still elegant” and most importantly, “yummy”.

How does Rob do it?

How does he get that balance just right between the complex richness and elegance?

Back in Rob’s early winemaking days at Penfolds, Chardonnay was usually picked quite late when the fruit was very ripe. They also experimented heavily with oak in those days. What resulted was a rich, oaky wine. When people talk about not liking Chardonnay (and it’s a very common complaint), these old-style Chardonnays are usually all they know of the variety.

What Rob prefers to do now is to pick the fruit nice and early and not go too heavy on the oak. This produces a complex and rich wine with butterscotch and caramel notes, but with a lovely fresh acid running through it form the early picked fruit. Divine! And yes, we have converted some of those Chardonnay-haters!

The Reserve Chardonnay does have more oak – Rob left it in some newer barrels for longer than he normally does. It’s certainly a bigger, richer wine that our regular Chardonnay, but with that lovely early picked fruit it still retains that lovely elegance.

Give us a call, send us an email or pop in to get your bottle of this sensational wine ($75 for club members; $90 if you’re not a Jockey Club member) – I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

What about unoaked chardonnay?

Rob doesn’t have an issue with unwooded Chardonnay – he’s just never tasted one he likes!

Want to challenge Rob? If you know of a good unwooded chardonnay, let us know in the comments below and we’ll track it down for Rob to try. We’ll get back to you with his thoughts!

What else can you tell me about Chardonnay?

Chardonnay first came to Australia in the 1920s. It is planted in virtually every region and makes a wide variety of wine styles from light-bodied, crisp and unoaked through to full-bodied, complex barrel matured versions.

It can be grown successfully in climates ranging from cool to warm. Cool climate versions tend to be lighter in body with higher acidity and more subtle flavours. Warm climate versions tend to be more full-bodied with richer, riper fruit and bolder flavours.

For example…

Adelaide Hills

  • The undulating and sometimes very steep aspects combined with average altitudes over 400 metres means that Adelaide Hills is the coolest region in South Australia
  • This region is ideally suited to the production of complex Chardonnay
  • The wines are typically textured with peach and citrus flavours

Margaret River

  • Margaret River has established itself as one of Australia’s premier Chardonnay producing regions
  • The warm climate is tempered by the effects of the Indian and Southern Oceans
  • The style is typically concentrated, rich and complex with typical lime-like acidity

Mornington Peninsula

  • The cooling effects of the ocean are felt throughout the Mornington Peninsula
  • The cool climate is ideal for the production of pure-fruited, restrained Chardonnay
  • Creates medium-weight wines with delicate flavours of melon, white peach and citrus

Yarra Valley

  • The Yarra Valley has a diverse array of microclimates and vineyard aspects which impacts Chardonnay’s style
  • Elevated vineyards sites allow for a restrained and subtle style
  • Diverse characteristics but typically medium-bodied, textured wines with signature flavours of white peach

(reference: Wine Australia)

Where does your second favourite Chardonnay come from? (because of course your favourite is ours!)

Does Heather drink anything other than Chardonnay?

Rarely! Although, I have seen sparkling in her glass on a special occasion! In true Heather style though, you will always hear her saying “I’ll just have a half” when placing her order at the bar. I will neither confirm nor deny if she returns for another “half” (or two)!

In truth, Heather will drink Chardonnay and only one other Somerled wine in preference over anything else. There is another variety she favours, but until the winemaker bends under the pressure of Heather’s regular requests to make another, there are only two Somerled wines you will regularly find in her glass. Can you guess what that second Somerled wine is? What about the variety she has been pestering Rob to make another of? We have a bottle of Heather’s favourite up for grabs for anyone who can guess both of these wines correctly!


Wooden you like to know more about barrels?

Herbs growing in a wine barrelI know. I’m so sorry… I promise that will be the last pun!

So, other than making a great place to grow your herbs when they’re cut in half, what are barrels for? And why are they important in the winemaking process?

Why oak?

Most red wines and some white wines are stored in wooden barrels made from oak. Why oak in particular? Well, there are a few reasons why it has become the wood of choice:

  • the cellular structure and density of it prevents leakage
  • it bends easily without cracking
  • the physical dimensions of an oak barrel do not change considerably at different levels of humidity
  • oak contains tannins that protect it against insects
  • oak contains flavour compounds, which are complimentary to wines.

Although more than 600 species of oak can be found globally, only a handful are suitable for making wine barrels. The location of the trees is also important and they are usually sourced from areas in which they grow the tallest and straightest.

How are barrels made?

The making of a wine barrel is a tricky process, so I’ll leave it to a real-life cooper tell you how it’s done…


What type of oak has Rob been using recently?

When it comes to Somerled wines, Rob prefers a specific brand of French oak barrels called Chassin – sourced from a small family-owned cooperage in Burgundy. They are his particular favourite for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He really likes the soft, fairly gentle spiciness of the new barrels. It doesn’t tend to dominate the flavour of the wine. That is, as long as he uses them in conjunction with older, more mature barrels.

What do we mean by that? Well, obviously a barrel can be used more than once. And the older it gets the less intense the oak flavours. So, for Rob, it’s important not to have the oak overpower the delicate fruit flavours of his wine. Therefore, he always stores his wine in a mixture of old and new barrels. Once the wine is fully matured and ready for bottling, some of the barrels will have a more intense oak flavour than others. When it’s all mixed together before bottling, this will even out to exactly the balance Rob is looking for.

How long can a barrel be used for before it needs to be turned into a pot for my herbs?

Barrels do have a certain life expectancy when it comes to their use in changing the colour, flavour, tannin profile and texture of wine. However, barrels are also useful simply as maturation vessels, due to the slow update of oxygen through the oak into the wine. The oldest barrels Rob uses were produced in 2009… at this stage, those barrels are no longer adding to the flavour profile of the wine.

Do barrels come in different sizes?

They sure do! The most commons sizes used today are a 300 litre barrel (also known as a Hogshead) and a 225 litre barrel (also known as a Barrique). Rob prefers to use hogsheads as it is generally easier to control the amount of oak and the rate of development. The smaller the barrel, the larger the number of barrels needed to store the wine and the greater the surface area to wine ratio… therefore the oakier (technical term!) the wine.

Back in the 70’s, Rob remembers using more of the 500 litre barrels (or puncheons) than anything else. The maturation was much slower in this size, but they were also very difficult to handle. These days, special racks designed to carried by forklift are specifically designed to hold hogsheads and barriques.


(Reference: Stern, Eric.2012. The Complexities of Barrels. Wine Business Monthly.
May 2012: 28-39.)

Any news from the winery?

Things have slowed down considerably in the winery as the wines do their thing.

Somerled Sauvignon BlancThe Sauvignon Blanc is going through the fining process as we speak. It’s still pretty cloudy and gritty (as you can see in the photo), but the bentonite Rob is using with help to settle out the solids and prepare the wine for filtering and bottling.

Everything else is ticking along as it should!