APOGÉE N. APOGEE (FIG.) ZENITH, CULMINATION, HIGHEST POINT
WHEN DID CHAMPAGNE GET ITS FIZZ?
I was debating with a recent visitor, Anne Krebiehl MW , about the period when Champagne transitioned from still to sparkling wine. I thought Champagne was still being shipped as a still wine in barrel in the late 1700's but this painting showed it was much earlier. Le Déjeuner d'huîtres (The Oyster lunch) is a tableau by Jean-Francois de Troy painted in 1735 and is probably the first known painted record of a bottle of Champagne with bubbles. The proof - a cork airborne over the heads of the celebrants, visible if you follow their gaze upwards and expand the image. Significant is that oysters were being consumed in a period without refrigeration. Also, there appears to be ice in the elegant bottle cabinets. Notable are the bowls containing upturned glasses at the side of each consumer. The bowls received the sediment from each glass because riddling/disgorging , the process of shaking down and removing the sediment prior to consumption was probably not widespread so each glassful ended up with a murky yeast deposit.
Matt Kramer writing in the Wine Spectator 26 October 2016:
"Try to find sparkling wines from Australia's Tasmania Island. You'll be impressed, I promise. Maybe even astonished at the degree of refinement and sheer—dare I say it?—Champagne-like elegance of Tasmania sparkling wine."
The Apogee Story
A search for the "terroir" of the famous French cool-climate areas of northern France in Australia led me to buy land in partnership with my brother David, in Tasmania in December 1973. This search study became part of my doctoral thesis on viticulture completed at the University of Sydney in 1977. The vineyard was named Pipers Brook Vineyard after the local brook and is now part of history. Pipers Brook's second-label Ninth Island became the most widely distributed and recognized label from Tasmania. Pirie was the Pipers Brook sparkling wine label and was first made in 1995. It became the most awarded of all the wines I made and has been drunk by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on at least two occasions.
The climatology which led me to the Pipers Brook area was crude by today's standards. Pipers Brook scored some "bulls-eyes" in planting chardonnay and riesling in the cool area close to the north coast of Tasmania. In later years however the cooler slopes produced great sparkling wines and by the time I left Pipers Brook in 2003, sparklings were the most acclaimed single style world-wide.
I have continued to research wine climates and these days the knowledge is more precise in predicting "terroir". In a paper at the International Cool Climate Symposium in Hobart in 2012 I selected the best index for predicting grapevine ripening in cool climates. When the opportunity to apply this learning arose again recently I could not resist planting another sparkling wine vineyard in what appeared to be a grand cru sparkling site.
I named the vineyard Apogee, meaning the highest point.
The philosophy behind Apogee:
1. Use the latest climatology to locate a perfect ripening location for sparkling wine using the classic Champagne grapes Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier with a small amount of Pinot gris known as Fromenteau in Champagne.
2. Produce only Single Vineyard wines so that the output fully reflects the distinguished vineyard conditions and intensive vineyard manipulations
3. Restrict the scale to 2 hectares, which is the average size of a holding in Champagne. This is deliberately chosen to test the theory that the ability to manage vineyards perfectly limits their scale.
Having managed vineyards in the past in Tasmania from 200-413 hectares, with appropriate work-forces, I am strengthening my view that small scale IS important in the search for the highest quality.
Apogee was awarded Tasmanian Vineyard of the Year Award in 2013 which was the first independent test of progress on this journey.
Apogee will not grow in scale under my watch. This limits production to between 10,000 and 20,000 bottles per year.
Much but not all the sparkling wine is disgorged on the property. The main production is a classicly blended, traditional-method sparkling comprising around 35 % of pinot noir and 40% chardonnay and the balance from pinot meunier (this is the Deluxe Vintage Brut and is currently 2013). A Deluxe Vintage Rosé is also produced made up of around 90% pinot noir from the best sites, and 10% chardonnay. A small amount of table wine is made from pinot gris grown on the property. This is the Alto Pinot Gris, currently 2015. See the video tasting notes
The goal is to produce very high quality wines from a small, hand tended area which is operated on a commercial and sustainable basis. I hope and believe that the combination of the highly researched site with the latest knowledge of terroir theory is leading to wines which are very expressive of the terroir.
RAS TASMANIAN VINEYARD OF THE YEAR 2013
Apogee has won this prestigious award promoted by the Royal Agricultural Society of Tasmania presented on 13 June 2013
"The Award focuses on the vineyard management practices that are so essential to making fine wine", says Chief Judge, Frank Walker. "Seventy percent of the judges’ score comes from the vineyard’s management practices, and 30% is scored on the vineyard’s business plan. As often as not, small vineyards feature in these awards as much as large vineyards."
"Judging takes everything into account from weed control and the vineyard’s nutrient strategy, to irrigation, disease control, and the vigour balance of the vine".
With a wine philosophy based on single vineyard terroir, and hence the supreme importance of the vineyard in determining final wine style, this award for vineyard excellence was an important award for Apogee to win.
Here is the vineyard in mid-2014 growing season: 2.2m row-spacing trimmed 2.2 m high.