By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 5 December 2020
The Scots are well known for their enterprising adventurous spirit and the wine world is no exception.
Today there is an ever-increasing band of intrepid modern Scottish wine pioneers who have left their native land to make wine across the world. I talk to four Scots-born winemakers working in Spain, Switzerland, Australia and California.
EL ESCOCES VOLANTE www.escocesvolante.es
Forfar-born ‘Flying Scotsman’ Norrel Robertson MW (pictured) has just been elected into the Gran Orden de Caballeros del Vino, one of the first Scots to receive this honour in recognition for his outstanding contribution to Spanish wine.
Robertson’s route to little-known Calatayud, a small 3,200 hectare region in Aragon in north-east Spain where he has lived for 17 years, took him across the world. After Aberdeen university and a stint in Oddbins, he worked in Italy, Portugal, Australia and Chile.
By 2003 with a winemaking degree from New Zealand’s Lincoln, he began managing projects in Roussillon and Rhone in France and in Spain where he fell in love with Garnacha grape. He now owns over 20 hectares, including 100-year-old bushvines grown over 750m altitude, and one of his sons is studying oenology in neighbouring Rioja.
“I got to know Garnacha on both sides of the border, but it was an easy decision to set up shop here”, he says. “The generic vine material and climate is way better, as is the price of the land; Calatayud is the cradle of Garnacha”.
I asked Robertson what he loved about Spain that you cannot get in Scotland: “Food – the quality of raw material, particularly tomatoes & wild mushrooms – and sleeping a siesta afterwards is great”, he says.
Calatayud, Spain: MANGA DEL BRUJO 2017 (15%) £14.99 Oxford Wine, Borders Wines
Old vine Garnacha with Syrah, Tempranillo and Mazuelo; smoky peppery quite burly, meaty savoury notes, underlying freshness, vibrant acid and notes of ‘monte bajo’, Calatayud’s wild mountain herbs.
LES DEUX CIMES www.mcculloch-wines.com
Jamie McCulloch discovered Switzerland by chance and fell in love with its beauty. Born in Tillicoutry in Stirlingshire, McCulloch studied geography and discovered wine on a visit to Western Australia. Heading to Switzerland in 2000, he enrolled at famous Changins oenology school and worked his way across the six Swiss wine regions.
Ten years ago he set up his own small winery McCulloch Wines producing 20,000 bottles from a vault under the village post office in Chamoson, home to the ubiquitous Swiss white grape, Chasselas. He also grows Petit Arvine, Silvaner, Gamay, Pinot Noir and even makes fortified Syrah-blend.
“I love Switzerland and the Alps; my region Valais has an exceptional climate with low rainfall and hot summers, up to 40 degrees in August, with beautiful snowy winters. We get greater aroma potential, richer denser versions of Fendant than our neighbours in Vaud”, says McCulloch
Valais, Switzerland: LES DEUX CIMES FENDANT 2018 (12%) £20 L’Art du Vin
Fresh savoury aperitif style white made from Chasselas; fleshy yellow plums, honeysuckle undertones, rich intense zesty flavours & hints of herbal savouriness.
THISTLEDOWN WINES www.thistledownwines.com
Ten years ago Edinburgh-based winemerchants, Scot Giles Cooke MW (pictured below) and Irishman Fergal Tynan MW were frustrated that Australia was under-performing in the restaurant trade due to their blockbuster styles. So the duo created Thistledown Wines to make their own subtle textural style of Aussie wine, maximising fruit purity and finesse.
Based at Nepenthe’s old winery in Adelaide Hills, Thistledown Wines own no vineyards, buying from 20 grape growers across South Australia’s McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Barossa. Grenache is their passion, a grape enjoying a revival, and the duo have been successful at adjusting picking times, reducing extraction and creating approachable food-friendly styles. Cooke also makes Our Fathers range, with proceeds to charity.
It seems a long way from home, with Cooke visiting Australia 3 -4 times per year and longer stints at harvest time, but it is all worth it. “I love the Aussies open experimental nature, big open skies, sun, old vines and ability to innovate without red tape”, says Cooke.
Covid and bushfires have added challenges for Thistledown, but their hand-crafted batches get a helping hand under the watchful eye of winemaker Peter Leske who owns Revenir winery where they are based.
Barossa, Australia: THORNY DEVIL GRENACHE 2018 (14.5%) £15.99 Virgin Wines, Alliance Wine
Wild strawberry notes, fleshy rounded palate, vibrant silky soft textured Grenache with subtle oaking from 2nd & 3rd use oak (just 10% new); delicate, lovely finesse.
Scot Andy Smith describes living in Sonoma in California running an artisan winery ‘like living in Eden’, although challenges of floods, bushfires and Covid have created incredible stress levels recently for Californian vintners.
Today Smith is winemaker, viticulturalist and partner of multi-million dollar DuMOL winery, but 40 years ago as an Edinburgh schoolboy he was swimming for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games. He discovered wine via Oddbins, studied oenology at New Zealand’s Lincoln with a stint in Australia, and by 2000 had settled with his family in Sonoma, north of San Francisco.
Of all their years in California, 2020 has been the most memorable. “This year has been an unbelievable time in the wine community”, says Smith. “Not only with Covid and election tension, but in August the entire coast was hit by Mexican tropical storms, followed by lightening strikes which started fires across the state; we had to act fast to pick grapes before smoke descended on vineyards”.
“We were lucky as our grapes were ready to pick, others left grapes on the vine. I am very excited and greatly relieved as the quality of our Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon is outstanding this vintage, but my entire family are desperate to get back to Scotland and we will be on the first plane home after vaccination”.
Sonoma, California: DuMOL ISOBEL CHARLES HEITZ VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2013 £58 Raeburn Wines
Rich buttery, voluptuous fruits, mineral notes, lovely balancing acidity, honey & citric fruits with enough backbone to last another 5 years+; named after Smith’s daughter Isobel.
Join Rose’s Burgundy & Bordeaux Virtual Wine Tasting series in association with Corney & Barrow Fridays 5 & 12 February 2021 www.rosemurraybrown.com