Pinot Noir vines were first observed in Burgundy two thousand years ago. The region is the originator and the exemplar of this fascinating grape. Chardonnay has found a happy home there for many centuries. The allure of these noble varieties has seen them colonise the winegrowing world and thrive in Western Australia’s remote Great Southern region, over 14,000km away, where the first grapevines were planted 1965.
The Great Southern, Western Australia
The Great Southern is Australia’s largest delineated wine region by area, stretching nearly 200 kilometres both north-to-south and east-to-west along the isolated south coast of Western Australia. Only a very small portion of this larger area is under vine, the remainder being occupied by forest or farmland unsuitable for viticulture. To bring some vinous focus to its vast remoteness, the five main wine producing areas have been officially classified into subregions.
The Mount Barker and Porongurup subregions are of primary importance for Marchand and Burch’s production of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. These two adjacent areas lie 40 kilometres north of the Southern Ocean, with a cool maritime climate strongly influenced by the inland movement of cold ocean air. This moderates the temperature during the growing season, allowing for longer ripening and the development of complex flavour profiles, which then translate from grape to wine.
The vineyards in both these subregions lie above some of the world’s oldest recorded geology, and imposing granite outcrops are a signature feature. With very little soil disturbance or erosion over many centuries even the soil material itself is highly distinctive. This striking contrast with Burgundy was particularly meaningful and exciting for Pascal Marchand and he convinced Jeff to focus their collaborative energy on these vineyards in the pursuit of an ultimate expression of “new world” terroir.
Burgundy – or “Bourgogne” to the French – is like a foundation stone to the world of fine wine, producing inimitable examples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, varieties born of (and inseparable from) its historic wine landscape. It is the birthplace of the unique and abiding concept of terroir; the notion that fine wine can bear the distinctive imprint of its originating place, with the winemaker a conduit for the careful translation of soil, season and vine into an authentic sensory experience in the glass.
The region itself occupies a compact strip of Eastern France where favourable areas, characterised by limestone soils, are completely covered with vines – their dominance yielding only to a network of small, ancient villages which carry some of the most famous names in the world of wine. The climate is continental and highly variable with a relatively short summer. Vineyards are vulnerable to frost and hail and vignerons are constantly challenged by the vagaries of nature when growing and ripening their fruit.
The heart of Burgundy is the Côte d’Or; this “golden slope” of prized land is only two kilometres wide and stretches 40 kilometres from Dijon in the North to the River Dheune in the South. Its mosaic of vineyards has been completely classified into a hierarchy of quality over centuries by monks, farmers, family Domaines and Negociant wine producers. Aside from our delightful Chablis, all the Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines of Marchand and Burch are from vineyards within its limits, and particularly the northern section, the Côte de Nuits, which is dominated by plantings of Pinot Noir.
Viticulture and Sustainability
‘I think that there’s two ways of looking at biodynamics. There is a dogmatic way where people are almost into a religion which is like the first people I met. Then to me, what it did to me was to help me look at nature and observe more nature and to try to work with the forces of nature. That I think is the most important thing about biodynamics to me. If you look at the history of agriculture, farmers and peasants for centuries had worked with nature. They were looking at the moon, they were really observing the nature and they were not trying to control nature, but they were trying to work with nature.
After World War 2 with the chemical industry, it changed people’s minds and most of the farmers thought we can control the nature with these chemicals but in the long run after a few decades we are realising that it doesn’t work and we cannot control nature. Even if we have powerful tools, nature is always stronger. So, I think this is the good thing about biodynamics and why more and more people are getting into that and it’s because it brings back to an era how the farmers were minded before. And you try to work with these forces and to me that’s the most important – observe and work with nature.’
From an early age Pascal Marchand recognised and affirmed the spiritual connection between man and vineyard: the importance of winegrowing to society and culture. In Burgundy and Western Australia, the landscapes are radically different but the approach is the same; to utilise sensitive, responsive and thoughtful technique to interpret both vintage and terroir.
Pascal began to work and learn in the vineyards of Burgundy in the 1980s. He was mentored by experienced and legendary winemakers, including Henri Jayer and Michel Lafarge. He learned how to take the risks required to become a great winemaker, how to interpret the characteristics of a vintage and adapt winemaking practices accordingly moving away from over-cropped vineyards and synthetic viticulture and towards a natural approach rooted in sustainable, organic viticulture and non-interventionist practices in the cellar.
Now refined, this philosophy translates to the Great Southern region in Western Australia, a unique terroir unencumbered by history and highly receptive to the aspiration to produce profound wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
A gift from the old world to the new has been the introduction of French Pinot Noir clones to our Mount Barrow vineyard in Mount Barker, providing the strong foundation to craft wines with nuance and complexity. Variegated geology and distinct soil formations pervade both the highly organised patchwork of villages and vineyards in Burgundy and the sparse subregions of the Great Southern. Promoting vine health by nurturing the soil and careful management of pruning and canopy development to obtain a balanced crop are key aspects of our viticultural practice.
The honest interpretation of terroir requires careful consideration of the individual qualities and needs of each parcel of fruit taken into the winery, which reflect both the accumulated knowledge of a vineyard and the unique conditions that prevail each growing season. Our winemaking applies the advantages of modern technology within a framework of established traditional methods.
“The ancient soils challenge us every season, but the rewards can be great…special wines from a truly unique terroir.”