Arguably the most innovative grape project in Australian is back.
The Chalmers family’s Dott. series is itself a metamorphosis of the #bucketwine trials. Dott. began with a set of three wines from varieties making their “commercial” – if such tiny-batch craftmanship qualifies as such – debut from the 2017 vintage. The grapes were Malvasia Istriana, Pavana and Schioppettino.
The second coming comprises those three wines in their 2018 incarnation, as well as the first release of Ribolla Gialla. from the 2020 harvest.
To recap, this was inspired by the late Dr. (= Dottore = Dott.) Rod Bonfiglioli a passionate, eccentric scientist whose dogged determination and visionary foresight brought so much colour, interest and integrity to Australian wine. He sought out these rare grapes for the Chalmers’ collection, seeing their promise long before the family did.
This is the family’s way of honouring that vision and sharing with the nation’s wine lovers the wonder of discovery that Dr. Rod shared with them.
The fruit is grown in the inland dry climate and red, mineral rich soils of the Chalmers Vineyard in northern Heathcote. The wines are then realised, hands-off in micro lots, by Tennille Chalmers and sister Kim’s husband Bart van Olphen at the winery in Merbein.
If you’re looking for something pure, personal and fresh – in the most utterly original sense of the word – then dash to Dott.!
Ribolla Gialla, or Ribuele as it is now known in Italy, hails from Friuli. It’s the basis of a few cult wines coming from the area along the Slovenian border where it is often made on skins and sometimes in amphorae by winemakers who’ve inspired the recent growth of the natural wine movement. In other parts of Friuli it’s made as a crisp, clean and somewhat aromatic white wine along with, more recently, sparkling wines – piggy-backing on the success of neighbouring Veneto’s Prosecco.
Unlike the other Dott. varieties, Ribolla Gialla is a more recent import by the Chalmers family. Arriving out of quarantine in 2015. The reason it’s found its way into the range inspired by Dr Rod is that we applied lateral thinking in the decision to plant this grape at our northern Heathcote vineyard – a far cry from the climate conditions of Friuli. Being a thin-skinned grape, somewhat prone to botrytis, we figured the relatively dry and well-ventilated site would be a bonus. Also Ribolla has high natural acidity and ripens at lower sugar levels, another couple of great benefits for wine quality when growing in warmer areas.
Dott. Ribolla was hand-picked on 21st February, chilled overnight and whole bunch-pressed into stainless steel for a cool, natural fermentation on fine solids with no acid adjustment required. After maturation on fine lees in stainless steel it was hand-bottled, unfined and unfiltered, on site at Merbein in October 2020.
2020 Dott. Ribolla is pale lemon in the glass with aromas of feijoa, cucumber and botanicals. The palate hints at lime and toasted hazelnuts. While introducing itself as delicate, it’s more textural than you would imagine, with a pleasant phenolic grip more often associated with weightier wines. – Kim Chalmers
Nutty, textural, floral and refreshing. Dry style but great fun to drink. Grapefruit here too. Citrus rind. Definitely recommend this. Joy to be had here.90 points. Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front
Considered the finest quality member of the vast Malvasia family, Malvasia Istriana hails from Friuli where it makes fine, elegant, aromatic and mineral wines. It is mainly grown on clay/lime soils at low elevation in Friuli but it is said to produce the best results in the free-draining gravelly plains of Friuli Grave or on harder hillside sites where the variety’s natural vigour is tamed.
Chalmers introduced a selection of Malvasia Istriana to Australia in the late 1990s, at about the same time that Bruce and Jenni Chalmers were enjoying wines from the grape with Dr. Rod and Stefano de Pieri at his restaurant and dreaming up a revolution in Australian wine. The first table wine was made from this clone by the Chalmers family in 2005; a passito dessert wine followed in 2009. After more encouraging results from the grape in the 2013 #bucketwine project Chalmers decided to plant Bonfiglioli block because it focuses on six north eastern Italian varieties which are a deviation from the mostly Mediterranean flavour of the Chalmers vineyard to date.
Dott. Malvasia Istriana was hand-picked, chilled overnight and whole bunch-pressed into stainless steel for a cool, natural fermentation on fine solids. After a short maturation in stainless steel it was hand bottled on site at Merbein in the late winter.
2018 Malvasia Istriana is golden straw coloured and has delicate spiced apple, lemon and hay aromas with a crisp, mineral palate of fresh cut red apple, fine structure and pleasant acidity. – Kim Chalmers
The rarest grape in the Chalmers collection, Pavana caught Dr. Rod’s attention during a mid-1990s tenure at Udine University. Only a handful of Pavana vineyards now remain in Italy, mostly in Valsugana which bridges Trentino and Veneto, but it was once widely planted in these areas when the region was part of Austria, where much of the Pavana wine was consumed. Being a pale, perfumed and herbal light red it wasn’t favoured by the Italian’s once the region passed to Italian rule so Pavana became unviable and was removed from most vineyards.
Pavana joined the Chalmers collection in 2000 but the first pretty, rosé-like super light red wines weren’t made from the nursery block until 2013-2015. The combination of the variety with the distinctive Heathcote soil influence has produced a more structured and darker wine, still retaining the charm and freshness so endearing in the project wines. The fact that this variety was singled out by Dr. Rod during the 1990s at a time when heavy, concentrated and oaked reds were in fashion is a testament to his foresight.
Dott Pavana was hand-picked on 28th February, chilled overnight then destemmed into an open fermenter for a whole-berry wild ferment. It was basket-pressed on 27th March and finished primary fermentation in stainless steel. After a nine-month maturation period in stainless steel it was hand-bottled on site at Merbein in February 2019.
The pretty, rich garnet-coloured 2018 Pavana has an intense fragrance of fresh wild raspberry, dried figs and Darjeeling tea leaves. The palate is vibrant with rhubarb, rosehip and geranium characters, plus a hint of that Heathcote charry note, backed by a subtle tannin structure around a long acid line. – Kim Chalmers
Almost extinct in the early 20th Century, Schioppettino was lovingly revived in the 1970s and now flourishes mostly in Prepotto along the Judrio Valley close to the Slovenian border in the warm, temperate and rainy Colli Orientali del Friuli. The delicate variety is prized for its overt and distinctive white pepper and spice notes and firm but fine tannins.
On a 2015 trip to visit Rauscedo nursery, Tennille and I were in a restaurant in Cividale del Friuli when we were approached by the President of the Association of Schioppettino producers of Prepotto. He’d overheard us speaking about the grape in English. A wonderful and inspiring exchange ensued with the local experts fascinated to hear of Australian Schioppettino and giving hearty approval for the selection of the Heathcote site as ‘perfect’ terroir and climate for their beloved grape, which needs good air drainage, warm days, cool nights and mineral soils.
Dott. Schioppettino was hand-picked on the 13th March, chilled overnight then destemmed into an open fermenter for a whole-berry wild ferment. It was basket pressed on 2nd April into a combination of stainless steel and old French oak barrique. After a nine month maturation period it was hand-bottled on site at Merbein in February 2019.
The 2018 Schioppettino is bursting with white pepper and Dutch speculaas spice aromas with a hint of jasmine and woodsy notes. The medium-bodied palate reiterates the anise, cinnamon and cardamom spices with cedar oil, blackcurrant and Davidson plum flavours. These are supported by medium-grain tannins, giving a lingering, dry finish. – Kim Chalmers