Charteris is a trans-Tasman story of exploration, love and connection.
Its protagonist is PJ Charteris, an eternal dreamer whose heart burns with a contradiction: Fondness for home and desire to explore.
Wine, a lens through which to view time and place, is the perfect medium to satisfy those yearnings – and to share the fruits of experience with others.
Kiwi-born PJ’s journey has gone full circle and halfway back again, with wines that embrace both his beloved Central Otago and his adoptive Hunter Valley home. It’s emblematic as much as inevitable that the business is shared with his other love – partner Christina (Chrissi) Pattison – whom he met while serving as winemaker at Hunter icon Brokenwood.
PJ cut his teeth pruning vines in NZ as a teenager before coming to Australia in 1988 to study winemaking at Roseworthy. He first set foot in the Hunter in May that year after hitchhiking solo from Adelaide. His first winemaking gig after graduating was back in the Hunter, where he’d end up spending 12 years at Brokenwood.
When it came time to start their own label, some soul-centred magnetism drew PJ back to his motherland, spurred by visions of great Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in Central Otago. Those vine varieties are famed as perhaps the most powerful transmitters of place, thus offering PJ an outlet to satiate that thirst for home – and a means to convey those uniquely dramatic landscapes to wine-lovers elsewhere.
Years later, a stirring within has prompted PJ to add to that yin the Aussie yang. Semillon and Shiraz are the grapes to paint the other half of the picture. Hunter Semillon, renowned the world over for its inimitable personality, is itself an enigma. PJ sees it as “a complex amalgam of one thing”; a deeply compressed, initially reticent kernel of citrus that flowers into a kaleidoscope of lemon, lime, kumquat, grapefruit and more, with toast and honey eliding into the frame.
And then Hunter Shiraz, another deceptively simple trick – a subtly complex wine that requires skill, instinct and a lifetime’s experience to get right, with tannins in step with the succulence and medium-bodied flow of the wine. Get it right and the taste is a clear scene from PJ’s childhood: The Black Doris plums picked with his brother from his grandparents’ tree, poached by mum in nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.
When you move through a landscape that moves you, emotion flows without reflection. Like with love, it’s hard to pick apart the threads. It can take years of searching and striving to see all the angles that make the moment. And to put it back together so a stranger might savour the same? Even longer.
And that is Charteris. The joy of times and places fixed and fleeting, personal and universal.
Le Fauve, meaning the wild beast, is the vinous Charteris alter ego.
This wine aims to tap into a place not too deep in the memory. A place of unencumbered liberty and adventurous abandon. That place for the young at heart, full of experimentation, of running freely through the wild with bare feet, without the weight of caution that the experience of living brings with time.
For the immature amongst us, that golden light of youth is never far away.
There is plenty of perfectly fine serious and mature wine in the cellar but sometimes we just want to run free again, feel the wild energy of the untamed spirit and do things that are just for fun.
Le Fauve allows PJ to roam free from his twin trans-Tasman heartlands of the Hunter Valley and Central Otago. Delving into other parts of his adoptive NSW home, this is an opportunity to play with vine varieties and styles that are less preoccupied with place.
Le Fauve dishes up immediate, unfettered pleasure to those who want to cut loose. These wines will take you places, sure, but sometimes you don’t want to be tied to specific destination. This is a journey to the realm of pleasure, pure and simple.
The fruit is grown by Phillip and Michelle Stivens at Heifer Station Vineyard on the slopes of Mount Canobolas above the town of Orange in the NSW central high country. The vines sit at an altitude of about 860m and enjoy some of the coolest grape-growing environs of mainland Australia. With consistent, winter-dominant rainfall and exceptional volcanic-based soils, the scene is set for excellent cool-climate winemaking. Aromatic whites, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are perfectly at home in these vineyards. On top of these varieties, if the position of the vineyard is right, even Shiraz can deliver infinitely perfumed wines.
Vintage and growing conditions
While the “Droughts and Flooding Rains” of Dorothea Mackellar’s famous poem are never too far from the vigneron’s mind, it is how those two contrasts play out that can make or break to grape growing season. Off the back of the 2016 to 2020 drought conditions there was a lot of precipitation required to refill the soil profile, and were it not for cooler-than-average summer temperatures we may not have arrived at the near-perfect ripening conditions we received. Excellent acid retention and slow flavour accumulation from mild temperatures resulted in fresh and vibrant wines. Alcohol 12%; pH 3.05; TA 7.4g/L.
The wine is pale green-gold with a lemon-yellow hue. Pears – Beurre Bosc in fact – and ripe too. There’s a hint of red apple and a layer of cinnamon and subtle clove-like spice lift all wrapped up in a fine aromatic cloak of jasmine and musk. The wine is chalky with mineral acidity driving the fresh apple and pear profile while creating an umami-like texture. It’s crunchy, juicy and vibrant with deep-set ripe red apples filling out the palate over a subtle quinine-like tannin ambience to the finish. Long and flavoursome yet refined.
Nashi pear, green herbs, lime. Tight and tart, refreshing, zesty. It’s simple and good, does the trick, delivers refreshment factor and understatement. Nice drinking, easy drinking, good reserve.89 points. Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
The Shiraz and Grenache grapes are grown on the Hudson Vineyard in the Hilltops region of NSW by Xanthe Freeman and Will Snedden. The vines, planted in 1999, have their roots buried firmly into red clay loam topsoil over decomposed granite with a very consistent artesian water supply. The region has a very continental climate with high diurnal temperature range, particularly through February and March, which ensures slow ripening and excellent flavour accumulation.
Vintage and growing conditions
Good rains through 2020 winter ensured strong canopy growth while a cooler-than-usual early summer with some precipitation kept the vineyard crew on their toes. Summer remained cool and resulted in long, slow ripening with Shiraz and Grenache picked in early March. Alcohol 13%; pH 3.4; TA 6g/L.
It’s pale salmon with a mauve blush. Rose-petal florals over wild herbs on the wind. A hint of cherry blossom and watermelon with some brambly spice add aromatic complexity. Wild herbs, spice and white cranberry on entry open to Morello cherry and Umeshi. The palate is multi-layered with a dry and textured mid-palate building to a long and flavoursome finish. A fruit-driven but savoury rosé.
A very pale-pink hue in the glass. Classic strawberry and cream nose. Bright red berries with a clotted cream mid-palate savoury note. Good length and refreshing acidity right to the finish.93 points. Stuart Knox, The Real Review
The dry Mediterranean climate of the Iberian Peninsula and the joven-style wines produced there are the inspiration for this bright and juicy, fruit-driven red. A unique blend of 55% Pinot Noir from Orange and 45% Tempranillo from Hilltops in NSW creates a lifted and vibrant style that takes you on an unexpected journey. Pinot Noir grown in Orange shows bright yet delicate aromatics with fine acidity, while Tempranillo from Hilltops relished the mild conditions resulting in great intensity.
Bramble, dark rose petal, dark cherry and boysenberry with wild herbs. Some graphite mineral stuff, too. There is a ferruginous element to the aroma with added tilled-earth complexity and a layer of juniper and anise-like spice. Punchy acid and tannin interplay leads the palate on a mesmerising dance of willowy flow which starts with the brightness of Pinot Noir, collapsing into the dark brooding depths of Tempranillo. The exit is long yet fresh, inviting another glass.
The new Le Fauve range, made from grapes sourced outside the Hunter, includes a gently spicy, crunchy 2021 Pinot Gris and a fine, creamy, pale dry 2021 Rosé (both $30) and my pick, this deliciously approachable, vibrant, cherry-fruited blend of juicy Pinot Noir from Orange and snappy Tempranillo from Hilltops. Lovely, lively bistro red.Max Allen, AFR
CHARTERIS – HUNTER VALLEY
The McDonalds Flat Vineyard in Pokolbin was planted in 2002 by Stephen Drayton. The Semillon is on the bottom of a gentle north-facing slope and the Chardonnay is on the flat closer to the creek bed. The soils are brown dermosols of varying depths but become deeper and richer closer to the creek line. The water-holding capacity of the soils is the key to vine vigour, with the Semillon working harder than the Chardonnay to grow canopy and ultimately yield. The current owner, Ross Crump, has invested heavily in restoring soil and therefore vine health, with a positive effect on wine quality and his cows in the neighbouring paddocks.
Pale to mid golden yellow with a green fleck. Fruit-driven with abundant honeysuckle, nectarine, ripe apple and rock melon. A subtle mandarin blossom lift adds dimension to the nose. Nougat, hazelnut praline and some yeast lees notes. Aromatic complexity but fruit to the fore. Plush and silky entry with ripe melon and layers of bread dough-like texture with underlying acid line. Limey exit. Quite generous yet focused with supple tension. Very subtle oak influence, in fact, more barrel than oak. Long and silky finish.
PJ Charteris does Hunter Chardonnay under this, his own label here. Flint and talc scents, a bit of nectarine, a bit of brown pear. Flavours soft, minerally, a bit toasty, licked with flinty notes, grapefruity, pear. Understated and soft, lively at the same time, a good time too. Nicely done. I like the gentle, calm feel here.93 points. Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
Light, bright yellow colour and a biscuity bouquet with oak and dry-straw nuances, the palate youthfully straightforward and soft, balanced and easy drinking, the finish smooth and tapered, with good persistence. Appealing concentration—it could build more character with more time in bottle. Complexity develops with time and airing. Next day, more charm and detail emerged. Delicious wine.93 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review
PJ Charteris is no stranger to Hunter Chardonnay (or Semillon for that matter), having made squillions of litres of both during his time at Brokenwood. This example shows a really deft touch with the variety: gorgeous, textural expression of grape and place, generosity but finesse, too, rich nectarine fruit balanced by citrus and chalk.Max Allen, AFR
This wine is a blend from two 50-year-old Shiraz vineyards in Pokolbin. While the 2019 was one of the hottest and driest on record, these old vines have seen a lot and survived all the vicissitudes the Hunter has shown them. The conditions preceding harvest shackled the vines into giving up a minuscule but precious yield of tiny berries of intense concentration. Not your usual Hunter Shiraz but very scarce and unique all the same. Alcohol 13.5 %; pH 3.5; TA 6.7 g/L.
Dark garnet with a crimson hue. Brooding wild berry, earthy brown spices, dark cherries and chocolate dust fill the bouquet. This is quite foreboding for Hunter Shiraz, with complexing roasting pan juices, dark-plum conserve and a hint of graphite. There’s heaps going on aromatically, in a rustic and brambly way. It’s dense and ripe with plummy fruit on entry with spicy depth, almost classic fruit cake. A hint of smoky bacon with maple syrup and vanilla pod add power and depth on the palate. It has abundant tannin but it’s very fine grained, like dark chocolate with a velvety spice finish. Long and sinewy, at the bigger end for Hunter Shiraz. These riper Hunter Shiraz vintages tend to offer most at 5 to 10 years old and I’m picking 6 to 7 years for the peak drinking window.
A medium weight, soft textured expression with malt, choc-berry and mocha characters over mulberry, plum and sweet spice notes. There’s a gamey element here too, some clove as well, you could say that the expression is seasoned well with spice and non-fruit characters with a bolder, richer expression at hand. The finish is dry, tannins a bit gummy and a lemony twist comes in late for freshness. It’s a Hunter Shiraz of impact, in its way.91 points. Mike Bennie, The Wine Front