Identify one human influence in the vineyard and one human influence in the winery that contributes to the distinctive characteristics of Hunter Valley Semillon and explain how they do so.

[Answer(s) based on WSET Level 3 material]

In its native Bordeaux, Semillon is the most important variety for creating the botrytized sweet wine of Sauternes. In dry Bordeaux Blancs, it adds the lift, the texture, the body to the blend, which is typically dominated by Sauvignon Blanc. (We’ll get to these in a later post.)

But there is truly something special about the Semillon that grows in Australia’s Hunter Valley.

In the vineyard…

Hunter Valley, in New South Wales, has a hot, humid climate. This is moderated, somewhat, by high cloud coverage and marine breezes, due to its proximity to the ocean. But, with maritime climate comes regular rainfall and, unfortunately for Hunter Valley, the rain comes predominantly during harvest. Rain means rot and fungal diseases. Also, although that cloud coverage means that the vines stay cool, it also means a reduction in light needed for photosynthesis. So, it is very important grape growers in the valley keep a keen eye on their canopy management. An ideal trellising system would be a vertical shoot position (VSP): this will keep the canopy open, maximizing the amount of light that can enter the canopy as well as help aerate the shoots, leaves, and grape bunches and prevent, or at least restrict, the amount and spread of fungal diseases. 

In the winery…

Because of the warm climate, Semillon is often picked early to ensure an adequate amount of acidity remains in the grape. This means, however, that the sugar content will be on the lower side. Thus, the resulting wines produced in Hunter Valley tend to be low in alcohol, high in acidity, with flavors that are relatively neutral. But the thing about this variety is that it ages beautifully, developing flavors of toast, nut, and honey. These are flavors that come naturally with age. They are not influenced by oak, nor are they forced through MLF or even lees contact. So, to achieve this style of wine, the winemaker needs to be more “hands off.” The wine will ferment and age in a neutral vessel (stainless steel; concrete) and will most likely be bottled within a year of harvest, “ready” to drink upon release.

How did I do? Anything you wan to add? Any questions, comments, concerns, observations or requests???

Can I take a tangent? Sure, why not.

SEMILLON FACT: Walk over to South Australia’s Barossa Valley, and the same grape produces something distinctly different. Here, the grape is harvested a bit later with some using a bit of oak influence. So the wines are both riper and softer in texture. NOTE: The trend toward fresh, unoaked Semillon is taking a hold.

Take a trot over to Western Australia to Margaret River, and the “little Bordeaux” is producing something different, yet again. Here, the grape is more herbaceous, more akin to a Sauvignon Blanc (indeed, it is often mistaken for one in blind tastings). But keeping to its theme, the grape is often added to Sauvignon Blanc to create a Bordeaux-inspired blend, resulting in a wine with high acidity and flavors ripe with tropical fruits and gooseberry.

PERSONAL NOTE: I have a weird fascination with Semillon. And if you ever meet me, yes, I pronounce it the Aussie way. And, no, I do not apologize for that.

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