Are you curious about new Australian wine styles and regions? Why is Grenache experiencing a resurgence in Australia right now? What was the most devastating part of several Court of Master Sommelier scandals?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with sommelier and author Jane Lopes.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
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To qualify, all you have to do is email me at [email protected] and tell me that you’d like to win a copy. I’ll choose three people randomly from those who contact me.
- What’s it like to experience the journey of becoming a Master Sommelier?
- Do we need more outlets for education in the wine industry?
- How did Jane balance work, studying for the Master Sommelier exam, and writing her book?
- What was it like being a woman experiencing the unfair and sexist consequences of several Master Sommelier scandals?
- How would the industry benefit from more transparency and an overhaul of the Court of Master Sommeliers certification process?
- How is How To Drink Australian different from other books about Australian wine?
- What was the motivation behind writing How To Drink Australian?
- What are some of the unique characteristics of Australian wine and wine regions?
- Why is Grenache experiencing a resurgence in Australia right now?
- What’s the tasting experience like for Ngeringa 2018 Summit Vineyard Chardonnay and Bird on a Wire 2015 Syrah?
- Why should you try a wider range of Australian wine?
- I loved Jane’s fresh take on new Australian wine styles and regions. I knew that Australia has plenty of warm regions and a number of cool areas, but I didn’t realize it also has some of the coldest wine regions in the world.
- Jane has put Australian Grenache on my radar. I love this grape and wine from the Rhone and am keen to do more side-by-side comparison tastings with those from Australia.
- The Court of Master Sommelier exam scandal had a pretty devastating impact on candidates like Jane who had studied for years and invested thousands of dollars to prepare for it only to have that hard-earned recognition taken away. Coupled with Master Sommelier sexual harassment scandal, I hope that serious reforms are underway with the organization.
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The most devastating part was that I felt abandoned by the Court of Master Sommeliers community I had put up on a pedestal and worked really hard to be a part of. - Jane Lopes Click to tweet
When you have an exam that has a lack of transparency, it’s very easy for it to be abused. - Jane Lopes Click to tweet
We were so blown away by Australian wine, and we couldn’t believe the gap in knowledge and exposure for Americans. - Jane Lopes Click to tweet
Australia has some of the coldest and the warmest wine regions in the world. - Jane Lopes Click to tweet
About Jane Lopes
Jane Lopes is a Nashville-based sommelier, author, and importer. She has worked at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Nashville’s The Catbird Seat, Chicago’s The Violet Hour, and most recently as the wine director at Attica, one of Australia’s most celebrated restaurants. Jane was featured on Esquire network’s 2015 television series Uncorked, which follows six New York City sommeliers in pursuit of the Master Sommelier title (which Jane attained in 2018). In September of 2019, Jane finally put her University of Chicago literature degree to good use in publishing her first book, a personal and educational guide to wine called Vignette: Stories of Life and Wine in 100 Bottles. In 2020, Jane and her husband, Jonathan Ross, co-founded their own Australian wine imports company: Legend. Jane’s second book, How to Drink Australian (co-authored with her husband), will publish in September 2023.
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- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 176: Australian Wine Pairings, Tips and Trends with James Atkinson of Drinks Adventures
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Jane Lopes (00:00):
Australia’s incredibly diverse. People think of it as desert, and there certainly are some warm places in Australia, but you have some of the coldest wine regions in the world. Like Tasmania is colder than Champagne. You also have some of the warmest wine regions of the world but a lot of old vine plantings. For those regions, you can get everything from pristine, delicate sparkling wines and Riesling to beautiful Grenache and these grapes that do better in warmer climates.
Natalie MacLean (00:33):
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations? Well, that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean, and each week I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started.
Welcome to episode 254. Are you curious about new Australian wine styles and regions? Why is Grenache experiencing a resurgence in Australia right now? And what was the most devastating part of several Court of Master Sommelier scandals? In today’s episode, you’ll hear the stories and tips that answer those questions in part two of our chat with Jane Lopes, a sommelier, author, and wine importer. You don’t have to have listened to Part One from last week first, but I hope you’ll go back if you missed it after you finish this one.
I’d like to thank John McDonald wine columnist for the Delaware Cape Gazette for this review in his column. “This week, Natalie McLean’s new book Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much is worth a read. It was uplifting in the sense of overcoming too much drinking. I found it enjoyable. She writes a good hand and is a good storyteller. Her wine criticism is usually in sync with mine.”
I’d also like to give a shout out to Mission Hill Winery in BC’s Okanagan Valley for stocking Wine Witch in their winery tasting room and supporting its message of hope, justice, and resilience. I’ll put a link to their winery in the show notes. If you visit a winery or work at one, please encourage the owner or tasting room manager to stock the book.
Here’s a review from Carrie May in Toronto, “I found Natalie’s book to be an emotional roller coaster you’ll want to ride to the end. This book is insightful, emotional, timely, and empowering. Certain words come to mind: grit, strength, determination, and raw emotion. Enjoyed the read five stars”. Thank you, Carrie.
If you’ve read the book or are reading it, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]. If you haven’t got your copy yet and would like to support it and this podcast that I do on a volunteer basis, please order it from any online book retailer no matter where you live. Every little bit helps spread this message. I’ll put a link in the show notes to all retailers worldwide at NatalieMacLean.com/254.
Coming up, I’ll be hosting a wine tasting and book launch event at the Ottawa Writers Festival on Friday, October 27th at 6:30 PM register at WritersFestival.org. I’ll also be hosting an event on Thursday, November 9th at 7:00 PM that you can attend no matter where you live. Treat yourself and your friends to an online wine tasting and inspirational conversation about my powerful new memoir. I’ll share the juicy behind the scenes stories about those who make, market, and write about wine in this national bestseller. It’s a true coming, a middle-aged story about transforming your life and finding love along the way. All you need to do to join this private online party is purchase wine from one of the following top-notch wineries. You can also buy wine from two wineries or all three. It’s your choice. Quails Gate in BC. Westcott Vineyards in Ontario. Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia. All three wineries ship across Canada to your doorstep, and we’ll include a copy of the book. If you already have it, give it as a holiday gift as I’ll be sending you signed book plates for every copy. You’ll also receive a Zoom link at the email address you use to buy the wine. Do you live outside of Canada? You can still participate. Email me for details at [email protected].
Get warmed up for your holiday season with this inspirational discussion of one of this year’s best of gift books and savour some top tier delicious wines. Make this event a holiday gift to yourself. Can’t make the live event. No worries. Everyone who registers will be sent a video recording after the event that you and your friends can watch and taste along at your own convenience. Make that your holiday tasting party. Please let your friends, family, and colleagues know about this special holiday event. Join them for the online tasting and chat. Please let me know if you can join one of these two events. I’ll include links to all of the events and wineries in the show notes at NatalieMacLean.com/254. Okay, on with the show.
The Master Sommelier takes a lot of preparation. How many years do you estimate it took? And how much do you think approximately you might’ve invested in your studying and wines tasted and all the rest of it to get to that point to be to take the Master Sommelier exam?
Jane Lopes (06:00):
So there’s four levels: Intro, Certified, Advanced, and Master. So I took intro in 2009 and then I passed Master in 2018, so it took me nine years. I would think that’s probably about average, maybe a little bit on the low side, especially now where, especially for the advanced exam, it was usually a wait list and you have to do the course one year and then the exam the second year. So it can take quite a few years. And some people take the Master’s exam alone for 4 or 5, 6, 7, 8 years in a row.
Natalie MacLean (06:35):
Yeah, because only a 10% pass rate or something abysmal.
Jane Lopes (06:39):
And I think that’s once you get to the Master once you’ve passed all these other levels. So yeah, I think it’s. People say it’s the lowest passage rate of any exam in the world and so yeah. In terms of investment, it’s hard to say. Your buying wines is a huge part of the investment because you need to taste wine, and so most people are part of kind of a tasting group, so you’re able to share that cost over a few people. But I remember myself and John, my now husband, we’d always have kind of bottles at home that we could Corvin for each other, and sometimes these can be inexpensive bottles.
If a style is classically inexpensive, you’re not going to spend 80 bucks on a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to bring to a tasting. The classic styles are more 15, 20, 25 maybe. But if you want to taste Premier Cru Burgundy or Brunello di Montalcino or styles that are classically expensive, you need to spend a bit of money on these. And then you talk about the exam costs themselves and the travel and the lodging and the books you buy and the membership to Guild Somm and all those things. I mean, it’s easily 10, 15, maybe $20,000 investment, which in the scheme of I’ve heard that education is not crazy expensive. But you’re also not really paying for education. You’re paying for a certification. There isn’t a huge educational component to those exams. So it is much more just sort of studying on your own and learning on your own and then bringing that to the exams.
Natalie MacLean (08:20):
And do you think there should be an educational component?
Jane Lopes (08:23):
I mean, yes, right. There should be educational component coming from somewhere. I don’t know if the CMS is the right place for that. And not to say that there’s no educational component for the Intro and the Advanced exam. There is a course that goes along with it, but it’s usually a few days at most and you’re not like a college course. You pretty much learn what you need to know in the courses, and that’s very much not the case of these. It’s this sort of outline of what you need to know and then you need to go away and learn yourself. At best it’s an outline. A lot of times it doesn’t even start to touch the amount of knowledge that you really need to pass these exams. So yeah, I mean, I won’t say that it needs to be CMS offering education, but I do think there should be more kind of outlets for education in our industry.
Natalie MacLean (09:13):
Sure, sure. And so did I understand correctly when I was looking at what you were doing in the lead up to the exam? You had a full-time job and you were planning your wedding and studying for this very, very difficult exam. Were you doing all three at once?
Jane Lopes (09:26):
And writing my book.
Natalie MacLean (09:28):
Oh, and writing your book. Why not [laughter] In your spare time.
Jane Lopes (09:33):
It was a hectic year. Well, so sort of the timeline, I had taken the Master’s exam for the first time in 2015, and you need to take theory and pass the theory component first before you can take tasting and service. So I took theory in 2015 and I didn’t pass. And I had just started working at Eleven Madison Park and I kind of just needed a break. My health wasn’t in a great place. I was really enjoying EMP and sort of just wanted to focus on that and really enjoy it. So I was like I’m going to take a year off. And then when I was sort of gearing back up to study again in 2016, that’s when I got the job offer to work at Attica in Australia. And so then it was kind of like well I need to make this move. I need to focus on being proficient at this job, taking on this new role, so I’m not going to take it in 2017 either. And then once I got to Attica and I sort of got situated there, I was able to start thinking about it. And the really wonderful thing about Attica and about a lot of places in Australia, there is a focus on work life balance more than there is in the US.
And the chef owner at Attica was very much like you’re going to come in, you’re going to be present and work hard when you’re here for a limited number of hours. And then you’re going to be able to go off and enjoy your life. Your life doesn’t need to centre around this restaurant even though this restaurant is one of the greatest in the world and is Top 50 list with San Pellegrino and has aspirations of excellence, it still doesn’t need to be your life. And so of course, instead of me taking that as a license to enjoy Australia and take up hobbies, it was a license to what can I get done? And so I did feel like I can balance this job with studying for the Master Sommelier exam. And at this point, I had written maybe a hundred pages of my book but sort of had put it on the back burner. I had an agent in the US and then terminated that relationship. And so I wasn’t really thinking about the book but then a friend of a friend introduced me to a publisher in Australia. They were really interested. I just started to talk to them and they were like okay we want to give you a book deal. We need a manuscript by. And I was like okay. And this was probably April, and the theory exam was in July. And so…
Natalie MacLean (12:01):
Jane Lopes (12:01):
I basically said, great. I want to do this. I really want to publish this book, so let’s do it. I’m probably not going to write more until I get through theory at least because theory is really the most time consuming of the portions of the exam. So I got through theory, then I really sort of doubled down on like, okay I got to get some of this book written while still preparing for service and tasting. And that was in September of that year, and then we were getting married in January. So dealing with a lot, I think it ended up being great for the wedding. I just wasn’t really stressed about it. I bought my dress on Etsy without trying it all on. All of our vendors were our friends. We had friends who were florists. We had a friend who was a photographer or a friend who’s the DJ. And we just trusted them and we…
You guys do what you want. We weren’t micromanaging anything. They were like, what flowers? What colors do you want for the flowers? I was like, I don’t care. You make it look good. Spring. So it was good. I think it made me very relaxed about my wedding. That’s good. Yeah, everything worked out.
Natalie MacLean (13:08):
That’s great. So afterwards, you were told you passed the Master Sommelier but then what happened?
Jane Lopes (13:14):
So of course that was another hiccup I had to deal with that year. So I think it was about five weeks after I passed, I was notified. Well, I was supposed to be notified but I was in Australia. And so they didn’t wait to postpone the public announcement until they could tell me personally. So I kind of woke up to a flurry of messages on my phone and there was a press release that the Court of Master Sommeliers had sent out to everyone on their email list that said that due to, I don’t remember the wording, but it became apparent due to one of the proctors cheating and leaking information to a couple of the candidates, they were going to invalidate the whole exam.
Natalie MacLean (14:00):
Jane Lopes (14:01):
It meant that everyone who had passed who had been sort of awarded a Master Sommelier was not any longer and had to retake the tasting exam.
Natalie MacLean (14:11):
Jane Lopes (14:13):
It really was. It was devastating. And the most devastating part was honestly just like I kind of felt abandoned by a community that I had really sort of put up on a pedestal and worked really hard to be a part of. There wasn’t a lot of sympathy in the organization for what we were going through, and it just really seemed like they were more concerned with managing optics than what this was doing to all of us. So that was, I think, the toughest thing to kind of just swallow.
Natalie MacLean (14:42):
Yeah, that’s awful. And the way you found out about it. Why didn’t they take the time to investigate to find the culprits, if you will, and just punish them as opposed to revoking it from everybody who took the exam?
Jane Lopes (14:54):
That’s a great question, and I really honestly don’t know. I think there’s a lot of speculation that there was something more going on or this had happened in other years and they were afraid that an investigation would sort unearth some things that could really take down the organization as a whole. I don’t know about that.
Natalie MacLean (15:14):
That sounds plausible though.
Jane Lopes (15:16):
It’s possible that they just felt like well I don’t know. It’s possible. They just felt like this was the best course of action. I don’t know how one comes to that conclusion. But yeah, I don’t really have the answer to that.
Natalie MacLean (15:27):
And of course we could speculate, but that doesn’t mean. But still it just sounds like a closing of the ranks and let’s just protect the organization and if there’s collateral damage, so be it as opposed to examining truly what’s going on.
Jane Lopes (15:44):
Natalie MacLean (15:44):
The deeper issues. Yeah.
Jane Lopes (15:45):
Yeah, that’s really what it felt like from the inside.
Natalie MacLean (15:48):
And so you decided not to take the test again and not to sue them. Why not either of those options?
Jane Lopes (15:57):
Taking the test again, there was lots of reasons. I was angry with them and I didn’t agree with the decision and didn’t want to give my tacit endorsement of the decision by going along with it. But I think ultimately what it came down to was I could not get in the mindset again to take that exam. I think that exam takes so much dedication, so much focus, so much commitment. I just felt personally if I didn’t a hundred percent believe in it, believe in the reasons I was there, believe in the people who were the ones judging me, I just felt like I couldn’t get to the point where I could go in that room and take that exam.
So yeah, the first retest they offered was December of that year, which. I was in Australia and working in a restaurant, there was no way I was making it back to the US and holiday season. So it kind of gave me some time to think about it a little more, and I just couldn’t get back in that mindset.
Natalie MacLean (16:53):
I don’t blame you. And so then there was another Master Sommelier – they just keep coming – he went on record in Julia Moskin’s excellent 2020 multi-page expose of the Court of Master Sommelier. She wrote in the New York Times about a sexual harassment scandal in this case. And subsequently I think seven directors were either stepped down or were asked to leave. But the fallout was larger this time. Was it difficult to go on the record? What made you decide to do that?
Jane Lopes (17:26):
By the time I actually made the decision, it was quite easy. Julia had written an article a few years back about this one guy in the New York wine industry who had abused his power and sexually abused a number of women. And the aftermath of that, I think there was a lot of buzz about well this isn’t the only time this has happened. And especially in the Court of Master Somms, there’s sort of a lot of offenders. And Victoria James and Liz Dowdy were both kind of people who had experienced things themselves and also heard a lot from other people. And so they reached out to me and asked if I would talk to a few women. I sort of had a different pocket of so kind of a colleague and friend group in that organization than they did. So I said, yes, I would be happy to. Victoria knew I had had my own experience. So at first I just sort of agreed like, yeah, I’ll talk to Julia, I’ll talk to a few women if they want to share their story with someone they know personally rather than a journalist first and foremost.
And I always shared my story with Julia, but I was kind like this is probably not the best story you could include. I kind of considered myself a problematic victim and that I didn’t sort of at the time do much to stop it. And I went on to be friends with the guy. And so I kind of was like but yeah you don’t want to include my story. That doesn’t really make sense. But then when it all came together, and especially I talked to so many women. I was in the photo that was being taken for the article, I was like, and Julia was just going to sort of use my quotes about the organization and some other things. And I was just like how can I expect change if I’m not willing to put myself on the line? And so I actually went to her and I said I think you should use my story. I think it doesn’t make sense that I’ve been a part of this article and if I don’t have my own personal story and have put my own kind of skin on the line as it were.
Natalie MacLean (19:28):
Good for you.
Jane Lopes (19:29):
Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, it ended up being an easy decision, but kind of took a few steps to get there.
Natalie MacLean (19:35):
Sure. I can understand. It’s a big, big thing going on the record with the New York Times. And you say that the law hasn’t kept up with sexual harassment well in many industries, but especially in the wine industry. Why is that?
Jane Lopes (19:49):
Yeah, I mean there are a lot of protections for workplace sexual harassment. Not a lot, some. As well as certainly at universities and stuff like that, but there isn’t really in just general industry relations or industry organizations. So there wasn’t a legal angle. There were some lawyers who were sort of interested in it, sexual harassment lawyers, but it was more from the perspective of how can we make change? You’re not putting people in jail over this with the way things are currently. You’re not really suing people either. How can we just make the industry a better place for generations to come?
Natalie MacLean (20:30):
And I think you’ve spoken before about this, but would there be any way of having transformative justice in this case?
Jane Lopes (20:39):
I think that probably looks different for every woman who has been involved in something. I don’t think my personal incident affected my career in a negative way or infected my involvement in the Court of Master Sommeliers in a negative way. So I wasn’t personally looking for, I guess, sort of restitution in that respect. While I think some people very much were. For me, what I would really like to see is just a more transparent certification process. I think that’s a huge problem with the Court of Master Sommeliers and which has led to a lot of the problems, whether it’s sexual harassment or the kind of exam integrity, the cheating scandal or accusations of racial bias, which I think when you have an exam that has a lack of transparency, it’s very easy for it to be abused.
And I think there was, either intentionally or not intentionally, I think there were just so many of us women who we wanted to prove our chops in this industry and the Court of Master Sommeliers was a major way to do that. And so when there’s no stated curriculum for the exam, really, they don’t tell you what your score is, what you got wrong, they don’t reveal the wines that are on the exam. There’s no appeal process, all these sort of things that make the exam just this very much, when you pass, you pass. When you’re ready, you’ll pass. It’s really shrouded in mystery. It’s very easy for you to feel like you have to sort of ingratiate yourselves to these important figures in the world. And when these men would come into town, and this happened to me a few times where they’re like, oh I’m not going to be able to do a practice flight for you or anything but hey if you want to meet up for a drink later. And in some circumstances it was innocent enough and others it wasn’t. And it just feels like you kind of have to put yourself in these compromising situations because you don’t know what going against these kind of powerful men would do to your chances in the organization or to your career in general. So for me, I think that’s what I would lobby for is really sort of an overhaul of exam integrity and transparency.
Natalie MacLean (23:06):
That sounds like an excellent suggestion. Let’s hope that gets done. Alright, I don’t want to run out of time here. I want to focus on your Australian book. You and your husband Jonathan Ross, have just co-authored it. It’s just been published. Tell us about it and how it’s different from other books that have been written about Australian wine.
Jane Lopes (23:24):
Well, I guess just to start, there haven’t been a ton of books written about Australian wine. I think when you compare to the scholarship on Burgundy alone, let alone the whole of France, there are a couple Australian wine writers who are doing great work usually on sort of more specific areas of Australian wine, whether it’s kind of a certain historical thing or Max Allen is a great white writer. He has a alternative varieties Australian wine book coming out this year, which is really cool. But we just felt like there wasn’t sort of this just compelling modern wine book to really just give people a great overview of the Australian wine industry because when we started importing Australian wine to the US in 2020, we would pour these wines for people that were regions, producers, grapes they’d never had from Australia. And people really wanted to learn more and we’re really compelled by these wines, and we just didn’t really have a good place to send them to learn more.
So we sort of naively were like, we’re going to write this ourselves, not sort of totally comprehending the level, the amount of work that it would take. But we stayed the course and we now have this really beautiful 500 page. I can show this one as well.
Natalie MacLean (24:44):
Wow. Yeah. Oh, there you go.
Jane Lopes (24:47):
Wine that we’ve had the first copy in the US for a few months. It already has some love on it, but we just wanted something that felt kind of serious, but was also beautiful. There’s a lot of beautiful photography.
Natalie MacLean (25:03):
The photography is gorgeous and maps.
Jane Lopes (25:06):
All original maps. There’s some great illustrations. Am I holding it right?
Natalie MacLean (25:13):
Yeah, I can see.
Jane Lopes (25:15):
So we wanted there to be this resource to really get the world excited about Australian wine. That was sort of our experience when we moved to Australia. We were just so blown away by Australian wine and we couldn’t believe that there’s kind of was such a gap in knowledge and exposure for Americans. Only about 10% of Australian wineries export to the US. So we just have this very limited view over here of what’s going on over there. And so we just really wanted to crack it open and get people really talking about these wines and thinking about these wines. We just find them incredibly compelling and delicious and interesting. And it’s just a shame that the US and I think a lot of other countries around the world are just really missing out on these great wines.
Natalie MacLean (26:02):
Absolutely. And that’s interesting that only 10% of Australian wineries export to the US. I could be wrong in this stat, but I had a notion that Australia has to export most of its wines because it produces far more than it can drink. I thought I heard that it exports 90% of the wines it produces, but correct me if I’m wrong on that. And is it all or was it going to Asia? I know China shut them down with big tariffs.
Jane Lopes (26:28):
So I don’t know if you’re wrong about that. So we’re talking about volume versus number of producers. So there’s a handful of big producers who make up most of the volume, and then there’s just hundreds and hundreds of great small producers who aren’t getting around, so who can sell everything they make in Australia. So I think both things are true. And yeah, China was the leading export market up until 2020 when they levied quite hefty tariffs. And so Australians have been kind of scrambling a bit to find sort of outlets for that wine. I think everyone is hopeful that China will relax those soon, but I think it’s also good too. You never want to have your eggs all in one basket.
Natalie MacLean (27:16):
It’s true. Yeah. You described Australia before, as I thought it was a good visual analogy, especially if we’re talking here on a podcast as kind of roughly speaking, it kind of looks like the US in its outline as a country. And then you were talking about sort of being in Melbourne, which is a beautiful, very artistic, culturally rich city driving from there to somewhere else. I don’t know if it was up to the wine regions, it’s like driving from San Francisco to LA or something. Maybe you can make that analogy. I’m probably butchering it here.
Jane Lopes (27:51):
Sydney to Melbourne is kind of like San Francisco to LA
Natalie MacLean (27:54):
Oh, okay. Maybe it was that.
Jane Lopes (27:56):
It’s a little longer. But when you’re in Melbourne you’re quite close to a lot of great wine regions. You are within a two or three hour drive of most wine regions in Victoria. You’re within a one hour drive of a lot of the great wine regions of Australia, like Yarra Valley, Masson Ranges, Mornington Peninsula. So it was a very exciting place to be because you really are in wine country living there. But yeah, I mean, Australia’s incredibly diverse. I think a lot of times people think of it as desert, and there certainly are some warm places in Australia, but as far as wine regions go. You have some of the coldest wine regions in the world, like Tasmania is colder than Champagne. And you also have some of the warmest wine regions of the world, but a lot of really appropriate and sometimes old vine plantings for those regions. So it’s really incredibly diverse. You can get everything from pristine, kind of delicate sparkling wines and Riesling to beautiful Grenache and vet, and these grapes that do weather better and warmer climates and Italian grapes do incredibly well in Australia.
Natalie MacLean (29:01):
Why did they do so well there, the Italian grapes?
Jane Lopes (29:04):
Well, Australia, as I said, there are kind of those cool climates which are great for your Chardonnays and your Pinot Noirs and your Riesling. But there’s a lot of these warm, dry Mediterranean style climates that do very well with Mediterranean grapes and specifically Italian grapes. And it’s really been really the last, I would say, 20 years that it’s really become much more of a presence in Australia. And I think there is a real push in Australia, and there’s a real dexterity being a relatively young wine producing country in some ways. It’s not like you’re talking about Burgundy and the monks dating back a thousand years and stuff. Although there’s a ton of great old vine plantings, there is this sort of dexterity to say okay well this pocket of my vineyard is pretty warm and pretty sun exposed, and maybe Syrah is not working so well here anymore. I’m going to plant Anglanico or Nero d’Avola. And these grapes that really do well in dry climates do well with small amounts of water, do well in warm climates. And so yeah, it’s really become quite common.
And it’s not just Italian like Iberian grapes. There’s kind of really almost every grape you can think of is in Australia and someone is really championing it and has found out that it really works for their vineyard and their climate. And there’s just really a focus on site suitability for grapes. So some really exciting expressions. And even I think if I came in definitely as an Italian, maybe an Italian wine snob, I really love my Italian wine and I am very, very impressed by what Australia is doing. It doesn’t look exactly like Italy, but it’s really legitimate and noble expressions of those grapes.
Natalie MacLean (30:56):
And you’re a big fan of Grenache in Australia. Why, what does it taste like and how is it different from other regions where Grenache is planted?
Jane Lopes (31:05):
So Grenache is going through a great moment in Australia right now. It used to be like 10, 15 years ago, people were making Grenache kind of trying to make it look like Shiraz because Shiraz was so popular. And so either adding other grapes to make it darker, extracting it, picking very late, putting new oak on it.
And now people even describe it as the warm climate Pinot Noir that it’s able to make these really kind of red fruited, moderate body, delicate, bright, refreshing styles of wine that don’t lack in complexity either. And there’s a lot of great old vine Grenache, old usually bush vine Grenache planted across Australia. A lot in Barossa, McLaren Vale. Swan Valley has some really amazing plantings. And I think they’re transcendent.
And I think my problem with a lot of Spanish and French Grenache is it feels very unpredictable, both in terms of the style. Are you going to get a Grenache that looks like Priorat? It almost looks like a cabernet. It’s dark and it’s oaked. Or you’re going to get one from Granada where it’s more high toned and red fruited, but maybe it has brettanomyces on it, which is a yeast that gives a very specific flavour. I personally really don’t like bread in wines, and that’s kind of a concern both with French and Spanish Grenache is a lot of them are bready.
Natalie MacLean (32:32):
It can taste sort of barnyard or whatever they call it. Some people call it a fault too.
Jane Lopes (32:37):
And certainly in extreme amounts, it is a fault. For me, I tolerate it in aged Bordeaux or aged Northern Rhone. But to me when it’s like it can really dominate aromatics and flavour on young wines. And so for me, I always I want to taste what that grape and place tastes like. I know what brett tastes like. I could taste that on any wine in the world. I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in what that grape and place tastes like. And I feel like Australia is just very consistent right now in this beautiful, medium bodied, unoaked, red fruited style that is almost always clean, meaning no brett and rarely veers into that kind of dark fruited, heavy oak style. So that to me is just sort of the consistency you get from Australian Grenache. Exceeds the inconsistency you get from Grenache, from France and Spain.
Natalie MacLean (33:27):
That’s great. And you have two wines that I would love to hear about. Are these wines that you import through your agency Legend?
Jane Lopes (33:33):
It is. It is. They are.
Natalie MacLean (33:34):
Jane Lopes (33:35):
The labels are a little messed up. This is the beauty of tiny wine fridges in my house. But this is Ngeringa, they’re Summit Vineyard Chardonnay from 2018. Ngeringa is a really impressive biodynamic producer in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. Cool climate, high elevation. They’ve really done, they’re among a handful of producers are sort of leading the conversation on regenerative agriculture in Australia. So it’s always a pleasure to taste wines from people who are kind of at the forefront of just land care. But then their wines are also just really, really delicious and they make a few sort of irreverent fun things. They do a pet nat that’s delicious. They work with a grape called Pink Sémillon that is wild and really cool. But for the most part, they focus on pretty classic stuff. Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and this is the single vineyard style from them.
Natalie MacLean (34:32):
Sounds lovely. And what’s the other wine that you have there?
Jane Lopes (34:35):
Bird on a Wire. So Bird On A Wire is sort of a one woman show. This woman named Caroline Mooney in the Yarra Valley, And her family are dairy farmers who grew up on a dairy farm in the area and just knows everything there is to know about this region, and has great relationships with farmers across the region and works with some really exceptional sites. One of our favorite things about what she does is she always releases her wines with age. So this is a 2015 Syrah.
Natalie MacLean (35:05):
And we’ll link to it in the show notes. Yeah, cool.
Jane Lopes (35:07):
And so I think it’s just always great as a wine consumer, a wine professional, to be able to taste well aged wine. You learn so much about the grape, about the region, about how just wine ages, not to mention just a very pleasurable experience. So yeah, we’re huge fans of what she does. And the wine is just incredibly delicious.
Natalie MacLean (35:30):
Sounds great. I cannot believe how fast this time’s gone. I know we’ve been talking a while, but it’s just boom. So I’m going to summarize a little bit here, Jane, because I haven’t gotten to the other 56 questions. Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to mention before we wrap up?
Jane Lopes (35:51):
I don’t think so. What I always like kind of. The platform, the soapbox I’m on these days is really just talking about how great Australian wine is. And I think that was such a revelation for us when we moved there, and it’s something that we just want more people to experience. I think especially in the US and a lot of countries, the conversation around Australian wine and what people know about Australian wine is like cheap critter wine and big bold Shiraz. And there’s just so much more that Australia offers. So yeah, it’s definitely, I think good for everyone to take another look at Australian wine.
Natalie MacLean (36:25):
Absolutely. And it’s not one monolith when it comes to climate. It’s not just all warm climate, as you said. There’s lots of regions that are very cool. I was impressed with that Tasmania – Champagne comparison. Tasmania is an island close to the mainland. I’ve had Tasmanian Pinot Noir that just was amazing. I mean stand shoulder to shoulder with Burgundy, but of course it’s got its own signature.
Jane Lopes (36:52):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Natalie MacLean (36:54):
That’s fantastic. Alright, and how can people find you online?
Jane Lopes (36:58):
So I’m at Janey Maxine on Instagram, J A N E Y Maxine. Our work Instagram, which tends to be a little bit more active than my personal one, is at Aus Wine Legends. So that’s A U S Wine legends. We have a website, LegendAustralia.com. I have a personal website JaneLopes.com. Yeah, those all will get to me.
Natalie MacLean (37:23):
Excellent. And we will link to all of those in the show notes, too, so that people can find you if they didn’t catch that. But it’s been a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you for sharing all of this. Loved all the stories and finding out about your experiences. And I’m going to wish you well too with your new book. I’m sure it’ll be a hit. So thank you for spending this time with us.
Jane Lopes (37:43):
Oh, my pleasure. Thank you so much.
Natalie MacLean (37:45):
Okay, bye for now.
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Jane. Here are my takeaways. I love Jane’s fresh take on new Australian wine styles and regions. I knew that Australia had plenty of warm regions and a number of cool areas, but I didn’t realize that it also has some of the coldest wine regions in the world, like Tasmania being colder than Champagne. Wow. Jane has put Australian Grenache on my radar. I love this grape and wine from the Rhone Valley in France, and now I’m keen to do more side-by-side comparison tastings with those from Australia. And three, the Court of Master Sommelier exam scandal had some pretty devastating impact on candidates like Jane who had studied for years and invested thousands of dollars to prepare for it, only to have had that hard earned recognition taken away unfairly. Coupled with the Master Sommelier sexual harassment scandal, I truly hope that some serious reforms are underway with that organization.
In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of my conversation with Jane links to her website and books, the video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live, and where you can order my book online no matter where you live, as well as links to my upcoming wine tasting and book launch events. That’s all in the show notes at NatalieMacLean.com/253.
Email me if you have a sip, tip, question or if you’ve read my book or are in the process of reading it at [email protected]. I would love to hear from you.
If you missed episode 176, go back and take a listen. I talk about Australian wine pairings, tips and trends with James Atkinson of the Drinks Adventure Podcast. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
James Atkinson (39:41):
You’d be pretty hard pressed to tell what the difference between Australian cool climate Chardonnay and Chablis from Burgundy.
Natalie MacLean (39:47):
Wow. Are there particular regions that you love for Chardonnay in Australia?
James Atkinson (39:53):
There’s good Chardonnay made all over Australia. You would be looking at the Adelaide Hills, Margaret River, Tasmania, Victoria, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley.
Natalie MacLean (40:07):
I’ve been to Australia twice. It’s one of my favourite experiences. Just everything: the wine, the food, the sun, the beaches.
James Atkinson (40:14):
Yeah. What’s old is new again. And in Australia we have this great tradition of blending Cabernet and Shiraz and they’ve really come back into vogue. Grenache as well is really having a moment. So there’s lots happening here really.
Natalie MacLean (40:35):
If you like this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone who’d be interested in the wines, tips, and stories we shared. You won’t want to miss next week when we chat with Rebecca Gibb, author of the new book Vintage Crime: A Short History of Wine Fraud. Rebecca is also an editor for the online wine publication Vinous covering the wines of New Zealand and the Loire Valley, and she’s one of only 416 Masters of Wine in the world. She joins us from her home in the beautiful Lake District of England.
Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a complex layered Australian Shiraz. You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full-bodied bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at NatalieMacLean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.