Inside a ‘legend’ of the wine industry: Brian Croser
The terms legend and icon are frequently bandied around, all too often undeservedly.
However, when it comes to the Australian wine industry, it’s hard to find any better descriptors for the doyen of the industry, Brian Croser.
His upbringing in South Australia’s Clare Valley was the spark that ignited his passion for oenology (study of wines) yet it was his first winemaking gig at Thomas Hardy and Sons in 1969 that set his winemaking wheels in motion. While his personal brand is synonymous with leading-edge winemaking, Croser declares that he is a viticulturist, rather than a winemaker, given his passion for growing grapes. Still, he racks up gong after gong for the wines he produces under the Tapanappa label.
The Brian Croser story is as intriguing as it is engaging. With his roots deep in South Australian soils, Croser established the iconic Petaluma winery and vineyards in 1978. He went on to develop the curriculum for the wine science course at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, before later taking the role of vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide for eight years from 1999.
His pedigree is undeniable yet at the same time as he taught the wine science course, he was driving his vision to make wines from varietals that would do their best work in regions. Such was his vision that in 1979 he saw the promise of the Adelaide Hills and became the first to plant a vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley – a district that is now widely regarded as one of the premier chardonnay sites in Australia. For his reds, Croser chose the Wrattonbully region – not far from Coonawarra, from where he crafts some of the finest cabernets that will pass a wine lover’s lips. For his lighter style pinot noir, it was the foggy Fleurieu Peninsula that piqued his interest.
It was many years ago in my early 20s that a dalliance with chardonnay resulted in a one-night-stand becoming a lifelong love affair so, I have to admit, that the Croser chardonnay is my pick of his wares. Still, love affairs aside, Croser’s Fleurieu pinot is a genuine contender, rather than just a pretender. The Foggy Hill vineyard was planted in 2003 on the Croser family Maylands Farm about 350m above sea level. The vines are planted rather close together (1.5m apart) because the shrewd viticulturist knew that the best fruit would hail from vines that had to compete and stress somewhat uncomfortably for their sustenance.
The 2018 Foggy Hill Vineyard pinot noir is now on the shelves and while it may have its genesis in a vintage that was somewhat warmer than average, it’s still an enchanting wine that will have pinot-philes salivating like Pavlov’s best friend. The 2018 ripening season was somewhat dry as the farm had half the usual rainfall. At least this made for disease-free conditions and a subsequent large big crop.
Pour a glass of the Foggy Hill Pinot and you’ll be struck by the lightness of colour and the lifted spiciness on the nose as this extroverted wine lets you know that it hails from a vintage of perfectly ripened fruit. On the palate, the jubey ripe fruit sends rivers of cherry and mulberry flavours, wrapped in allspice, into a delta of herbaceous stalky fine tannins. The fingerprints of new French oak (30 per cent) are unmistakeable and the quality, simply undeniable. It’s a wine that floods the tastebuds and finishes quite lean on the back-palate – a feat that only a master of their craft could achieve.
It’s not a quaffer at $55 a bottle but, as I often say, cheap pinot isn’t good and good pinot isn’t cheap! When you consider the boutique nature of the Foggy Hills production, the price point seems rather acceptable and even enticing compared to a similar quality Burgundian counterpart.
Now, I’m never going to pass up a Croser chardy for any red burgundy, still the Foggy Hills Pinot is all that you’d expect from the wizardry of a pre-eminent leader of the Australian wine industry.
Photo credit: Brian Croser by Mike Smith