Knotted Vine favourites Ministry of Clouds have been the UK promoting their small but perfectly formed collection of wines, pouring at Wine Australia’s Off the Vine tasting and this week’s brilliant Out The Box.
They found time in-between to host a lunch at Farringdon’s Quality Chop House for on-trade buyers and trade press, an occasion that was marked by the awesome food and wine matches (grouse and Grenache, cod roe and Riesling, to name just two) and the entertaining and insightful storytelling from MoC protagonists Bernice Ong and Julian Forwood.
Here’s just a snapshot of the conversation, focusing on Bernice and Julian’s winemaking philosophy, their love of acid and how the project came about.
How did Ministry of Clouds first come about?
Julian Forwood: “We both came to wine in a circuitous and non-traditional route, neither of us are trained winemakers, neither of us have come from a family of historical vineyard or winery ownership, so we have ended up here because we fell in love with wine some years ago. We’ve shared more than 35 years between us working for other producers in Australia and before that for me in particular working with hospitality and wine. Bernice and I are a partnership in every sense of the word, we have a shared responsibility for all the things we do in our business, we are partners in other way too – we are married – this is a shared voice.”
What’s the MoC winemaking philosophy?
JF: “We like to make wines without huge human input and we definitely don’t like using any form of chemicals in the vineyard and in the winery.”
Bernice Ong: “We are acid freaks, we love Chardonnay and Riesling. They are two varieties that really appeal to us I suppose from a food perspective too. We stick with these varieties because we’ve drunk a lot of them and we know the styles we want to achieve with these grapes. For us Riesling is Clare Valley – this is the best region for Riesling in Australia. We love the interplay between acid, lime and an intensity of flavour.”
JF: “With all our wines we want there to be a pristineness and clarity about them and we want them to be able to offer evolution over time too. The magical thing about Riesling and one of the things that we really love is that there is absolutely nowhere to hide, you either have great quality frit and you carefully shepherd it through the winery to bottle or you don’t, and then you are constantly chasing your tail. It’s so different to Chardonnay, for example, which is so much more of a blank canvass and is more about ego and design from a winemaker’s perspective. If a Riesling is not a window into the place where it’s grown then it really doesn’t make much sense.”
Do you own any vineyards?
JF: “We started without any vineyards we now have 11 hectares in McLaren Vale in high altitude, very steep difficult-to-work, impossible-to-yield-a-commercial-yield site that makes – for us – some of the great Syrah. Part of the disadvantage of starting our winery without owning vineyards is that everything we do viticulturally we do either with growers we trust or we purchase vineyards as we can afford. The great advantage of starting with a completely clean slate is that we can choose anywhere in Australia to source the varieties that we love.”
Can you give us an example?
JF: “The most obvious example of this is with our Chardonnay from Tasmania. Tassie is a much older wine-growing region than most people assume and it is a tiny, tiny part of the entire machine of Australian wine. There are essentially no affordable wines out of Tasmania, full stop. As the world gets warmer and as Australia feels the effects of climate change then Tasmania for us is the obvious place to grow really high quality, legitimately cool climate Chardonnay. One of the reasons we chose to go to Tassie is that because it’s so far south you don’t have to pick at 10 baume to retain acidity, you can benefit from legitimately long daytime hours that exist because you are so far south and also retain truckloads of acid. So you get power and intensity and weight but also great acidity.”
How do you decide which growers to work with?
JF: “We fell in love with wine first, and particular wines, then traced their heritage back to where they were grown and that’s really how we identified the kind of vineyards we wanted to work with fruit from. In many ways you are actually courting, the relationship between us as a négociant-producer where we take fruit from vineyards we love, is a lot like a marriage in that you have to dance around a little bit to get to know each other at first. Over time you build trust and we’ve never lost a grower, and what we’ve probably gained through these fantastic sites that we identified is that a grower will talk to his neighbour and they might contact us offering us fruit as they know how we work and like our attitude. The network has grown and our capacity to take more fruit has grown.”
BO: “We only started our own thing in 2012 and it looks like we started at just the right time because now it would be so hard to get into some of the vineyards. This is why we look at these relationships with growers as partnerships, we treat them with respect, pay them on time and we hope that they continue to work with us. It’s a two-way thing.”
For more info on Ministry of Clouds, CLICK HERE.