October 15, 2010 Castagna
Castagna Genesis Syrah
syrah, voignier (‘a touch’)
Beechworth is a small region in the Northeastern Victoria Zone, in the shadow of the Australian Alps, with Melbourne a couple of hours to the southwest. Modern vineyard plantings here date only from the 1980s, and wineries, though numerous, are generally small. Once the owner of a high profile advertising agency, Julian Castagna came in 1997 to check out the wine potential of the area, and stayed. His vineyards cover just four hectares. You might suspect, considering Castagna’s background, that it was only a passing fancy, without a solid commitment to viticulture on his part. That has been anything but the case. In a few short years Castagna has established a reputation as a producer of exceptional Australian wines.
For some wine drinkers that is not saying very much. Castagna himself would be the first to admit that the perception of Australia is not that of a producer of fine, terroir-expressive wines. With a few noteworthy exceptions, the country’s wineries are often thought of as pumping out easy drinking whites all tasting much the same, and vast amounts of high-alcohol, jammy fruit bomb reds with little finesse. Big on initial impact, but little to credit it in the long run.
Castagna bemoans the fact that many distinctive small and mid-sized producers are consistently overshadowed by the big companies that dominate the industry and which are content with its generic, Yellowtail-like image world-wide. Four companies produce 70% of Australian wine, yet there are close to 1500 wineries across the country.
I suspect there are those in the industry who look at the complaints of a small, (and in this case with the added moniker ‘biodynamic’) operation such as Castagna with amusement. After all it produces less than 2000 cases per annum. It is a flea on the country’s wine map. Yet, for knowledgeable journalists and critics who have taken time with Australian winemakers, it most often the offerings of small producers which bring any measure of excitement.
That would include the wines of Julian Castagna, and now his son Adam. It had not been an easy road. In some years drought has been a major problem. 2003 saw a rash of devastating fires in Victoria, the heat and smoke turning into serious issues. The yields of 2006 were unusually low. Yet they have persisted. And the results generally, to judge by this 2004 vintage, have been entirely wonderful.
Castagna Genesis Syrah 2004
It is autumn. Temperatures have dropped and the leaves are turning. Where I live bright red dogberries fill the dogberry trees. A man turns away from light summer wines…
Royally deep and dark, with aromas of spiced leather, of rich, cassis-thickened fruit. This is a wine with a velvet sting of flavours, a pleasant peppery fullness that seems to encircle the drinker. It leads along a lengthy path, enlivened with bright acidity. Seamless integration of its fine-grained oak. Intense without loosing its finesse. $$$