Goldilocks and the Three Winemakers (Chapter 3)
On her third and final adventure of the day, Goldilocks paid a visit to the Baby Bear of the Margaret River region of Western Australia, winemaker of both Two Brothers and Blind Corner wines, Ben Gould. She’d–oh stuff it, I’m tired of writing in third person and this is my story after all so I can do what I want–I’D been highly recommended Ben’s wines and told he was a breath of fresh air for the region. Exactly what I was looking for.
When I set out to visit organic/biodynamic/natural wineries (or heck, even just wineries that were doing something new and exciting) in the Margaret River, I was rather dismayed to find how few fit the bill. Unlike their South Australian and particularly Victorian counterparts where exciting and experimental wines are popping up everywhere, the Margaret River seems to be a bit stuck in the mud. Perhaps this is due to the fact that it’s a much newer winemaking region than the aforementioned places, or maybe it’s because many of the wineries are owned by bankers and doctors and/or shareholders–where profit is the key objective and therefore ‘risk’ and ‘change’ are big no-no words. This is just speculation of course. I’m not saying there aren’t lots of well made wines and talented winemakers in the Margaret River because there certainly are. I was just hoping for a bit more funk (in the ‘coolest’ sense of the word).
Thank goodness I found Ben Gould–a light at the end of the tunnel. To dub him the ‘Baby Bear’ of the region isn’t really correct. He’s young, yes. But he’s been making wines alongside his father at his family’s winery, Deep Woods Estate, for most of his life, so he is by no means new to winemaking.
After two years of traveling and working around Europe’s wine regions, Ben and his wife Naomi returned back to their home in the Margaret River to live the dream and start their own winery. In 1998 Ben planted his Blind Corner vineyards and phased out the use of pesticides and herbicides by 2007. His Blind Corner wines are made in very small quantities, approximately a few hundred cases per wine. Ben makes them with tender loving neglect. He adds as little additives as possible, and crushes all grapes by foot. But Ben is a smart business man. After all is is difficult to make much of a living off of producing so little wine. So he created a second range, Two Brothers, for which he buys in 80% of his grapes from his father’s vineyards. These wines are easy drinking gluggers but still very well made. Ben hopes to eventually make all of his wines biodynamic. For now though, he’s got to pay the bills.
The day we visited Ben, we pulled into an unmarked, unpaved driveway, past his new factory made home (Ben later told us it had just been dropped off the week before and was surprisingly lovely inside with great views of the vineyards) and up to a large shed a.k.a. the winery–the second smallest I’d ever seen. Ben was apologetic for the winery’s lack of–well almost everything–but I loved it. It made a refreshing change from the fancy schmancy cellar doors of many typical New World wineries, with their marble counter tops, racks of wine-related souvenirs, and classical music tinkling in the background. It reminded me of the rogue natural winemakers in the heart of France or Italy where the winemaker greets you in his Wellies and overalls, and gives you a powerful, dirt smeared handshake because he’s just come from working in the vineyard, and he leads you to the working cellar for some barrel samples. The experience feels real, and not one set up for the sake of the tourists.
Perched on his ‘tasting counter’, Ben led the hubby and I through the range of his wines. We started with his Blind Corner creamy apple strudel-like Crémant, a traditional method Chenin Blanc with an acidity that would make even the proudest Frenchman stand up and take notice. Next we moved onto Two Brothers ‘The Stonepicker’, a classic Margaret River Semillon/Sauvignon blend that was mouthwateringly refreshing and clean with the typical vegetal grassiness of Western Oz whites. His Bind Corner Sauvignon Blanc however, was anything but typical. Made from partially air dried grapes with some wild-fermented on their skins and basket-pressed to old French oak, it exuded heady aromas and flavours of ginger and exotic spices. It screamed to be drunk with equally exotic cuisine–think Moroccan or Lebanese.
Moving onto the reds and back to the more classic styles, we sipped Ben’s Two Brothers 2008 ‘The Blockcutter’ Cabernet/Merlot blend full of juicy fruits, mint, and cedar and begging for an Aussie BBQ or a pizza. My palate was being taken for a ride, because we moved again to the Blind Corner range, this time to Ben’s 2009 Shiraz (with a dab of Viognier’s delicate touch). The Shiraz is ‘foot-crushed, hand-plunged in open pots and basket pressed before being racked to seasoned French barriques for twelve months.’ There’s no fining or filtering. It also burst with exotic spices and I thought while it was good now, it would show it’s true potential in another few years.
Ben saved the best for last. With only 22 cases made a year, his Blind Corner 2009 Cabernet ‘A’ made in an Amarone style (the grapes are air dried for two weeks which create a wonderful raisiny richness), it had all the wonderfulness of its Italian counterpart, with a lots of Aussie character to boot.
This is Ben’s first vintage–the first wines of his new winery that he’s released to the public. Most winemakers cringe when you bring up their first vintages. It’s a bit like someone pulling out your high school year book and reminding you of the mullet you sported for 14 years until you gradually learned that a mullet, although a great provider of amusement for your friends and family for years to come, was not a style that best suited you (and yes, I do know from personal experience). Ben, however is one of the rare winemakers who, when his yearbook is unearthed in years to come, can be proud of his school photo. His first vintage is a remarkable success–he’s already got a bit of a cult following in Western Oz, and his wines are in more and more Aussie restaurants and watering holes.
But he is the Baby Bear of the Margaret River because I think that his best is yet to come. And I can’t wait for the brave, exciting wines that Ben is yet to make. Pay him a visit (and if you really butter him up he’ll take you for a pint at his local brewery). Drink his wines. And keep a watch on this guy. You can say you knew him when.
You can buy Blind Corner and Two Brothers wines from Ben’s online store.