Winemaker Wednesday – Sam Berketa

Alpha Box and Dice are one of my absolute favourite wineries and Sam was kind enough to do an exclusive interview with us! The winery is located in Mclaren Vale, Australia and was set up in 2008 as a “laboratory for viticultural exploration”.  AB&D wines are all linked by their environment and surroundings, being created holistically through minimal intervention, vegan-friendly methods. Keep reading below to get to know Sam and his winemaking style!

     

Name: Sam Berketa     Age: 29      Born in:  Adelaide, Australia      Position at AB&D: Head Winemaker


How did you get started in the wine business?

My first steps into wine were when I entered the lecture theatre at University, which I chose because it was the perfect marriage between my two passions – Art and Science.

Have you always wanted to be a part of this industry?

Since that first day at Uni I’ve just fallen more in love with wine, and everything I’ve done since has just cemented that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life!

Did you formally train, if so where?

The University of Adelaide – Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology

What is your favourite varietal to work with and why?

Muscat – It gives instant gratification.

Nebbiolo – It’s the toughest to work with and I love a good challenge.

Riesling – It’s just the best.

Nero d’Avola – Such unique flavours and it evolves so much during time in barrel.

Where have you done other vintages?

2012 – Serafino Wines, McV, Aus

2013 – Mac Forbes Wines, Yarra Valley, Aus / Reh Kendermann, Rheinhessen, Ger

2014 – Yangarra Estate, McV, Aus

2015 – Quealy Winemakers, Mornington Penisula, Aus

2016 – Alpha Box and Dice (AB&D), McV, Aus / E. Pira et Figli (Chiara Boschis), Barolo, ITA

2017 – AB&D, McV, Aus

2018 – AB&D, McV, Aus / Folktale Winery, Carmel Valley, CA USA

In the world of wine, who do you most admire and why? Who influenced you?

The biggest influences would probably be:

Mac Forbes – I took a lot of winemaking cues from my first vintage there and it challenged everything I learned at Uni.

Dirk Niepoort and his son, Daniel – For being so sharing and open with me when I visited them in the Douro/Porto.

The McCarthy/Quealy clan – for teaching me practicality, efficiency and vineyard management.

Chiara Boschis – for being so kind.

The guys and girls I went to uni with – for being such a diverse group and great drinking buddies -especially when I knew next to nothing about wine!

What is your winemaking style?

I try to make wines that have a soul and are interesting yet highly drinkable.

Do you have a favourite wine from AB&D line up? Why?

I love all my children… but:

DWS White – Muscat a petit grains blanc fermented on skins with no adds whatsoever, a true orange wine which is the style of wine I enjoy drinking and making the most!

Siren – Nero d’Avola is just the perfect fit for Mclaren Vale, it’s such a unique expression of a variety/region.

What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and out?

Space and logistics. A winery is like a liquid – it always fills the space it’s in!

Favourite thing about working at AB&D?

The freedom to experiment.

Also, behind the scenes, there’s a really great team that works together and supports each other to make this company keep on running.

Do you have any goals in winemaking you are currently trying to achieve?

It’s always about forever-improving and building on the previous wines. It never ends.

I also want to continue to bring more varieties into the fold – I’m an addict and they’re my fix.

What are the core values associated with winemaking at AB&D?

Drinkability.

Wines that are true to variety or style.

Minimal intervention – low sulphurs, limited additions and less oak influence.

What do you think the next big thing coming out of Australia is? Diversity – we have no laws, no native varieties and lots of forward thinking minds and it’s something we should explore and exploit to the fullest!

What is your mid-week wine of choice?(any region/grape/style)

Orange wine, light red or chardonnay – it’s what everyone in the house agrees upon

What was the last wine you drank?

FX Pichler – Gruner Veltliner to celebrate picking our GV!

What are your ultimate food and wine pairings?

For date night, my partner and I usually share a nice thick cut of dry aged steak and a Nebbiolo.

And I bloody love Kangaroo and a Nero d’Avola from Mclaren Vale.

You can check out their amazing wines here.

Northern Rhone

The Holy Grail of French Syrah

Home to some of our most loved regions, (St Josephs, Cote Rotie, Condrieu) this is the benchmark for French Syrah. The only permitted red grape for AC wines in this region, the deep, dark, peppery and gamey wine is sought after in all countries. Not too far from the spotlight: Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne find a home here. The latter often being blended together while Viognier lays claim to the region of Condrieu producing peachy, floral wines. Basing this on my WSET Diploma studies, here is a break down of everything Northern Rhone.

 

https://excelsiorwineblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/postcard-from-the-rhone-valley/

Yes, Portugal and Germany lay claim to steep slopes. However, Northern Rhone isn’t far behind. Constructed of narrow and steep vines planted on a western slope, little mechanization is available. Production costs are much higher as everything has to be done by hand. On top of the steep slopes, the soils are prone to erosion. They even pull the eroded soil back to the top by a pulley system or by themselves! A bucket and a back are all you need to bring the topsoil back to the top. It can get labour intensive quite quickly!

 


The soils consist of granite bedrock with limestone, clay and alluvial soils closer to the river. Decomposed mica-schist and granite sands are mixed into the patches. The granite retains a lot of heat helping to battle some of the dominating features of the region plus allowing the ambient temperature to be increased, even if just for minutes at a time, during ripening. A strong, cold north wind cools the valley’s known as the Mistral. The disease becomes a problem so vines are staked individually to help combat this effect (eroding soil also take a play in this decision) The wind is so strong vines can have a permanent “windblown” look. Another common practice is Echalas: a teepee-fashion trellising system to support, protect and organize the vine canopy. While Syrah actually tends to droop when growing, the added support is much needed. Every girl needs a good underwire, we could say.   

Frost risks are prominent in early spring delaying ripening. Early ripening varieties are planted to assist with the temperature drops of the north. What is a French vineyard without combating hail? Occasionally a problem, they see rain in the spring and late fall. Summer’s are hot but not too hot resulting in sweet, ripe fruit flavours. Rarely the overripe, jammy notes typical in hotter climates. Keeping it old school, red winemaking is dominated by traditional, lengthy maceration and ageing periods. White wines undergo cool fermentations with little oak ageing, if at all.


Starting at the top of the region, you’ll find Cote- Rotie. Translates to “roasted slope”, this is a prime example of an area impossible for mechanization. Dominated by Syrah with up to 20% Viognier being allowed into the blend, these are deep, spicy full-bodied red wines. There is 73 Cru’s in the area so location is key.

Condrieu is all about Viognier. Low yielding old vines are best to find here. While enjoyed young, steep slopes and small production drives a higher price point. Harder to come by, Guigal floods the market as the largest negotiate. Chateau Grillet AC actually is a single vineyard producing oak aged Viognier worthy of some ageing. With one producer, Neyret-Gachet, it’s limited to a mere 10,000 bottles each year.

Saint-Joseph AC is the baby brother of the Northern Rhone. The lightest bodied northern Rhone red you will find, these Syrah’s have spicy and raspberry characters. A little more fresh and floral, you find incredible value in this region. Sitting on the west bank of the river, it is one of the longest regions in the Northern Rhone following the Rhone river. Sloped sites producing the best (as they say, Syrah likes a view) and bulk production seen in the more flat sites.

Crozes-Hermitage surrounds the town of Hermitage. Not to be confused with the AC Hermitage either. This is actually the largest production area in the Northern Rhone. More yields, lighter bodied wines. While there is some treasure’s in here, most are mid-priced wines due to a little less fame and larger volume. This is where you’ll find your simple table wine or a great, robust Syrah. Positioned on the east bank of the river, west facing slopes develop less fruit and more of a tobacco note. East and south facing slopes are where you will find the best wines.

Known as Hermitage Hill, it is home to some of the most exclusive wines. On the east bank of the river on a south facing hill, you will find Syrah with an ageing potential of 50+ years. This is where you will see the famous M.Chapoutier sign on the embankment much like you would the Hollywood sign in LA. The original story consists of a wounded crusader taking refuge in the hills. Named “Hermit’s Hil” for the life of solitude he lived in his quaint chapel on the hillside. Not only about red, white wine blends dominated by Marsanne have a place here. They are full-bodied with a long ageing capacity.

Last but not least, we have Cornas. Perhaps the boldest yet most undervalued red wine region of Northern Rhone. These wine’s will rival Hermitage with most waiting 10+ years to show their true colours. Unlike any other region, it must consist of 100% Syrah. Modern producers are practicing techniques to deliver a softer wine upon release. Some of the best vineyards are located above the city of Cornas where the soils are dominated by granite and clay.

If you are not convinced about exploring this region, well too bad. More for us. There are many great wines to find here if you’re a student, Master or a novice drinker.

Robert Parker Decides To Retire

“I would prefer to underestimate the wine’s quality than to overestimate it”

Robert M Parker Jr, one of the most influential and well-known wine critics, has officially retired from The Wine Advocate. Over the last many years, he has slowly stepped back his tasting duties, finally parting ways at 71 years old. The truth is that Robert Parker has played a crucial role in the entire industry with his unbiased and critical wine tasting and writing. Without any fear of expressing his opinions about wines, Robert shared with us his distinct tasting skills, going against the grain sometimes and has added many contributions that have changed the world of wine. 


Who’s Taking Over?

Editor in Cheif – Lisa Perotti Brown

Neal Martin – Review of En Primeur Bordeaux

Soo Hoo Khoon Peng – Command & Control


History on The Wine Advocate (TWA)

While The Wine Advocate was only launched in 1978, the truth is that the idea was in Robert Parker’s head ever since 1967. Robert was a student in an American college and he made his first trip to France in that year (with who would become Mrs. Parker some years later). During this trip, Robert Parker had his first touch with wine tasting and he adored the experience. Despite his best efforts, he was without support from his family or friends. At the time, everyone told him that he needed to continue his studies and become a lawyer and that the whole idea of wine shouldn’t be pursued. Robert Parker ended up giving in to the pressure of his family and friends and he graduated in 1973 from the University of Maryland School of Law. Through all of it, never forgot about wine.

His interest began to increase when he discovered that most of what was being said about wines at that time were simply following propaganda. The goal of the critics back then wasn’t to share its tasting but rather to serve someone’s agenda. Robert wasn’t willing to comply with this. After all, a dream of his had always been to write an independent guide about wines to better serve wine consumers. This is how The Wine Advocate came up and remains true up till this day. Originally called the Baltimore-Washington Wine Advocate, it was later renamed just The Wine Advocate in 1979. 


Did you know the word ‘advocate’ comes from the courtroom? It means to add a voice to support a cause or person.

Robert was never afraid to share his own opinions and this is how he made his reputation. His first controversy dates back from ‘82 when Robert reviewed the En Primeur tastings of Bordeaux positively while others deemed it an “overripe year”. When it was proved that Robert was correct, The Wine Advocate saw an increase in both the number of subscribers but also in its reputation. In ‘84, Robert Parker finally exited his law career to focus exclusively on The Wine Advocate.


Who Inspired Parker?

Robert Lawerence Balzers – Called one of the first serious wine journalists in the United States. He was in charge of the wine department for his family’s grocery chain at just 24 years old.

Robert Finigan – American wine and restaurant critic based in San Francisco. As in Robert Finigan’s Private Guide to Wine. He was Parker’s predecessor essentially. He made a consumer-friendly wine rating ranging from below average to exceptional, without the points.


Parker Points

Looking for an accurate way to communicate with consumers what he thought about the wines tasted, this led to the creation of the Parker Points System. The original creator of the 100-point wine rating system that still remains as a standard to the entire industry with various spin-offs. 

Under this rating system, there has been some controversy and impact on the market. Some claim he is responsible for driving up Bordeaux prices specifically on En Primeur tastings. With some wineries changing prices dramatically the day of receiving their point rating. This has led to some controversy in the industry, especially with consumers.

Controlling shares of The Wine Advocate sold upwards of $15 million USD.

Commenting on his retirement, Robert Parker said “As I retire from The Wine Advocate, I have the honour of passing the baton to our wonderful team. The time has come for myself to relinquish all editorial and board responsibilities with immediate effect. I raise my glass to all of you for being part of this journey and hope all will continue to share the enthusiasm for discovering wines with our dedicated reviewers.” 

From wine enthusiasts all over the world, thank you, Mr. Parker, for your contributions and happy retirement!!