Sparkling Roussanne – A Strange Bird

30th March 2023

Sparkling Roussanne - A Strange Bird

They say Queensland is sunny one day and perfect the next. The State’s growing international and national reputation as a tourism destination will just gather momentum as we get closer towards the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland, is renowned for its friendly welcome. Visitors enjoy the city and then go south to the Gold Coast or north to the Sunshine Coast and then venture along The Great Barrier Reef to Cairns.

But here is a tip for anybody with an interest in wine, go west out of Brisbane to The Granite Belt. A scenic three-hour drive to enjoy some amazing scenery and boutique wines. The Granite Belt is Australia’s highest altitude wine region and with a climate like France’s Rhone Valley, they produce elegant cool-climate wines.

While other wine regions are known for one or two signature grapes, the Granite Belt wineries are gaining a well-earned reputation for their ‘non-signature grapes’. With these alternatives they experiment, rewrite the rules and surprise even the most adventurous of wine lovers.

Strange Birds is the name they call the many emerging alternative wine varieties. These exciting wines are lesser known and rarer to find in Australia (as a rule they only call it a Strange Bird if it represents less than 1% of Australia’s vines).

On Friday 24/3 the 38th Annual Treasury Brisbane Queensland Public Tasting & Masterclass drew a large crowd. As always Andrew Corrigan MW attracted those who wanted to learn more, myself included in his Masterclass.

There were plenty of Strange Bird’s still wines available – I tasted amongst others the: Jester Hill Wines 2022 Touchstone Verdelho, Clovely Estate 2021 Terroir Saperavi, Sancerre Estate View Wine 2021 Gros Manseng, Hidden Creek 2022 Viognier, Nuova Scuola Wines 2021 Sangiovese and the Balancing Heart Vineyard Lagrein 2016.

Being an attending journalist, I was presented with a bottle of the Jester Hill Wines 2018 Sparkling Roussanne to take home and enjoy on the following Sunday afternoon. It was so good; I want to share this discovery with you.

In March 2010 Mick & Ann Bourke departed from Grafton, New South Wales on their motorbikes. To hit the open road and feel the breeze of freedom as if their motorcycles had the compass of discovery. They decided to include the up-and-coming Granite Belt wine region on their tour. The idea was to purchase a dozen wines. From great ideas, dreams and projects become reality. Yes, they bought the wine and a bit extra – a winery! Jester Hill Wines, nestled in the valley of Glen Aplin, which experiences a unique climate protected from harsh elements with an altitude of 800 metres.

Roussanne was first planted in 2009 and 2010. Initially they showed disinterest, being not only a strange bird but a lazy one as well. Mick tried everything suggested to spur the vines on. For three years they became squatters with far too many rights. Ann with a wry smile explained Mick threw everything at them and with the final threat of ‘perform or your out of here’. Following his harsh words thankfully perform they did and have done ever since.

Ann explained the actual making of Sparkling Roussanne was an accident. Pickers were on site, ready for a day’s work, picking the Roussanne grapes. But the Baume was too low. So, the pickers were let go for the day. What do you do with Baume of eleven you ask? Mick decided Sparkling Roussanne had to be made in the methode traditionale manner of course!

The 2016 Sparkling Roussanne was born. The first disgorging was in late 2017 as per the guidelines of secondary ferment greater than fifteen months. They did not have a neck freezer, so Mick decided the only immediate place he could find the necessary low temperature was outside overnight at –6 degrees. No ice plug but a gentle release of pressure, top up and recap. And with this mixture of primitive and genius winemaking – Mick Bourke produced a ripper of vintage.

The two motorcycle riders who made their way to the Granite Belt with the intention of buying a dozen bottles of wine and bought a winery instead had become winemakers with grit and soul. Visionaries like Mick develop styles that are different to the norm, by being defiant and boundary pushing.

“Roussanne is an amazing variety to work with. It has become Jester Hill Wine’s point of difference in every way” said Ann with a deep sense of pride.

It was the 2018, that I tasted “Delightful mousse bubbles, fruit driven, elegant, creamy, with hints of hazelnut and a delightful zesty flavoursome pear cider finish. What a shame this vintage has sold out.

Images belong to Mick and Ann Bourke the owners of Jester Hill Wines, Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them (The last image belongs to Bill Crane)

Bill Crane

G'Day I'm Bill Crane, was nicknamed WineBill, because I'm a constant student of wine. Who seeks out interviews with innovators in the wonderful world of Sparkling Wine.