UMAMU Estate Chardonnay – Why Margaret River makes best Chardonnay in Australia

It all started with a Chardonnay...

During one of my parents’ trips to Sydney back in the early 80s, mum & dad (Mac & Ann) would stay at the same hotel and have dinner at the same restaurant on their first night. Inevitably, they ordered my dad’s favourite Meursault from Chateau Meursault. But in 1982, the sommelier apologetically said they had run out, but if he could recommend a local equivalent... which turned out to be a Chardonnay from Margaret River, Western Australia.

Margaret River became my parent's favourite part of Australia. They visited again and again until, in 1997, my dad fell in love with our current vineyard with plantings dating back to 1978. A few years later I came on board as we decided to put the lovely fruit into our own label, leading to the creation of UMAMU Estate.

Margaret River - the 'royal court' of winemaking

Chardonnay grapes are the primary ingredient in Champagne, and worldwide are believed to be the 2nd-most planted white wine grape after the Airén grape variety that dominates the white wine industry in Spain.

Chardonnay itself originated in the Burgundy region of France and is now cultivated wherever wine is produced all over the world. 

Like many grape varietes, Chardonnay arrived in Australia in the collection of James Busby in 1832. Cultivation rocketed in the 1950s and Chardonnay now accounts for more than half of Australia's white wine production. 

The Margaret River region in Western Australia has long been prized for its unique Mediterranean-style climate, very close to that of Bordeaux on France's southwest Atlantic coast. Humidity levels are ideal during the growing period and the combination of climate, soil and viticulture practices leads to consistently high quality fruit of intense flavour. The region produces less than 5% of Australia's total grape production, but competes for over 20% of the Australian premium wine market. 

No wonder the local tourism board call Margaret River the 'royal court' of winemaking – and Chardonnay its 'Queen grape'. 

ABC – Anything But Chardonnay

Like all good things in life, balance is key. It's a concept captured in UMAMU's motto 'Balance & Contentment' – so let's explain what that actually means!

Chardonnay experienced a boom from the 70s and 80s that led to an international backlash against its production. New York Times wine columnist Frank Prial penned the term A.B.C. (Anything But Chardonnay) in a 1995 article where he says:

"It had to happen. For almost 20 years, chardonnay ... has been the cornerstone of America's wine culture. People who know nothing of and care little for the trappings of wine unhesitatingly request "a glass of chardonnay, please". The A.B.C. crowd has a point. Good white wines are ignored while oceans of mediocre chardonnay are snapped up by the trend-conscious public. But the chances of dislodging chardonnay from its eminence soon are nil. Chardonnay didn't achieve its popularity by any subterfuge. Jancis Robinson nailed it down perfectly in her book "Vines, Grapes and Wines" (Simon & Schuster, 1986). "In chardonnay," she wrote, "is one of the happiest of all combinations: the grower loves to grow it, the wine maker lives to fashion it and we all love to drink it."

The problem Prial saw was that winemakers the world over began to rip up older, often localised, varieties of grapes to make way for Chardonnay. 

The wine industry goes through trends like any industry, so when a variety is out of fashion, the vines get ripped out – or similarly if a variety in this case Chardonnay is in fashion, then it gets planted all over (by producers who have the capacity to follow the trend!). The problem for producers is there is a lag, it takes about four years before you will get good fruit, so by then who knows where the fashion will be.

But Chardonnay is what brought my parents to Margaret River in Western Australia, and so we had to plant some... which we did in 2001. It is the bread and butter of Margaret River and we are happy to have received a great review by Steven Spurrier on our 2006 and a Decanter Gold for our 2006 and 2007 UMAMU Chardonnay.  

"‘A palindrome,’ Spurrier read from the blurb, ‘inspired by balance and contentment’. Lime and honey on the palate. Rich and deep, with ‘a hint of Alsace (if they made Chardonnay in Alsace), like a very very good Riesling.’ Delicate, crisp acidity. Delicious."
UMAMU Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia 2006

The 2006 was the first Gold any of our wines received so you can imagine how thrilled I was to be able to report that to Mum & Dad. Our 2008 flew Qantas International Business Class. Every vintage produced has received 90 points and above.

What makes our Margaret River Chardonnay so special? Well it is the Gin Gin clone. The tiny bunches have what are called 'chicken and hen' berries. These different sized berries innately give variance of flavour and concentration. The skin is not thick, i.e. can be fragile. We give the vines a lot of TLC throughout the year and we tend to the vines by hand from pruning through to harvesting. It has been our annual pilgrimage treat to harvest the block by hand. 

 

The bunches are then whole-bunch pressed to extract only the purest juice with minimal solids. Whole-bunch pressing grapes yields juices and wines with greater and more delicate aromatic complexity as well as elegant, less volumous, palates. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation – the consumption of malic acid by bacteria – and the production of lactic acid and various aromatic and textural compounds. It softens the palate due to converting a stronger acid (malic) to a weaker acid (lactic), as well as adds characters often described as 'buttery' and 'viscous' to the palate.

The % of the batch that undergoes this process is determined by vintage variations in fruit flavour and acidity. We then age the wine in barrels for 10 months and this adds another layer of character to the wine. Then we bottle and let the wine develop in the bottle before release to add yet another layer.

Click here to view/ purchase our collection of Chardonnay current release, museum and mix vertical pack.

See some recipes for wine pairing our UMAMU Estate Chardonnay:

It's a delicious wine – but everything in balance.

UMAMU Estate – Balance & Contentment