A tale of terroir

Melbourne Food and Wine festival masterclass preview

By Louise Johnson
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Tom Carson, winemaker

Tom Carson, winemaker

A pinot noir lineup

The concept of terroir is central to the French approach to winemaking, but does it mean anything to us in Australia?

Victorian winemaker Tom Carson was named International Winemaker of the Year at London’s 2004 International Wine and Spirit competition, while at Yering Station. More recently Tom is looks after the Kirby family’s wine interests, Yabby Lake and Heathcote Estate. As a highly respected wine show judge he took over chairmanship of the National Wine Show in 2008 .

He joins Burgundy’s Alex Moreau (Domaine Bernard Moreau) in a masterclass at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival on March 21 to discuss the concept of terroir. VisitVineyards.com caught up with Tom for a sneak preview of his session.

How do you define terroir?
Essentially how the location of vineyard expresses itself in the wine. It is the combination of soil type, slope, aspect, climate, variety, clone and for me human influence as well, which include viticulture practices, vineyard management, canopy management, and then the myriad of winemaking decisions that follow, all of this and produces a wine that may or may not be expressive of the place in which it is grown.

How has terroir influenced winemaking at Yabby Lake? At Heathcote Estate?

Obtaining the maximum potential from each section and sub section of each block is of paramount importance to understand the potential of each batch. Soil differences are subtle but noticeable between each block and we have tried to match variety and clone to each soil type. It is an ongoing learning process that has no end, but as each year passes a bank of knowledge and understanding is built up to enable the winemaker and viticulturist to make better decisions throughout the year.

How does the Australian approach to winemaking differed from European styles?

There are of course differences, but over the last 10 years l think the differences are becoming less easily explained. At the top end of winemaking in both the old and new world, winemakers are continually working on expressing the ultimate potential of the vineyard.  

Are we moving away from “varietals” and more toward “terroir” to define our styles?

Not quite yet, we are a very long way from labelling our wines with solely the place in which they were grown. Virtually all Australian wines are labelled with the place and the variety. In the old world they are labelled with just the region and you are expected to learn and study what varieties are grown in the region to understand what variety the wine is made from. I do not think this will ever happen in Australia as there are no restrictions on what you can grow and produce. In Italy for example a Barolo (the region) must be made from Nebbiolo, so once you understand that you know what Barolo means. If you label a wine Mornington Peninsula, then it could one of possible 20 or 30 different varieties grown on the Peninsula.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for winemakers in Australia?
To dilute the perception that we make friendly, easy drinking wines that are cheap and affordable and come from the region ‘Australia’. We need to educate consumers all over the world to the diversity of Australian wine region and styles. This is going to take some considerable time when you think the old world has at least a 200 year head start.

What trends are you noticing in last years National Wine Show entries?
In general terms the days of massively over oaked, over ripe blockbusters sweeping the field at wine shows are gone.

Which changes are you most excited about and why?
The focus on finding wines that have inherently good balance, texture, intensity and purity of flavour.

Where do you hope to see Australian winemaking heading over the coming years?
To continually focus on quality, integrity and authenticity. We need to show the world our great wines come from specific places of significant viticultural importance.

What would you like to see change in the world of wine?

Only one thing. The old world embrace new closures for wine, primarily screw cap, and understand that a 2000 year old technique of putting a piece of bark in a bottle to seal it is not acceptable and has had its day. The failure rates are unacceptably high, not only with contamination (TCA), but the bigger problem is the extent that random oxidation diminishes and spoils a large percentage of wine sealed under cork. The cork companies are very quite on addressing this issue and until they do more and more producers will be turning to alternatives.

All Melbourne Food and Wine Festival attendees are eligible to receive a one month free trial of VisitVineyards.com Membership. If you have not received our brochure in your MFW Festival package, please email us to get your Melbourne Food and Wine Fest code and instructions to redeem it. Valid to end of April 2009.  


  • Heathcote (VIC)
  • Melbourne Surrounds (VIC)
  • Melbourne (VIC)
  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)
  • Yarra Valley (Wine) (VIC)

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February 10th, 2009
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