James Halliday on Thousand Candles (after tasting)
Publish Date: 03 Mar 2014
The wines of Thousand Candles (Killara Park Estate) by James Halliday for the Weekend Australian Magazine (extended version)
I am frequently being asked ‘how do you do it’, meaning how can I write between two and three books a year, my column for this newspaper, contributions to magazines here and in China, attend winemaking conferences, travel incessantly, host wine dinners, and (ethically, I hope) promote Coldstream Hills wines.
The chief answer (apart from a relentless six-day-a-week work programme, often long days) I give is that I write quickly, and don’t have to edit or revisit what I have written. I have never previously had to completely rewrite a column such as this, moreover not once, but twice.
This week’s column is the story of two people who have never met. First is a visionary, mystical, self-taught winemaker who fell in love with pinot noir and Burgundy, and scraped together enough money to gain experience living and working there, and has made miniscule amounts of wine here under his own label off the back of that experience.
The second person is a megawealthy Singaporean who decided to invest in Australian agribusiness with an added value component. He knows nothing about wine, but through chance has invested circa $14 million in a large Yarra Valley hillside property with a substantial well-established vineyard on it. It is very beautiful, but he has not found time to visit it during the nigh-on four years he has owned it.
He has a small business management team here, but only they know his name. Presumably he does know his men here have appointed William (Bill) Downie as general manager and winemaker and the wines made for him by Downie (from a small part of the grape harvest) called Thousand Candles, commencing with the problematic wet vintage of 2011.
Imbued with the 1000-year tradition and knowledge of Burgundy, where the words pinot noir never appear on the labels of its wines, just the often tiny vineyard where the grapes where the grapes were grown, Downie has employed the same approach here, but taken it two steps further. First, there is no mention of the grapes used, in 2011 predominantly shiraz, in 2012 predominantly pinot noir, in each case with some sauvignon blanc included.
Second, with no background other than chutzpah, the price is $100 a bottle. There is no cellar door, no marketing budget to speak of, and a minimalist website (www.thousandcandles.com.au). And after much soul searching, I have decided to dispense with points for the wines. Will it all end with tears or laughter? For the sake of the Yarra Valley, and Australian wine as a whole, I devoutly hope it is the latter.
2011 Thousand Candles
This wine has been praised to the skies by four leading wine writers in this country, but various winemakers have formed the view it has a high level of brettanomyces. I propose to ignore that view and give you my notes for what they are worth. The colour is light but clear, the bouquet fragrant, with plum, black cherry and blackberry fruit; the fine-grained, savoury tannins wend their way through the medium-bodied palate, but a distinct line of mint/citrus clings to the acidity, allined with some bitterness.
Drink to 2016; 12.5% alc; Diam; $100
2012 Thousand Candles
2012 was an infinitely better vintage than 2011, and this wine reflects that. It is brighter and deeper coloured, the bouquet very fragrant, the fruit horizon with more sweet, ripe, red fruits in its make up, the palate better balanced thanks to its more expansive fruit; the tannins evident but not dominant. Wild yeast fermented, and neither fined nor filtered.
Drink to 2020; 12.5% alc; Diam; $100