Sarah Douglas smashes the wine ceiling with a special range of reserves.
You’ve heard of the glass ceiling, mostly applied to women in business. I’ve arrived at Hatten Wines impressive Cellardoor and all the reasons why wine drinkers (and I) shun the local labels are flashing through my mind. I’m prepared to rethink it in this gleaming tower of brick and glass, where I’m meeting wine maker James Kalleske to learn more about the limited collection of black label Two Islands Reserve wines.
I don’t care for labels, know nothing of vintages, have never laid down a bottle or gone to a wine auction, I just know what I like. If it tastes good, and the price is right, I’ll buy it. I’m not sure if that makes me a wine snob or not, but as I walk through the door I can feel my mind changing, my resolve slipping, the ceiling cracking,
so to speak.
The stunning, modern building that is Hatten’s public face, on the bypass in Sanur, says a whole lot about how far this company has come from its early days making brem and arak, before launching Hatten Rosé 25 years ago. It is still their best-selling wine.
I’m not here though to revisit history but rather to meet the winemaker who is charging forward with a premium range of Two Islands wines bottled under the sophisticated black label.
It was by chance that I was served a sparkling wine that turned my head. Part of the wine pairing dinner at the beautiful modern seafood restaurant, Uni, our first course of sliced, cured scallops was served with an incredible, complex, dry sparkling wine and I had to ask where it was from. Somewhat reluctantly (snob value people), partner and designer of this list, Nicolas Lento, informed us it was Two Islands. I nearly fell off my designer chair. Wow.
“The reserve range came about after a discussion with the Viceroy Resort in Ubud,” explains James. “They needed a quality house wine suitable to serve to their five-star guests. At first we did it to prove we could, but it has proved so popular we’ve kept improving it and expanding the range.” There are now two beautiful Barossa-style reds, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay and the sparkling in the range.
Two Islands is produced exclusively from South Australian grapes. The grapes are juiced and frozen before being flown to Bali for fermentation and bottling. The Reserve range is a step up again, using single origin grapes from hand-picked vineyards in South Australia. This is a far more difficult task than blended wines as the winemaker has to rely solely on the quality of a single vineyard.
“I travel two or three times a year to visit vineyards and select the grapes myself. It’s an evolution and a lot depends on this. I’ve made a lot of changes since I’ve been here and I think it shows in the quality and the taste,” explains James. The Barossa Valley native grew up in wine country, his mother a lecturer and his father a vigneron, yet he was initially reluctant to make a career in the industry.
“It really felt too predictable at first, so I travelled, worked in other industries before returning to my roots, and here I am. Joining Hatten almost six years ago, James has put his own stamp on the entire range from Hatten’s home grown range to the Two Islands wines, and there is still a lot of research and development going on. Hatten’s has always been made with local grapes, basically table grapes, but after trialling over 50 varieties of international varieties, they have found five which will grow successfully here including Shiraz and Chenin Blanc. These locally grown wines will launch next year along with a new winery with restaurants and tasting rooms on a beautiful property near Keramas.
Two Islands white label has continued to evolve and last year they launched the first Rosé made with imported grapes, a huge success with beach clubs and restaurants. All the sparkling wines are produced using the tradition champenoise method, which means a second fermentation takes place in the bottle. Two Islands wines are all bottle-aged before release.
The Reserve range is sold exclusively to resorts, hotels and restaurants, although you can buy them direct from the Cellardoor. They aren’t budget wines, but James points out that similar single origin wines of this quality will set you back far more in Australia.
The Cellardoor is a great place to try all these wines, and I am betting that many of the wine snobs among you will change your minds once you’ve tried the most recent varieties, in both the white and black label ranges. It certainly changed my mind, as my memory does track back to the launch of Hatten, and it’s not easy to part with prejudices carved by time.
James knows this and he shrugs it off. Especially as more chefs and Food and Beverage managers from Bali’s most prestigious restaurants and resorts are coming on board. The challenge to meet their demands is something this winemaker is clearly ready and able to meet. In fact, you can tell he is loving it.
Harking back to the complex, beautifully beaded sparkling wine that brought me on this quest, James says Nicolas Lento, a partner in Uni and F&B Manager of the Mexicola group has come back to him with yet another request. This time it is natural wines, a passion of Nicolas’ that is playing out at Da Maria and at Uni. Pét-Nat is the term that refers to these wines. “Natural wines are a challenge and a bit of a misnomer,” explains James. Most wines are natural but the yeasts used in winemaking are refined in a lab. James currently uses five yeast varieties which he imports. Each produces different characteristics and an experienced winemaker knows his yeast. Natural wines rely on the wild yeast produced by fermentation and are therefore much more unpredictable.
James says he has many requests for project wines and mostly he refuses as they aren’t commercially viable. This one he’s decided is a passion project he’d like to tackle, “just to show we can’” he laughs.
While having this chat, we’ve compared the white label and the black. Enjoyed a vertical tasting of the Reserve Shiraz (which is impressive), from the latest batch all the way back to 2015 when he first started producing it (the 2015 being sold now is a beautiful, smooth wine with lots of fruit).
We’ve been through the sparkling ranges, and I am still unwavering in my admiration of the Reserve sparkling, a mix of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. Five years in the production, it’s toasty, with a fine bead, a beautiful colour and a sophisticated dry finish.
The tasting room is open to the public, so if you’re sceptical, like I was, make an appointment and come in to try the full range. Take it a step further and book a lunch or dinner in the private dining room upstairs, complete with a chef and talented kitchen team. Groups from 8-14 people choose their wines first in the tasting room before heading up to pair their wines with a choice of menus.
Our chat, and it’s been a long one, finishes with one final glass of the sparkling that prompted this story. It’s the perfect ending to a fascinating journey through this local winery. The next time I ask what the house wine is, and the waiter replies, ‘it’s Two Islands’, I’m going to think twice about reaching for the wine list. Especially if it is one of their reserve wines, although I will admit, some of the wines in the white range were good enough to turn this wine snob into a convert.
Tip: I’m usually a pinot noir drinker, and have found the wine inconsistent. James suggests waiting until next year as he has chosen a new vineyard to supply the grapes and promises great things.