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Billy Button Wines

Blog and News

Jo Marsh
2 July 2015 | Jo Marsh

2015 - the whirlwind vintage!

Vintage may have finished a couple of months ago, but by the time I managed to get all the wines put to bed (20 varieties this year!!) it was time to start preparing the first 2015 whites and the last 2014 reds for bottling. Now those wines are safely in bottle I finally have time to put pen to paper (or keys to keyboard actually...) to summarise the vintage.

Last year, I headed into vintage planning to make 6 varieties, and ended up making 10. This year, I approached vintage planning 16 varieties and have finished up with 20! All from the Alpine Valleys, except the Riesling, and all considered 'alternative' except Riesling, Chardonnay and Shiraz.

This year I decided to add a Prosecco to the range because of my long history (at Seppelt) and love of making sparkling wines. But this won't be your run of the mill Prosecco I have all the equipment to make it traditionally, so it will be bottle fermented, lees aged, hand riddled on riddling racks and hand disgorged! I'm hoping to create a Prosecco with character and complexity.

New additions in the whites are Malvasia, Pinot Blanc, Arneis, Fiano and Moscato Giallo. Malvasia (Istriana) originates from Friuli, Italy, so will be a great addition to the range alongside my Friulano and Verduzzo, also from Friuli. I was very excited to be able to pick up Pinot Blanc this year, it's one of the varieties I've always been keen on with its combination of elegance, finesse, minerality with intensity and complexity. Arneis hails from Piedmont in Northern Italy, the Australian examples I have seen vary greatly in style so I was quite intrigued to see how it would behave. I'm pleasantly surprised at its ability to combine fragrance and intensity in a tight, punchy package. I managed to score a very small parcel of Fiano, the first in the Alpine Valleys and I'm very excited - based on what I saw this year it has a great future ahead of it up here. And lastly, I decided to take on an experimental batch of Moscato Giallo. It is a fantastic Italian muscat variety bursting with flavour. Usually it is made into a Moscato style, however I have attempted to make a different style with it, quite dry and adding in some complexity to the vibrant fruit intensity As I said, quite experimental and I'm still not sure if I'll put it in bottle this year as I only have 200L!

The new red varieties I picked up are all very exciting - Nebbiolo, Saperavi, Refosco and Schioppettino. Nebbiolo really needs no introduction, I've made it a few times in the past and I'm just having fun with it. Saperavi is a Georgian variety known for its intense colour, it is one of the few wine grape varieties with red coloured flesh It makes a very unique wine, combining perfumed floral and musk notes with dried herb characters. Refosco and Schioppettino both orginate from Friuli in North East Italy and are very rare in Australia The Refosco I have found to be a lighter style of red with lovely fragrance and a delicate palate. Schioppettino I am very excited about (it seems I am quite easily excited re-reading this post...). Fantastic natural acidity, aromas of black pepper, berry fruits and floral notes with a firmly structured palate and great length. It is a very late ripening variety so could be a challenge in cool years, but will be worth it based on what I've seen so far.

The summer of 2015 was very one of the coolest in the Alpine Valleys for many years, with daytime maximum temperatures ranging from the mid 20s to low 30s without a day over 40 degrees. This cooler weather was perfect for retaining natural acidity and bright flavours, but with such near perfect ripening conditions the vines never stopped photosynthesizing and accumulating sugars leading to the earliest start to vintage on record. It all most seems counter-intuitive that vines would ripen faster in cooler conditions than during that hotter summers, but during times of excessive heat, the vines shut down to prevent water loss, and hence cannot continue to produce sugars. Any rapid increases in sugar observed under these conditions is usually a result of dehydration and concentration of sugars rather than physiological ripening.

The white varieties were very compressed and nearly all picked by the first week of March, making for a very busy few weeks! The varieties came in thick and fast – Gerwürztraminer was the first variety in for Billy Button with the best natural acid I have ever seen in the variety, closely followed by Chardonnay and more Chardonnay. Then Prosecco, Pinot Blanc, Arneis and more Chardonnay. Next the first red – Tempranillo came in then more Chardonnay followed by Friulano, Fiano, Verduzzo, Vermentino and Malvasia Istriana. At that point the reds cranked up with more Tempranillo, Shiraz, Sangiovese, Barbera and Saperavi. Riesling from Whitlands and a trial parcel of Moscato Giallo finished off the whites. Then vintage was brought to a close with the late ripening Italian reds Nebbiolo, Refosco and Schioppettino. All in by the end of March! 

Despite such an early and rapid vintage, quality is exceptional. Certainly the best vintage I have seen in the Alpine Valleys (in the 4 years I’ve been here…) but also the best vintage the growers have ever seen in the 20+ years they've been growing fruit in the region.  I find it quite difficult to choose the highlights of the vintage because it was so strong across the board, but certainly the traditional varieties Chardonnay and Shiraz are extremely strong.

Time Posted: 02/07/2015 at 1:55 PM
Alex Mitchell
4 June 2015 | Alex Mitchell

No rest for the wicked!

Its not uncommon for folks to listen to stories of the crazy time that is vintage then ask: "So what do you do for the rest of the time?" 

Well. Lets start with the massive clean up of the winery, trying to make room for the next steps. Important equipment that is used only during vintage such as the press and the crusher get thoroughly cleaned and sanitised then mothballed until next year. 

Alongside this is loads of analysis, keeping track of the new whites to ensure that they have finished ferment and are settling then are sulfured as needed to keep them sound. And keeping track of the reds for the same reasons but also they need to go through MLF: malolactic fermentation which is actually a bacterial conversion to clear the wine of malic acid, softening it and making it unlikely to spoil. Given that we have dozens of barrels and many batches in tanks this is a full time job in itself! 

Then the 2014 barrels need to be retrieved from the back corner to which they were relegated during vintage. They each get checked for soundness, topped with some wine to keep them full, and analysed and sulfured as necessary. Then the blends begin. Those reds and whites to go to the next bottling get sampled and a "bench blend" is made, to find the best combination of the batches if there are a few, and finalise the style of the wine. The wine is then all pumped out of barrels in to tanks, where it is stabilised and settled and final chemistry is checked. 

The whites that are going to bottle soon are "racked": the solids of grapes and ferment have settled to the bottom and the clean wine is pumped gently from above them. The wine is then stabilised and again final chemistry checked and any adjustments made.

Meanwhile Jo gets busy finalising label design for the new wines, ordering bottles, screw caps, cartons, dividers and everything else needed for bottling. Next week the portable cross flow filtration expert arrives with his machine and each wine to be bottled gets a final polish to be clear and fresh.

And of course we are also running cellar door four days a week, managing orders, deliveries, trade visits, press samples and whatever else is needed!

We'll let you know how we go with bottling - exciting times!


Time Posted: 04/06/2015 at 2:20 PM
Jo Marsh
14 May 2015 | Jo Marsh

Another one bites the dust!

It appears that word is slowly getting out there about Billy Button. The Barbera released at Easter sold out in less than 4 weeks and now the last case of Verduzzo has just been snapped up as well. The Verduzzo took a little longer to shine than the Friulano and Vermentino which had so much immediate appeal, but the Verduzzo has developed beautifully and been extremely popular with restaurants in the last few months. Due to this delayed development I have decided to mature the 2015 Verduzzo for longer in the winery and allow it to reach its full potential before release. It will be released in either November or April, depending on how it matures this year, so you may be in for a long wait! But don't worry, I'll be releasing the 2015 Riesling, Gerwurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Arneis and Vermentino at the start of August, along with the 2014 Shiraz and Tempranillo so hopefully everyone can find something to suit their taste!

Time Posted: 14/05/2015 at 2:21 PM
Alex Mitchell
1 May 2015 | Alex Mitchell

Hot Autumn Reds

Can it possibly be only four weeks since we released the 2014 Billy Button Chardonnay, Barbera and Sangiovese?

Well yes, Alex, it's May Day so it's been four weeks since opening cellar door and releasing the new 2014 wines. OK, so already we have had such fantastic reviews from Wine Front. And local, Melbourne and interstate restaurants and wine bars have been ordering up big time. Sales through the cellar door and Birbante pizzeria are flourishing. So now we are down to only two dozen of The Affable Barbera, available through cellar door and Birbante only (luckily we loved it so much we've made double the volume this vintage). It's a fantastic affirmation of Jo's mission to bring beautiful, high quality and less common varietals to the table.

Very satisfying to be pouring our first reds. We are proud of them and as the first quarter of this year has gone by so quickly we are soon looking to complete the barrel blends of the 2014 Tempranillo and Shiraz. Two completely different wines. Both exciting. Both being bottled in June; so look for another new release in August/September.

The Autumn season in Bright is known nationwide as a spectacle of gorgeous trees turning all shades of the rainbow, and the vines do as well. As the weather cools and harvest is complete, the grapevines begin to retreat. They harvest all the nutriton left in the vine leaves and store it for next season - hence the loss of green and change to other colours. Very pretty that!

This coming weekend is the annual Bright Festival and already preparations are underway and the weather forecast is ...... superb!  Local streets will be temporarily closed as the floats made by local schools and community groups go by. Street markets will be bustling. Music, food and wine will be abundant. And Billy Button Cellar Door will open early at 11am for all your bacchanalian needs. See you soon!

Time Posted: 01/05/2015 at 3:47 PM
Alex Mitchell
9 April 2015 | Alex Mitchell

End of Vintage Dinner

Phew! So at last we begin to see the end of Vintage 2015! Winemakers have varied ways of marking the end of a vintage - for some its the last receival of fruit, for others its the pressing off of the last red or the barrelling down of same. For Jo its the last fruit intake coupled with the departure of her wonderful mama Maria. 

Maria has been plunging, doing the baume round, moving barrels in and out of the cool room, pressure washing tanks and bins and whatever else is required! She is amazing and we are lucky to have her loving support.

So last Monday Jo showed both Maria and myself (Alex) some end of vintage love by taking us out to a degustation dinner at the iconic Simone's of Bright. What a special night. I will attach a copy of the menu for your perusal. Gorgeous local produce matched with fabulous wines. We are proud that Simone's carries some Billy Button wines and shows them off so well but we also love to try their international finds! Tim the Sommelier brought us beautiful examples of some Italian wines to drink with the food, and inspired us to get going after vintage expanding our drinking repertoire!

A degustation meal is one where you do not order, you simply put yourself in the hands of the chef and the wine waiter and sit back and enjoy. Simone's menu was sublime. Alex is allergic to seafood (yeah I know .... boo hoo) so she had modified courses - no problem. Delicious Alpine Valley rabbit, goat, eggs, zucchini flowers, duck, apples, pears, honey, nettles  ............... mmmmmm. 

Time Posted: 09/04/2015 at 3:18 PM
Alex Mitchell
31 March 2015 | Alex Mitchell

Autumnal Goodness and New Releases

Well how quickly has the month of March gone by? Here at Billy Button we've continued to take in fabulous fruit and watched as the vineyards begin to turn to the russets, ochres and purples of the autumnal relaxation of the vines. As the weather cools they feel the temperature of the air and the soil and begin to retreat for winter. Harvesting nutrition from the leaves and storing the goodness for next spring's new crop. It's a cycle we love to watch. The Bright area is well known for its autumnal colours and it is indeed a beautiful time in the region.

The quality of fruit this vintage is just superb across the board. Reds and whites have enjoyed benign ripening conditions and we've been able to work closely with the growers to pick the grapes at the optimum time for flavour and balance. This has been borne out in the winery where we've only made minimal additions and almost without exception the wines have gone through natural ferment smoothly.

Exciting new additions to the Billy Button range are Prosecco (sparkling of course!), Arneis, Fiano, Moscato Giallo, Malvasia & Pinot Blanc (whites), Nebbiolo, Saperavi, Schioppettino and Refosco (reds). More details on these later! Jo's mission to bring us alternative varieties grown in the pristine cool climate of the Alpine Valleys means we get to meet and harvest from some wonderfully passionate growers who've kept the faith with their small parcels of unique vines. What a privilege it is to work with them and bring their fruit through the winemaking process.

The Billy Button Cellar Door has been rated as the star Cellar Door of the Alpine Valleys by Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine in their current edition. Three wines were also featured in the Top 100 new releases tasting, all scoring 91+ points. Our 2014 The Torment Riesling was listed as the star wine of the Cellar Door in the article and we encourage you to come by and try it again - its evolving beautifully as we hoped it would.

This coming Easter weekend we re-open cellar door and release our next wines, open 12 - 5.30 every day over the Easter weekend, then Thursday to Sunday every week from now on. We are so excited to be releasing our 2014 Chardonnay, Barbera and Sangiovese. Gorgeous wines we will love to share with you and with the faithful patrons of Birbante Pizzeria where they will be available with your meal or to take away. Meanwhile ..... back to plunging the red wine ferments!

Time Posted: 31/03/2015 at 6:44 PM
Alex Mitchell
1 March 2015 | Alex Mitchell

The Fast and The Furious

Sorry not to have been in contact for a while but February has come and gone and we've already taken three quarters of the expected vintage intake! 2015 has been quite an early vintage by two to three weeks across Victoria and crops are bountiful which means we end up processing more fruit than estimated but how can one leave it on the vine when the quality is so excellent? First to come in were Chardonnay and Gerwurztraminer and more Chardonnay then some more Chardonnay ....! Already the cool room was stacked with bins of fruit and the barrel ferments were squeezed in to the edges where possible. Lots of what we call MSA: Moving Stuff Around. A good workout believe me.

Since then we have also received and processed  Prosecco, Pinot Blanc, Arneis, Tempranillo, more Chardonnay, Friulano, Fiano, Verduzzo, Vermentino, Malvasia Istriana, Shiraz and Sangiovese ..... lots of MSA required but that's the excitement of small batch winemaking. Parcels of beautiful, intriguing varieties grown with love and care given individual attention and allowed to ferment naturally and express their personalities. 

More out there on the vine including some rarer varietals that we have exclusive access to and look forwarding to sharing with you later. And of course the fabulous Croucher vineyard Riesling - the only white left to pick! Meanwhile.....back to the winery where that glorious autumnal odour of ferment awaits.

Time Posted: 01/03/2015 at 2:44 PM
Alex Mitchell
7 February 2015 | Alex Mitchell

Here we go!

Great  achievement for us yesterday bottling our next three wines - the 2014 Billy Button Chardonnay, Barbera and Sangiovese. These are all terrific wines that we will be very proud to release at Easter time when the vintage craziness settles. Jo is especially proud of the Chardonnay. Over the years she has become known as a maker of benchmark cool climate styles of this perennial favourite. Her trademarks are elegance, balance and varietal flavour and the 2014 Billy Button is no exception. She has called it The Classic because it is.

The Barbera has been christened The Affable because its so likeable and drinkable and food friendly. Its origin is the Piedemont region of Italy and it's the third most planted grape over there. A gorgeous red wine that wants to join you for lunch, for a lazy afternoon grazing on antipasto with friends, or a pizza and movie night.

Mmmmmm. Easter will be the perfect time for The Rustic Sangiovese. This classic Italian varietal is best known as the backbone of the iconic Chianti region. No, not those funny shaped bottles with the rafia baskets underneath, but the juicy, savoury and spicy wine that goes so well with soul food and great company,

The last few days we have been buzzing between vineyards taking maturity samples and checking them for flavour and sugar ripeness. Acid analysis follows so that we get an overall picture of the grape ripening process and in discussion with the growers we plan when to pick. Suffice to say this will be an earlyish harvest with plenty of flavour and natural acid - the perfect cool climate vintage!

Time Posted: 07/02/2015 at 10:36 PM
Alex Mitchell
21 January 2015 | Alex Mitchell

The Versatile Vermentio is the third of the Billy Button Wines to sell out

We love the Versatile Vermentino and apparently so do other folks! Its been a favourite at cellar door and in the Birbante Pizzeria which takes over the cellar door facility at 5.30 of an evening. Internet sales have been steady and last week we were down to less than four cases. Then the good people from the iconic Simone's of Bright Restaurant came by to try it, fell in love and took the rest. So you'll have to head to Simone's to try it!
It is also available in Melbourne at The Valley Cellar Door

Earlier in the year we sold out of the Gewurtztraminer and the Friulano - what a great response to these beautiful varietals!
Fear not - the 2015 Vermentino grapes are ripening happily on the vine. The Versatile goes on.

Time Posted: 21/01/2015 at 2:07 PM
Alex Mitchell
21 January 2015 | Alex Mitchell

Billy Button The Torment Riesling named The Wine of the Week January 13th

It was very exciting to see that wine writer Ralph Kyte-Powell had named The Torment as the Wine the week in last week's issues of The Age Epicure and The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Section and scored it 93 points.  He is a great supporter of emerging regions and was a judge at the 2014 North East Victorian Wine Show. We've been contacted by several people who read the review and wanted to get their hands on some! 
Jo named the wine "The Torment" because she had vowed that Billy Button Wines were to be sourced from Alpine Valleys fruit only. End of. But then came the conundrum - Riesling is Jo's absolute favourite but there was none available in vintage 2014. Then she was advised of a pristine parcel of Riesling growing at the Croucher Vineyard in Whitlands in the King Valley. One visit and the deal was done. No other variety could have caused her to break the Alpine Valleys rule. What a good idea it turned out to be.

Time Posted: 21/01/2015 at 1:36 PM