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Billy Button Wines

Blog and News

Jo Marsh
 
29 September 2015 | Jo Marsh

Making wine in China!

I am sitting here in my hotel, writing this blog while drinking a nice cold can of beer. Very unusual for China, because I am a woman drinking beer (I have had many people photograph me doing this) and because the beer is cold - the Chinese do not drink cold beverages because they believe it is bad for your health.

I have been at this winery Senmiao Moon Valley for a week now, and I'm starting to feel like part of the family! I picked my Cabernet on Friday and was one of the first to do so. There is a large vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon about 1 1/2 hours south of Yinchuan and each winemaker randomly selected one block from it of at least 3 hectares, so that we can each harvest 15T for the competition. I think I was lucky to select one of the best blocks, it was one of the ripest, the fruit had very good flavour and it was very clean and free from disease.

Lovely small berries and bunches in my Cabernet block

Friday morning myself, the winemaker Liu, and her director Mr Yin drove down to the vineyard ready for picking. I was again lucky, because only 2 winemakers were picking that day, so there were many pickers available for our block. At least 60. Maybe 100. Entire family groups, older people, many women, older children and some very young children. At 7am everything kicked into action.

Start of picking!

I quickly worked out that the families picked in groups, and the crates they picked were stacked together at the end of the rows for counting, as they were paid by the crate (I don't even want to think about what they got paid). I asked if there were a spare pair of snips so I could pick - the people from the winery couldn't understand why I would want to. I found a pair and got to work,the pickers couldn't believe that a 'foreigner' was picking and thought I was very fast. But I was only allowed to pick one row, then I had to 'rest'.

Crates stacked at the end of the rows

Within 3 hours we had nearly finished picking, but then the waiting began. The crew who stacked the cratees on the trucks were not the same crew who picked, so we had to wait for the loading crew. And wait. And wait. About an hour, but then the crates were finally being loaded. We got a ride in the first truck heading back to the winery. I used the time to take a nap, I woke up along the way and quickly decided I was much better off finishing the trip with my eyes closed.

When we got to the winery the processing equipment was setup and ready to go, so we started almost immediately. Every winery has sorting tables, similar to France, so the bunches are sorted first, then the berries are sorted after destemming. My fruit was quite good but it was still good to be able to sort. There were some rogue varieties in the vineyard (not Cabernet), some shrivelled fruit, some underripe fruit and a tiny bit of mould. I later helped another winemaker sort their fruit, which was much more variable and the sorting tables were very useful to ensure only the best fruit ended up in the fermenter.

Bunch sorting

Berry sorting

My winery uses students from the local university studying winemaking to work in the winery, so the sorting was very good. Friday afternoon we finished the first truck - 6.5T but left the next 2 trucks til Saturday. It tooks us most of the day Saturday to finish processing - using the sorting takes about 30 mins per tonne.

The winemakers have a set of instructions for making wine there, so they were quite intrigued by my 'project', which was quite different to theirs. I decided to do a natural ferment on my Cabernet, like I do with my reds in Australia, which is not very common here. It is day 4 now and my ferment has not yet started, every day they ask if I am going to warm it up (it is at 15 deg) and add yeast. I keep telling them we will wait. But I think they will start tomorrow, there is a small amount of activity on the surface.

The race is on now - I have 9 days until I fly back to Australia and I really want to get the wines pressed off and dry before I go. So I really hope the ferment will start tomorrow!

Time Posted: 29/09/2015 at 9:15 PM
Jo Marsh
 
22 September 2015 | Jo Marsh

Jo goes to China

A friend of mine posted a link on their Facebook page to the Ningxia Winemakers Challenge, so out of curiosity I opened it. 60 winemakers to be selected from around the world to be flown to Ningxia, China, to make wine from the same vineyard of grapes. Competitors could return up to 3 times a year over 2 years to check on their wine, then in 2017 the wines will be judged and money awarded based on the medal they achieved. All flights, accommodation and meals to be covered by the competition. It almost sounded to good to be true, so I thought why not? And here I am now, sitting in my room at my host winery, getting ready to make wine from some Chinese Cabernet Sauvignon.

Organisation of the event was a bit haphazard leading up to it. All we knew was that we had to be in Ningxia by September 20 and stay for a minimum of 15 days. Not much other information. 5 days before I was due to leave I still didn't have my flights. They came through in the end and I arrived in Yinchuan (capital of Ningxia provence) on Saturday 19th at about 5pm, after an unscheduled delay in Beijing after missing the connection. A casual dinner in the hotel that night and a chance to meet the other participants, although there were still about 10 winemakers yet to arrive.

On Sunday morning we visited Chateau Changyu-Moser, a Loire styled chateau on the outskirts of Yinchuan. They had quite the visitor experience with a lot of history about winemaking in the region. Except no wine tasting!

Chateau Changyu Moser

After lunch was quite a strange affair. We went to the big agricultural expo building for the ballot to see who got which winery and which part of the vineyard. We were all chatting and laughing when we walked into the building, to find a big room with about 4 rows of chairs in a big U in front of a stage. There were a number of people sitting in the chairs with one row empty (apparently for us) and a large number of photographers and camera crews standing around the stage and the chairs. We took our seats and then listened to a very long speech in Chinese. Finally it was time for the ballot. There were 48 winemakers (12 pulled out) and 48 wineries. The representative of the first winery went up on stage and a computer program started cycling rapidly through the names of the winemakers, then the representative called 'Tíngzhǐ' (stop) and the name of their winemaker was displayed. I was selected quite early in the process and was warmly greeted by a man in a business shirt and slacks. I had no idea what the name of the winery was, but when I was guided to take the seat next to him at the inner row of chairs, he gave me his business card. Senmiao Blue Valley Vineyards. I had a name but nothing else. The process continued until every winery and winemaker were paired up. Then the same process for vineyard selection, although it was the winemaker that got to call 'Tíngzhǐ' or 'Stop'. I was allocated block 39, again this didn't really mean anything to me. We were told the vineyard was Cabernet Sauvignon, at least 10 years old and at least 3 hectares each, with a maximum crop of about 5.5T/ha.

Once the formalities were over we had a chance for a quick chat with our host wineries before heading back to the hotel. The winemaker at my host winery was a young female and I was told the winery was only 5 years old and that they had a hotel at the winery where I would stay.Then back to the hotel in Yinchuan and down the street for some traditional hotpot.


 Monday morning we were up early and on the bus for the 1 1/2 hour trip to the vineyard. We were met by our host winery and taken to our individual block. The trellising was almost non-existent, the soil quite sandy but didn't look too vigorous so I was hopeful. At this point in the competition we were all worried that the Cabernet wouldn't be ripe until when we were due to fly home because we had heard they were still harvesting chardonnay in many parts of the region. One taste of the grapes put that worry to rest. The fruit was quite sweet, the seeds were brown and crunchy and the flavour was remarkably good. I walked up and down the rows and was quite impressed by what I saw and tasted. I think I can make some decent wine from this fruit. The manager of the vineyard was with us and he told us it was the best block on the vineyard. But then maybe he told everyone that... A quick baume check revealed the sugar content to be about 13.5 baume - which meant it was nearly ready to pick. Acid was a bit low but that is easily fixed!

Block 39 Cabernet Sauvignon

Today I was picked up by my host winery and I finally found out what my winery was like and where it was located. I think I struck it lucky. The winery is set in a complex of business that include the winery, cellardoor, vineyard, a hotel, restaurant and bar and botanic gardens, among other things. The winery is quite impressive to look at, not quite as ostentatious as some of the others we saw, but grand none-the-less. And it actually houses the winery! Many of the others are just show pieces for the visitor experience and the cellar is somewhere else. The accommodation is great and the botanic gardens are just stunning, it'll be so great to getup and walk through them every morning. We had a quick meeting this afternoon to discuss winemaking and have planned to pick the vineyard this Saturday and Sunday.

Stay tuned for further updates - I hope to add a blog every few days

The Senmiao winery

The onsite hotel

The entrance to the botanic gardens
 

Time Posted: 22/09/2015 at 10:46 PM
Alex Mitchell
 
1 August 2015 | Alex Mitchell

Seven New Releases! And The Wine Club!

We are very excited to have released seven new wines last week for your drinking pleasure! Five 2015 whites and four 2014 reds, the last of the reds to be released from last year's vintage. Some classics and some new and intriguing styles to try. 

The 2015 is the second release for the Riesling, the Gewurztraminer and the Vermentino. All have been favourites in the range and the new releases from this vintage are at least as delicious. The Gewurztraminer was the first wine to sell out last year as we only receive a small parcel of fruit and we've only made 33 dozen! We suspect it will sell out quickly so get in to cellar door or online and try some before it disappears.

New to the range of white wines are the 2015 Arneis and Pinot Blanc. Again fruit sourced from our growers in the Alpine Valleys and both varieties grown is small quantities in Australia so they're not wines that everyone has tried .... we think you'll enjoy these examples and we'd love to see you at cellar door to pour them and discuss them with you.

In the reds we have released the 2014 Tempanillo and Shiraz. Both needed more time in barrel to mature and develop than our previous two releases, and the wait has been worth it. Showing that cool climate combination of intense varietal fruit character and elegant structure.

All the new releases are currently available for tasting and purchase at Cellar Door and by the glass, bottle or to take away when you visit Birbante Pizzeria, who take over from Cellar Door att 5.30 of an evening. 

They are also available online - check out the online store for details.

Or perhaps the easiest way to try them is to join the newly minted Billy Button Wine Club! Click on the Wine Club tab at the top of the page and find out full details. In summary the many benefits include three deliveries a year of winemaker Jo Marsh's selections of new releases, discounts on prices, free shipping to some states, and exclusive previews and access to rarer wines. 

And if you join before August the 7th you will receive a bonus bottle of the sought after, sold out, 2014 Friulano!

Time Posted: 01/08/2015 at 2:39 PM
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