Bass Phillip is perhaps the best, certainly the most unpredictable Pinot Noir producer in Australia with often exciting results. Phillip Jones, the owner, is a highly intelligent, often unorthodox winemaker. The interview ended up more like a lecture, as I expected and have experienced previously.
The Bass Phillip four vineyards are in an unusual location in and around Leongatha, South Gippsland. This is dairy country. There is a lot of rainfall, 1 metre per year, and the soil is deep and fertile, of volcanic origin, with a lot of minerality, in particular iron and ironstone pebbles. Bass Phillip practices dense planting, on average 9000 plants/ha, similar to Burgundy. The wines of Burgundy are the model, and Phillip Jones employs many of their measures and practices. Bass Phillip is biodynamic since 2002.
Some of the interesting points he made:
1) Top quality Pinot Noir needs dampness in the feet (he would say that, wouldn't he). He points to Burgundy and Champagne. He believes that the mantra of 'vines need to struggle' is not good for Pinot Noir. Such climate produces intensity of fruit, but not complexity - and he was mildly pointing at Central Otago. In the same vein, he believes that parts of the Tamar River and the Huon will produce better Pinot Noir in Tasmania than the currently highly regarded dry Coal Valley.
2) Low yield is crucial, but the measure should not be t/ha, but rather grams/vine. For example, if a loosely planted vineyard shows a low yield per hectare, it is still high per vine and the fruit can be diluted (he has a point).
3) What is the magic of the home vineyard? He said he did not know, but the site was even cooler than others in the area as there are a couple of cold wind channels going through the site. There are also aquifers under the property. The soil is free draining and the vine roots now very deep. Hmm, not sure this explains it.
On to the Pinot Noirs from the great 2012 vintage. The tasting was a little difficult, as the glasses were rather small and the wines had not been opened long enough (as it turned out).
The 2012 Crown Prince Pinot Noir is the entry level, if you like, but this wine is far better than that. Strawberry flavours, a soft mouthfeel and silky tannins make this wine quite accessible now (92 points). The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir has more intensity, but I was not convinced by the finish (91 points). Then came the 2012 Bin 17k Pinot Noir. This wine is from an extremly dense planted 17000 plants/ha vineyard (get it?). Phillip Jones harvests only 100g of fruit per vine. 500g is standard in Burgundy. The wine is quite angular, like a good Burgundy, with cherry flavours dominating, and a long finish. This wine needs to be put down for a few years. (94 points).
The top two wines were hard to judge. The 2012 Premium Pinot Noir is elegant, with red and black cherry flavours. It has a piercing intensity along the palate, without being big, and an expanding finish - an exceptional wine (97 points). The 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir has even more intensity. It was very closed on the day, but showed a long finish (97+ points; others have rated this even higher). These two wines will gain in complexity over time, when the secondary savoury flavours start to show. They are best drunk in 5-15 years.