I first visited Tumbarumba 70 years ago, long before the first vines were planted in 1982. I wasn’t prescient, just a 12-year-old learning the art of fly fishing for trout at the heels of my father.
When I returned 30 years ago for the first of several visits to this NSW region in the western foothills of the Snowy Mountains, I was prepared for the steeply rising and falling topography, all the cul de sacs one moment, panoramic vistas the next. It is eerie to compare the topography with Tumbarumba’s up and down history since the early 1980s and the heroic battles with frost, hail, rain and – most recently – fire and smoke. Some of those battles were won, some ended in a stalemate, others lost forever. With vineyards from 300m to 843m above sea level, one particular challenge is the altitude; there is of course a significant drop in temperatures as the altitude increases.
The largest estate vineyard (72ha out of a total of 215ha) was snatched from the jaws of bulldozers moving in to rip out the vines in 2011. The saviours of Coppabella were Jason and Alicia Brown, who have revived the health of the vines in similar fashion to their Moppity venture in the Hilltops region. In both cases they sell a significant part of the crop to well-known winemakers as well as making their own branded wines.
While pinot noir is the second-most important variety in the region, chardonnay is king. The Tumbarumba winegrowers recently sent me 37 wines – 23 chardonnays, 6 pinot noirs, and the remainder varietal white wines. I have chosen to feature a riesling, a pinot noir and a chardonnay, so it behoves me to mention more excellent chardonnays: 2019 Boutique Wines by CSU (94 points), ’19 Penfolds Cellar Reserve (96), ’18 Coppabella The Crest and ’17 Sirius (both 95), ’18 Moppitty (94), ’18 Nick O’Leary (95) and ’16 Courabyra 805 (96).
2017 Nick O’Leary Tumbarumba Riesling
Whole-bunch pressed on a slow Champagne cycle for three hours, cool-fermented with neutral yeast. First tasted in Feb ’18, it is maturing slowly but surely, the palate gloriously intense and juicy, attesting to its very cool-grown origin.
96 points, drink to 2035, 12% alc, Screwcap, $30
2018 Collector Tiger Tiger Chardonnay
Hand-picked, whole-bunch pressed, wild-fermented and matured in French oak (30% new) for 11 months. Exceptional wine, harmonious and simple. White peach, pear and grapefruit all have something to say on the perfectly balanced and very long palate. The ’16 and ’17 are equally outstanding.
97 points, drink to 2032, 12.9% alc, Screwcap, $38
2018 Brayne Estate Obsession Tumbarumba Pinot Noir
Spicy, savoury secondary aromas and flavours have begun to take shape; the bouquet particularly expressive. Super-fine tannins help create length, along with French oak. Most impressive. Its Chardonnay (94 points) is also good.
95 points, drink to 2028, 13.3% alc, Screwcap, $30