While exploring the Margaret River region in November 2017, Vinum Vitae had the pleasure of visiting the Cloudburst vineyard.
I first met winemaker and farmer Will Berliner owner of Cloudburst, in Perth during a wine trade tasting. During our conversation, I was kindly invited to visit the Cloudburst vineyard.
Originally from New England, the USA, farmer Will Berliner, with his Sydney born wife Alison were searching Australia in 2004 for a place to settle, when they came across the land for sale in Margaret River near the Ocean. Will and his family decided to put down roots in the Margaret River, literally!
Will first wanted to plant Avocados on the land; however, an edaphologist told him the soil is better suited to vines, and without any previous knowledge of viticulture, Cloudburst Wines was born.
The small, somewhat hidden Cloudburst vineyard, lying off the Caves Road has come to be a natural haven for the Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec vines that grow there.
Cloudburst follows Bio-dynamic principles for vineyard management and harvesting, but not in the strictest regime as some. Cloudburst uses no pesticides or herbicides on the land; Will Berliner believes that “These chemicals will never leave the land”.
Bio-dynamic planting days are adapted, and the vines are grown on their own rootstock from premium local cuttings; dry-grown, meaning no irrigation is used in the vineyard at all. But digging just a few centimetres down in the sandy, silty and granite soil reveals the retained moisture that the vines’ roots so desperately requires during the early growing season.
The vines are closely planted (one metre apart) in short rows, there is no lack of goodness in the soil, and the vines seem happy, healthy and produce good fruit.
All vegetation removed from the vineyard is composted and returned to the soil as fertiliser, “Nothing is wasted”. Asking when does he work in the vineyard, Will says, “All hours of the day and night”, with the sound of the Indian Ocean in the distance, and the hopping of kangaroo and the presence other animals in the moonlight.
Those pesky things
I asked Will how he deals with vineyard pests. Will said, “Pest control is manual, if I see leaf damage caused by a snail, then the snail is found and relocated away from the vineyard”.
Bird pest can be a big problem and netting is used to protect the vines.
Another problem that Will encounters is with the rapid growth and aggressive nature of Kikuyu grass, which strips the nutrients from the soil. The Kikuyu grass is removed by hand to another area of the plot, where Will is experimenting with growing vines amongst the Kikuyu grass. We will see in a few years if the vines can co-habitat with the Kikuyu grass and produce good fruit.
Will told me “He feels he has a connection with his vineyard”, saying that the vines sing to him and tell him what they need, and he responds.
Harvest & Viniculture
Come harvest time the fruit is hand-picked in small batches on defined “Bio-dynamic picking days”. The must is wild yeast fermented, with natural malolactic fermentation. The wines are matured in various sizes of oak vessels, new and older. Minimal sulphur additions are used just prior to bottling and minimal human intervention used throughout. The bottles are numbered by hand.
The current prices for Cloudburst wines are regarded as high in WA (AUD$300 for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec and AUD$250 for the Chardonnay). However, as you can see from the pictures (below), not many bottles are produced each year from the tiny plot (less than half a hectare planted), and with the labour-intensive work required, the price has some justification.
My Critic of the wine
The wines have pure, intense fruit expressions.
Elegance, finesse and minerality that gives layers of complexity.
Well-integrated and balanced alcohol and oak, and a long pleasing finish.
Outstanding quality, you can taste the love.
Cloudburst’s first vintage (2010) won trophies for “Best Single Vineyard Estate Red Wine”, “Best Cabernet Sauvignon” and “Best Red Wine of the Show” at the Margaret River Wine Show in 2013.
Will has a big market for his wines from his native USA, and most of his wines are exported there. However, a select few restaurants here in Perth and in the eastern states have now been offered Cloudburst wines.
Will Berliner said, “I want to make great wine”, I must say, that is exactly what he is doing, and I hope Will continues his exceptional work for many years to come.