Charteris is a trans-Tasman story of exploration, love and connection.
Its protagonist is PJ Charteris, an eternal dreamer whose heart burns with a contradiction: Fondness for home and desire to explore.
Wine, a lens through which to view time and place, is the perfect medium to satisfy those yearnings – and to share the fruits of experience with others.
Kiwi-born PJ’s journey has gone full circle and halfway back again, with wines that embrace both his beloved Central Otago and his adoptive Hunter Valley home. It’s emblematic as much as inevitable that the business is shared with his other love – partner Christina (Chrissi) Pattison – whom he met while serving as winemaker at Hunter icon Brokenwood.
PJ cut his teeth pruning vines in NZ as a teenager before coming to Australia in 1988 to study winemaking at Roseworthy. He first set foot in the Hunter in May that year after hitchhiking solo from Adelaide. His first winemaking gig after graduating was back in the Hunter, where he’d end up spending 12 years at Brokenwood.
When it came time to start their own label, some soul-centred magnetism drew PJ back to his motherland, spurred by visions of great Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in Central Otago. Those vine varieties are famed as perhaps the most powerful transmitters of place, thus offering PJ an outlet to satiate that thirst for home – and a means to convey those uniquely dramatic landscapes to wine-lovers elsewhere.
Years later, a stirring within has prompted PJ to add to that yin the Aussie yang. Semillon and Shiraz are the grapes to paint the other half of the picture. Hunter Semillon, renowned the world over for its inimitable personality, is itself an enigma. PJ sees it as “a complex amalgam of one thing”; a deeply compressed, initially reticent kernel of citrus that flowers into a kaleidoscope of lemon, lime, kumquat, grapefruit and more, with toast and honey eliding into the frame.
And then Hunter Shiraz, another deceptively simple trick – a subtly complex wine that requires skill, instinct and a lifetime’s experience to get right, with tannins in step with the succulence and medium-bodied flow of the wine. Get it right and the taste is a clear scene from PJ’s childhood: The Black Doris plums picked with his brother from his grandparents’ tree, poached by mum in nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.
When you move through a landscape that moves you, emotion flows without reflection. Like with love, it’s hard to pick apart the threads. It can take years of searching and striving to see all the angles that make the moment. And to put it back together so a stranger might savour the same? Even longer.
And that is Charteris. The joy of times and places fixed and fleeting, personal and universal.
Le Fauve, meaning the wild beast, is the vinous Charteris alter ego.
This wine aims to tap into a place not too deep in the memory. A place of unencumbered liberty and adventurous abandon. That place for the young at heart, full of experimentation, of running freely through the wild with bare feet, without the weight of caution that the experience of living brings with time.
For the immature amongst us, that golden light of youth is never far away.
There is plenty of perfectly fine serious and mature wine in the cellar but sometimes we just want to run free again, feel the wild energy of the untamed spirit and do things that are just for fun.
Le Fauve allows PJ to roam free from his twin trans-Tasman heartlands of the Hunter Valley and Central Otago. Delving into other parts of his adoptive NSW home, this is an opportunity to play with vine varieties and styles that are less preoccupied with place.
Le Fauve dishes up immediate, unfettered pleasure to those who want to cut loose. These wines will take you places, sure, but sometimes you don’t want to be tied to specific destination. This is a journey to the realm of pleasure, pure and simple.
2021 Le Fauve Pinot Gris Orange RRP $32
The fruit is grown by Phillip and Michelle Stivens at Heifer Station Vineyard on the slopes of Mount Canobolas above the town of Orange in the NSW central high country. The vines sit at an altitude of about 860m and enjoy some of the coolest grape-growing environs of mainland Australia. With consistent, winter-dominant rainfall and exceptional volcanic-based soils, the scene is set for excellent cool-climate winemaking. Aromatic whites, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are perfectly at home in these vineyards. On top of these varieties, if the position of the vineyard is right, even Shiraz can deliver infinitely perfumed wines.
Vintage and growing conditions
While the “Droughts and Flooding Rains” of Dorothea Mackellar’s famous poem are never too far from the vigneron’s mind, it is how those two contrasts play out that can make or break to grape growing season. Off the back of the 2016 to 2020 drought conditions there was a lot of precipitation required to refill the soil profile, and were it not for cooler-than-average summer temperatures we may not have arrived at the near-perfect ripening conditions we received. Excellent acid retention and slow flavour accumulation from mild temperatures resulted in fresh and vibrant wines. Alcohol 12%; pH 3.05; TA 7.4g/L.
The wine is pale green-gold with a lemon-yellow hue. Pears – Beurre Bosc in fact – and ripe too. There’s a hint of red apple and a layer of cinnamon and subtle clove-like spice lift all wrapped up in a fine aromatic cloak of jasmine and musk. The wine is chalky with mineral acidity driving the fresh apple and pear profile while creating an umami-like texture. It’s crunchy, juicy and vibrant with deep-set ripe red apples filling out the palate over a subtle quinine-like tannin ambience to the finish. Long and flavoursome yet refined.
2021 Le Fauve Rosé Hilltops RRP $32
The Shiraz and Grenache grapes are grown on the Hudson Vineyard in the Hilltops region of NSW by Xanthe Freeman and Will Snedden. The vines, planted in 1999, have their roots buried firmly into red clay loam topsoil over decomposed granite with a very consistent artesian water supply. The region has a very continental climate with high diurnal temperature range, particularly through February and March, which ensures slow ripening and excellent flavour accumulation.
Vintage and growing conditions
Good rains through 2020 winter ensured strong canopy growth while a cooler-than-usual early summer with some precipitation kept the vineyard crew on their toes. Summer remained cool and resulted in long, slow ripening with Shiraz and Grenache picked in early March. Alcohol 13%; pH 3.4; TA 6g/L.
It’s pale salmon with a mauve blush. Rose-petal florals over wild herbs on the wind. A hint of cherry blossom and watermelon with some brambly spice add aromatic complexity. Wild herbs, spice and white cranberry on entry open to Morello cherry and Umeshi. The palate is multi-layered with a dry and textured mid-palate building to a long and flavoursome finish. A fruit-driven but savoury rosé.
CHARTERIS – HUNTER VALLEY
2021 Charteris Hunter Semillon RRP $38
The McDonalds Flat Vineyard in Pokolbin was planted in 2002 by Stephen Drayton. The Semillon is on the bottom of a gentle north-facing slope and the Chardonnay is on the flat closer to the creek bed. The soils are brown dermosols of varying depths but become deeper and richer closer to the creek line. The water-holding capacity of the soils is the key to vine vigour, with the Semillon working harder than the Chardonnay to grow canopy and ultimately yield. The current owner, Ross Crump, has invested heavily in restoring soil and therefore vine health, with a positive effect on wine quality and his cows in the neighbouring paddocks.
Vintage and growing conditions
The 2021 vintage was the first after a substantial four-year drought and the devastating Black Summer bushfires of the 19/20 summer. Those fires were doused by solid rainfall throughout February and March 2020. However, it was the July and October 2020 rains that set up the ‘21 harvest. We were well in the grips of a strong La Niña weather pattern with the soil profile near capacity and dams starting to fill when 170mm of rain in December really got the heart rate up. The cooler growing-season temperatures combined with the precipitation created some intense mildew conditions with a couple of perfect downy mildew outbreaks, as well as some rarely seen powdery mildew.
Harvest started in the third week of January – a more traditional time than the norm of the last 10 years (this Semillon was picked on 27th). It was a vintage for those vignerons with their eye on the vines. Well-managed crop levels and open, carefully tended canopies were the order of the day. It will be a while before we see the full canvas of the vintage but overall Semillon and Chardonnay look strong with flavour and balanced acidity, while Shiraz will be one to watch with the best managed vineyards delivering some classic medium-bodied Hunter River Burgundy-style wines. Alcohol 11.5%; pH 3.11; TA 7g/L
Pale lemon yellow with a green fleck. Lemons and lemongrass with Kaffir lime leaf, a hint of lavender, white florals, bath salts and lemon sorbet – dehydrated and sprinkled as dust in the glass. A hint of rock melon and green papaya, too, adding depth and volume to the aroma. It has a gentle entry with subtle lemon giving way to finger lime and botanical complexity – there’s a hint of the gin n’ tonics about this wine. There is silky smooth acidity which gives just the right glide to the texture while maintaining length and vitality. The finish is endearing with a hint of juicy grapefruit, underlying passionfruit and a salty mineral pinch for a clean, refined exit. Long and salivating. It’s pretty sumptuous drinking now for Hunter Semillon, but there is a race to run for this wine; the next five years will be just the beginning.
2019 Charteris Hunter Shiraz RRP $48
This wine is a blend from two 50-year-old Shiraz vineyards in Pokolbin. While the 2019 was one of the hottest and driest on record, these old vines have seen a lot and survived all the vicissitudes the Hunter has shown them. The conditions preceding harvest shackled the vines into giving up a minuscule but precious yield of tiny berries of intense concentration. Not your usual Hunter Shiraz but very scarce and unique all the same. Alcohol 13.5 %; pH 3.5; TA 6.7 g/L.
Dark garnet with a crimson hue. Brooding wild berry, earthy brown spices, dark cherries and chocolate dust fill the bouquet. This is quite foreboding for Hunter Shiraz, with complexing roasting pan juices, dark-plum conserve and a hint of graphite. There’s heaps going on aromatically, in a rustic and brambly way. It’s dense and ripe with plummy fruit on entry with spicy depth, almost classic fruit cake. A hint of smoky bacon with maple syrup and vanilla pod add power and depth on the palate. It has abundant tannin but it’s very fine grained, like dark chocolate with a velvety spice finish. Long and sinewy, at the bigger end for Hunter Shiraz. These riper Hunter Shiraz vintages tend to offer most at 5 to 10 years old and I’m picking 6 to 7 years for the peak drinking window.