Lethbridge Wine Dinner at Balthazar

“I’m excited about the science and art of making wine –

how nature transfigures into what we drink.” Ray Nadeson, winemaker

An opportunity to hear Lethbridge Wines’ co-owner/winemaker Ray Nadeson present his wines proved too good to be missed.

The setting, the magnificent wine room of Balthazar Wine & Dining, Crowne Plaza, surrounded by Sommelier David Stevens-Castro’s hand chosen wines, is a beautiful arena for such a presentation, Executive Chef Jean-Marc Huessner’s food the perfect accompaniment. For the elite group of wine connoisseurs gathered, it’s a valuable opportunity to listen to such an erudite speaker.

A medical specialist by profession, Ray spent ten years researching and teaching neuroscience at Monash University, his specialty being pain research, before turning his attention to winemaking.

“Coming from a family of doctors, I launched onto the conveyor belt at the age of 17, which I didn’t question,” Ray tells us, “but one day I looked at the other end and was not sure if that was where I wanted to be.”

It was his love of wine and the outdoors that led him to look for a site to grow wines. Founded with his wife Maree Collis and business partner Adrian Thomas in 1996 near Bannockburn (Geelong region), Lethbridge is testament to the owners’ unwavering dedication and passion.

“We did all of it. We planted all the vines at Lethbridge and designed the buildings [made of load-bearing straw bales to recreate the controlled underground temperatures of European wine cellars]. We made it up as we went along. Meanwhile I was still working at Monash, travelling to Wagga Wagga to complete a degree in winemaking at Charles Sturt University,” he says, recounting the journey.

Seven years later, in 2003, he left his academic career to pursue winemaking full time, a move that has paid off in the high repute of its wines and the ecological practices employed by the vineyard.

“Lethbridge is a small producer. We’re trying to synthesise the sensibilities of winemaking into the wine,” he tells us, explaining the 2016 Pinot Gris aged in 2,000 litre barrels in the same way the wine is produced in Alsace. “It’s a complex, textural style, aromatic with delicate pear and citrus, yet not fruity.”

“Wine is for grownups,” he adds. “It should not be too fruity or too sweet. We should be able to see the terroir – the soil, microclimate and the intention of the winemaker.”

Ray outlines his process of freezing and pressing fruit, the crystals breaking down the cell walls, liberating blush and flavour into the concentrate.

“I’m excited about the science and art of making wine – how nature transfigures into what we drink.”

On the handwritten label of the 2011 Allegra, Ray describes 2011 as the ‘annus horribilis’ of many winemakers, a year of adversity that revealed both strengths and weaknesses; a year when he made some of his best wines. The cooler season produced high levels of acidity and the perfect flavour profile for chardonnay, seen in the 2011 Allegra he presents side by side with the 2016 vintage – citrus, figs, flint…up there with the 2005 as one of their best.

“The determinants of quality are producer first, vintage second,” he tells us.

The 2011 Allegra, with its notes of limey acidity, has a European palate profile. Crafted from grapes sourced from 2ha of old vines planted in 1969, surprisingly, it has been aged in 100% new oak barrels.

Using analogy to describe how he deals with such challenging years, Ray says: “Making wine is like a photograph. You can move the frame around according to what you want to look at. Oak is the frame through which we see technique.”

We sit spellbound as Ray describes the philosophy and technique of his winemaking, using words to paint a picture in the same way he uses winemaking as an artistic endeavor, a combination of science and art to produce wine of high repute in Australia and New Zealand, also exported to the UK.

The winery’s impeccable reputation is evident in its 2013 Lethbridge Estate Pinot Noir, with its concentrated intense dark cherry flavours, silky fine tannins and lingering finish, and the 2013 Shiraz, its cool climate characteristics of spicy fruit and soft tannins a delight.

“There is so much that we cannot control, that we must control the things we can,” he says, going on to describe the way he chooses individual French oak trees with the help of an expert, shipping them back to Australia to make his wine barrels.

First and foremost, Lethbridge wine is grounded in its terroir, the soil profile that took its owners three years to find. This ‘flat, volcanic, not so beautiful’ land had housed a winery in the 1870s, growing ‘white burgundy’ (chardonnay), ‘black burgundy’ (pinot noir) and ‘hermitage’ (shiraz), they found out upon purchase.

“Our decision to buy the Lethbridge property is one thing we don’t regret,” Ray says. “The best wines express the unique character of special places. You can change everything except where you are. You can change the vines, the winemaker, the winemaking techniques, but not the land,” he says.

Since Lethbridge, they have purchased other pockets, seven in total around Geelong as well as others further afield. Ray also does contract winemaking for a few other small premium producers who share his philosophy of ‘minimal intervention and no compromise’.

“So much is lost in industrial farming,” Ray tells us, echoing our dawning realization that the same phenomenon is happening with our food production. He speaks of the need to retain insects and bacteria in the environment, unbending in his sacrifice of size of yield to achieve the highest quality.

Hand picking the grapes, Lethbridge’s winemakers have thrown away the textbook advice on so many issues (such as number of grape varieties and pest control), using ecological farming methods in its place, to live in harmony with the land as their silent partner.

“I know I’m super-privileged to jump off the conveyor belt,” Ray tells us. “I make wine to challenge myself and to learn. I get up every morning at 5am and go. It doesn’t feel like work. This is my passion. I love it. It’s what I do.”

BALTHAZAR

– Wine & Dining –

 

CANAPES ON ARRIVAL

Caramel Shallot & Goats Cheese Tart with Berry Gel

Pickled Vegetable Spring Roll

Black Sesame Seed Cornet with Smoked Salmon Horseradish Cream

& Lemon Pearl

2016 Lethbridge Pinot Gris

 

ENTREE

Hervey Bay Scallop with Black Pudding & Pea Puree

2016 Lethbridge Estate Chardonnay

 

MAINS

Seared Gatton Veal Tenderloin, with Garlic Ribbon,

Confit Heirloom Tomato & Herb Blinis

2016 Lethbridge ‘Menage a Noir’ Pinot Noir

2013 Lethbridge Estate Pinot Noir

 

CHEF’S CHEESE SELECTION

White Gold Creamery Cheeses, Hinterland Rhubarb Compote,

House-made Lavosh

2013 Lethbridge Estate Shiraz

Crowne Plaza Hotel, 2807 Gold Coast Highway, Surfers Paradise Ph: 07 5592 9900

Open: Mon – Sun 11am – late

NOTE: Lethbridge wines are available at Balthazar Wine & Dining.

Photo of Ray Nadeson and wine barrels attributed to Lethbridge Wines. Good Food Gold Coast dined as a guest of Balthazar.

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