Aucerot in Australia
Ciavarella Oxley Estate are custodians for the grape variety aucerot. They know of no other planting in Australia, although there are records of its existence in the late 1800s and early 1900s in North East Victoria.
The Ciavarella’s planting of aucerot is from grape cuttings collected from Bailey’s Bundarra Vineyard at Taminick in the late 1980s. Cyril and Jan’s son, Michael, was working at Bailey’s at the time, when the then owners decided to replace the aucerot with the new star, chardonnay. Cyril knew that aucerot was far from common, and Michael got permission to collect a few cuttings prior to the removal of the Taminick planting. They were not really aware at the time that this was saving the variety from its complete demise in this country.
Cyril and Jan had at times enjoyed a bottle of Bailey’s Auslese Aucerot, and it was this appeal and knowing the potential of the variety to make dessert wines that prompted them to maintain their few cuttings and ultimately propagate them to establish their small planting at Oxley.
When there first Ciavarella aucerot wine was made in 2000, they took a bottle to a then elderly and retired Alan Bailey, who shed some light on the means by which his family came to have the variety. Apparently his grandfather had collected cuttings of a number of grape varieties on a journey to Spain and France just after the First World War. Aucerot was one of them, but Alan could not define where it had come from. Where they got the name aucerot from is uncertain, as that name does not appear in France nor Spain. He did say that his family at times referred to it as “French riesling” but added that was more about the berry shape than the wines made from it. Potentially a mislabelling, mispronunciation or language barrier led to the name. There is a similar sounding name, auxerrois, but that is a red, not white.
Interestingly, in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, there are planting under the name aucerot. However, the CSIRO used DNA-typing to show these to be the variety montils, and distinct from the aucerot of Bailey’s vineyard. There were a number of plantings of aucerot vineyards of Rutherglen and near Albury in the late 1880s, but these were destroyed by phylloxera when it wreaked havoc on those regions in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Wines from aucerot at Ciavarella Oxley Estate
Aucerot is used at Oxley Estate in dessert wines, alone or in blends with semillon, and also in a fortified white in a blend based on aucerot and verdelho. The variety has been found suited to late-picking, and makes luscious wines with great mouthfeel and flavours in the apricot, citrus, marmalade, cumquat spectrum, with some nutty/marzipan and herbal notes. The late-picked wines have proven to be most ageworthy, with the 2005 still showing vibrancy in 2016.
In years where the weather allows late ripening in cool conditions, aucerot can develop intense noble rot (botrytis) infections, which give rise to amazing and long-lived wines, full of the flavours already described, but with added Christmas cake, dried fruit, mixed peel and intense botrytis character. Wines made in 2010 and 2012 are examples.
In the fortified style, bottled under the name “Fortified White” (it was previously called “White Port” until rulings from Europe prevented Aussie makers using that term), Oxley Estate makes a non-vintage blend with raisin, orange rind, almond and apricot flavours that serves well as an aperitif or after dinner treat.
The Ciavarella family get regular comments from those who remember the Bailey’s Auslese Aucerot in days gone by, and there is a real sense held by them of the importance of having saved this piece of Australia’s viticultural heritage. Putting the nostalgia aside, however, the variety stands its ground based on the amazing and long-lived wines it can produce.