Four weeks ago a new darling of Australian wine was born. Back in those innocent, carefree days this wine had a retail price of $40 per bottle.
Fast-forward to a charity auction at Crown in Melbourne last week, and two bottles of it sold for $2000 each.
This rare, suddenly must-have wine is Serrat Shiraz Viognier 2014, and it was grown on a tiny patch of improbable vineyard in Victoria's Yarra Valley.
Improbable, because we're lucky it's still with us; in 2009 the Black Saturday fires tore straight into the vineyard, very nearly smithereening it. The entire vintage was lost. But the spirit of its owners, Tom Carson and Nadege Sune, and their part-time vineyard manager, Kate Thurgood, was not.
On top of the wine world
Five years later and here they are; on top of the wine world. Thurgood isn't the only one who is part-time at Serrat: this place is so small that it doesn't have any full-time employees. Two owners and a field worker; that's it. All have other jobs.
These people know what they're doing; this wine is the perfect storm of people and place and season.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. This wine is rare. They make bugger-all of it, to use the technical term. In fact, only 175 dozen. To put this into some kind of perspective, it's generally accepted that Penfolds Grange has an annual production around the 10-12,000 dozen mark. Penfolds Grange, of course, is not made in massive volume. Some wines are counted in their 100,000s of dozen.
The catapult to super-stardom was unleashed four weeks ago when Serrat Shiraz Viognier 2014 was named Wine of the Year in the Australian wine industry's annual best-selling bible, the Halliday Wine Companion. It was given a score of 99/100, and a suggestion that red wine-loving folks should "move heaven and earth to get hold of a bottle".
The wine also proves, the book notes, that "the greatest wines are perfect from the first moment they are bottled".
Remember, just 175 dozen. Excuse me if I have a little cry now.
Name your price
Back to last week's auction. Such charity sales are not a real-world gauge of value. Indeed, anything but: generosity breathes freely at such events. Two bottles fetched $2000 each, but no-one is suggesting this is the new value of the wine. It does, though, give an idea of demand. And even better – in the words of Nadege Sune – that "$4000 will pay for 10,000 meals. We're pretty happy with that". The auction was at a "Waste Not Want Not" dinner for SecondBite.
What is more 'real', though, is the response on the open auction market, and direct to the winery. The award was announced at a gala affair at close enough to 11 o'clock at night. By 10am the next morning, 295 faxes had rolled into the Serrat winery office (who knew people still used them?), and an astonishing 2679 orders had arrived via email. Two hours later, another 1308 emails had landed.
It's been madness since. Needless to say, the wine is now long sold out. Which brings us to auctions.
'White hot' demand
Langton's wine auctions have had a limited number of Serrat Shiraz Viognier 'lots' since the award was announced. According to Langton's Head of Auctions, Tamara Grischy, demand has been "white hot". The lowest price the wine has so far fetched is $171 per bottle, with a 16.5 per cent buyer's commission on top. The highest is $400 per bottle, plus commission. That comes out at $466 per bottle, for a wine that was $40 four weeks ago. A ten-banger and then some.
Rumour has it that some bottle shops, having had trouble moving previous vintages, decided to decline offers to stock the 2014. But schadenfreude is a nasty business, so we won't perpetuate it. If you do, however, see a bottle tucked away in some off-beat bottle shop at its $40 asking price, perhaps you should politely help them clear some shelf space.
What's all the fuss about?
Is the wine worth the fuss? Let me stroll you through the answer. Great wine is almost never an accident. This wine has suddenly burst from zero to 100 in the popularity stakes, but it has not come from nowhere.
Clearly Kate Thurgood has done an incredible job at nursing the vineyard back to health following the devastation of the 2009 fires. Clearly Nadege Sune, who has worked at importing and selling French oak barrels since 1992, is not your average wine cookie. And clearly the wine's maker, Tom Carson – who has built a colossal reputation via his winemaking work firstly at Yering Station, and currently at Yabby Lake – is a force of immense good in the making of extreme quality wine. These people know what they're doing; this wine is the perfect storm of people and place and season.
I was lucky enough to sit down to a bottle recently. I wrote this about it on my own site, Winefront: "It's one of those wines where you keep having to dive back in for another 'look'".
It takes complexity in its stride, and is simply delicious, but if you care to dwell there's a whole lot going on beneath the surface of the wine. It's like watching a batsman smack a ball crisply through the covers and only later, on the replay, noticing that they had to adjust the stroke mid-shot to cope with the turn of the ball.
There's the beauty, the fascination, and – for your wallet – the rub.
Campbell Mattinson is a reviewer for the James Halliday Wine Companion Book, and the publisher of the Winefront website.