Below is an excerpt from Onwine, written by Jeremy Oliver.
A Folly Forty Years Later?
There’s no denying that I have a lot of affection for Lake’s Folly and what it stands for. When Max Lake, his family and friends set about planting the vineyard in 1963, they were creating history by establishing Australia’s first ‘boutique’ vineyard. Something more than a hobby, later to evolve into a full-scale business, it pioneered the trail since followed by something over 1600 other ‘boutiques’ in Australia …
The mere fact that Lake elected to introduce cabernet sauvignon to the Hunter Valley, then almost exclusively the domain of shiraz and semillon, adds further richness and character to the story. Even today the Hunter is not supposed to be able to produce drinkable cabernet, yet Lake’s Folly continues to fly in the face of quite reasonable expectation and logic. However, the Folly is sited on perhaps some of the Hunter’s finest viticultural dirt. Its south-easterly site of twelve hectares is a combination of volcanic hill and alluvial creek flat.
The first Folly red was made by hand and feet in 1966. Three years later Lake planted chardonnay, just a year after Murray Tyrrell planted his first hectare nearby. Both the Tyrrell’s Vat 47 and the Lake’s Folly Chardonnay have evolved over time into the region’s two very different, utterly distinctive but classic chardonnays. While they share their remarkable longevity, the Folly is generally fleshier and rounder, more expressive of intense juicy honeydew melon and citrus fruit against the long, fine, tightly integrated, more savoury and restrained Vat 47.
To taste a very comprehensive vertical of the Folly red, dating back to 1972, was a fascinating experience …
Kempe is a talented young, but experienced Hunter winemaker in whose hands I believe Lake’s Folly will move from strength to strength. He joined the company in 2000, the same year it was bought by Perth-based businessman Peter Fogarty. Fogarty is aware that many a young winemaker would love to have a spell at Lake’s Folly recorded on their CV, but was determined if possible to find someone with Hunter experience and a fair measure of winemaking passion. Kempe wears his job with pride, and isn’t the sort of guy to up and leave at the next offer.
Rather than make significant redevelopments to Lake’s Folly, Rodney Kempe has spent his time and attention in a fine-tuning sort of a mode. In the vineyard, he’s stopped the use of herbicides entirely, choosing instead to cultivate under the vines to keep weeds in control. The aeration this high-maintenance activity provides also stimulates vine roots foraging for nutrients. He also prefers to hoick the occasional green tree frog out from the crushing bin – whose presence suggests a healthy ecosystem in the vineyard – ahead of spraying pesticides …
While he is happy to maintain Lake’s Folly’s tradition of preventing malolactic fermentation in its Chardonnay, Kempe has modified some of the winemaking practices of his predecessor, Stephen Lake, firstly by electing not to give the red wines extended maturation on gross lees. This removes a significant risk of microbial spoilage from the winemaking, and gives Kempe more control of procedures like malolactic fermentation, which then begins with a relatively clean and microbially stable wine. Kempe is also a fan of racking the red every three to four months, which he says helps to retain freshness and vibrancy. Instead, Stephen Lake had preferred to keep the barrels bedded down without much movement during a 12–14 month period.
There’s also little doubt that the recent introduction of petit verdot to the blend, which was certainly on Stephen Lake’s master plan, has contributed to the brightness, accent and spiciness of its aroma, as well as to its sweetness of fruit and depth of flavour.
Rodney Kempe is a very modest and honest operator, and believes we have yet to see the best from Lake’s Folly. I can’t see any reason why he won’t be proven correct.