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To Helm and back

Every wine region has its trials and tribulations, as a visit to Canberra recently showed us. We dropped in to visit Ken Helm, a great bloke who makes some really terrific wines that we’ve loved for years.

It was a rather balmy autumn morning for Murrumbateman – the Bureau of Meteorology cites a mean minimum temperature of 4.5C and maximum of 15.7C in May – but like most of the East Coast the region was experiencing warmer than average weather with temps close to 20C during the day.

The vines were flushed with the fiery shades of autumn, the sky clear blue and the air crisp – and Matilda the border collie couldn’t have given us a more enthusiastic welcome. She was even happier when we started to play fetch until Ken came out to greet us.

Anyhoo, into the historic cellar door we went. It’s the old 1888 Toual Public School House and listed by the National Trust so has loads of character. School-related paraphernalia as you’d expect as well as quirky photos of people from exotic locations all around the world – Paris, the Taj Mahal, New York – holding a bottle of Helm wine.

As Ken chatted about his plans to build a new riesling winery out back and how pleased he was with his 2016 rieslings, we noticed he turned the tap on in the sink behind the bar. He continued chatting about how The Vintners Daughter 2014 pinot noir, made by daughter Stephanie and husband Ben, was doing so well while putting several bottles into the sink.

A few yarns later, he put the bottles onto the bar with the comment “last night was zero here, which is way too cold to serve the wines. That’s why I put them in warm water to get them to tasting temperature.”

We’d never really thought about what winemakers do when the weather is too cold to serve their wines. Do Orange winemakers put their wines under their armpits to warm up? Does Mudgee use the microwave method? Maybe knitted wine bottle cosies aren’t as naff as we thought but nifty solutions to a cold climate problem!

Here are our thoughts on a couple of the wines:

Helm Premium Riesling 2015 $38

Ken has been banging on about the quality of this wine for a while - and it's easy to understand why. It's a beauty. Citrus, florals, slatey grapefruit, loads of zing, pristine fruit and a real cutting edge. Canberra has been producing really impressive riesling for some time now and Helm has been at the forefront. But in recent years there seems to be greater support for him - and that can only be a good thing. He's broadened his horizons too ... some riesling fruit from Tumbarumba, as well as a half dry style.

Helm Premium Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $52

This wine is only made in strong years, so you're not going to see it all the time. The 2010 is ripe and soft, with fleshy dark berry flavours, all delightfully integrated. Drinking well right now, but ageing slowly and gracefully. Sip and enjoy at your leisure.

Helm Wines is at 19 Butts Road, Murrumbateman