Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

Sleight Of Shand

Tim Shand has an alter ego. There’s Tim: Offspring of two teachers, incisive, earnest looking – even a touch of the nerds about him. Logistics whizz; lob a few moving parts at him and he won’t flinch – just knock up something tidy in no time.
And then there’s Shandy: Impish grin, sense of mischief, sub-surface surge of quiet confidence. Bit of a smart-arse; probably rubs a few people up the wrong way. Intuitive, impulsive, and with more flair than perhaps he realises.
Talk to him and you sense the tension between Tim and Shandy, something akin to the counterbalance ‘twixt smooth fruit and acid cut, has always been there. Head winemaker at Punt Road in the Yarra Valley, Shand is palpably intelligent but hardly covered himself in glory in his formative years. Irked by academic parents peering over his shoulder, he squeaked through school and got into an arts degree in his hometown of Perth in Western Australia. Free to get up at midday and drift on down to the pub, he failed everything in the first year – and chucked it in.
Truth was, he didn’t know what he wanted to do, except travel. He had family in Zimbabwe and fulfilled a dream to travel the length of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. Towards the end of a great year, reality hit – “the anonymity of going through Heathrow, horrible hostels and having no money” – and he knew he was coming home to nothing.
“What that taught me was that the world actually didn’t give two shits about me, and if I didn’t get my skates on, I was going to be in deep poo,” he says.
He had no connection to the vine – “bad wine, horrible beer and West Coast Coolers” had been the staples growing up – but knew he wasn’t cut out for academia or a desk job. It was 2000, a time of optimism in the WA wine scene, and he was vaguely aware of a dynamic industry down in Margaret River. He duly enrolled in a winemaking degree at Curtin University, chugging through the course but essentially grounded in his old Perth life, working part-time in a pub and drinking with his old mates.

The change came when he got his hands dirty during his final year at Curtin. “I just went to the Halliday Wine Companion because I didn’t know shit, and looked up 5-star wineries – there weren’t as many then as there are now – and I just called them and asked to do vintage. The only one that got back to me was Leasingham in the Clare Valley.” He had a ball at Leasingham under Kerri Thompson (aka KT) and when he got back to WA, his campus had been moved to Margaret River. Finally he cut the Perth apron strings and became bound to wine.
Shand went back to Hardys-owned Leasingham in 2004 as trainee winemaker and reckons boldness “way beyond my ability” accelerated his learning curve. This chutzpah, part ignorance and part derring-do, cut both ways. “I drove a forklift into their most expensive red ferment – a two-tonne ferment, pierced the tank and it all just pissed down the drain – because I was arrogant and I wasn’t being careful,” he recalls. On the flipside it’s what gave him the nerve to ask KT to sit in on her monthly tasting with the group winemaker, for whom dogsbody Shand had readied 100-odd Cabernet and Shiraz samples. “So I worked night shift, he arrived at 9am and I went into this tasting that was going to take six or seven hours. I must have looked like death warmed up. He kind of looked at me like, ‘What are you doing?’” But Shand managed to make a couple of pertinent comments, and the fact he’d skipped a sleep to be there left the boss impressed. That connection helped Shand secure a vintage in Hardys-affiliated Veramonte in Chile and, when he got back, a place at Hardys’ Yarra Valley sparkling specialist, Yarra Burn.
Sharply contrasting vintage experiences in the Haut-Médoc and the Côte de Nuits may reveal something about the Tim Shand dichotomy. He managed to “bore” the late Paul Pontallier into offering an incredibly rare opportunity at the first-growth Château Margaux. It was a disaster of grand cru classé proportions. Shand grudgingly admired the viticulture but was deeply unimpressed with everything else. “It was awful. I wasn’t allowed to do anything, they all hated me,” he says. “It was three months of torture. I used to call my wife in tears.”
He left feeling utterly rejected by France but gave it another shot with the Seysses family of Domaine Dujac. They took him in the following vintage, and it was a totally different story. “I went in ’08 to stay at the domaine with this lovely family,” he says. “I swear to God, I was there for two months and can almost remember every day and every experience. It was like some sort of blessing. I worry about going back to Burgundy because it was perfect in every way.” Those halcyon days in Morey-Saint-Denis were also instructive in winegrowing generally, and Pinot in particular.  “It was an open palette. It was a conversation rather than a recipe at Dujac. It was so interesting, so terroir-driven, so transparent.”

Like France, Shand’s time at Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley proved intensely bittersweet. On the plus side, he learned precisely what it took to make top-notch Australian Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet. He’s also unstinting in his admiration for the “creativity and innovation” of 2016 Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year Steve Flamsteed. “What it is, is having the courage to put yourself out there and back your talent.” says Shand. “It’s his gut. It’s an understanding of aesthetics matched with high energy and intensity, is where his success lies.”
Ask Shand about his own strengths, and he’s typically candid. He reckons he lacks originality and doesn’t see artistry in what he does. “To me, winemaking is not an art. I think it’s a trade. It’s arguably more like being a 
jeweller or a carpenter. I think if you’re telling people you’re an artist, you’re a bullshit artist.”
Instead, he feels he’s good at the boring stuff and owes his success to his work ethic and high standards. “In terms of wine and vineyard and people, I know what good looks like and I know what bad looks like. I kind of understand the standard and I know how to meet it,” he says. “There’s the right day to pick the grapes, there’s the right way to make it, the right oak, the right bottling date. That’s kind of par; anything below that, you’ve f***ed it up.”
I put it to him that the
tradie analogy doesn’t really hold up. I assume, perhaps naively, that there’s less site and vintage variation in planks than Pinot Noir. The last few harvests in the Yarra have yielded many exceptional wines but could hardly be described as uniform. Many reported being turned inside out by fast and furious, topsy-turvy 2016. Shand, on the other hand, was in his element. “One of my skills is, having all of those factors in my head, I can balance them out to the right outcome. Calculations, priorities – that’s what I think I’m good at: bringing a lot of things together,” he confesses. “And wine is a lot of things. It’s agriculture, it’s marketing, it’s sales, it’s logistics, it’s science. You bring them all together. That’s what I think I like about it, and I just can’t fathom people who don’t bring things together.”
Evidently Shand’s developed a knack for bringing things together nicely. He’s widely credited with winning Punt Road promotion to the Yarra Valley’s premier league, a feat illustrated by its silverware haul at last year’s Royal Melbourne Wine Awards: best single-vineyard wine, best Shiraz and trophy for viticultural excellence. Gary Walsh of independent review site The Wine Front says Tim is “turning out some of the best value, and most interesting, wines in the country” under the Punt Road and Airlie Bank labels. Tim puts it down to having everything in the right place, in moderation. “All of the interest with none of the nonsense, at a good price,” he says, citing his highly original and widely loved Airlie Bank Franc as a case in point. Made with 100% whole bunch carbonic maceration, it’s hardly the most conventional crowd-pleaser.

If that’s the Shand standard, what makes for greatness? “A wine not made to instantly ingratiate itself,” he muses. “When I taste a Wendouree, or a grand cru next to a 1er cru, I taste profundity. I taste a confidence. It knows what it is. There’s a comfort in its own skin. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand about wine: that less is more. My place in it all is to keep doing the boring stuff, and authenticity will shine through.”
Straight-talking and clear-sighted he may be, but perhaps Shand overlooks the role played by his inner rogue. The youthful rebellion, the pierced tank, the misadventure in Margaux – all these point to a non-conformist side that lends tension to Shand’s universe.
Some are apt to use the terms tension and balance interchangeably in tasting notes, but to me they’re not the same. The latter hints at a pleasing harmony, and is a wonderful thing. The former, running closer to the edge, is more daring, more intriguing. And you sense that the two sides of the imperfectly balanced Tim Shand give you the latter.
Dr Tim ensures order and completeness, and the mercurial Mr Shand takes it a little further, deeper.  It’s compelling viewing and can lead to profundity – with the emphasis on “fun”.

***Disclaimer: This article first appeared on the CellarHand website. CellarHand is both the author’s employer and the Australian distributor of Punt Road and Airlie Bank wines.***

Everything’s Hunky Dory

It’s simply not right to talk about Marlborough without mentioning its beauty. As wine regions go, it’s far from alone in being picturesque. But this is beauty as context, an in-your-face blessedness that hits you the moment you get there. Its key export, Sauvignon Blanc, seduced the world by projecting a similarly blatant, sunshiny charm. This easy appeal is often overlooked but shouldn’t be. The wine proved that some people can’t have too much of a good thing.
That’s how Mike Allan from Huia Vineyards* feels about his adopted home. He and wife Claire didn’t mean to end up here but they didn’t stand a chance. They were studying winemaking in Adelaide in 1990 and scored vintage positions there, Mike at Cloudy Bay and Claire at Corbans. “Very quickly we fell in love with it,” recalls Mike. “It was very energised. We just realised that Marlborough had an amazing climate and it just had everything that we loved doing right smack on our doorstep.”
They saw an ad in the local rag for a block of land on an old apple orchard in Rapaura that “looked to us like heaven”. They stretched themselves to the limit and bought it. That place is now Huia, and Marlborough has paid back its promise in spades.
“Within the wine community there’s a lovely joie de vivre of wine and food and that sort of thing. Malrborough’s not just great for wine, it’s great for growing anything,” says Mike. “There’s a real international flavour because everyone’s travelling. It’s very vibrant.” Then there’s the scenery; one hour up the road is the Molesworth High Country with its lakes and mountains, a second home for keen skier Claire and their daughters, Tui (22) and Sophie (18). Just 20 minutes away are the Marlborough Sounds and 1500km of coastline. The family has a launch there for Hunky Dory – the boat that shares its name with Huia’s second label – and Mike makes the most of it. He loves to cook, and the huge vegetable garden at home calls out for the local seafood. “There’s a lot of snapper and blue cod, and the Sounds are home to green-lipped mussels which are a perfect match for Sauvignon Blanc. It just doesn’t get better.”
As for the vineyards, it took four years’ toil to get the apples out and the land ready for planting. During that time, Mike deepened his relationship with the region at Cloudy Bay and Vavasour, while Claire went from Corbans to Lawson’s Dry Hills. By 1996, they had their own estate up and running. “It was the vitality of the wines we tasted when we got to Marlborough that told us we were somewhere special,” says Mike, accounting for the motivation that got the place built. And the allure of the signature grape is as strong as ever.
“Sauvignon Blanc produces so many different characters from different areas around the valley but there’s a common thread of really fine acidity and a wide range of flavours that go from tropical fruit to gooseberry-grassy,” he says. “I always find the challenge is not to try to show how much fruit you can jam in the bottle but how the different fruits can be made into something that’s really interesting and complex. I always had a problem with wines that are short-lived – it shouldn’t be a one-vintage wonder but something with the pedigree to last a few years.”
To this point, Mike and Claire opt to press rather than crush the fruit, aiming for purity over power. Though there’s no set recipe for barrel and lees work, these both play a key role in building complexity and rounding out the wine.
It’s clear that the Allans are spurred on by the friendships borne of Marlborough Natural Winegrowers. Known as MANA, this group was founded about four years ago and comprises Huia, Te Whare Ra, Hans Herzog, Seresin, Clos Henri, Fromm and Rock Ferry. These producers are either certified fully organic or on track to achieve certification by the end of 2015. It was conceived in the wake of “a perfect storm” for Marlborough: the planting frenzy of the early noughties culminated in a massive 2008 vintage that a GFC-shaken world couldn’t soak up. A lot of smaller producers struggled to survive – not least when they’d already been finding it hard to get their voices heard over the noise of the giants.
The MANA solution was to pool marketing resources, chip in for visits from international wine writers, consolidate buying power, share biodynamic preparations and trade knowhow on the fast-moving world of organics. “Our early aspirations are exactly as it’s unfolded,” says Mike. “We thought we’d be able to share and grow and learn together and that’s precisely what’s happened. There’s no inter-winery competition; it’s very collaborative and a hell of a lot of fun.”
Another thing they share is faith, firmly repaid by results, in Marlborough Pinot Noir. “I think it’s completely come into its own,” says Mike. Producers have a better understanding of the right clones, sites and crop loads. The vines now have a fair bit of age and, as he rightly declares, good Pinot Noir isn’t going to go out of fashion. “New Zealand is very strong south of Hawke’s Bay for Pinot Noir. Martinborough, Marlborough, Canterbury and Central Otago are all going to give you incredibly fine Pinot.” And the Marlborough climate once again may be its trump card, as it tends to give more reliably favourable vintages.
The sunny optimism that lured Mike and Claire here remains undimmed. Their eyes and minds are open, and they’re enjoying themselves. They’ve been invigorated by their 2015 crop of vintage winemakers, who brought fresh ideas California, Austria and Germany. Sophie and Tui, who’ve been helping with ferments since childhood, also pour their youthful energy into the mix.
“What’s lovely is that our vineyards are reaching maturity as well. We’re getting lovely consistency in our fruit quality. We’re completely estate grown. Some of those goals we set in the early days are really coming to fruition. The challenge is to keep the life and the vitality coming through.”

*A version of this article appeared on the CellarHand website. CellarHand is both the author’s employer and the distributor of Huia and Hunky Dory wines in Victoria.

Playing It Cool

Anna Flowerday says ‘cool’ a lot. Not ‘cool’ as in climate – though her journey from fifth-generation Shiraz-swilling McLaren Vale lass to South Island NZ is a big part of the story. Nor ‘cool’ meaning on-trend – in fact some of the best moves she’s made run counter to fashion (and received wisdom). No, just cool in that simple, spontaneous way that says you’re going to dig it, whatever happens.
Example: it’s “pretty cool” that’s she gets to do a job she utterly loves with her husband. The fact that Marlborough Pinot is underrated isn’t an injustice; it’s a “cool opportunity”. And it’s “a cool thing” that her two sets of twin girls get to see her excel in a role once seen as the domain of men. “I’m very conscious of being a mother of four daughters and I want them to think they can do anything,” she says.
This positivity shimmers through Anna’s perspective on Marlborough, where she and husband Jason have been running the Te Whare Ra* (TWR) winery for the past decade. When we catch up over coffee in Melbourne, I ask whether the region’s runaway success with Sauvignon Blanc has been a blessing or a curse. She concedes it’s a double-edged sword, with “savvy” stealing the limelight – and the vineyard area – from other varieties, and leading some to write off Marlborough as a one-trick pony.
But she also sees the grape, which accounts for a third of TWR production, as a wellspring of opportunity. “To me Marlborough and Sauvignon was just a lucky accident, a variety and place that gave you something a bit different and a bit special,” she says. “I think it’s introduced people to Marlborough and it’s up to us as winemakers to be a bit thoughtful about what we do with it. At Te Whare Ra we’re trying to make a long-term, really strong estate. I want to be known for a really cool range of wines and it’s kind of like my kids; I like them all for different reasons on different days, but I love them all equally.”
Girls in net
It’d be tempting to put her sunny outlook down to all that UV light but in fact the unbridled optimism goes back to where it all started: Hardys in McLaren Vale in the mid-1990s. For a young winemaker back then, it was the coolest gig in town. “Wine was king, and there were a lot of us who were all pretty young. We all knew we’d been given a massive opportunity and we worked our arses off to prove ourselves.”
She was at Hardys for seven years all up, working in a positive, collaborative culture that encouraged speaking up and trying things out. “If you look at the Hardys kindergarten and who’s come out of it – Stephen Pannell and KT (Kerri Thompson) were slightly older than me and then there was Larry Cherubino, Rob Mann, Sue Bell – a lot of young winemakers who are now in the upper echelon in Australia. Those really were the glory days,” she says.
Much of the credit goes to Peter Dawson, Hardys chief winemaker of the time and now co-owner of Dawson & James in Tasmania. “The two things he believed in were passion and palate,” says Anna. “Those are the two things he looked for in winemakers and I think they stand you in good stead. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, that’s really what this industry’s all about.”
TWR syrah and pinot
At Hardys Anna also fell deeply in love – twice. The first time was in McLaren Vale and took the form of “that old vintage romance kind of thing” with Marlborough boy, Jason Flowerday. And the other – no less significant – was when she was promoted to a position at Leasingham in Clare Valley, working with Kerri Thompson. “That’s really where the love of Riesling kicked in and I guess that just spread to other aromatic varieties.”
The Flowerdays’ aromatic white range now takes in Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, as well as a blend of all three, named Toru. Their success in this area has a lot to do with organic and biodynamic viticulture, says Anna. The vines are routinely delivering sugar, acid and flavour ripeness at the same time, so there’s no need to go chasing balance in the winery. “With Riesling you’re balancing the sweetness and the acidity; with Pinot Gris there’s a bit of that but then texture comes into it too; Gewürz has no acidity so you’re almost balancing the alcohol and the ripeness of the wine again with the sweetness. But when you get it right, it’s almost like you don’t see it. Balance really equals drinkability.”
As well as opening up aromatic options, life in a cool climate has changed Anna’s tastes. Where once she’d think nothing of knocking back youthful, ball-busting Shiraz, these days those same wines face a 10-year wait in the cellar, while whites and Pinot Noir are constant companions. “I guess one thing that I really look for – and I’ve appreciated it a lot more as I’ve matured as a winemaker – is that there’s a lot of beauty in purity. I think especially coming out of those late 90s, everything was about ‘big’ – big this, big that, big oak, big fruit – and I look now for more subtlety and nuances. I’m happy with wines that are a bit quieter, more understated.”
Vine row beautiful ground cover
True to form, she loves the challenge of the heartbreak grape. When they bought the vineyard in 2003, the Pinot Noir vines were young and not ready to deliver the wine they wanted – a fact that no amount of winery wizardry could distort. “Pinot’s about patience, that’s one thing I really have learned. You can’t force it anywhere it doesn’t want to go. If you overwork it or you cut corners you’re really going to see that in the wine. It’s very transparent like that. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity.”
Now, with older vines and better farming practices, the complexity has come of its own accord and TWR’s Pinot has won ardent fans. Thanks to greater care and investment across the region – and the annual Pinot Bootcamp where winemakers gather to compare notes on trial wines – Anna views Marlborough as the sleeping giant of Kiwi Pinot. “There’s a really strong line-up that I’d happily stand by and defend to all comers,” she says.
But if Marlborough Pinot has long “been the bridesmaid” Syrah would be lucky to even crack an invite. “It was a bit of a punt, to be honest,” Anna admits. It’s one that has paid off – but how did they come to take the plunge in the first place? Turns out the Hardys have-a-go spirit is only part of the answer. Temperature data monitoring and ripening dates had alerted them to a warm spot in the vineyard that might show promise. On top of that, TWR’s founders used to have a block they used for a Bordeaux blend, and a look at some of the old vintages showed they’d managed to ripen Cabernet almost as often as not. So from there Syrah – which tends to ripen a month or so earlier – was in with a chance. “If you asked 10 people in the region, nine of them would say you’re totally nuts to even try it. But that’s the whole point of what we’re doing. It’s not same-same and we don’t have to wear a commercial hat all the time.”
Picking the Syrah together is a Flowerday family tradition. The two sets of twins, who’ve just turned seven and ten respectively, really enjoy it – and it’s more than a clever cost-cutting scheme for their parents. “I think it’s good for them to understand what we do and why we do it,” says Anna. “Wine is such an obsessive thing. It’s our life, not just a job. And I think if you’re not into it, it’s actually quite hard to understand why you’re there for all those hours or why it’s a 360-day-a-year thing.”
A&J sorting table
And if you find your TWR wine seamlessly drinkable, then that might just be the taste of marital harmony. Anna says she and Jason make better wines together than they ever did in their individual careers. “Some of the best wines I’ve ever had were made by more than one person, because you’re not infallible and different people are sensitive to different things.” Anna and Jason agree 95% of the time – with the vexed question of when to pick being the source of most of their domestics.
And she credits Jason with what she sees as their proudest achievement at TWR: the restoration of some of the oldest vines in Marlborough to impeccable health. When they purchased the property they were “pretty near stuffed”, to the point where many would’ve given up on them. But instead those same vines live on to lend their own character to the wines. “And that’s really full credit to Jase because he’s the guru of growing things. He just has a real knack for understanding plants and what they need, and I get the benefit of that when we bring the fruit into the winery.”
Theirs is a vineyard that gets checked out an awful lot, such is the paperwork that goes with organic and biodynamic certification. But do you want to know the coolest thing? It’s when those soil scientists come with their clipboards and declare TWR the best organic vineyard in New Zealand. “Because everything we do is about being the best,” says Anna. “Not the biggest, not the loudest. It’s a long game that we’re playing, and I think we’re taking Te Whare Ra to a good place.”

*A version of this article appeared on the CellarHand website. CellarHand is both the author’s employer and the distributor of TWR’s wines in Victoria and NSW.

To Be Dexterous & Deft

So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact
And remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!

– Dr Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Tod Dexter went a long way to get where he is today, at home on his Mornington Peninsula vineyard this crisp autumn day. And he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for some sound advice from his mum.
Young Dexter had yet to settle on anything serious after leaving school in the mid-70s. He’d “travelled a bit and done a bunch of jobs”, including a stint with one of Melbourne’s best known wine merchants and a weekend in the cellar at Wantirna Estate. His latest escapade was a ski season in the States. His mother asked if he was going to carry on that way for the rest of his life. Dexter thought probably not. “And so she said: ‘Why don’t you go to the Napa Valley and learn how to make wine?’ And I thought: ‘That sounds like a good idea’.”
That was May 1979. Robert Mondavi’s was the first door he knocked on – and the first of many to knock him back. “So I got a job in a cooperage assembling barrels and I figured I’d either take it up as a trade or at the very least meet winemakers coming in to pick up barrels.”
And that’s just what happened. Bruce Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars picked up on the accent and gave him the break he was looking for. Dexter’s drifting days were over; he rolled up his sleeves and remained elbow-deep in Cabernet, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay until 1986, overseeing a crush that grew from 150 to 800 tonnes. “I look back on it now as a seven-year apprenticeship,” says Dexter. “I got involved with every aspect of the business. They more or less adopted me for that period, so it was a really good time.”
During that period he met wife Debbie, and the two of them started to toy with the idea of setting up in Australia in the mid-80s. Back-to-back vintages at Brown Brothers in the King Valley in 1985 and ’86 served as a trial.
The experience – including the jump from Cakebread’s boutique operation to a 6,000-tonne crush – was a good one. “Brown Brothers were fantastic to work with, a really nice family. They were very generous to Debbie and me being ‘foreigners’ from America and it was very good to see the other side of the industry.”

Dexter at Stonier, 1991
Dexter at Stonier, 1991
Dexter came home for good in late 1986 with a six-week-old daughter in tow. Two years previously he’d come back for his sister’s wedding and fitted in a recce of the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. On that same trip he’d met up with the peninsula’s pioneer vignerons. “I was kind of impressed with the wines but it just looked like a small, backyard industry and I wasn’t sure it had the potential to go as far as the Yarra Valley had already come,” he recalls. But when push came to shove, the former ski instructor couldn’t resist the lure of the beach.
He and Debbie bought land on a north-facing slope in Merricks North and planted vines in 1987. That same year he made the wines at Elgee Park. That hotchpotch harvest speaks volumes about the region’s fledgling status at the time. The grand sum of 15 tonnes was crushed, from a quintet of producers with two varieties apiece.
And then came Dexter’s next Cakebread moment. One of those five producers was Brian Stonier, whose winemaker, Stephen Hickinbotham, had been killed in a plane crash the previous year. “Brian realised he could do one of two things,” says Dexter. “He could either stay very small and keep it as a hobby, or he could grow the business. He decided it was time to take the giant leap of faith and build a brand. So he said to me: ‘Do you want to come along for the ride?’ And I said: ‘Sure, why not?’”
Dexter knew where he was with Chardonnay after his time in Napa (his preference for the “unhygienic” practice of barrel fermentation initially raised eyebrows among Morningtonians, mind you) but these were early days for peninsula Pinot Noir, a grape with which Dexter had scant experience. “The first one I made was the ’87 Stonier and it was not very good,” he laments. “It really gave us no clues.”
He got a bit more of a clue about the heartbreak grape when he spent some time working with James Halliday at Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley. “I spent three weeks living in James’s house. We obviously drank a few Burgundies and that gave me some good tips on how to handle Pinot,” says Dexter.
The 1988 Pinot was “lovely” but was followed by the “wet, terrible” 1989 vintage and a thin 1990. But 1991 turned out well, and a further glimmer of hope came when Domaine Chandon selected a Stonier Pinot Noir to serve at its gala opening in the Yarra Valley that same year. Other high points included the shock of winning Best Varietal Red Wine at the Adelaide Wine Show in 1994 and then Best White Wine at the International Wine Challenge in London for the 1999 Reserve Chardonnay.
IMG_2069
“The ups and downs were extraordinary,” says Dexter of the Mornington Peninsula’s learning curve. “A lot of people think it’s always been Chardonnay and Pinot and it’s always been great and it was always an easy decision. In fact it was the pioneers like Brian Stonier, Garry Crittenden, George Kefford of Merricks Estate and Nat White of Main Ridge who did all the hard work and made it easier for the newer players.”
Dexter left Stonier in 2003 to take the reins at Yabby Lake, whose vineyards are a stone’s throw from his own. In 2006, a decade and a half after his site started yielding fruit for Stonier, he turned 50. A friend told him if he didn’t do his own thing now, it’d never happen. The Dexter label was born.
His vineyard is planted to 10 acres of Pinot Noir and 7.5 of Chardonnay, and he makes roughly the same quantity of each. He knows a lot more about Pinot now than when that single barrel of ’87 Stonier – topped up with Cabernet, by the way – dribbled dishearteningly into the glass. What he strives for in Pinot is what he looks for in any wine he drinks: aromatics, prettiness, texture, elegance, line and length.
He’s altered his approach to Chardonnay, too. “In Australia we got stuck in a wave of thinking bigger is better. We were producing many wines that by today’s standards were just too big and clumsy to be enjoyable. But journalists loved them, the show system loved them. It was the way we were. Even the 1999 Stonier Reserve Chardonnay in its day was probably a bit clumsy.”
Now, though, it’s all about elegance and finesse, acid balance, good fruit and a lick of oak. “And drinkability,” he adds. “That’s a word I use more often now than ever before. You’ve got to be able to enjoy more than a glass and not feel like you’ve drunk too much. We’re older and wiser but we’ve also got older Chardonnay vines. What I know from my vineyard is I can pick at earlier sugar levels and still get really good flavours and a nice natural acid balance. I couldn’t have done that 15 years ago. We needed to let the grapes hang longer and get riper.”
So it is that the happy-go-lucky youngster who drifted off to the US ski fields all those years ago has become a sage of this relatively young region. “Those formative years make it so much easier to do what I do now,” says Dexter. “But that was never part of the grand plan. The business plan I wrote in 1984 was to come home and buy the land, plant the vineyard, build a winery and start selling the wine. It’s taken a bit longer than I thought.”

Dexter Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2012

Clear pale straw. The nose is fairly pronounced, a roll call of inviting Chardonnay characters. It has lemon rind, grapefruit, nectarine, grilled nuts, toast and a suggestion of burnt caramel. From the citrus-edged attack flows a medium-bodied, intense palate that wraps in everything that was on the nose. Lively and fresh, the zesty acidity giving it real drive. It’s got beautifully integrated oak and fruit, impeccable line and impressive, delicious length. Exemplary Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay.

Costs $40 direct from the producer – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 27/05/14

Don Quijote De La Yarra

Let’s start with the similarities. Don Quixote was a wandering romantic on a Spanish quest, a noble sort with lofty ideals whose author lent him the epithet “ingenious”. And the differences? The man from La Mancha was vain, deluded and got his name on the cover of the book.
Andrew Marks, meanwhile, turned down the role of hero in his own story. When I ask where the Wanderer moniker came from, he tells me: “I just didn’t feel it needed to be eponymous. The wine has to speak for itself.” You hear that a lot in this game, but often the wines don’t get to do the talking. You sense an ego there, prodding the wine to perform. Wines raised to get themselves noticed, groomed for the limelight.
But the Wanderer wines, like Marks, are measured, modest and gently persuasive. They make no grand demands and then you note their welcome presence, stronger and more enduring than you’d expected. You nod and think, “Good trick,” but then realise it wasn’t a trick. It was good wine. And then you want some more.
Marks has been around wine since he was a child, with his parents planting vineyards at Gembrook Hill in the southern part of the Yarra Valley in 1983. After high school, Marks studied Oenology at Adelaide University and landed a job at Penfolds in 1998, a year after graduating. He stayed with the company until 2003, during which he fitted in vintages in Sonoma, Burgundy and the Languedoc.
Then came the time to expound some Marksist theory. “After working for Penfolds all those years, I just thought I’d be better off working on my own dream rather than someone else’s,” as he puts it. So he returned to the Yarra Valley, where he does his real job at Gembrook Hill.
Marks released his first Wanderer wines in 2005. He started with a pair of field blends – a Gewurztraminer/Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay rosé – plus a frizzante Muscat he called Moscatito. He then started adopting, bit by bit, the sites that make up the current range. First came a single-vineyard Lower Yarra Pinot Noir in 2007. This was followed a year later by an Upper Yarra Pinot and brilliant Shiraz from single vineyards in Yellingbo and Dixons Creek respectively. In 2010 he added a lovely barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc.
Where a company like Penfolds has a glut of options when it comes to fruit sources, Marks is more exposed to the vagaries of nature at home in the Yarra. Perhaps it’s further sharpened his acutely sensitive touch. “With Gembrook Hill, working in the vineyard you learn year in, year out that you’re producing a wine that’s a product of the year and of the vineyard,” he says. “The most important step is getting the picking day correct. I’m looking for bright, sweet fruit flavours, with the acid balanced.”
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Then there’s Marks’s quixotic venture far from the Yarra, in Catalunya. El Wanderer traces its roots back to 2000, the year Marks met “legend” Anna Espelt while working in California. Her family has Carinyena (Carignan) vines planted in 1908 in the Empordà region of Spain’s Costa Brava. Marks worked a few months in the Espelt cellar in 2004, then spent a further six months there a year later, at the end of which he was invited to head up the winemaking. Needless to say he declined, but the annual pilgrimage to this second home continues.
Marks plans the trip to ensure he’s on Catalan soil comfortably in advance of the fruit hitting perfect ripeness. As with the Upper Yarra Pinot Noir, he sorts the Carinyena grapes in the vineyard. He then places them in an open fermenter (10% whole bunches), gives them three weeks on skins and likes to have them pressed to barrel before hopping on the plane back to Australia. “I feel pretty lucky to play with fruit of that character,” he says. “It’s a medium-bodied wine with good structure and balance, light enough to go with fine foods. As with all wines, texture is critical. Texture is what makes wines drinkable and smashable. Sometimes it’s a little bit overlooked.”
The Wanderer name wasn’t simply inspired by Marks’s globetrotting winemaking escapades. He was something of a searcher before all this began and, of course, it isn’t just about him anyway. “I’ve always enjoyed a sense of adventure, and as you get older you realise that pretty much everyone is on a journey in some respect,” he says. “I just want people to drink the wines and enjoy them. And people who look for a little bit more should find it.”

The Wanderer Upper Yarra Pinot Noir 2012 Yarra Valley

Clear pale ruby. Pretty nose, red fruits leaping from the glass accompanied by rhubarb and fresh mint. Crunchy red fruits – strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant – mark the entry, and the wine is shot through with subtle sweetness and spice across the palate. It’s medium-bodied with a somehow surprising intensity. The very fine tannins give a touch of grip and there’s lively acidity. A strong sense of unhurried, assertive flow, leading to a finish of juicy redcurrant and fresh herbs. Gorgeous.

Costs $55 from the Wanderer website – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 14/04/14 – Diam closure

El Wanderer Alt Empordà Carinyena 2010 Empordà DO, Spain

Clear medium ruby, bright and inviting in the glass. Red-fruited nose, raspberries and cherries, with fresh liquorice. It’s juicy and medium bodied in the mouth, with base notes of beetroot earthiness and cinnamon spice playing below buoyant raspberry and blackberry. Firm, chewy tannins and sprightly acidity fit like comfortable clothes. It has a sense of rusticity; candid with a country air to that wholesome fruit and earth. Not fussy and precise, but beautifully composed. Delicious and full of character.

Costs $55 – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 14/04/14 – Diam closure

A Cracking Pair Of Bress

“Because it f*@king rocks!”
There’s a pause while Adam Marks wonders whether such language was appropriate and while I wonder what Bonnezeaux Gonzo’s f-word policy is. I’d posed a simple enough question: Why is Pinot Noir his favourite wine to drink and make? But I realise the empathic recklessness was the most telling aspect of the response. That’s why the expletive must stay – even if it needs silly symbols to sugarcoat the pill for my older readers (aka ‘dad’).
I haven’t met Marks in person; he wasn’t at the Bress winery when my wife and I popped in for an Easter Monday tasting. But you can feel the crackle of energy on the phone; he’s excitable, impulsive, impish. It’s not altogether a surprise. You poke around the premises of this biodynamic producer and its all laidback, hippyish rusticity, but the wines themselves have a certain exuberance about them. And a bit of bravado is a bloody good thing when there’s skill and soul in the mix.
A 2001 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir was the first wine Adam made when he and wife Lynne returned from their honeymoon and started Bress. For the first few years they ran it like a négociant business, choosing good fruit from good vineyards in good regions and juicing it up in mates’ wineries.
Then in 2004 they started looking for a permanent place. They thought about setting up shop in the Yarra Valley, where Marks had fond memories of working under Rob Dolan at Sticks, but they couldn’t quite stretch to the cost. Instead they settled on some granite-strewn hills just south of Bendigo in Victoria, a stone’s throw from Harcourt Valley Vineyards where Marks started making wine in the late 80s. “It was squalor. The property was just a rundown shithole,” he recalls.
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Ten years later it’s a lovely home complete with cellar door, market garden, wood-fired pizza ovens and working winery, as well as a bunch of free-range chickens strutting about. The label is a homage to the tasty birds of Bourg-en-Bresse in France, a place where proud artisans nurture a delicacy valued for its provenance, integrity and deliciousness.
The property also came with what was then Australia’s largest cider apple and perry pear orchard, from which Bress now turns out excellent traditional-method fizz. Elsewhere, the négociant ethos lives on, with Marks putting together a relatively broad range of wines. Edited highlights include a silky, nectarine-and-nougat Macedon Chardonnay 2012 ($35) and floral, pure-fruited Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($25), in addition to those below.
But back to my initial question: Why Pinot Noir? “It’s the crown jewel,” says Marks. “It’s captivating, it gets you excited and it makes you want to go and make a better wine.” So far, so familiar. But then: “The first one that set me on the way was a Hungerford Hill Hunter Valley Pinot Noir from the late 80s or early 90s made by Ralph Fowler. People may pooh-pooh me for that, but it was just a revelation to me.”
That love of Pinot Noir went up a notch in 1996. Marks calls the Yarra Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir from that vintage “a smoker” and “the most pleasing wine I’d ever made”. That was also the year Rob “best boss in the world” Dolan sent him to Beaujolais and Burgundy.
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Marks reserves great admiration for a range of great Aussie Pinot makers, reeling off the likes of Dan Pannell at Picardy, Michael Glover at Bannockburn, Steve Flamsteed at Giant Steps, Nat White at Main Ridge and Phil Moraghan at Curly Flat.
But nothing inspires him like France, a land that encapsulates the timeless qualities he’s after: savoury, textured, nuanced, complex wines. Marks looks to conjure a quiet strength in his own creations. “I want the wines to be a little understated, especially on the nose, then open up and compel you to think.”
As you might expect, there are no hard-and-fast winemaking rules here. It’s all instinct and freedom, which pretty much goes for the business arrangements too. There are no contracts with suppliers or growers; you give your word and that’s that. “You care for people and they care for you back,” says Marks. “We’re just one big, happy kumbayah here at Bress. We just want to keep things nice and simple because there’s just too much in this world that isn’t that way. I hope this is a place where people can come and learn more about the things they enjoy. Wine is a very good vehicle for sharing things.”

Bress Gold Chook Macedon Pinot Noir 2012

Bright medium garnet. The nose is a fairly dense fog of possibilities, thanks largely to the inclusion of about 80% whole bunches in the ferment: wild berries, plum sauce, gingerbread, mixed spice and some bloodiness too. It’s the fresh fruit that hits you on entry, though, and this floods through to a berry-rich medium-bodied palate, with truffle and spice along for the ride. Firm blood plums and red cherries zing through the longish finish. It’s a gorgeous Pinot with generous fruit, a good dose of enigma and structure to frame its boldness.

Costs $40 from the winery website – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 21/04/14

Bress Gold Chook Heathcote Shiraz 2012

Marks used 50-70% whole bunches for this, the kind of Shiraz I could drink over and over. Clear dark ruby with a pronounced nose of black cherry, damson compote, ginger root, black olive, earth and vanilla bean. Ripe red cherry and plum mark the attack with cracked black pepper sprinkled around the sides. It’s supple and not much more than medium bodied, but there’s striking concentration to the juicy, fresh fruit. It’s also nicely layered, with bright red berries, firm plum, tapenade and almost a pleasant prickle to its spice. Firm, chalky tannins bolster its presence and it finishes fairly long.

Costs $40 from the winery website – Alcohol 14% – Tasted 21/04/14

The Good Grump’s Gamay

If you want to read a gushing review of this post, don’t look to David Lloyd. I remember him telling me some time ago that he’d read a feature I’d written for the literally titled Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine. I’d agonised over the piece and was pleased with the result. I gave Lloyd about a minute to follow up with the inevitable compliment.
Not a word.
“And…?” I dumbly enquired. “Bit fluffy,” came the reply.
You can see where the Mr Grumpy moniker came from that adorns his favourite mug and t-shirt. But really that’s all show. It was his kindness that first brought me to Eldridge Estate, the beautiful, eight-acre vineyard he and wife Wendy have called home since 1995. He didn’t know me from Adam but still let me loose on the vineyard, indulging my curiosity with some “work” leading up to the 2013 vintage.
Perhaps a better measure of his goodness was the way he dealt with my wrapping his tractor around Row T of the Pinot Noir. He didn’t even take the piss. Maybe he forgot.
If you cut David Lloyd he would bleed Pinot, and the fact he refers to Wendy by the acronym QoC – Queen of Chardonnay – tells you almost all you need to know about their devotion to the Burgundy grapes so prevalent on the Mornington Peninsula.
Almost, but not quite. When they bought the Red Hill property, they glimpsed an extra opportunity. “We were standing, looking at the hills and imagining Beaujolais, where the vineyards face due south with rolling hills. And we thought, ‘Let’s put Gamay in because we love it’.”
That affection dates back to a trip to France in the 80s. Travelling around on “ill-gotten (gambling) gains” he had no qualms about spanking some francs on fine wine. The gay abandon with which he worked his way through a “cheat list” of top Burgundy left him somewhat blinkered. “It was only at the end of the trip that I’d look around and think, ‘What’s everyone else drinking?’,” he recalls. “You’d be amazed. There was Beaujolais everywhere. It was always Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent, and the odd Fleurie. So I tried it and it was more food friendly that just about any other wine I’ve come across.”
This attribute seems to have won Gamay a lot of fans among young sommeliers I know, who seem to come at it untouched by the Nouveau nausea that seems to have afflicted older generations. Likewise they seem not to subscribe to that most irrational of wine prejudices: that a drink-young drop, no matter how delicious, is somehow less valid than a venerable, ageworthy Pinot Noir.
Now Lloyd may be as pious about Pinot as the next Morningtonian, but this man of contradictions commits what many round here would hold to be a sacrilege. Since 2011, he’s released a Pinot/Gamay blend he calls PTG, modelled on Bourgogne Passetoutgrains. The exact make-up of the blend is not predetermined but every year it’s ended up a 50:50 split, while Lloyd tends to select the Gamay and Pinot batches that show up lightest from his hotchpotch of clones. It’s then aged in 30% new French oak to give it a bit of oomph. “The key factor is I want the PTG to be light and fresh,” says Lloyd. “I want it zingy, with a bit of acid kick. I also like it to have a slight hint of spritz.”
For my money, it’s a lovely, bright-fruited summer wine with slow-burning depth. But tell him I found it a bit fluffy.
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Eldridge Estate Gamay 2012 Mornington Peninsula

Clear crimson purple in colour, with a nose of cherry, plum, kirsch and geranium. It’s dry and medium-bodied, with nicely defined cherry and blueberry fruit plus a hint of cherry cheesecake. It has a pleasing plum-skin texture and grip, with cracked black pepper coming in to offset the juicy fruit. Firm acidity pushes it out to moderate length with lingering plum and sour cherry aromas. This vintage shows plenty of spice and brooding depth; drink with Chinese duck pancakes or chorizo and serrano ham.

Costs $38 at the cellar door – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 03/02/14

Onannonward Journey

“Wow. This is my first interview,” jokes Will Byron. As we watch my one-year-old son clamber over barrel racks towards the sulphur dioxide, I think it’s fair to say Byron hasn’t hit the big time yet. But I’m honoured to catch him near the start of Onannon’s journey. The three lads behind it have “proper” jobs at wineries of fine repute. But this too is a serious venture that’s turned out some seriously good wines.
Charming, cheerful and hardworking, Byron’s the kind of bloke at whom mums would gladly fling their daughters – or themselves. The same could be said for the other two Onannoners, Kaspar Hermann and Sam Middleton, grandson of Mount Mary legend Dr. John Middleton. The three of them kicked off Onannon with a three-barrel production of Gippsland Pinot Noir in 2008. By 2012, the range had grown to three releases, taking in a Mornington Peninsula Pinot and Gippsland Chardonnay.
When I first heard the name it immediately called to mind the peerless Longpigs song On and On, while it seems those of a less romantic bent have linked it with a seed-spilling sinner from the Bible. It is, in fact, an amalgam of the last letters of the boys’ surnames. Whatever, it seems assured that the story of Onannon will run and run.
Gippsland likewise appears to have a bright future. The likes of Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip have put it on the map but that map remains sketchy. “I think it’s still an untapped resource. It’s going to take people to go out there and make definable wines from specific sites for Gippsland to become a region that people can taste and recognise,” says Byron. “It’s nice to feel like you’re at the forefront of a region getting discovered.”
For those who don’t know, Gippsland is a zone to the east of Melbourne’s suburbs, with well over 200km separating its westernmost winery from its counterpart in the farthest east. The latest edition of James Halliday’s Australian Wine Encyclopedia has the area’s winery tally at 56, but it’s a fair bet a few new ones have sprung up since.
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Onannon makes its wines on the Mornington Peninsula, home to the bolder but equally good Pinot Noir the trio makes. Their Gippsland wines, meanwhile, betray the coolness of the zone with their fresh, almost crunchy fruit. “We’re not afraid of having some acid in our wines,” says Byron. “To my mind, Chardonnay and Pinot are wines that probably should be a little bit edgy when they’re young. You’re waiting for the flesh and personality to go around the skeletal stuff that you prepare when you’re making it.”
Fruit for the 2012 wines came from East Gippsland. Byron says the Chardonnay here shows stone fruit characters reminiscent of classic Yarra Valley, while the acid line reminds him of the Mornington Peninsula. On top of that, there’s an elusive dimension that sets it apart. This particular one was fermented and aged for 10 months in French oak barriques (25% new), saw a little lees work and didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation.
The 2012 Pinot hails from another vineyard close by, where Byron sees “gameyness, purity and prettiness” as hallmarks. The future 2013 release, on the other hand, is made from South Gippsland fruit, noted for the structure and ageworthiness of its wines.
Byron and his partners are “bloody busy doing a lot of other things” but they’ll somehow find time during vintage to put together some more head-turning wines. The plan is for one of them, most likely Byron, to take a lead and build it into a two to three thousand-case production over the next couple of years.
“We’re just really good mates and we wanted to make wine together,” says Byron. “It’s a bit like being in a band. We could all go off and release our own solo albums but we thought that with the three of us coming together, it just ticks all the boxes.”

Onannon Gippsland Chardonnay 2012

Gleaming medium lemon in colour with a somewhat muted nose of lemon peel, peach and banana skin, plus some nuttiness. It really grabs your interest on entry, with pure, zesty lemon zinging around a core of firm white nectarine. Tightly structured and focused, with bracing, citrusy acid driving it to a white-grapefruit finish of moderate length. Drink now to 2018+.

Costs $38 direct from producer – Alcohol 13.3% – Tasted 22/12/13 – Diam

Onannon Gippsland Pinot Noir 2012

Crimson pink and perky, a touch hazy too. Lovely, fragrant nose of strawberries, red cherries, fennel and spice. Fresh, crunchy red berries are there on the silky palate, which has good intensity, too. The tannins are fine, the acidity cleansing with a tangy sharpness. The finish of wild strawberry with a faint whiff of rose petals leaves the mouth watering for another glass. Beautiful, summer-drinking Pinot Noir. A revisit a few months later showed greater complexity and depth to the wine; I expect the next five or so years to be very kind to it.

Costs $38 direct from producer – Alcohol 12.8% – Tasted 03/09/13 – Diam

Quealy’s Daring Gambol

Pobblebonk. I know what you’re thinking: Wacky. Wait till you hear the ingredients. But this inauspicious start heralds an experience as joyous and carefree as a frolic in summer meadows. And then there’s Rageous. Odd name again, the label displeased my eyes and the ménage à trois – Sangiovese, Shiraz and Pinot Noir – seemed a tad far-fetched. The woman behind it admits her friends tried to save her from herself. “When I made Rageous, everyone said ‘You shouldn’t make that wine’. But it’s like the Pobblebonk. To make it, you have to commit from the beginning; you can’t just whack it together later on.”
Few would dispute the fact that Kathleen Quealy’s committed – though some might wonder if she should be committed. These are wines that undoubtedly inspire curiosity. I had to know more.
Fittingly it developed into something of a quest, in spite of the fact they were concocted a stone’s throw from my home. Part of the problem was the holiday season, part of it communication issues. “So where do I find your blog? Is that an internet thing?” she asked when I tried to set up an interview.
I was pleasantly disoriented on arrival at Balnarring Vineyard. It was like landing in a foreign country, an extreme version of Australia, possibly some time in the past. Quealy was hanging out washing on the garden fence, with five bikes lined up like family outside the shed. She still hadn’t seen my blog. “I went on the internet last night to try to figure out how to use the washing machine,” she explained. “That kind of broke me.”
Quealy started the business in 2006, three years after selling T’Gallant, the Mornington Peninsula winery she’d built up with winemaker husband Kevin McCarthy. The wines I’m dealing with here, Pobblebonk and Rageous, were the first made under the new venture, though the range has expanded to include varietal wines from Pinot Gris, Friulano, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.
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Pobblebonk is a nickname given to a number of species of Australian frog of the genus Limnodynastes. Their call, according to the Frogs of Australia website, is “a short musical, explosive note producing a resonant ‘bonk’”. When the billabong banter really gets going, it’s apparently quite a rousing chorus.
The name was chosen to evoke the symphony of grapes: Friulano, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Moscato Giallo. The inspiration for the wine was twofold: the Pinot Grigio blends of Friuli in Italy, and whites such as Houghton White Burgundy, the humble but brilliant Aussie wine which always had a good splash of aromatic grapes.
Pobblebonk is a field blend, which is important because “it has to be like a problem that you solve”. Friulano was chosen as the dominant component because of its high acidity and scent of meadow flowers. The Friulano and Moscato are given 24 hours’ skin contact for texture, and these pile on the aromatics alongside the Riesling.
The Rageous, on the other hand is Quealy’s “rip-off of the super-Tuscan”. It’s a blend of roughly 50% Sangiovese, 30% Shiraz and 20% Pinot Noir and is only made in years when the peninsula – a Chardonnay and Pinot haven – ripens the less-common black grapes well.
The Sangiovese and Shiraz are co-fermented, the Pinot added as soon as possible in order to keep its tannin. It spends 30 days on skins, with only the free-run juice used for the wine, which then spends 18 months in a mixture of French and American oak.
The label bears the Ogden Nash-penned couplet: In the land of mules, there are no rules. The Latin rendering of this (‘Mundus
 mulorum/non est regularum’, in case you’re rusty) was once handed to Quealy by a former colleague. “It kind of means that if you do it yourself, you can do whatever you want,” she explains. “That’s all it is really, just a bit of fun.” There are diehard Rageous fans out there – and I’ve met a few – but then plenty of others who won’t go near it.
So do we call it a cult wine? Quealy laughs at the suggestion. “Maybe it is a bit cult, but not with the heavy hitters. I think I’m going to miss the heavy hitters in my lifetime.”

Quealy Pobblebonk 2012 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
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Pale straw in colour, it has a super-fragrant nose of chamomile, citrus blossom and honey, alongside apple, pear, apricot, lychee and slightly soapy Muscat grapeyness. Medium bodied with good flavour intensity, those orchard, citrus and stone fruits skip over each other through the slippery mid-palate. Even with that range, it’s nicely bound and harmonious, with some stone-fruit kernel savouriness too. The fine natural acidity and phenolic grip leave the perfume and a hint of sweetness lingering on the finish. A lovely wine showing great flair, probably best enjoyed over the next three years or so.

Costs $28 from the cellar door – Tasted 11/10/13 Alcohol 13.2%

Quealy Rageous 2012 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
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Clear pale ruby in colour with a fairly pronounced nose of sour cherry, plums, fennel and dusty earth. The palate is bursting with sweet cherries and plums with layers of earth, black cherries and vanilla creeping in beneath. It’s exquisitely soft but the real joy is how nicely framed the wine is, with tannins ranging from fine to dusty and chewy shepherding the fruit to a long and very moreish finish. This offers well-judged generosity, and Sangiovese rightly gets its chance to shine. Drink with lamb backstraps. I’d expect it to develop nicely over the next five years.

Costs $35 at Merricks General Wine Store – Tasted 11/01/14 – Alcohol 13.5%

Romance & Romorantin

Gouais Blanc can get just about any grape’s juices flowing. This Casanova of the world’s vineyard has sired at least 81 distinct varieties, according to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al. And Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir have been at it like rabbits, producing more than 20 offspring including Chardonnay and the Beaujolais berry, Gamay Noir. Less well known than these high achievers is Romorantin, the white grape of the 20-year-old Cour-Cheverny appellation in the Loire Valley.
Legend has it that François I of France ordered 80,000 plants of this vine from Burgundy for his mother’s castle in the village of Romorantin near Blois in 1519. However it came about, it’s found a good home in Cheverny, which accounts for almost all of France’s 70-odd hectares of Romorantin.
The first I’d heard of it was at a tasting of wines brought into Australia by Halle Aux Vins, which had this example from Michel Gendrier at Domaine des Huards. The family’s been on the land some 80km east of Vouvray since 1846, and Michel’s son Alexandre is a seventh-generation winemaker. La famille Gendrier has followed organic and biodynamic principles for the past 15 years.
This particular wine is 100% Romorantin from 35-year-old vines. The fruit was lightly pressed and fermented using natural yeasts, after which the wine spent six months on fine lees.
The end product has Chablis-like minerality and drive. It also has a ring of good Aussie Semillon about it, combining a young Sem’s lemon, nettliness and acidity with the texture of bottle-aged Sem. It’s drinking beautifully now, but it’s easy to imagine how these wines could age well for 20-plus years, developing stronger notes of honey, flint and petrol as they go.
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Domaine des Huards Cour-Cheverny 2011 AOC Cour-Cheverny, Loire

Clear pale straw in colour, with a nose of honeysuckle, nettles, lemon and orange zest, peach skin and creamy lees. This dry, medium-bodied wine has a soft, slightly waxy texture. The palate is supremely fresh with lemon, honey and a flinty character. It has pulsing vigour through the back palate, with grip and acidity contributing to a long and harmonious finish of honey, spice and bitter-lemon savouriness. This bright, lovely wine is pregnant with food-matching possibilities thanks to its strength and structure. Sole meunière would be a dream.

Costs $33 at City Wine Shop in Melbourne – Alcohol 12% – Tasted 29/12/13 – Cork