Yabby Über Achiever

It’s barely been around five minutes, but it’s made quite a name for itself. Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012 has just picked up best Pinot Noir and best single-vineyard dry red at the National Wine Show of Australia. That’s after becoming the first Pinot ever to win Australia’s most prestigious wine prize, the Jimmy Watson trophy.
Easy to suspect the bloke who made it of serial over achievement, too. Tom Carson was Dux of the Len Evans Tutorial in 2002 on his way to becoming the youngest National Wine Show chairman, and also led Yering Station to the International Winemaker of the Year title in 2004.
I got a chance to chat with the man of the moment following his triumph at last month’s Royal Melbourne Wine Awards, where his victory speech eloquently summarised his philosophy: “Wines for me shouldn’t have winemaker thumbprints all over them. They should be very natural, very easy, very expressive and just show their beauty without being poked and prodded and fined, filtered or manipulated.”
Carson was quick to dish out credit to Australian Pinot pioneers (pinotneers?) such as Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip, Main Ridge Estate’s Nat White, wine writer and Coldstream Hills founder James Halliday and the late John Middleton of Mount Mary.
Next came the Yabby Lake team, most notably his “gentle, thorough and sensitive” vineyard manager, Keith Harris. It was Harris who planted the vines in 1997/98 and laid the groundwork for greatness. “It’s an exceptionally good site,” Carson told me. “When I arrived in 2008, that’s when we started really delving into the vineyard and looking at each part of it as a separate wine – and trying to understand what we could do, during the season and in the winery, to bring those wines to life, to get that potential out of the vineyard and into the bottle.”
The meticulous mapping of the vineyard, with its myriad clones and sections, means Carson and Harris roam the rows for up to five hours a day during vintage. They chew the fat, taste the fruit and work out when the everything will be ready. “Getting the picking right is a massive part of winemaking,” says Carson.
And from the moment the Block 1 fruit came in, he was sure he was onto a winner. “Right through its ageing in barrel, it was always destined to be a block wine. For me, Pinot has beautiful texture, and this has fragrance and aromatics, with some rose petals and beautiful violets and real subtlety and detail in the aromas. The wine has got a lot of extract and depth and evenness to the palate. There’s real gravitas and energy at the back palate. The completeness of it is what excited us.”
For sure, Carson’s creation isn’t a light, bright babe. It’s a dark, brooding and serious Pinot Noir: deep in colour, with dark cherries, plums and spice beneath those floral tones. Its silky texture belies a taut strength and imposing length. And there’s no question it’s only just begun; the fragrance, purity and structure are obvious, but it’s just hinting at pleasures to come, with 2014 to 2022 shaping up as a promising window.
Just as Block 1’s best is ahead of it, I wouldn’t count on Carson & Co resting on their laurels. If he’s prepared to accept credit for anything, it’s setting “impossible” standards – and pushing his team to surpass them. “It’s about instilling confidence in people that we can do it better next year.”
Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012
The nerdy stuff: The MV6-clone fruit for Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012 was grown on the lower, more sheltered part of the vineyard in Moorooduc on the Mornington Peninsula. The soils here are light clay over loam, though they’re a bit deeper, the clay a touch heavier, than in other parts of the vineyard. It was hand picked, hand sorted and gently de-stemmed into small open fermenters, with a small percentage of whole bunches added. Carson then gave it a three- to four-day soaking before a fermentation that peaked at 32 degrees. The wine was pressed off skins after 10 days into French oak puncheons for malolactic fermentation and maturation. It stayed in oak until February 2013, when it was bottled. Only 270 dozen made.

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