Vintage 2016. A short summary...

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time or energey to write anything. I feel I’ve been in recovery mode from the 2016 vintage since it finished, but that was nearly two months ago so I probably need to toughen up a little and get on with life.

Various factors combined to make it the craziest vintage I’ve ever experienced. Warmer than usual weather in Spring of 2015 brought some of the later ripening vineyards or varieties forward quite a bit, so that everything was ripe at once. Normally I’d harvest over 5-6 weeks, this year it was compressed to 3, which put a massive strain on the winery and staff (me). All of the tanks were constantly full, and I’ve never been so physically shot in my life, mercifully it didn’t last long.

 Harriet's Vineyard, November 2015

Harriet's Vineyard, November 2015

The good news is that it was all worth it, the wines are looking great. The Chardonnay and Cabernets are looking great as I would expect, but the pleasant surprise is the Pinot. Normally Pinot might do it tough in a warmer year, but they look really fragrant and elegant, the benefit of only dealing with good vineyards I guess.

Meanwhile, the 2015s that have been released are drinking really well, so far the Yarra Valley Chardonnay and Pinot, and the Petit Verdot. Fairly soon I’ll release the 2015 Harriet’s Vineyard wines, and a Bordeaux blend ‘Cabernets’ for the first time. Keep an eye on the email newsletter to find out when these are released.

New Cab is back / Harriet’s Vineyard / V15 wines


New Cab is back / Harriet’s Vineyard / V15 wines

The new cabernet 2014 disappeared pretty quickly, so I was encouraged to make a bit more this year. The details of how it was made are very similar to last year, you can read details about the 2014 here (no point duplicating it), and buy the 2015 here.

Vineyard news I’ve recently taken over the lease on my folks vineyard, which I’m extremely excited about. It’s never had (or needed) a name, but now that I’ll be bottling some single vineyard wines from it that has to change. Mum has always slaved away on most of the hands on work in the vineyard, so I thought it appropriate to dub it ‘Harriet’s Vineyard’. I’m currently in the process of getting some labels designed for these wines. I’ll post more info about the vineyard soon.

Winery news I’ve had a great vintage, plenty of Chardonnay and Pinot maturing away in barrels. Some of the best material has come from my folks vineyard which is pleasing. On the whole the vineyards have performed well and the wines are similar in quality and style to the 2014s. I’ve also made a small amount of Petit Verdot, which is great fun to make, a very aromatic and dense red variety, hopefully ready for release early next year. The winery I’m leasing was a delight, for the most part. A few teething issues always arise in a new winery but I’ll have them sorted by next vintage.



New releases... and a new winery

 Barrels piled up in the new winery

Barrels piled up in the new winery

This has been a weird and wonderful year. 

The weird: poor flowering, thanks to some wet 'n' wild weather in November 2013, led to very low crops, particularly in Pinot. This was followed by a very dry and consistently warm Jan/Feb.

The Wonderful: the vines coped particularly well with the warm summer, largely due to good soil moisture, and moderate crops, resulting in some very intense wines. Read more about them, and procure some if you please: Right here.... 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 Pinot

Some more wonderful: my 2013 wines sold really well in the trade thanks to my professional and energetic distributor, Libby Bentley. Thanks to all those who enjoyed the wine, both out and about, or via my web shop, you've all helped generate the content for the next paragraph.

Some weird and wonderful: as of December 2014 I'm going to be leaving the day job to work on my wine full time. I'm leasing a small winery in the upper, upper Yarra, Limbic winery. It's actually in Upper Pakenham, three minutes south of the official Yarra Valley border. I'll post separately on this once I've fully moved in. Only hail, frost, drought, phylloxera, bad winemaking, disease, poor management or bushfire can stop me now. 

And another thing: I'll also be engaged in some part time work for these guys: []  Very excited to be involved in this, no matter how small that involvement may be.

And 1 more: I'll be exhuming my other side project [] and hopefully getting busier with this, if you need any photos taken get in touch.

That's probably enough for now, I'm tired, and in need of a Chardonnay, or a gin....


New Cabernet 2014

New Cabernet 2014

Apologies, this post rambles a bit, I was enjoying a Fighting Gully Road Aquila and got carried away.  If you just want to buy the stuff this is where you go: NewCab14.  It is a new wine, and while it is the start of a new project for me, it is also the culmination of many years thinking about Yarra Cabernet.  I've made wine in this vein for myself before, but only in tiny quantities.

This cabernet is as far from the claret style as possible. Somewhat inspired by Anjou Villages Cabernets (Loire reds made with Cab franc and/or cab sauv), though this is made completely with carbonic maceration and released early in the style of Beaujolais. The fruit is from a 28 year old dry-grown vineyard in Kangaroo Ground.

Cabernet sauvignon has as much expression and character as any variety in the Yarra Valley. A lot of this character diminishes after a while in barrel, but the time in barrel is often necessary to soften the tannic nature of Cabernet. This version already has quite supple tannins thanks to the carbonic maceration.

There is no preservative (sulphur dioxide, SO2, preservative 220) added, and no animal products used, largely to make a wine for some friends of mine who struggle to find such wines. I hope they're not alone! However, I'm not intentionally moving toward 'natural wine', the wine was inoculated for both primary and malolactic fermentation. I was going for freshness and early bottling, so an early completion of malolactic fermentation was necessary.

While people have various reasons for being interested in preservative free wine, I was primarily interested in the flavour and structure of the wine. I often like the flavours in wine, particularly reds, before the preservative is added. Sulphur dioxide changes things; often for the better, but sometimes an interesting piece of the wine is obscured or lost. The goal was to capture the fleeting flavours that winemakers see every year, but rarely get to share.

This is the type of wine you can only make for yourself. If I bottled a wine in this state (without preservative) for an employer I'd probably receive a written warning, or worse. I have heard a quote that preservative free is the winemaking equivalent of climbing everest without oxygen. While this may be overly dramatic, the preservative is a crutch we rely on for most wines.

It's made for early drinking, and with no preservative I have no idea how long it will last. Enjoy it young.

Some thoughts on the vineyard:

The predominant Cabernet clone in the Yarra is SA125, and most of my experience with cabernet has been with this clone. It is widely considered the best clone in the Yarra for claret styles. The clone at the Kangaroo Ground vineyard appears to be different. It grows less upright and seems to have more rounded leaves. The most interesting feature is the flavour, in particular the underripe or leafy components. The less ripe flavours in SA125 are typical sauvignon; pyrazine or capsicum. The less ripe components from this vineyard are tobacco and earth. Closer to the Cabernet franc I'm used to. Cabernet sauvignon is a cross of Cabernet franc and Sauvignon blanc, so I guess it's no surprise that some clones express more sauvignon, and some more franc.

An aside, I find the varieties easier to pick from their less ripe components. Cabernet sauvignon: capsicum, cabernet franc: earth/tobacco, Merlot: marijuana (at least thats what I'm told), Shiraz: pepper.

Winemaking notes:

The fruit was harvested on 23rd March and de-stemmed into small fermenters. The berries were left whole as much as possible, which is quite effective with Cabernet as the skins are quite tough and the berries robust. An inoculation was made to the small amount of juice in the bottom of the fermenter. The intention was to get a quick start to fermentation so the carbon dioxide would protect the wine. I was comfortable with some aldehyde forming toward the end of ferment, but was trying to avoid early formation of volatile acidity as much as possible.

The fermenters were then covered and largely sealed, and left that way for 7 days, followed by pressing to tank. Two rackings followed prior to bottling in June.

First Pinot, 2013

First Pinot, 2013

The first Pinot is very aromatic, cherries, cranberries, fresh cream and an underlying grassy note (there was a small amount of whole bunch in one of the ferments).  The same flavours follow on the palate, which is quite rich, but held together by a fair wallop of savoury tannin.  Definitely more of a food wine than a glugger. I wrote these notes while chewing on some Chèvre on strong rye sourdough (pictured), worked well. Tough job.
This Pinot is quite a departure from those I’ve made previously.  The house-style I had been making involved quite specific fermentation techniques and long term barrel ageing.  This can work well, but isn't suited to every vineyard or vintage.
The style of this release fully embraces the change in direction, acknowledging the reality that it will mostly been consumed over the next year or so.  It also embraces a freshness and concentration of fruit which, I believe, is well suited to Yarra Valley Pinot.  Yarra Pinot is of grown on soils, and in seasons too warm, to realistically emulate the great wines of Burgundy, so why bother? Time to forget that, and make wines that are a pleasure to drink, and are proudly Yarra Valley.


First Chardonnay, 2013

First Chardonnay, 2013

The inaugural Yarra Valley Chardonnay reflects the 2013 vintage.  It was a warmer year which brought richness, but much of the blend was picked early, keeping it fresh.  The nose has citrus, nettle and nectarine.  The palate is rich, but full of fresh flavour, and balanced by a bit of tang at the finish. There is very little oak influence, mostly matured on lees in older barriques.
Chardonnay, like any wine, is all about balance.  Though in the case of Chardonnay finding the right balance is a matter of taste, and prone to fairly wild swings in fashion.  Chardonnays I made 10 years ago were considered lean, angular, and acidic.  The same wines today would be considered fat and blowsy by the vin-eratti.
I’m not going to be drawn into the trend of making Chardonnays with Riesling-ish acidity, but something needs to hold the palate together, keeping it from being too fat.  The key for me is phenolics (the tannins of white wine is the easiest way to explain it), which give the wine structure, and cut through fatty food in a more elegant way than acidity in my opinion.
Anyhow, very happy with the first release, I hope y’all enjoy plenty of it!



What's on a label?

What's on a label?

Deciding on a name to slap on the labels was torture.  Not exactly water-boarding, but it did cause anxiety.  Label design is another thing altogether.  Thankfully my designer was part marketeer, part shaman, part psychiatrist, and lays out text like an old-school concreter (solid as rock and smooth as silk).  Too much? Anyhow, he managed my anxieties as he would have with many clients before me.  Holding my hand throughout, all the while breaking down my stubborn fantasies of a label that has the power to sell vinegar to pinot-philes.

He was given a fairly restrictive brief for the design.  A lot of the package was already in my head: no back label, gunmetal grey screwcap (it’s an off the shelf model), no foils or embossing on the label (they cost more and often make labels look cheap).  I wanted it to be fairly bold, but not too elaborate.

With not much to work with, the designer sent through 20 separate designs, based around five or so concepts (some shown below).  I put these designs to an out-of-focus group selected from my contacts list.  The initial response from the first few respondents was predominantly options 11 and 18, neither of which I cared for.  I figured I had accidentally, randomly, selected my friends who have no taste.  So I sent the 20 options to another group, who surprised me, going the same way.  I needed to consult someone who had moved on from Howard-era design, and so I turned to two people who’s taste in all things visual is usually too cool for me to understand: my sister and Marcus Satchell.  You can guess what they chose.

At this point I could either follow the masses and choose one of the popular options, or go with my gut.  I could at least console myself with the fact that of the two respondents (out of 25) that had chosen my faves, one is a St Kilda socialite, and the other is a prominent Sydney-based sommelier.  That’ll have to do.

In the end we settled on a combination two designs, with a final tweak from the design office, adding some wonky typesetting to the main font.

The wonky typeset, combined with the off-center logo, was where we settled.  I like the logo and it’s position, conjures an image of a clown hat, helmet, religious motif, or a dunces cap.  And reminds me of one of my favourite Tom Waits quotes: ‘At some point you have to ask yourself, am I really eccentric, or am I just wearing a funny hat?’.  In my case it’s definitely a funny hat, but I’ll wear it with a grin.  Some textured paper gives it a warm feel.  At the time of printing I was content and hopeful, I’m excited by it now, a better result than I could have imagined at the start.

Sincere thanks to all involved.

Option 2

Option 18

Option 11

Option 8

What's in a name?

Here we go.  It seems necessary to say something profound in the first post, but who needs that sort of pressure, particularly when I will be able to count the readership on one hand. I may as well take the opportunity to explain how an occasionally rational person might come to plaster their name all over a wine label.  It will come across as narcissistic.  Indeed it’s already been pointed out to me, by someone I had met only seconds earlier.  Unfortunately my best excuse for this behaviour is that I couldn’t think of anything better, greatly exacerbated by a looming deadline for designing/printing labels.

The only other real contender was ‘Hall Vineyard’.  There were two problems with this.  First,  although I’m going to base the Yarra Chardonnay and Pinot on the folks vineyard, they may not have it forever.  I can imagine them selling the place, moving to a far away coastal location, where the hoards of grandkids can come and see them on occasion, but where they cannot possibly be coerced into childcare duties for a fifth day of the week.  I would become the proud owner of a wine company without a home.  Second, it’s probably the only name I could imagine that is more dull than my own.

And to my own name, tedious to my ear, and grating, like hearing a recording of your voice played back.  The only one thing I like about using it on the label is that there is nowhere to hide.  Putting your name to something that will be judged is nailing your backside to the mast for a public flogging.  Your reputation (currently worth little in my case), your company (worth even less), and the various facets of your ego (best not comment), are all lashed together, a trio of drunken sailors clinging to a sinking boat.  Time to swim or sink.