So it appears twelve months is a long time when I try to quickly jot down what we have been up to.
Many of you are aware of the impact phylloxera is having on all Yarra Valley vineyards and associated businesses. While we believe that the handful of our own vineyards are free of this insect, we are in the process of planting new blocks onto resistant rootstocks and we are beginning trials to establish resistant root systems for existing vines. These trials are highly unusual and we are not aware of this having been applied anywhere else.
As our vineyard summary will show, we have now got a good number of vines in different locations on rootstock. Establishing new plantings on rootstock is a tricky time. There are many, many rootstock options and the Yarra Valley has very limited experience with these combinations or options. Consequently, we are planting new vineyards with multiple rootstocks and often a mixture of clones on top. All these trials will allow for smarter plantings in ten to twenty years, when we have seen the successes and failures of what we are planting now.
Below is a summary of our six vineyards
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; planted in 1995
2. Woori Yallock – Bowhouse (1km up the hill from the original vineyard)
Pinot Noir and Merlot; planted in 1995
Pinot Noir and Cabernets (on rootstock); planted in 2017
3. Gladysdale Vineyard (known as Little Yarra)
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; planted in 2005 on rootstock
4. Don Valley (new property)
Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo (on rootstock); planted in 2017
Chardonnay; planted in 1981
Trousseau and Aligote; grafted onto rootstock in 2017
6. Healesville – winery property
Syrah and Chardonnay; planted in 1995–96
The bigger questions
Twelve months is a healthy window to review changes in a practical sense. However, it is interesting to consider how our views and philosophies have changed over a longer period.
When I returned home at the end of 2004, my main objective was to explore and hopefully discover some of the different nuances of the Yarra Valley, ultimately through Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Winemaking was secondary – I always wanted to ensure that the conversation was about place.
Initially, I thought our journey was just peeling back the layers as we improved our understanding. But reflecting now, I appreciate that our objective has gradually shifted. I’ll try to explain.
In 2011 we began farming a number of our vineyards instead of offering advice to growers from whom we purchased the fruit. To begin with we were farming four sites that offered us a great range of soils, climatic influences and already-in-place farming practices. This in turn meant that we had to embrace what was there and adapt. In the first few years we were running the vineyards well, but understanding them was a blur.
And this is where farming and viticulture become so much fun and so bloody demanding. For all our trials and all our determination, this thing takes time. Learning takes time.
Gradually, we began to change our practices and vineyard objectives. Slowly, each block and vineyard developed its own individual management program. Our objective started to shift from wanting to grow good Pinot and Chardonnay to ensuring that each plant was adapting to the natural environment as completely as possible with as little influence from us as possible. Things like dry farming, organics and soil health became the farming objective.
The shift occurred when I realised that just the idea of making Pinot or Chardonnay can be a distraction. These grapes are held in such esteem and there are so many standout benchmark examples that this can really get in the way of looking properly at the fruit and the nuances of the vineyard and can drive the winemaker to look at the winemaking as a way to direct the fruit to a final style.
It may be impossible to completely remove our awareness of grape variety from our thinking. In the cellar, however, it does feel like we have done a full 180-degree turn. Our winemaking thoughts have shifted from guiding the wine to an end point, to ensuring our winemaking best captures the essence that we tasted in the vineyard.
The result, we hope, is a final wine more distinct and more honest. No longer is the dream to make ‘Great Pinot’. In its place is the far more exciting and humbling ambition to grow something that is truly ours and totally unique.