A funny thing happened… (Macedon Ranges, Victoria – 20/08/2013)

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these posts, so you’ll forgive me for being a bit rusty. For various reasons the last time I got out of Melbourne was way back at the beginning of May. It certainly was lovely to get back to regional Victoria, particularly to do what I actually started this blog for; visit wineries. Thankfully there are no shortage of wine regions within an hour of the city, and Macedon was at the top of my list. As the coolest region for viticulture (currently) in Australia, I was very interested to catch up with a number of producers to explore some elegant wines. I had only visited the Macedon Ranges once before, many years ago, and had visited Hanging Rock Winery.

Curly Flat Vineyard

Curly Flat Vineyard

The four wineries I visited on this occasion were all quite different so it was interesting to be introduced to a variety of styles and philosophies. I was joined by aspiring sommelier Jenna Phillpott who is studying Hospitality & Tourism at the William Angliss Institute, and is about to do a project on one of the producers. We were fortunate enough to meet some pretty unique characters that enlightened us in a number of ways. We also were unfortunate to be introduced to a large kangaroo that jumped in front of the car as we were driving back to Melbourne just after dusk. It was quite distressing experiencing my first country christening, and I was very upset for the poor symbol of our nation. The kangaroo didn’t survive regretfully and neither did the windscreen, but we were able to get back to Melbourne in one piece albeit a bit shell-shocked.

The damage done

The damage done

As they used to say on Sesame Street, “one of these things is not like the others.” Paramoor was the only winery we visited that hadn’t been around for more than 20 years. In fact it has only been around since 2005 as a winery and brand, but the homestead and barn have been around a bit longer than that. Located in Carlsruhe (not surprisingly named after the town in the south of Germany), the property was purchased for the purposes of retirement by William Fraser to establish a winery. Having worked for many years for Kodak, he had a great with chemistry as it was his background. Considering this it makes perfect sense that he could easily apply this to winemaking, particularly as similar equipment is used (stainless steel tanks).

The Paramoor converted barn

The Paramoor converted barn

William made some renovations and extensions, as well as building a new warehouse for barrels and bottles. The press, crusher and tanks process about 24,000 litres of wine each year, fruit for which comes from a combination of sources. At least one-third comes from their own vineyards in Macedon, and another third from contract vineyards in the region. Another third is sourced from nearby the nearby Heathcote region, primarily shiraz and cabernet sauvignon for fuller bodied red wines. To augment the promotion and sale of wine through the cellar door – representing most of their sales – they had an Italian pizza oven purpose-built for them, and they source high quality local ingredients for their pizzas. We had the chance to look at a component of the 2013 Chardonnay, but unfortunately nothing else. I guess we’ll have to keep an eye out for the other wines in the market. Click here to read my notes on the chardonnay.

William Fraser from Paramoor

William Fraser from Paramoor

During vintage last year at Gunderloch, the winemaker Johannes invited my colleague Paul and I to dinner and showed us a range of wines from the cellar blind. He asked us to try to identify it’s origin playing a game called options. One of the red wines was quickly identified as a pinot noir, which I correctly identified as a New World wine. What I got wrong was the country, as it wasn’t a New Zealand pinot but an Australian, coming from the second winery we visited; Curly Flat. This was my only experience tasting the wine, although I had heard about the producer before as one of the top ones from Macedon. Part of the reason why I had never tasted the wines before is because they only sell their wines directly rather than through a distributor, who are more likely to have shown me the wines when I was a wine buyer. I was thrilled to have not just one but three different Curly Flat representatives contact me the day I contacted them to say they be happy to welcome us.

The Curly Flat winery on the right, cellar door on the left, and vineyards in the background

The Curly Flat winery on the right, cellar door on the left, and vineyards in the background

Curly Flat was established by Phillip Moraghan and Jenifer Kolkka back at the beginning of the ‘90s, but unfortunately there were problems with the first vineyard plantings. The second (re-)planting was in 1992, making the oldest vines 21 years old. Phillip strayed from his agricultural roots into finance before returning to his origins by moving into viticulture. The object was of course to make world-class pinot noir and chardonnay, inspired by his great love of the wines of Burgundy. We were quickly taken through the winery and then the vineyard in more detail by Joel, who hails from the Hawkes Bay in New Zealand and assists Phillip in the winery. Their practices are very much in the ‘necessary’ viticulture vein, as in only doing what is necessary. There isn’t really a system or program in place, just letting the vines and soils do their thing.

Some of the youngest plantings of pinot gris

Some of the youngest plantings of pinot gris

As far as the winemaking, Phil was advised by many great winemakers over the years as he had no experience himself. Whilst the winery has garnered a lot of praise for it’s style and quality, Phil is always seeking to fine-tune and refine in the cellars. My initial impression of the pinot noir when tasting it in Germany was that it was a tad overworked and heavy, but as both Phillip and Joel took us through a tasting I could see how the wine style is evolving. I really like the direction the pinot is being taken in, very elegant and delicate, much more my style. Phillip certainly loves a chat, regaling us with tales of Burgundy and Jancis Robinson. He recommended a great middle eastern restaurant in Kyneton called Mr. Carsisi before heading to our next appointment. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Some of the older vines using a lyre trellis system

Some of the older vines using a lyre trellis system

Alec Epis brings new meaning to the terms ‘larger than life’ and ‘colourful character’. I’ve met my fair share of outspoken people in the wine industry, and Alec is way up there amongst them. He is many things all at once; gregarious, generous, stubborn and above all, frank. It’s pretty easy to see how his Italian heritage has meshed with his Australian upbringing, particularly as an Australian Rules footballer for the Essendon Football Club. Looking for a place to get away from the city he bought his land in the Macedon Ranges many years ago. Considering his Italian origins it’s natural he had an affinity with wine, and made the decision to establish a vineyard on this property to make wine from. He became friends with the founder of Balgownie Estate in Bendigo who helped him plant and plan for the wines, becoming his consultant winemaker until a few years ago when Alec took over completely.

Domaine Epis

Domaine Epis

The Domaine Epis estate vineyard was planted just outside of Woodend about the same time as Curly Flat. Fortunately he took some very good advice to plant both chardonnay and pinot noir, as back then no-one was drinking pinot. He sources fruit from the other side of Kyneton which is lower in elevation and a warmer site. Here he is growing cabernet sauvignon, and merlot for a fuller red wine. From these two vineyards he makes only four wines; chardonnay, rosé, pinot noir and the cabernet blend. Along with the wines he also makes some of his own cheese and salumi, some of which we also got to taste. Although a beloved figure in football, particularly at his club, he is fairly reclusive amongst wine circles. He sells his wines directly and doesn’t bother submitting to most journalists or any competitions. He has a loyal following, and understandably so as the wines are not only great but very unique. Jenna and I were a tad overwhelmed at his somewhat bombastic demeanor and hospitality, and both had a great visit before heading on to our final winery for the day. Click here to read my tasting notes.

The modest Domaine Epis cellars

The modest Domaine Epis cellars

Pioneers is the best way to sum up the Knight family, as they were the first to pursue winemaking in the Macedon Ranges region. Back in the 1970s the climate was a little colder and their Granite Hills site not far from Heathcote was one of the only in the region where they would be able to ripen their fruit enough for wine production. 40 years later the site is ideal for a range of varieties including chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. The variety that really put them on the map was riesling, and was one of the first cult riesling wines in Australia. The vineyard altitude means that it is still very cold at night, but the exposure to the sun means they get good ripening during the day. The prevailing winds also reduce humidity in the canopy, meaning healthier fruit. Minimal irrigation and deep roots result in naturally low yields and great concentration.

Winemaker Llew talks about his wines

Winemaker Llew talks about his wines

Llew Knight took over as winemaker from his father who established the vineyard. He was one of the early students of the winemaking course at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, and studied under Brian Croser, a proponent of cool-climate viticulture who established Petaluma amongst others. Over his many years he Llew has established a close relationship with his soils and vines, and continues to evolve how to best express them both in the cellars. A very modest winemaker he has very strong convictions about style and expression, making some exceptional wines particularly for the price. I can’t quite understand exactly how the brand lost its luster in the market, but for what its worth the wines are great, the wines more-so than the reds in my opinion. Ironically just as we were leaving Llew warned us about the chance of kangaroos on the road at dusk. Five minutes later… Click here to read my notes on the Granite Hills wines.

Click here to see more photos from my day in the Macedon Ranges. Please like my Facebook page whilst you are at it, and follow me on Twitter.

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