The 17th October 2010 will go down in history for two reasons. Reason one: Sister Mary MacKillan, daughter of Melbourne was cannonised; the first Australian female saint. Reason two: the James Busby Travel tour 2010, the inaugural trip began.
We began Day One in a promising fashion – with a decent breakfast. Over looking the Parliament building of Victoria, we feasted on a mix of dishes – from porridge, to avocado, to baba ganoush to pikelets. Shortly after, we were making our way from central Melbourne to William Downie in Gippsland. After a couple of wrong turns, and a slightly hairy three (or more!) point turn halfway up a hillside, we met Bill of William Downie.
Situated on a verdant hillside in Gippsland, the lush greeness was to be honest surprising. Bill recounted how it took ten years from initially seeing the farm where he now lives to actually owning it. He had spotted the potential of the site for the purposes of wine making, and by chance one day took a drive to see the farm – happy coincidence it was for sale. Unhappily, he was not, at that time in a situation to buy it. To cut a long story short, several years later and after much wrangling, Bill and Rachel were able to buy the farm and plant the pinot noir vines that Bill strongly believed were so well suited to this particular site with its iron rich, free draining soils. As we walked through the farm to the vines, Bill explained that he didn’t want to make a wine that mimicked a red burgundy, but one that had a style of its own – in Bill’s own words, he wanted to make a wine that is uniquely Australian, and one that is a unique expression of its place. The passion that Bill has for this way of life is evident, his ethos is to do one thing, and do it well. In this way, he explained it is easy to differentiate yourself in Australia. After seeing the NV6 clones of pinot noir (clones which were apparently originally introduced by James Busby quite fittingly) we returned back to the camp fire to have lunch.
Sat in a barn, an overcast afternoon was immediately brightened by the arrival of a delicious seafood salad, accompanied by an 09 petit manseng. The bush fires of ’09 obviously caused devastation; for William Downie, the lack of fruit caused him to turn to plan B for the 09 vintage. Plan B in this case was planting petit manseng instead of the normal pinot noir. With residual sugar and an acidity to balance, this was an absolute treat – with citrus and stone fruit leading to floral hints, this one off wine also had a lovely streak of minerality. Lamb was accompanied by three pinot noirs –one each from the Mornington Peninsula, Gippsland and Yarra. All had slightly different nuances, all telling a slightly different story. The cheese course brought magnums of William Downie pinot noir, 04 and 05 vintages, where secondary characteristics of earth and gaminess were shining through.
Spending the afternoon with Bill and Rachel it was easy to appreciate their wines, and their passion for making them. Not only were the wines local, so was all the food – the lamb was from a neighbouring farm, the vegetables from the Downie’s vegetable patch, equally the cheese was all from Gippsland. All in all a great afternoon – a great wine maker passionate about his wines and great local food. The good life indeed!