Yabby Lake winery was our next stop on the trip. We were in Heathcote to meet Tom Carson, winemaker. Though the fruit comes from the Mornington Peninsula, where we were at the beginning of the trip, the wine is actually made in Heathcote. Trying to make wines that are not complicated by wine making, wines that are not manipulated in any way, that are able to show the true expression of the place is Tom’s aim in making Yabby Lake wines. Attention to detail in the vineyard is key. Tom is converting to organic practices in the vineyard, and in the next couple of years hopes to have full accreditation for this, though this is clearly something that doesn’t happen overnight.
Red Claw, Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2008 and 2009 were the first wines poured of the day. Pristine purity of fruit is what Tom is aiming to create in these wines. Getting the picking day right is important in order to achieve this. The cooler end of the picking window, before the fruit gets too ripe gives white blossom and pear notes. The cooler picking affords natural acidity and a natural balance so that manipulation throughout the wine making process is minimal. Yabby Lake Vineyard, Mornington Peninsula Single Block Release Chardonnay 2008 was next up. On the label the block and row the fruit comes from is printed, as well as the bottle being numbered. In this case, the wine we sampled was Block 6, Rows 1-15, number 318 of 2400. Seeing this on the label brought a simple sense of honesty and clarity to the wine for me.
The wines that we were trying were elegant, had layers of complexity and so reference to Burgundy often gets mentioned. Tom however explained that he doesn’t like this comparison. Burgundy and the Mornington Peninsula are thousands of miles apart, so the way he sees it is that it’s difficult to draw such similarities, even if sometimes the wines he produces are eerily like those from that famous region. Australia, being the new world has the freedom and flexibility to make noticeable differences to the wine they produce, something that gives them a great opportunity.
Moving on to the reds, we started with Red Claw, Mornington Peninsula Peninsula 2008 and 2009. 2008 was a more classic year. In 2009 there was a three day heat wave in January where temperatures reached up to 45.5 degrees Celsius. This heatwave lead to a 50% loss of fruit, however the fruit that remained was of good quality. Only a week later was ‘Black Saturday’, the bush fires that swept through the region. Mornington Peninsula was unaffected, however in the nearby Yarra they weren’t so lucky.
Yabby Lake Vineyard, Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2008 had a depth of character and complexity. The single block release pinot noir, again with the individually labelled block row and number was next – we tasted the block 2 and block 5 from 2008. Both blocks had a common theme of fragrant textural wines, but there were nuances of difference that separated them, After tasting wines round the lunch table, we headed to the barrel store. Large, airy and modern, Tom selected barrels which we tasted samples from. Though clearly not finished wines, it was really interesting to see them at different stages in their evolution, and it gave an insight into how Tom and other winemakers get to know their wines. This intimate knowledge that only comes from tasting, tasting and more tasting. They are able to blend wines mentally, and then actually go and taste to confirm what they already think will go together. Seeing this in action you get a real sense that it is art in the making and a real skill.
After a lovely afternoon at Heathcote, we headed over to Bindi in the Macedon Ranges. As the coach pulled in to the estate, we could see kangaroos in the distance. As we got closer, the sight of a Union Jack flag flying welcomed us. On the label of Bindi wines is a man named Kostas Rind. Of Lithuanian origins, he fled his homeland and came to Australia, introducing Michael Dhillon’s (winemaker) father Bill to wine for the very first time, he became a mentor and friend to Bill and his family. Kostas was clearly a man who made a difference, as Bill explained, he made both him and his son the men they are today. It was Kostas Rind that advised Bill to buy the farm that Bindi sits on today. The family have been making wine at Bindi for 20 years. Even though a lot can be learned in 20 years, the vineyard is still in its infancy. We walked round the vineyard, Michael pointing out the differences in soil and how that effects the vines they plant and ultimately the wine that is made. As soon as we arrived at Bindi the genuine passion for quality was tangible. In the barrel store we had some samples direct from the barrels lined up to taste. First up was the Bindi Composition Chardonnay 2010. 500m above sea level, the cool climate and favourable site lends itself to wines that are balanced, have a lovely linear streak and would be perfectly matched with scallops. The Bindi Quartz Chardonnay 2010 was sublime. Elegant, refined, with a savoury element, the vines for this wine are situated higher up the vineyard where, surprise surprise there is more quartz in the soil. This gives a higher level of minerality in the finished wine. Tasting the finished product, the Bindi Quartz Chardonnay 2009 was stunning. Great texture, balance and length, perfect with fresh lobster.
In the dimly lit barrel store, surrounded by amazing wines it struck me that if an outsider were looking in, he would think it a strange sight. Sixteen of us stood in a circle, all tasting wine and then taking it in turns to step forward and spit in a bucket on the floor. Strange indeed! As the evening went on we left the barrel store and had beautiful oysters and fresh prawns accompanied with Bindi 2003 sparkling wine. Made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it spends 6 years on lees. It was absolutely amazing. A lovely golden colour, despite being 7 years old, had a purity of fruit that was wonderful. As we sat down to dinner, we were treated to older vintages, Composition Chardonnay 2006, followed by Quartz Chardonnay 2005 – this had focus, elegance and a pure expression of fruit.
Michael follows biodynamic principles in his vineyard. The high quality wines that he makes have an elegance, balance and integrity. Meeting the man that makes these wines and spending time in the vineyard gives you a greater understanding of where his focus is coming from. In such a beautiful setting, keeping the wine making as simple as possible in order to retain the fruit’s character and to let the expression of the land speak for itself is easy to understand. We all felt extremely privileged to be able to spend time at Bindi, to try amazing wines that are produced and to experience the peace and tranquility that seems to emanate from there.