Day four of the trip, first stop was Giant Steps Winery. This is based in Healseville, a small town in the Yarra Valley. Modern, with lots of stainless steel and huge, initially the building seemed somewhat out of place in what had come across as a rather sleepy town. Once you walk in the building, it is like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but for adults! Winery, cellar door, cafe, it is many things all at once. Large and airy, as we sat down to have breakfast here, through the dividing glass you could see the inner belly of the winery. Wafting through the cafe was the smell of fresh bread and ground coffee; as you walked through the cafe you could see why. Busy working were two bakers, making fresh bread for the day. Cakes, pastries, croissants were on cooling racks begging to be eaten. They also roast their own coffee here, and have a cheese maturation yard. Teasingly walking to the end of the cafe you can see through the glass of the maturation room huge wheels of cheese. Good food and good wine is always an excellent combination, at Giant Steps they seems to have got it just right, so that their cellar door / cafe is a real destination for many people, not just wine lovers.
Upstairs in the tasting room, we embarked on a vertical tasting of Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard Chardonnay. Only dealing in single vineyard wines, Giant Steps aims to show the true expression of site, to create a wine that allows the vineyard to talk, not the winemaker. Starting with the 2005 vintage, we tasted through to the 2010 tank sample. Comparing the vintages you could pick up a common thread. The wines had a wonderful linear style, minerality, freshness and tropical hints that started to show with age. After drinking the wines that came from the Tarraford vineyard, we all piled in the coach to see the place itself. As luck would have it, Greg Liney, the viticulturalist was there. Chatting to him next to the vines, it gave the complete picture of the wines. We had come full circle, from tasting the finished product, to seeing the modern efficient winery where it had been made, and now seeing where the all important grapes were grown and the man whose expertise in the vineyard allowed the fruit to talk of its provenance. It would have been easy to spend all day there in the vineyard, talking to Greg, however we had to move on to the next stop on the trip.
Timo Mayer, Mac Forbes and Luke Lambert all deal in relatively small production of high quality wines. Though individual wine makers in their own right, a common thread we picked up from talking to these guys is making sure that the right grapes are grown in the right place. All favour oxidative wine making style, and try to handle the wine as little as possible during the winemaking process so as not to leave their thumbprint on it. Once again, these quality wine makers are concerned with allowing the wines to speak of their provenance and sense of place. This is done by ensuring the correct fruit is used, high quality fruit that is grown in vineyards that are suited to that particular variety – the right vines in the right place. Each of these men are clearly passionate about their wines, and as we sampled them, with the sun shining on our backs, the barbie fired up, their enthusiasm for them was infectious. As well as enthusiasm for the wines, they all seem to have a great time, doing something they love. As we drank these amazing wines it was near impossible to pick out favourites – they were all fantastic and to favour one over another seemed unfair. Timo’s Bloody Hill Chardonnays were beautiful, Mac’s Yarra blend of Bordeaux varieties delicious and Luke’s Nebbiolo – sublime! As well as fantastically good wines, my experience of the afternoon on the Bloody Hill was that there is a sense of dynamism with these guys, and also a certain tenacity – they will make great wines, and won’t err from quality. They were clear about what they wanted, and went out and did it, whether it means breaking rules or boundaries. As long as the integrity of the wine is upheld, that the Yarra is explored to it’s true potential, that is key.