It’s funny how connected the world is. At school I had a friend, known, as, ‘My Son’, long story, confused the crap out of people particularly when I was 16 and asking where My Son was! Working my way through three degrees of separation, past My Son’s Step Dad’s accountant (there’s a mouthful), who was married to a winemaker, Peter Wilson, who just happened to work at a little place that made Filthy Good Vino called Yarra Yering, I was eventually introduced to a wily old character, Dr Bailley Carrodus (Doc). One thing lead to another and Vintage 1996 at Yarra Yering was sorted.
Talk about a radical shift in thinking, pushing boundaries and certainly, making wine, with a single-minded goal of achieving excellence.
It’s incredibly hard to express, how, this one short vintage impacted my winemaking. I hope I can do it justice. There are moments in your life when you’re exposed to something that completely contradicts your thinking at that time. Disruptive influences that make you sit back and question your approach. Yarra Yering and Doc represented such a moment, a pivotal point in my wine career. Doc was an incredibly generous, gentleman. The first wine Doc gave me was a 1983 Auguste Clape Cornas, he’d paid $13 a bottle for a case of this incredible Shiraz, today it retails for closer to $200. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried a veritable bounty of European wine before from Bordeaux to Beaujolais, it was that I was drinking the wine and seeing qualities that could be replicated in Australia. I’m not suggesting making boring copies of European wines, but, that the Great European wines have a balance, textures, freshness of flavours, complexity, all packaged in a complete refined elegant package that was possible to achieve in our own backyard.
In 1996 the Aussie wine industry, as a gross generalisation, was focused on Big is Best, one dimensional, oak and alcohol driven monsters, you couldn’t drink any more than half a glass of these savage wines in one sitting. The wines of Yarra Yering were a complete counterpoint to these brutes, both Red and White. Doc’s careful site selection and background as a botanist, combined with a desire to experiment proved to be crucial in matching site to variety and creating a balance in the Vineyard that provided incredible depth of fruit, flavour and tannin ripeness with much lower sugar content than other more vigorous vineyards in the region. Doc often recounted the story of James Halliday asking him what variety he should plant in the cauldron at Coldstream Hills, his reply Shiraz, years later James recalled the conversation, saying, you weren’t joking about that Shiraz. The end result for Yarra Yering, intensity of flavour without hot alcohol, the Pinot being the exception (that’s a discussion for another day) and natural acid compared with harder added acid.
The View over the Yarra Valley from the Top of the Terraced Shiraz Block + A Couple of Vineyard Shots – Yarra Yering, Yarra Valley, Victoria
A platform of quality, balanced fruit is an incredible resource for any vigneron (someone who both grows the fruit and makes the wine). If you have depth of fruit, ripe tannin (a major contributor to the texture of the wine) with balanced sugar and natural acid, you can really push the boundaries in the winery. If I was to describe the approach to winemaking at Yarra Yering in one word, I would use the word “Custodian”. Once the fruit arrived at the winery, we just tried not to bugger it up, allowing it to express its full potential, just giving it a nudge here and there. Technically the approach sometimes did my head in. There were times I just wanted to know the numbers and not rely purely on my sense of smell and taste.
There is a French word “Élevage” which translate roughly to rearing, breeding or raising. The phrase “Bien élevé” in relation to children translates to “well brought up”. One big thing that came from the 1996 Vintage at Yarra Yering was Doc’s intention to “bring up his children, his wines well”. He gave them resilience by ensuring the quality of the fruit was the best it could be, resilience translated to the depth of fruit to handle the ups and downs without falling apart.
Doc Tasting a Barrel of Red Yarra Yering
As the wines went through their teenage years, as young wines in barrel, he would work with them, help them mature, show their full depth and develop complexity. He introduced oxygen at the right time by “racking” (the process of transferring the clear portion of wine out of a barrel into a clean barrel and getting rid of the mirky dirty portion of wine left at the bottom of the barrel). This evolved the aromas from more primary, raw, fruit characters to complex secondary character that still had a core of fruit underlying them. Think of it in terms of Coffee. If you have a pissy weak shot of coffee and add milk to make a latté, you end up with a cup of warm milk. Make a proper shot of coffee, ie real fruit weight, and add milk, you get a coffee worth drinking. There’s a wanky term I came up with (…sorry) called Oxidative Capacitance. The higher the quality of fruit, the higher its Oxidative Capacitance, its ability to handle contact with oxygen without falling apart. In other word you can add milk to your coffee without fear of ending up with an insipid drink.
He protected the wine when needed by adding sulphur, which eats up oxygen and stops the wine oxidising and spoiling. Perhaps waiting too long on occasion, to add sulphur, to the detriment of some wines. Most importantly he gave his wines enough time to grow up, making sure they were ready for the world, had spent enough time in barrel to be an approachable drink when released before it was bottled.
The focus, Yummy wine that passed the acid test of Filthy Good Vino: You haven’t even noticed that you’ve drunk half the bottle and you’re ready to drink the other half NOW.
Your chosen brew is going down beautifully with a lamb chop (or whatever you’re eating).
I waited over four years to continue this journey and explore the finer details of texture, balance, how to nudge the best out of the vineyard and fruit . Head to “Vintage 2001-2003 Yarra Yering” to find out how this journey ended.
A Magnum of the VERY YUMMY 2002 Yarra Yering Pinot Noir