Tommy & Sally Belford
As a wine lover, I still pinch myself that I regularly get to chat with winemakers, watch grapes being crushed in the middle of vintage and taste wines maturing in oak barrels. Don’t tell my editor, but I’d probably do it for free if I had to.
I try to get around to all of Victoria’s regions on a regular basis, but for one reason or another I have been to the Yarra Valley more than any other this year – so often, in fact, I have lost count of how many times I’ve driven up the Maroondah Highway.
The region’s 2011 whites are looking fabulous and there’s a lot of buzz about the quality of the 2012 vintage that was harvested this year. The 2012 wines I have tasted from tanks and barrels have backed up the buzz.
A question I like to ask winemakers while we taste is: “Who is making good wines that might be flying under the radar?” It’s a great way to find out about new wines and how more-established wineries are performing.
In the Yarra Valley, the same names keep cropping up in winemakers’ answers to the question. I’ve been duly tracking them down and the wines have been, well, really exciting.
It seems many of the makers have the same thing in common – full-time jobs as winemakers or cellar hands at established wineries and are making wines under their own labels on the side.
They are making hand-crafted wines, often in tiny amounts, and are selling them by hand to wine shops and restaurants. Some are pushing the envelope in terms of winemaking and style, a freedom that their day jobs don’t always allow.
They will buy small volumes of grapes from vineyards they admire or take out a lease on a vineyard and tend to the grapes themselves. These vineyards have often been forgotten or neglected and are revived by the winemakers themselves, who spend their weekends attending the vines and implementing what they think is the right viticulture to get the best out of the site.
These vineyards, some of which were planted 20 or 30 years ago, are often planted to grapes that have long since gone out of fashion.
Tony Fikkers produces Fikkers Two Bricks, a wine that comes from a single vineyard and is a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle. There’s a bit of sauvignon blanc produced in the Yarra Valley, but you’d have to visit a few cellar doors before you find any semillon or muscadelle. After a glass of Fikkers’ wine, you have to wonder why more people aren’t making wines like it. Tony also makes wines at Madden’s Rise.
By day, Tom Belford makes wine at Sticks winery, but he’s also known for the wine he makes with his vigneron wife Sally, Bobar. In the corner of Stick’s winery are a few barrels of their naturally made – wild yeast, no fining or filtration and only tiny amounts of preservative – chardonnay and syrah, which are gaining an increasingly large following here and in the UK, where there is a really strong natural-wine scene.
Wines by these young producers can be hard to find, but places such as the City Wine Shop and Prince Wine Store stock some. In the Yarra Valley, you’ll find them at Barrique Wine Store in Healesville, and the Yarra Valley Dairy hosts weekend tastings for wineries without cellar doors. It’s a great place to visit and there’s a chance one of this young crew will be pouring their own wines.
Sapa Wines Chardonnay 2010
This is the first release by Lucas Hoorn, a winemaker at Hoddles Creek in the Upper Yarra Valley, and production was just 100 cases. This is a wine of elegance and purity, with white stonefruit, cantaloupe, lime, spice, and flinty gunsmoke characters that are complex and delicious. It’s smooth and textural, with a bright line of acidity driving flavour evenly across the tongue to a persistent and moreish finish.
Food match \ Salmon fishcakes
Bobar Syrah 2011
Minimal-intervention winemaking, with 100 per cent whole-bunch fermentation, has produced a wine that is full of energy and character. It’s perfumed, with aromas of bright cherry, blackberry, dust and graphite minerality. It’s medium bodied and cherry, earth, stalk, green herb flavours abound, while there’s taut citrus and mineral acidity running through the wine and along the tongue. It finishes with lovely notes of cherry, strawberry and spice.
Food match \ Charcuterie platter
Dappled Wines Syrah 2011
Elegant and perfumed, this has lifted aromas of black cherry, blood plum (pips and flesh), blueberry, liquorice and subtle, nutty oak. Bright savoury flavours include red and morello cherries, spice and the perfume character follows through into the mouth. It’s nicely structured – dry powdery tannins are a highlight, as is bright acidity. A sweet/savoury finish of dark-skinned fruits has great length and persistence. Winemaker Shaun Crinion is assistant winemaker at Graeme Miller Wines.
Food match \ Pork pie
Payten & Jones Paul’s Range Chardonnay 2011
From a vineyard in Tarrawarra, this is the first vintage since the 2009 fires. Complex aromas of white peach, cantaloupe rind, citrus and struck match lead to intense lemon, grapefruit and nutty nougat, Flinty minerality was revealed after a splash in the decanter, too. With a creamy texture and zippy, focused acidity, it breezes through the mouth before leaving lengthy, tasty citrus flavours on exit. Behn Payten makes cider and wine at Punt Road Wines and Troy Jones is front of house at Innocent Bystander’s restaurant.
Food match \ Brie de Meaux
Love a bargain?
Fikkers Two Bricks Sauvignon Semillon 2011
A blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and a little muscadelle, this is perfumed and pretty, with a rose-petal lift to aromas of hay, Granny Smith apple, pea pod and hints of tropical fruit. Racy lemon, gooseberry, passionfruit, lemongrass and mineral flavours are intense but have a fair degree of subtlety. An all-round lovely mouthfeel has a creamy texture
that leads to grippy, zippy acidity. Lemon and mineral flavours power through the refreshing finish.
Food match \ Prawn marsala