The Feathertop factor
(Kel & Janelle Boynton)
I first met Kel Boynton when we were both wine students at Roseworthy Agricultural College. He was passionate about wine and determined to plant a vineyard, build a winery and make Champagne-quality sparkling wine. Although he didn’t have any money, Boynton was rich in self-belief, and his confidence and can-do attitude were infectious.
He was already an accomplished stone-mason, and his plan was to finance his project by building stone houses for wealthy people. At that stage, he didn’t know where he would put down roots but not long after graduating, he hit upon the cooler climes of sub-alpine North East Victoria. In 1987, he bought a beautiful block beside the Great Alpine Road at Porepunkah, between Bright and Myrtleford, and set about planting it.
Boynton’s Feathertop vineyard is in two parts: the main (and easiest) section is a gently sloping flatter area beside the road. As you move away from the road towards the hills, the land sweeps abruptly upward into a slope that is so steep as to be barely workable by tractor, where the soil is poorer, yielding the best red grapes.
Much replanting has been done since the first attempts, partly to replace varieties that didn’t prove suitable, and partly because phylloxera paid a devastating and unwelcome visit.
Feathertop now has a mix of grape varieties which is strong on Italian vines, in keeping with the trend in North East Victoria: nebbiolo, sangiovese, vermentino, prosecco, friulano, pinot gris/grigio, as well as the non-Italian but likewise alternative tempranillo, savagnin, petit verdot, saperavi and more. They also produce merlot, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. It’s a hell of a range for a boutique winery.
Running through the wines recently, I was impressed at the quality. Pretty well everything is line-priced, the whites at $25, the reds at $30, the sparklings a little more.
All the wines are good to very good and occasionally outstanding. Most surprising were the cabernets: it’s a cool region, not one I’d expect cabernet to flourish in, but the wine is not made every year. The ’06 cabernet sauvignon was a stand-out and the current release ’09 almost as good.
The current riesling (tasting), sauvignon blanc (tasting), vermentino (tasting) and savagnin (tastings) are all good. The ‘08 Sparkling Black Reserve Shiraz ($40 – tasting) is outstanding, and the ‘08 Blanc de Blancs (tasting), as yet unreleased, will be well worth waiting for. The ‘12 Petit Verdot (tasting) is one of the most balanced and complete wines of that variety I’ve encountered, while the ’13 tempranillo, which I tasted as a tank sample, looked extra-promising.
Chief winemaker is Kel Boynton himself, while the assistant winemakers have been a series of top people: David Darlow (ex-Bullers) did the 2014 vintage but has just resigned; before him it was Jo Marsh (ex Seppelt Great Western) and before her, Eleana Anderson, who now has her own neighbouring vineyard, Mayford at Porepunkah. Jo Marsh has recently launched her own label called Billy Button (tasting), for small production Alpine Valleys wines. Both Mayford and Billy Button have some superb wines, adding to the already high standard of the region’s output.
The energetic Boynton, a highly accomplished rower and a champion sculler in veteran classes, is always building something, and his stone walls are a feature of the Feathertop winery, restaurant, function centre and cellar door. Weddings are big business and the latest addition is an underground hall, with separate kitchen, which will have a long table seating 100. His wife Janelle is an architect who has designed many of the more recent projects including B&B accommodation, and the family’s home which perches on the hillside above the vineyard with spectacular views of Mt Buffalo and the Ovens Valley. Janelle also manages the business, including the functions.
If ever there was a couple who have done it all themselves and achieved great things through sheer hard work and astute thinking, it’s the Boyntons.
They have a thriving wine club and most of their wine is sold direct. They used to export until, during a marketing trip to America, they realised they were working hard to achieve ‘profitless prosperity’, and decided to quit exporting immediately. They haven’t looked back.
My tasting notes on the current Feathertop range have just been uploaded.