Yarra Valley immersion

De Bortoli Yarra Valley vineyards (Photo: De Bortoli Wines)

The Yarra Valley Wine Program is a two-day immersion for the wine trade and media hosted by local winemakers in the Yarra Valley every two years. The 2017 event was three weeks ago, and the focus was on three themes: firstly sub-regions, their soils and meso-climates; secondly the classic and future grape varieties (cabernet, shiraz, chardonnay and pinot noir are considered classics, while nebbiolo, barbera, grenache, pinot blanc, chenin blanc, viognier and others are considered varieties for the future); and finally a session dubbed The Vibe.

All tastings were interesting and the standard of the wines was extremely high, but The Vibe was the most challenging.

There was a very good attempt at a Vin Jaune style from Denton View Hill, a chardonnay that had been maturing in barrel under a sherry flor for nearly two years. There were two skins-fermented pinot gris, one from Punt Road under its 2017 Airlie Bank label (50% whole bunch and 50% whole berry fermented. “It’s a rosé style we like, and pinot gris just happens to be the vehicle,” said winemaker Tim Shand), the other from Helen and Joey Estate and labelled Wayward Child 2016 (this was a deeper pink colour and had substantial tannin, a sort of half-way house between rosé and light red). Both were very appealing wines of good quality.

There was also a gorgeous light-bodied red – De Bortoli Same Same But Different, a 2017 pinot noir, pinot meunier blend, which had been 100% whole-bunch fermented. A very slurpable early drinking red wine.

Oakridge has been making a straight meunier for some years and its 2017 is right on song. “It’s a wine for throating,” said winemaker David Bicknell to much applause and a few guffaws. With lots of whole-bunch, it’s a wine for drinking, not thinking.

“We can’t buy gamay in the valley, so we use meunier,” he explained.

Meunier was planted for Domaine Chandon sparkling wine, and presumably its increasing use for red table wine is thanks to global warming.

Discussing ‘natural’ and low-intervention winemaking trends, Tim Shand suggested that,

“Some winemakers are starting to enjoy the smell of their own farts.”

We all knew what he meant. Happily, there were no stinky wines on this table.

Perhaps the big discovery for me was nebbiolo. Luke Lambert has been doing good things with nebb for some years and his 2015 Denton View Hill was outstanding: intense, assertive and loaded with character. And Soumah’s Single Vineyard Hexham Nebbiolo 2015 – which had 120 days on skins – was superb, concentrated, full-bodied and totally convincing.

“It’s another variety that has potential for the Yarra Valley, said Mac Forbes.

“I’ve seen nebbiolo from the Pyrenees, the King Valley and other areas, but in the Yarra Valley it has wonderful clarity.”

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