Garry Crittenden bows out his way

Rollo (left) and Garry Crittenden (Photo: Crittenden Estate Wines)

There is something very touching about the way Mornington Peninsula vigneron Garry Crittenden has bowed out of the family wine business he created. The back-label on his latest solo effort features a piece of verse penned by the man himself, which gives a poignant insight into the melancholy business of retirement.

Garry and Margaret Crittenden established Dromana Estate in Harrison’s Road, Dromana, in 1982, and were at the spearhead of the early Mornington wine industry.

The wine is named Big Chair, and the label depicts a papier mâché sculpture by Korean artist Shin Jaedon that Crittenden purchased recently.

“When I asked him what it represented (to him) he told me it was an image of a ‘taxidermied old man sitting on his fainted [sic] glory’. (By fainted I think he meant faded.)”

It obviously struck a chord with Crittenden, who recently negotiated his retirement with his son Rollo and daughter Zoe.

Garry, now aged 75, takes up the story:

“Over the past couple of years, I have had discussions with Zoe and Rollo as to how I can exit the day-to-day business scene but keep an interest, if not control.

“We seem to be getting there.

“As part of an ‘agreement’ I’ve brokered with them, I will be entitled to take about two tonnes of estate pinot fruit each vintage (as long as I’m able) and make the wine my way and without intervention.

“I long for a hands-on role with my antiquated small batch ideas.

“In 2016 I took my first entitlement of fruit from the D2V5 clone located just behind the winery building. The vines, 1.2 metres apart, are about 25 years old and are pruned to a single-cane guyot system (VSP) and crop at a tad over 2 tonnes per acre or 35 hectolitres per hectare.

“Vintage 2016 yielded roughly 550 bottles and will have very limited distribution to friends and long-time supporters and at the cellar door. The price: I think around AUD $55. People are buying a small slice of my history and my heritage. The label is, if nothing else, quirky.”

I enjoyed the wine and rated it on a par with the top pinot from Crittenden Estate made by Rollo, Cri de Coeur 2016 – both gold ribbon scores. Not surprisingly, the wines have a family resemblance. Both have a lot of stemmy, whole-bunch ferment characters, which add to their heightened perfumes.

Garry and Margaret Crittenden established Dromana Estate in Harrison’s Road, Dromana, in 1982, and were at the spearhead of the early Mornington wine industry. Garry was a member of the syndicate that established the Tolpuddle Vineyard in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley, set up to supply sparkling wine grapes to Domaine Chandon, and now owned by Shaw + Smith. Along the way he had the Schinus and Garry Crittenden ‘I’ labels, the latter signifying his earliest experiments with Italian varieties such as dolcetto, barbera, nebbiolo and arneis. In 1999 he co-authored a book, Italian Winegrape Varieties in Australia. As with many things, he was ahead of his time.

Reinvented as Crittenden Estate, the family property is now managed by son Rollo and the range characteristically includes two alternative variety ranges: Los Hermanos for Iberian varieties and Pinocchio for Italian varieties, while Geppetto is a mid-priced range of French varietals. Pinot noir and chardonnay are still the core business.

Garry signed off his last message “And now it really is ‘goodbye to all that’.” But it’s hard to imagine this energetic man spending very much time chilling out in his Big Chair – comfy though it may be.

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