Gamay at home on the Peninsula

The tiny Eldridge Estate vineyard (pictured) is situated at Red Hill, in the highest part of the Mornington Peninsula. (Photo: Eldridge Estate)

Their fellow Mornington Peninsula vignerons thought David and Wendy Lloyd were mad planting gamay. It’s a waste of land that could grow good pinot noir, they said. Besides, they said, there’s no market for gamay; no-one wants it.

“A big reason behind us deciding to plant the variety was when we discovered how food-friendly it was.” – David Lloyd

The Lloyds pressed ahead regardless. They procured some gamay cuttings from a nursery at Merbein and grafted them onto cabernet and merlot roots. Remember Mornington Peninsula cabernet? No, I thought not!

Today, of course, the world has rediscovered gamay – and the most famous gamay wine, which is Beaujolais. The Lloyds’ commitment to the grape has been vindicated.

The tiny Eldridge Estate vineyard is situated at Red Hill, in the highest part of the Mornington Peninsula. What’s good for pinot noir and chardonnay seems also good for gamay. David Lloyd makes a straight gamay, as well as 50/50 gamay pinot noir blend, inspired by the Burgundy blends known as passetoutgrains. He names it PTG, which might be a sly reference to passetoutgrains, or as one of his earlier labels put it, Pressed Together.

We’ll need to wait a while to taste the 2018 Eldridge Estate Gamay, but the 2018 PTG is out now, and what a deliciously slurpable light red it is. To use the fashionable vernacular, it is crunchy – even smashable.

And it’s the sort of wine you might find in wine bars where they use that kind of language.

Immediately following the 2018 harvest, Lloyd emailed me the following burst of enthusiasm:

“As you know, I love gamay, which was picked today in what I feel is the best batch since 2000. Speaking of which, the 2000 gamay was picked on April 29 of that year and produced a wine of 12.8% alcohol, versus this year’s being picked today, March 23, at potential of 13.5% alc and about the same cropping level.”

Grapes are generally ripening earlier at Eldridge as they are everywhere, but more problematic is the fast and furious nature of some recent vintages.

“I have never known a vintage to be so compressed. Typical duration from first pick to last in the late 1990s to 2005 was about five weeks, compared with 10 days this year.”

The history of Lloyd’s affair with gamay bears mention.

“A big reason behind us deciding to plant the variety was when we discovered how food-friendly it was.

“I liked Sorrenberg’s gamay and approached (owners) Jan and Barry Morey for advice, and they have always been most supportive of my desire to grow and make gamay.

“What style to make? After many visits (to Beaujolais) and heaps of bottles tried while renting gites across the region, I have now settled on something that I feel produces a style like the Cru Beaujolais but not as fruit bomb-ish.

“In the early days, 1998-2001, I produced two versions of gamay: one that used 100% maceration carbonique and the other made more like my pinot noir, 100% destemmed. At the urgings of some Beaujolais producers I have also tried thermovinification (2006) and 100% whole bunch (2010), the former being more bubblegum and floral and the latter being too much green herbs.

“The style does vary a little from vintage to vintage. The 2017 is the third variation in three years.”

The 2017 is neither bubblegummy nor overtly green-stemmy, but a very good synthesis of the prior experiments. It’s on sale now at AUD $45; the 2018 PTG is AUD $35. Both are highly recommended.

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