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Australia Pinot Noir Needs No Bush

Every wine drinker with even rudimentary wine knowledge can recite the popular and noble varietals of Australia that include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon, Riesling, Chardonnay and “stickies” (Tokay and Muscat), but few know of or have even tasted Australian Pinot Noir. Although 60% of Australian wine is exported, the small production of Australian Pinot Noir is eagerly consumed by the country’s insatiable wine drinkers and very little ever reaches our shores. About 50% of all Pinot Noir produced in Australia is sold directly to consumers at wineries’ tasting rooms (called “cellar doors” in Australia) or through a mailing list, with the balance evenly divided between restaurants and wine retailers.

Pinot Noir has been grown in Australia since 1834 when plantings were established in southeast Australia (southern Victoria) using cuttings brought to the region from Tasmania. By 1890, Victoria produced more than 50% of Australia’s wine, with some of the annual output blended and shipped abroad under the name of “Australian Burgundy.” Phylloxera devastated the wine industry by 1920, and recovery was led by fortified wines and plantings of classic French varieties in the 1970s and 1980s. Sporadic successes with Pinot Noir appeared in the 1970s, but some plantings were situated in warmer climate sites resulting in wines with stewed flavors that mirrored the early experience with Pinot Noir in the United States.

With time, several iconic Australia Pinot Noir wineries emerged including Bannockburn, Bass Phillip, Bindi and Giaconda, all of which were located in the cooler microclimates of Victoria, particularly in the regions in the “Dress Circle” of Melbourne, including Geelong, Macedon Ranges, and South Gippsland. Several prominent Pinot Noir produces also gained notoriety in the Mornington Peninsula, the most southerly region for Pinot Noir in Victoria, where plantings were first established in the 1980s.

The Mornington Peninsula growing region is of special interest because the area’s unique maritime climate is similar to Burgundy’s humid climate, providing an extended autumn with a relatively late harvest so that grapes ripen fully with high natural acidity and fine tannins. The Mornington Peninsula is surrounded by water resulting in relatively high summer humidity. The vineyards benefit from low vine stress, abundant sunshine hours, and plentiful rainfall during the winter and spring (growing season rainfall is 12.5-15.2 inches). Heat degree days from October to April are 1080-1570.

Today, the Mornington Peninsula has more than 200 vineyards, most of which are less than 10 acres, and over 50 wineries with cellar doors. Although Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Shiraz have a small presence, Pinot Noir is the Mornington Peninsula’s signature wine. The Victoria region is the largest producer of Australian Pinot Noir by far, with the Mornington Peninsula having the most Pinot Noir vineyard acreage at about 2,300 acres. and annual production of about 160,000 cases (depending on vintage).

In Australia, there are 16 significant clones of Pinot Noir planted, most on their own roots. The most common clone is one unique to Australia known as the “Mother Clone,” and designated MV6. It is said to have come from Clos Vougeot, and has a floppy canopy, small bunches and berries, concentrated plumy and meaty characters, and very good structure. It performs well as a stand-alone clone as well as a foundation clone in blends. Other clones include D2V5 (UC Davis origin, aka Wädenswil or UCD 1A), D5V12 (UC Davis origin, aka UCD 20), GSV15 (UC Davis origin, aka D2V6), G8V7 (UC Davis origin, aka UCD 15), H7V15 (UC Davis origin, aka UCD 22), 8048 (UC Davis origin, aka Wädenswil or UCD 2A), G8V3 (UC Davis/Swiss origin, aka UCD 14), Mariafeld (UC Davis/Swiss origin, aka UCD 23), 18GM (German origin, aka UCD 13), Pommard (UC Davis origin, aka UCD 5 and UCD 6), and Dijon clones 114, 115, 386, 521, 667, 777 and “828” (UC Davis/ Dijon Burgundy origin). The Davis clones were used in many of the early Pinot Noir vineyards, while the Dijon clones make up most of the newer plantings.

Trellising is most often vertical shoot (VSP), although quite a few growers use some form of Lyre or Scott- Henry. Most vineyards yield between 2 and 3 tons per acre. Very little irrigation is used once the vines are established to promote deep root systems and the roots can go very deep. With small producers, most of the vineyard work is hands-on by the owners who perform pruning, trimming, leaf pulling, shoot thinning and spraying, while teams of Asian immigrants farm larger vineyards. Few producers use biodynamic principles. Harvest runs from the end of March to early June annually.

Richard McIntyre of Moorooduc Estate defined the typicality of Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula. “There are two main unofficial sub regions of the Mornington Peninsula. The more northerly sub region (“down the hill”) is warmer and drier with poorer, soils, and the more southerly sub region (“up the hill”) is at a higher altitude and cooler. The best wines from both sub regions have complex aromatics, good mid palate weight and length and fine tannins. The primary fruit aromas and flavors are in the spectrum of cherries, raspberries and plums with the “up the hill” wines tending to red fruits and the “down the hill” wines to darker fruits. Savoury complexity is common, and as vine age increases, we are seeing more tannic structure in the wines, to an unusual degree for new world Pinot Noir. In terms of longevity, the almost universal use of screwcap closures do not allow the ingress of significant amounts of air into bottles, meaning there is virtually no inconsistency and premature oxidation of the wines. One would expect the more recent Pinot Noirs to live ten to fifteen years.”

A map of the Mornington Peninsula with soil types and locations of several of the wineries whose Pinot Noirs are reviewed in this issue follows (available for download at Soils are mainly either sedimentary or volcanic basaltic, the latter holding water much better and eliminating the need for irrigation. As you can see from the map, the “Down the Hill” more northerly region has primarily sedimentary soils and the “Up the Hill” more southerly region has mainly volcanic soils.

The biggest challenges to growing Pinot Noir in Victoria are birds (netting is required), cool snap at flowering causing poor fruit set, frost in some areas, and rain at harvest. A concern is the uncertainty about climate change. The climate in recent years has been warmer than ten to fifteen years ago which has improved wine quality, yet further significant warming could be problematic.

Winemaking in the Mornington Peninsula is traditional with most vintners using the same de-stemmer that allows whole berry fermentation. Both air bag and hydraulic basket presses are employed. Most wines are made from de-stemmed grapes although small amounts of whole cluster are added to some wines. Fermentation is usually with indigenous yeasts and is carried out in stainless steel or plastic open top vats. Elevage is in French oak barrels of which about 30% are usually new and from multiple coopers (Kooyong uses only Francois Frères). About half the vintners inoculate for malolactic fermentation in barrel. Most wineries use mobile bottling lines.

My good friend, David Lloyd, the proprietor and winemaker of Eldridge Estate in the Red Hill region of the Mornington Peninsula, collected a baker’s dozen of 2012 Pinot Noirs from the Mornington Peninsula region and we tasted most of the wines together recently while he was visiting the United States (note the photo below). The 2012 vintage was comfortable for growers who experienced little disease pressure. James Halliday, noted Australian wine critic, said, “I cannot remember a vintage having received such hyperbolic praise right across the board, covering all regions and all varieties, as there is for 2012. The only sour note is the low yields, seldom less than 20% below average, and for some half of the average.” In the Mornington Peninsula harvest occurred from late February to early April in 2012.

David points out, “We have a large number of vineyards in a relatively small region that show a large diversity of wine styles due to their location and soil type.” Our tasting of the 2012 Pinot Noirs did reveal some overall consistency with the wines exhibiting a richness of fruit, evident tannins ranging from mild (“lovely” was David’s term) to muscular (“rippy” was David’s term). There was often a savory component, oak was rarely prominent, balance was usually impressive, and the wines evolved beautifully over time in the glass. Some of the wines showed more effusive aromas and flavors after a day or two from previously opened and re-closed bottles indicating they will have significant longevity. All wines have screwcap closure except Hurley Vineyard (DIAM cork). Overall, the wines were gnarly. Many of the wines have been released in the past 3 months. Retail prices range from $40 to $70 American dollars. Very small amounts of Bass Phillip, Bindi, Eldridge Estate, Giaconda, Kooyong, Moorooduc Estate, Paradigm Hill and Yabby Lake are exported to the United States.

The Mornington Peninsula has its own International Pinot Noir Celebration modeled after Oregon's International Pinot Noir Festival. The next Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration will be held February 6-7, 2015, at RACV Cape Schanck. The keynote speaker will be Tim Atkin MW. The event includes two days of tasting Pinot Noir as well as lunches and dinners at various wineries, and a program of activities in the days pre and post Celebration. For information, visit

“Down the Hill”

2012 Hurley Vineyard Garamond Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.9% alc.. Sourced from the 3-acre Garamond Vineyard planted to clone MV6. Aged 18 months in 33% new French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. Winemaker is Kevin Bell. · Very light garnet color in the glass. Aromas and flavors of strawberry, cherry and cranberry with herbs in the background. Good mid palate intensity and length with some finishing delight. A delicate wine with soft tannins and easy drink ability. Score: 89

2012 Kooyong Ferrous Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.5% alc.. Port Phillip Estate was established in 1995 by Chris and Gail Aylward. It’s Kooyong wines come exclusively from the estate’s 52 acres of Pinot Noir (8 clones) and 27 acres of Chardonnay (10 clones). The Pinot Noir offerings include an Estate wine, and three single vineyard bottlings: Ferrous, Haven and Meres. The winemaker is Sandro Mosele. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The most distinctive wine in the lineup with aromas of dark cherry pie glaze, forest floor and oak. The mid weight flavors of very ripe dark cherry and purple stone fruits are clothed in oak, with an underpinning of iron-driven minerality. The wine sports admirable elegance with well proportioned dry tannins and some finishing fruit goodness. Score: 89

2012 Moorooduc Estate The Moorooduc McIntyre Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

14.0% alc.. Established in 1982 by Richard and Jill McIntyre. A selection of the best clones in the home vineyard. Only made in years when the fruit is of high enough quality to represent the pinnacle of quality from Moorooduc Estate and Richard McIntyre’s skills. Assistant winemaker is Jeremy Maygar. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Appealing aromas of raspberry, plum, underbrush, spice and iron, becoming more effusive over time in the glass. Plenty of spicy and very ripe raspberry flavor picks up intensity over time. The fruit is wrapped in fine-grain tannins and backed by lively acidity. An earthy, iron flavor riff adds interest. Score: 91

2012 Yabby Lake Vineyard Single Block Release Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 320 cases. From Block 1, Rows 1-11 planted in 1998 to low-yielding MV6 clone. Soil is sandy clay loam. Grapes are 100% de-stemmed, spend 14 days on skins. Significant proportion of whole cluster. Winemaker is Tom Carson. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, underbrush and dried rose petal lead to a mid to full bodied core of black cherry and black raspberry fruits wrapped in firm tannins. Impressive mid palate attack and finish but seems a bit closed. Much better when tasted two days later from a previously opened and re-closed bottle with more aromatic vibrancy and more expressive fruit. This wine has the most tannin in this lineup, presumably from the large percentage of whole cluster, and will need a few years in the cellar to reach nirvana. Score: 93

2012 Willow Creek Vineyard Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.0% alc.. Clones D2V5, D5V12, 115, MV6, and 777. Soils is sandy loams and red volcanic clay. Yield 1 ton per acre. Aged in 25% new French oak barrels. Winemaker is Geraldine McFaul. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. This is a cherry-driven wine with accents of dark raspberry, sarsaparilla, briar and rose petal. Light to mid weight and very elegant, with well-managed, dry tannins. This is a very comforting wine that held up nicely over two days after opening. Score: 90

“Up the Hill”

2012 Ten Minutes by Tractor Judd Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 225 cases. Originally started by three family owned vineyards that were 10 minutes apart by tractor. A relatively warm site with a steep and high vineyard location. Four clones first planted in 1997. Record veraison to harvest interval (70 days compared to an average of 57 days). 20 days on skins, aged 14 months in new and used French oak barrels. Winemaker is Martin Spedding and assistant winemaker is Jeremy Maygar. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of black raspberry, black plum, rose petal and stalk. Plenty of power and length on the mid palate with impressive finishing intensity. The flavors of black raspberry, black currant and plum reflect a warmer site. The wine has good harmony with balanced tannins, a silky mouthfeel, and a lengthy, generous finish. Score: 90

2012 Crittenden Estate The Zumma Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.7% alc.. This a small family owned winery. Gary Crittenden was one of the first to plant grapevines in the region in 1982. The Zumma name was adopted by the family’s 27-acre farm (now vineyard) when purchased in 1981. This limited bottling is sourced from the estate’s oldest vineyard plantings. Wild yeast fermentation, bottled unfined and unfiltered. · This is clearly a special wine from the moment the cork is pulled. Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The aromatics are engaging and persistent featuring aromas of cherry, spice and a subtle hint of oak. The delicious mid weight core of cherry, cranberry and raspberry fruits make an impression on the mid palate and deliver a long and generous finish. Soft in the mouth with integrated tannins, the wine holds up nicely over time in the glass. A very giving wine that aims to please. Still enticing later in the day from a previously opened and re-closed bottle. Score: 93-94

2012 Eldridge Estate Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.5% alc.. One of the coolest and oldest vineyards in the Mornington Peninsula with vines dating back to 1984. Owner and winemaker David Lloyd is dubbed the “Clone Ranger” in Australia for his research on clones of Pinot Noir. 7 acres of Pinot Noir (6 clones) and Chardonnay (5 clones). This wine is darker than usual in this vintage. 10% whole cluster. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Endearing aromas of cherry, brown spice and vanilla picking up intensity over time in the glass. The middleweight flavors of dark cherry and raspberry are vivid and expansive, finishing with noticeable verve and length. The oak is complimentary but could benefit from more time to fully integrate The suave, suede-like tannins are nicely balanced. Even better the following day from a previously opened and re-closed bottle. Score: 93

2012 Eldridge Estate Single Clone MPV6 Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.5% alc.. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. This wonderful wine is showing a modest oak sheen that will integrate over time. The nose offers aromas of cherry, sandalwood, spice and sweet oak. Impressive fullness and richness on the palate that features discreetly concentrated flavors of black cherry, blackberry and plum. Soft, even velvety in the mouth, with a richly fruited, very long finish. Hard to resist now, this gorgeous Pinot Noir will benefit from a few years in the cellar. Score: 93-94

2012 Main Ridge Estate Half Acre Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.5% alc.. A pioneering wine estate established in 1975 and granted the first commercial winery license on the Mornington Peninsula in 1978. The vineyard was developed completely by hand, meaning owners Nat and Rosalie White dug every post and vine hole. The vineyard is primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Two Pinot Noir wines, “The Acre” and “Half Acre” are produced. The winemaker is Nat White. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Pleasant aromas of fresh cherry coulis leading to savory mid weight flavors of fresh cherries. The tight knit tannins provide good structure, and the mouthfeel is pleasingly dry and fine grained. The wine evolves nicely over time in the glass and was even better the following day from a previously opened and re-closed bottle. Score: 90

2012 Paringa Estate The Paringa Single Vineyard Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.5% alc.. 25th vintage from this winery founded in 1988. One of the most awarded wineries in Australia for Pinot Noir and Shiraz, owner and winemaker Lindsay McCall manages 55 acres of vineyards for Paringa Estate, producing about 15,000 cases of wine annually. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of cherry, spice and oak. The mid weight core of dark cherry fruit has an appealingly earthy underpinning. The tannins are balanced and there is some finishing verve. This inviting wine had even more cherry and spice presence two days later from a previously opened and re-closed bottle. Score: 91

2012 Montalto Vineyard Single Vineyard Main Ridge Block Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.1% alc.. Clone D5V12 planted in deep red volcanic soils. Wines are produced from 6 vineyards across the Mornington Peninsula including Main Ridge, the highest and coolest site. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. I love the nose that fills the glass with aromas of perfectly ripened cherries, raspberries and spice. Very smooth and seductive on the palate with pleasingly vivid flavors of black cherry and plum. Well-structured for the long haul, with a finish that has a vibrant, mouthwatering fruit presence that lingers endlessly. Score: 93-94

2012 Paradigm Hill Les cinq Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.8% alc, pH 3.69, TA 0.67.Clone 115. Harvest Brix 24.5º. 4-day cold soak, 5-day fermentation, 6-day post maceration. Aged 18 months in 33% new French oak barrels. Winemaker is George Mihaly. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Enticing scents of cherry, plum and rose petal lead to a mid weight attack of tasty plum, dark cherry and dark raspberry fruits that hint at a bit of confection. Very charming with balanced tannins and some finishing length. Delicious two days later from a previously opened and re-closed bottle. Score: 92

Two more aged treats from Eldridge Estate:

2006 Eldridge Estate Single Clone MV6 Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

14.0% alc.. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass with no sign of aging. Fresh and bright aromas of cherry and red plum initially, fading a bit in the glass over time with more oak showing up. Light to mid weight flavors of cherries and raspberries with a hint of spice and mushroom. Very elegant with supple tannins and some finishing length. Drinking beautifully now, but will hold a few more years. Score: 90

2008 Eldridge Estate Single Clone MV6 Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir

13.6% alc.. · Moderately light reddish purple hue in the glass. Somewhat shy aromas of darker cherries and raspberries. Pleasing middleweight flavors of black cherry and plum with an earthy, savory underpinning. The tannins are fine-grain, the oak plays a flattering role, and the fruit-driven finish lasts and lasts. A charming wine with impressive harmony. Will easily last another 10 years in the cellar. Score: 92

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