2020. The year will be remembered forever and not for the happiest of reasons. We had our stock of bog rolls and pasta; we had YouTubed yoga classes and worn our PJs to work. And we all needed something to help while away the time whilst everything was locked down – and what better than a glass of organic, sustainable wine.
Grab a glass and read on!
As online sales chugged along, our producers suffered financially with the loss of restaurant and cellar door sales. We took our Tasting Assembly masterclasses online and to support winemakers we got them involved. We were fortunate throughout the Victorian lockdowns to experience brilliant wines, made by passionate people. Our Tasting Assembly Masterclasses were a wonderful success. Twelve winemakers from Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Western Australia came to your Zoom screens May through October to guide us through a tasting of three wines and explain the principles that drive and direct their winemaking. We brought the cellar door experience to you.
In celebration of twelve winemaker events that went against the 2020 grain, we have created a list of our top picks from our twelve Tasting Assembly Masterclasses and for extra fun curated our annual Wine Revolution Playlist to reflect the wines, labels, and vibes of the tasting. Crank up the volume while you’re sipping and reflecting on 2020, the year that was.
View the full list of 2020 WITH A BOTTLE featured wines HERE
Margaret River, WA
A few weeks before her Wine Revolution Masterclass, Vanya Cullen was named James Holliday Winemaker of the Year. And we could see why. Her knowledge and enthusiasm know no boundaries. Her wines are incredible – complex, delicious and, of course, certified Biodynamic and sustainable. We highly recommend visiting the Cullen Biodynamic Wine Room to taste wine and food and to hear Vanya speak of Biodynamics and the importance of the sun, moon, root, and flower (bookings essential).
Choosing a song that reflects her wines presents a quandary: the wines are sophisticated, so perhaps Frank Sinatra; yet her emphasis on the natural forces of the world was woven throughout her Masterclass, so…
Song Aquarius/Let the sunshine in, The 5th Dimension
Margaret River, WA
Another from Margaret River, Skigh McManus has been making wines for over 20 years and in 2015 bought his experience to a new project, Skigh Wine. Together with a bunch of mates they create “wines that embrace natural ferments, have minimal additions, have great structure and double down on drinkability (with a respect for the fruit above all else)” and, most importantly, “that at their core represent what [they] love to drink.” And we are glad, as we love to drink them too. Skigh loves Margaret River and supports local fruit growers, always picking the healthiest and most sustainably grown fruit. Visit their rustic cellar door in Margeret River to experience
The 2017 Skigh Wines Abacus Chardonnay is a classic Margaret River chardonnay – big, oaked, structured, and balanced.
Choosing a wine that reflects Skigh Wine. Well, it is named after himself and the wine is bold, so something bold that mentions the sky…
Blue Sky Mining, Midnight Oil
2017 Skigh Wines Abacus Chardonnay
Barossa Valley, SA
Wayne Ahrens of Smallfry Wines zoomed us from the Barossa in mid-June. Wayne is as down-to-earth as you can get. He is a viticulturalist who has become keen on winemaking, and we are thankful for it. Smallfry Wine is certified Biodynamic and Organic. Care for the land and fruit is key to his philosophy – good quality fruit will produce good quality wine. Simple. Wayne’s wines are subtle and Euro in style; he is a foodie too, so all his wines are food-friendly. Perfect for Christmas lunches. We loved Wayne’s Masterclass and you can experience it to at their cellar door (by appointment only).
What song to match with Smallfry? One of our biggest selling wines is Smallfry Tangerine Dream which suggests a Tangerine Dream track, but throwing 20-odd minutes of dark spacey soundscapes into a playlist is not quite right, so…
Song: Tangerine, Led Zeppelin
Wine: 2020 Smallfry Tangerine Dream
See Saw Wine is from high-altitude Orange west of Sydney, with vineyards planted from 750m to 900m. Justin and Pip Jarrett have been growing grapes and making wine in Orange for 25 years. Justin understands that we must care for the land, to respect and to nurture it. To this end, See Saw has taken sustainability of the environment to whole new levels– in his own words, “Nurturing this land to bring out our grape’s finest qualities requires one thing beyond all else – balance”. Justin spoke of this passion and philosophy at some length as he guided us through three wines. We love them all but coming into the warmer weather and the festive season we cannot go past See Saw Prosecco – crisp, refreshing and lively. Perfect.
Matching a song to a See Saw wine, one of the highest wineries in Australia…
Song: Higher Ground, Stevie Wonder
Wine: 2020 See Saw Prosecco
Otway Hinterland-Geelong, Vic.
James Thomas of “Heroes” zoomed with us in the middle of Melbourne’s second lockdown. James is currently working towards full Organic certification, but we have visited him in his vineyard and can attest to his organic practices. In his own words, “I now farm organically and have a holistic approach. Everything works together to preserve and nurture the soil food web through nutrient cycling.” James speaks passionately about soil, regeneration, and wine. There is nothing unnatural about his practices, his grapes, or his wines which are simply wonderful. The 2019 Pinot Noir is intense yet restrained; James is fast approaching his goal of creating the best Pinot Noir in the world! When we visited two years ago, the ‘cellar door’ was the boot of his car which had a certain rustic charm, but now “Heroes” have a cellar door for guided tastings.
Song choice is easy. James named his winery after…
Song: Heroes, David Bowie
Wine: 2019 “Heroes” Pinot Noir
Alpine Valleys, Vic.
Still in lockdown, our Masterclass computer screens were visited by Jo Marsh, winemaker, and owner of Billy Button Wines. Jo is a proper wine dynamo with vintages in Napa Valley and Burgundy, Young Gun of Wine Finalist in 2016, Five-Star Halliday Winery. She also has a thing for interesting and, sometimes, challenging grapes and Billy Button is home to a plethora of hard-to-pronounce varietals, you have rarely heard of – Saperavi, Refosco, Schioppettino, Malvasia, Verduzzo, Friulano to name but a few. The wines are made for food – indeed, with so many varietals on hand, you should always be able to find a wine to match with your food. The wines are vibrant, textural, fragrant, and happy – just like their namesake, Billy Button, the bright yellow flowers seen on the label, which bounce in the wind of the alpine peaks. A matched song needs a bit of frivolity and a bit of food.
Song: Strawberry Fields Forever, The Beatles
Yarra Valley, Vic.
In mid-September with the ‘ring of steel’ locking Melbourne down, the Yarra Valley, about an hour drive away for us Melburnians, may as well have been the Rhône. Nevertheless, we were fortunate enough to Zoom there for the Thousand Candles Winemaker Masterclass with Stuart Proud. Stuart is first and foremost a farmer, and a damned good one. He focuses on the health of the vineyard and especially of the soil. He spoke as part farmer, part biologist, part physicist, part meteorologist and part chemist. He summed up his passion for all things by extolling the virtues of the earthworm as a “barometer for soil health”. Stuart is an equally talented winemaker, allowing the marvellous healthy fruit to shine through his wines.
For Stuart, his vines and Gathering Field label, and as he is also a member of “The Yeastie Boys … the hardest working band to have emerged from the Australian Wine Industry… with a penchant for classic Australian Rock” a song needs to be local, full of life and vitality…
Song: Joker and the Thief, Wolfmother
Adam Louder joined us in August smack in the middle of the second lockdown. By that time, a trip to the Grampians was much needed. Adam and his partner, Nancy, led us through a Masterclass tasting of the Grampians. Adam is a highly accomplished winemaker with 28 harvests, here and overseas, under his belt. He has a deep love for his native Grampians and the nearby Pyrenees and through local knowledge sources the best fruit. He sees his task as guiding the fruit from vineyard to bottle to allow the fruit to “the hard work”. SubRosa is very much boutique with limited releases, so get in when you can. Adam’s winemaking style is low intervention, unfined and unfiltered. He is particularly proud of the 2016 SubRosa Grampians Pyrenees Shiraz, and deservedly so. Very fine and balanced, softened with a hint of Viognier. No cellar door, but the Grampians Grape Escape Wine, Food and Music Festival is held in May 2021.
SubRosa is a Latin expression for ‘in secret’, they have a rat on their logo, so…
Song: I think I smell a rat, The White Stripes
Geelong Region, Vic.
Our final stop in our Victorian wine tour was with Ray Nadeson – the owner of, and winemaker at, Lethbridge Wines. Ray is also a medical researcher in neuroscience, a photographer and sometimes mountaineer – he is a busy bloke. His approach to winemaking is almost entirely scientific, with a careful and precise analysis of the grapes and wines but complimented with traditional wine wisdom. Indeed, listening to Ray speak of his process it sounded as much intense scientific study as grape-stained fingers. Lethbridge wines are diverse (there are currently 57 wines and 18 different grape varietals) and thoroughly enjoyable – from quaffable to savour. Head to the Lethbridge Cellar Door for a unique tasting experience.
A song inspired by science, contemplative, just like the wines…
Song: Higgs Boson Blues, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Peter Graham of Domenica Wines cut his teeth at nearby Giaconda before he established Domenica Wine in 2012 to go it alone. And Peter does go it alone – he is viticulturalist, winemaker and manager of his Beechworth winery. He spoke with passion of the warm, dry summers, cold winters, granitic soils, slopes and high altitude (460m) of Beechworth. Domenica has just 10 acres of hand-tended, organically grown, low cropped vines making a mere 1500 cases annually. His philosophy is all about sustainability, traditional winemaking techniques, and minimal intervention. The 2019 Domenica Nebbiolo Rosé has been a cracking success on the Wine Revolution list and was probably the favourite on the night, though the 2017 Domenica Chardonnay ran a close second.
Domenica is Italian for Sunday, so a song about Sundays…
Song: Sunday Morning, The Velvet Underground
Wine: 2019 Domenica Rosé
South Gippsland, VIC
To call Mark Matthews of Caledonia Australis enthusiastic about sustainability does not give weight to the measures he has taken to ensure a carbon negative business, nor to his core belief in the existential importance of sustainability. The bottle labels are made from post-consumer waste recycled paper with only aqueous inks; he has planted over 10,000 trees; rather than machines, skilled people are used to picking the fruit and care for the soil; and most of the vineyards are certified Organic. Mark’s winemaking is unashamedly old world in style and technique and he has turned Caledonia Australis into “a small family domain, surely the truest structure for the original Burgundian vision.”
A song for Caledonia Australis – which essentially translates as Southern Scotland as parts of Gippsland are similar to Scotland – needs something Scottish-Australian, so…
Song: Have a drink on me, AC/DC
Melanie Chester – Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine’s 2015 Young Winemaker of the Year, 2018 Young Gun winemaker People’s Choice and youngest scholar of the Len Evans Tutorial – Zoomed us through three fantastic wines, including the 2017 Estate Syrah which was named Halliday Wine Companion “Best of The Best” Shiraz with a cool 97pts. Though Melanie claims her wines are all about the vineyards site – granite soils, cool nights, warm days – 30km south of Bendigo, she is quite obviously a winemaking virtuoso, following traditional techniques which allow the grapes and terroir to speak in the bottle. The vineyard, though not certified, is organic and biodynamic. Drink what you like, when you like, how you like. Head to the Bendigo region and enjoy an hour-long seated tasting at the cellar door. All Melanie’s wines under the Fairbank and Sutton Grange Estate are delicious, but with warmer weather here we could not go past the infinitely quaffable 2019 Fairbank Rosé. This is a lazy summer wine and deserves a lazy summer song, so…
Song: Summertime, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Wine: 2019 Fairbank Rosé
2020 WITH A BOTTLE
View the full list of 2020 WITH A BOTTLE featured wines HERE
Grab a glass and download