Pinot Celebration Australia

Waking up to a cold, damp and foggy misty morning, it was hard to believe that just a day or so ago we had been bathing in Australian sunshine.

And it was not only sunshine that had made our spirits climb, no, more so was the vast array of gorgeous wines. Vivid, fresh, linear, precise, crafted but always with a sense of place, an individuality, graceful, and making their presence known.

It was back last summer whilst attending a trade tasting on the wines of Mornington Peninsula, an event that we weren’t originally scheduled to do, but due a change in circumstances, we decided to go along to Australia House and see for ourselves what the wines from this particular sub-region were all about. And so pleased that we did, as not only did we leave quite blown-away by the wines that we tasted, but also discovered a few weeks later that we had been the winners of a little competition that had been held on the day, asking those in attendance to simply describe the wines that they had tasted in less than 30 words.

Apparently ours seemed to hit the nail on its head, of which, we couldn’t quite believe our luck! But it wasn’t long before the time came around to jet-off to what has been a three day immersion in all things Pinot Noir. There was no fear of drowning, as this wonderful elixir transcends anyone who welcomes its embrace, which then takes you to new highs that become apparent after that first waft of perfected perfume fixates, and then transfixes, before going on to work more its magic on the palate. And that is what Pinot Noir is – truly magical.

Anyway, we are getting lost in its caress once gain… er hem… moving on…

We touched down in Melbourne in the early hours of the 7th February and duly booked into a local hotel for the night to then await being picked up around 10.30 later that morning.

Once picked up, our driver had a couple more stops to collect a further two delegates – these being two of Australia top sommeliers – Brisbane’s Penny Grant and Sydney’s Shanteh Wong, who where not only attending, but would also be taking part in a presentation during the conference, therefore, so much to look forward to.

Our day duly started by being dropped off at Merrick’s Wine Estate to do a bit of a free-pour wine tasting, with over a hundred wines to taste, mostly pinot noir, but one or two other grape varieties thrown in for good measure, all being of a local source. Well, we couldn’t think of a better way in which to deal with any jet-lag that we might encounter!

Afterwards, we were then treated to dinner on the estate, along with some of Australia’s finest in the trade.

Now that it had come to actually having a drink rather than just tasting, this simple act of doing so allowed the jet-lag to well and truly introduce itself! However, not to worry, as we had a lift waiting to take us to our residence for the next couple of days, the very swanky RACV Cape Schanck Hotel – now then! However, that didn’t stop us from swinging via the bar, only for us then afterwards to try and locate our rooms!

The following day, we had to be up early and on-time for a 8.30am start. 8.30 sounded like an ideal time to start tasting Pinot Noir (rather than drinking it), and this began with a presentation entitled The Australian Pinot Noir Story facilitated by Andrew Caillard MW, who really did take us all on a bit of a history lesson of how this venerable grape got to be where it is in Australia.

We also had the opportunity to taste through 6 wines from the 2016 vintage, with wines from Adelaide, Great Southern, Mornington Peninsula, New South Wales, Tasmania (or Tassi as we now know it), and Victoria.

And out of these, the stand out (if we can actually say there was such a thing – now we are just being picky), we would have to go with the Yabby Lake Single Vineyard.

This was followed by Victoria Renaissance, facilitated by Max Allen and included panelists: Neill Robb, Sandra de Pury, Maryann Egan, Matt Holmes, Michael Dillon and Neil Prentice.

Here, we were taken back to a time pre-fortifed wine era, an ara that doesn’t get much of a mention in wine’s history books. We tend to think that Australian wines evolved from being fortified, but prior to this, there had been a burgeoning finer wine market that got lost somewhere on its vinous journey. And we are so glad we are that it has managed to find its way back!

And what an array of wines before us! 7 of the very best from Victoria (vintages ranging from 2015 to 2017). It was hard to chose a winner, as we were quite happy to simply sit there whiling away the rest of the morning sniffing and slurping our way to lunch. But if one had to be chosen then it would be the 2017 Moondarra from Gippsland – by-eck!

After a rather nice lunch, it was back to some hard graft, well ok, we are just trying to make it sound like what we are doing resembles something akin to work, it’s a dirty job an all that…

More history lessons were on the horizon, albeit this time with the focus becoming a bit more more specific. Andrew Cailland MW and Nick Ryan facilitated a talk all about Monring Peninsula 1850-2050, with panelists: Rollo Crittenden, Peter Dillon, Darrin Gaffey, Maitena Zantvoort, Tom Mc Carthy and Mike Aylward.

Not only a very compressive discussion, and an eye-opener for us, in that winegrowing had been going on for so long, but the group also gave an interesting insight into what the future might hold.

It would seem that the region has rapidly evolved from one that has its beginnings in farming, to one of life-style choice, to now a region that is producing some very outstanding fine wines.

This brought us up to speed by being followed by Mornington Peninsula – The 2016 Pinot Noir Story – lead by Philip Rich & Nina Caplan.

Clones, yes, there was plenty of talk about clones. Well, we suppose the Pinot does invoke this rather geeky, but nonetheless enjoyable topic – akin to a preferred make of synth or guitar used by a particular band on a particular track. Do we use just one clone, a mix, which soils, what tastes, oh we could go on… but we won’t!

Here, we were given 12 very fine Pinot’s – our stand-outs from the crowd on this occasion went to: 2016 Pt Leo and the 2016 Kooyong Meres.

As we had all been leisurely sat around tables tasting fabby Pinot, it was time for the conference to go stretch it legs. Already divided into groups, it was time to introduce the Breakaway Sessions.

Our groups was entitled ‘Raspberries, Roses, Truffles & Chocolate – a journey to tease your taste buds with wines from Paradigm Hill

Therefore, we were whisked out to this estate and ushered into their barrel cellar to where we were greeted by a candle-lit table with an assortment of goodies either to sniff or taste or both – whether it be fresh roses, tasty chocolate, raspberries, truffle, wood shavings, hoisin duck or mushroom, there was something to please the senses.

The charismatic Ned Goodwin MW along with Ruth & George Mihaly took us on a journey of taste accompanied by some of the estates very fine Pinot’s, going all the way back to a 2004 (one of only two bottles remaining – well, just the one now!), all to sample alongside these smell and taste sensations in order to see how they interacted with the wines.

Surprisingly, the more savoury accompaniments didn’t just go with the older wines, as we all expected they would, but worked just as well with the newer fresher, fruitier ones as well, and this can be said for the fruitier, floral accompaniments also working nicely with the older wines, each enabling different aspects of the wines to be enhanced. Thus, vastly increasing the complexity and enjoyment of the wines, demonstrating how food and wine together adds to this complexity and overall pleasure.

After such a hard day, it was now time for dinner. Tonight this was being hosted by the folk at the Pt Leo Estate, with a chance to stroll amongst the many sculptures that are gathered around, with an aperitif to in hand, to keep one company, prior to being seated for dinner.

Just before we ate, there was just time for Dan Sims the founder of Pinot Palooza, to give a brief talk on trying to engage with those pesky Millenials just for a minute – at least!

The final day got off to a good start (a little later at 9,00am) with the guys from Tasi, giving their take on The Tasmanian Pinot Noir Story.

Facilitator was Huon Hooke, who had a group of panelists: Gilli Lippscombe, Jonathan Huges, Alex Deane and Michael Hill-Smith MW give a rather good talk on the development of the wines from this particular region, its history, its terroir and its people.

We had 6 wines all from the 2016 vintage with standouts being for us: Delamere and the Meadowbank.

Next, it was down to the women to show their mettle with a fantastic array of some of Australia’s finest top-flight sommeliers with their own personal Australian Pinot Selection. The Pinot’s chosen hailed from Geelong, Huon Valley, Mornington, Tamar and Yarra.

Facilitated by Jane Faulkner along with Panelists: Leanne Altmann, Penny Grant, Jane Lopes, Kara Maisano, Jenna Phillpott, and Shanteh Wong

We rather liked the 2016 Onannon Red Hill and the 2016 By Farr Sangreal.

It was then time to stretch our legs once more with a bit of a walkabout of primarily Mornington Pinots but also some very good ones from Pyrenees, Orange, Southern Highlands, Tasmania, and Yarra.

The day, as well as the conference, was beginning to draw to a close, but not before we were treated to An International Pinot Perspective hosted by Martin Spedding, Christina Pickard and Kate McIntyre MW with wines from Canada, New Zealand and Sonoma.

We rather enjoyed the 2016 Peay Ama West Sonoma USA and the 2016 Meyer Reimer Vineyard Okanagan Valley Canada – so good!

And Pinot wouldn’t be what it is today without literally going to its roots – and by this this doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to wrap this up by banging about rootstocks – oh no! What we are talking about here is Burgundy, and what better that to get a proper Wine Jedi to do the talking – and talk they can!

Facilitated by Philp Rich and James Halliday, Thibault Liger-Belair took us through 6 of his 2014’s. Hey-up!

Blown away we were with the Clos-Vougeot and the Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru ‘Les Petits Monts’.

There was just enough time for a quick freshen-up and in for dinner at the RACV with dishes prepared by some of Australia’s finest Chefs, with dishes served alongside flights of four wines in each matched against each of the dishes. Kangaroo and Pinot Noir – now that’s certainly a new one!

Guest Wines would like to thank Emma Baumann Wine Australia, Martin Spedding and Cheryl Lee (Mornington Peninsula Vignerons) for making this all possible for us, and in particular Cheryl for her patience and commitment towards ensuring that our stay was as comfortable and perfectly scheduled as could be possibly imagined.

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