The Yarra Men (and Woman)

Monday, March 23, 2015 0 No tags 1

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I’ve already told you about Mac Forbes, now on to the other Yarra Men in my life. Including Mac, there is a group of winemakers and friends in the Yarra that all have the same philosophy when it comes to farming and winemaking - let the grapes do their thing, ferment naturally, keep alcohol percentage moderate and don’t chuck it in a bunch of new oak.  Because their operations are relatively small (and for some tiny), almost all of them work on side consulting projects or are winemakers at other larger wineries to pay the bills. It’s like when I was making weird but wonderful theater in New York and had to work in a real estate office during the day. Just like that…

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First up is the one and only Timo Mayer. What a guy. He has tons of energy, a huge smile, and a wicked little sense of humor. His home and winery is right across from Mac Forbes, perched atop what he calls his “Bloody Hill.” Bloody mainly because it’s a bloody pain in the ass to farm. He’s obsessed with Beaujolais and funky French wines and loves “stalky shit”- whole bunch fermentation with stems. Because of that, his pinot noir is textural and very aromatic with a savory edge. So different from Mac’s pinot and that is what I love about wine. Perspective, personality, and inspiration + technique, microclimates, and grape variety = a magical wine snowflake.

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My next stop was to see the charming and kind Luke Lambert. He had just moved his operation to a small winery closer to Yarra Glen and was still settling in to the place. He finds inspiration in Italian wines, Barolo especially, so it’s no surprise he works with a little bit of nebbiolo from a beautiful hilltop vineyard. His syrah and chardonnay are delicious - elegant with a kind of quiet confidence and nuance.  And I really loved his champagne method chardonnay sparkler. Trying to compliment Luke is difficult because he is so very humble and modest, but his wines are really great.

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The following day, I headed to Yering Station to meet with Gary Mills of Jamsheed. He occupies a small corner of the huge winery and his office (a couch and coffee table with some filing boxes and such) is tucked back near a load-in area. It’s a simple setup but it’s all he needs. Gary got his start in wine in Margaret River and eventually came to the States to work and learn under Paul Draper of California’s Ridge Vineyards, before ending up in the Yarra. Gary hunts down the best vineyards sites, like Garden Gully and its 120 year old vines, no matter how far they are from home base. He probably drives more than most truck drivers (both him and Luke actually live in Melbourne.) Jamsheed is all about single vineyard syrah, powerful and bold but never over the top, each one different from the next. I would love to get some bottles and sit on them for a bit – they would age beautifully.

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My last stop was to see Tom and Sally Belford of Bobar. They welcomed me in to their home and I was able to taste through the last five vintages of syrah, back to their first one. I also got to meet their four adorably bright kids who were just getting home from school. Tom and Sally make just a teeny tiny bit of syrah and chardonnay. While all the winemakers I had been tasting with follow a “natural” winemaking path, the Bobar wines were the most reminiscent of funky whole cluster glou glou style French wine. That’s probably because they love France and French natural wine (they are planning a return trip in time for harvest this fall.) I really enjoyed their chardonnay, probably my favorite of the bunch. I look forward to seeing what they do in the future and how the wines evolve!

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Mac Forbes & Graceburn Wine Room, Healesville

Saturday, March 14, 2015 0 No tags 0

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After three days in Melbourne, I drove out to the Yarra Valley for some wine times. It’s only an hour drive east and is a must do if you are in the area. There are a lot of exciting things happening in the wine world there, with several winemakers working in a more site-specific, lower alcohol, less/no new oak kind of way. Which is my favorite kind of way.

My forever pal and fellow wine lady Christina (who is now living in Perth) hooked me up with a solid list of suggested visits. I made appointments with five people, some I’d heard of and others I hadn’t. The first one though was with Mac Forbes - a winemaker I most definitely knew about.

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Mac recently opened up a tasting room/cellar door in Healesville, a place for people to experience his wines, buy bottles, and eat some pretty fantastic cheese. It’s a really lovely space and I actually visited twice in the short time I was in the Valley. I walked in one night to the sounds of an old D’Angelo track and I knew Graceburn and I would get along just fine.

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When I met with Mac at the winery the following day, he was busy. Very busy. Harvest was right around the corner and all – a fact I knew would potentially prove difficult with some of my appointments. But we made it work! I hopped in his truck and rode around with him while he got things done. We ended up back at Graceburn and tasted through some of his lineup there.

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Mac got his start in winemaking in France and Austria before returning to Australia and the Yarra in 2004. His goal is and has always been to truly understand the land and the vines, letting that guide all winemaking decisions – a concept that wasn’t always utilized in Australian wine, where the focus was primarily on the work done in the cellar. His Yarra Valley wines are largely single vineyard and single varietal- pinot noir and chardonnay – and a wonderful example of the diversity of soil types and microclimates in the area, each one distinctly different, balanced, and elegant.

He also works with some cool climate riesling from an area a few hours north of Yarra called Strathbogie Ranges and has a whole line of wines he refers to as EB, or Experimental Batch. There he is able to play around with different techniques- petillant naturel, whole cluster riesling, oxidative flor-aged chardonnay, among other super fun things.

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Everything I tasted was great. Truly. He has an awesome team and, straight up, he just knows what the fuck he’s doing. Australian wine has a bright future and Mac is one of the reasons why. The other reasons? More on that soon.

Mac Forbes | Graceburn Wine Room

11A Green Street

Healesville, VIC, Australia 3777

Breakfast Wine

Monday, March 9, 2015 0 No tags 0

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If you’ve ever wanted to know what wine goes best with breakfast, look no further! While, I didn’t drink this wine in the early morning (it was the afternoon), it’s called Breakfast Wine and I imagine it would be a lovely addition to the start of your day. I mean, why not? Let’s just live.

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When I was in the Yarra Valley (more on that later), I wasn’t able to meet or taste with Patrick Sullivan – the fellow that makes this wine. But lucky for me, my buddy Gareth of Gentle Folk in Adelaide Hills (more on that later) shared a bottle with me. I had just gone for a dip in the pool and he asked if I wanted a little something to drink. The answer to his question, of course, was yes. Always.

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As you can tell by the golden hue, this is a skin contact wine aka orange wine and it’s basically liquid sunshine. It is 100% sauvignon blanc from the Thousand Candles vineyard – which Patrick can see while he eats breakfast - and spends about a week on the skins before going into neutral barrels for a year. A lot of the orange wines I come across, in Australia and beyond, are sauvignon blanc.   And rightfully so! That grape produces wines that just burst with aromatics. The Breakfast Wine was perhaps one of the best skin contact wines I’ve had lately – crisp and crunchy, honeyed, and tropical. Full of flavor, but incredibly drinkable.

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Day drinking at its finest. Here’s to good friends that share good wine.

Clever Polly’s, Melbourne

Friday, March 6, 2015 1 No tags 1

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On my last day in Melbourne I biked around the city like a madwoman trying to check off the rest of my eating and drinking to-do’s. One stop on my route was a new addition to the list – a suggestion from a wine friend living in Melbourne that I met while visiting Mac Forbes in Healesville – it was a somewhat new natural wine bar called Clever Polly’s. Well, color me intrigued.

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I walked through the door at an early bird 5 PM, the only customer there. After just a few seconds I knew it was going to be great. It was my kind of place for sure, serving the types of wines that I love in a simple, unfussy way. It’s also owned by two stylish and intelligent women. Bonus points.

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I sipped a little glass of La Bota fino sherry to get the ball rolling and then, upon suggestion, tucked in to a fantastic glass of skin contact white wine from the Canary Islands – Envinate Taganan Blanco (2013). It’s a blend of many white varieties from a single parcel grown on rocky volcanic soil in Tenerife. The vines are old and wild and so is the wine. Well, the wine isn’t old, but it was alive and textural, with subtle richness and salty minerality. Pretty dope.

I truly wish I could’ve packed Clever Polly’s into my suitcase and brought it back here to LA. It’s just perfect.

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Clever Polly’s

313 Victoria Street

West Melbourne, VIC, Australia 303