The light here is beautiful. The Peninsula shimmers in a late morning effervescence and the sea at Port Philip dances like a nymph. Oh to be a painter!
Standing at Red Hill looking beyond Dromana, however, it is easy to forget that to get here requires a schlep through the urban concrete sprawl of Melbourne – and for a navigationally-challenged Geordie, negotiating my way from Flinders Street to the peninsula offered a few challenges.
But – God! – it’s worth the trek. Turning back inland, I make my way down a steep hill towards Paringa Estate. The view from the winery and restaurant over the home vineyard and across the steep valley is blissful. The vines now nestle under netting, put there the previous week to stop the resident geese population from feasting on the sugar-laden grapes, which will be picked in a few weeks.
Lindsay McCall, an extraordinary man, recalls how he purchased this land in 1984 and spent five years planting it with vines, while holding down his day job as a teacher, in an attempt to get back to his roots, having been told by his dairy farming father that there was no future on the land and he should concentrate on getting a college degree. He also recalls being told by one eminent local winegrower that he should not bother planting Syrah – “It’ll never ripen…” Which is red rag to a bull to a man like Lindsay. He planted. The results speak for themselves. There is steel to this man.
But he may have met his match in a very canny Scotsman, Hugh Robinson, a retired gynaecologist who emigrated to Australia in 1978 and who gave up trying to make wine some years ago to concentrate on growing the best possible grapes. A lot of his fruit previously went to a multinational wine company, but now Lindsay gets his hands on most of it. However, not only is Hugh a wonderful tender of his vines, but he would also seem to be a canny negotiator, judging from his conversation with Lindsay when I am there. “Well, he is a Scot,” says Lindsay ruefully. Aside from one tiny neighbour, Hugh’s grapes are the only ones that Lindsay will buy; the rest of his grapes are either owned or leased by him. He explains that not only are Hugh’s grapes of excellent quality, but because they are on the valley floor and on silt soil, they provide a beautiful contrast to Lindsay’s own grapes, grown at altitude on steep slopes of red calcareous soil. They make quite a combination, this pair; the c Marsh – b Lillee of the wine world.
Burgundy is what we are aiming at here; Lindsay is a great admirer and models his single vineyard and estate wines on the great Burgundy styles, though he feels his Peninsula wines are more New World in style. Oak barrels come from France, although Lindsay has also purchased three large foudres. These allow the newly fermented wine a much longer cooling down period after the end of the primary ferment, thus offering more concentrated fruit. “I’m looking for complexity,” says Lindsay. It is easy to tease out of him stories of his travels in Burgundy and the northern Rhone. He must be like a kid in a sweet shop when he goes there.
Nick Justice, Lindsay’s sales and marketing man, shows me round the winery, which is nicely haphazard; the steel fermenting vats, awaiting cleaning before the vintage, straining at the leash, sit outside the back wall of the winery.
Lindsay takes me through the variations in yield. In 2015 they were down 30%, in 2016 they were up slightly on the previous year, and in 2017 they expect to be down slightly. The compensation is that the 2015s are already looking absolutely brilliant
We settle down to a two-hour tasting. Highlights:
The Peninsula Pinot Gris looks really great, one-third being fermented in oak and two thirds in stainless steel, offering complexity, soft fruit and beautiful cool perfume, and I am immediately thinking of Alsace. I wonder why they grow this grape, but Lindsay explains: “Pinot Gris will always grow well where Pinot Noir grows.”
We move onto the chardonnays. The 2016 Peninsula was made from whole bunch pressed grapes, fermented in barrel and did not undergo malo. This is absolutely beautiful, complex, rich and yet elegant. The Estate 2015 is complex and racy at the same time, which takes some doing. The single vineyard is very Burgundian in style, with distinct anise and liquorice flavours.
Licking my lips, I move over to the pinots. The 2016 Peninsula was bottled yesterday – it doesn’t get any fresher than this. It is showing fabulous fresh acidity and bright cherry fruit and is racy and vital. How jammy am I to be tasting this! The Estate 2011 is a novelty; the vintage was written off by “experts” but Lindsay finds that Cellar Door customers love this wine. It is easy to see why; it has a big complex nose, herby and medicinal, earthy, very structured like a reasonably aged Burgundy. The 2013 version has a delicious nose, wild raspberries and a touch meaty. The single vineyard from the same vintage has an earthy plummy nose and wonderful layered texture on the palate. It is a very serious wine.
We move on to the shiraz wines. The 2015 Peninsula is delicious – perfumed with strong liquorice and stone fruit. Once again I am struck by the thought that all the Peninsula wines punch way way way above their weight. The Estate is a step up, more complex, more structure, but with the same gorgeous garrigue type fruit. The single vineyard, which comes from the bottom of the three home plots of shiraz, has wonderful firm tannins, and lasts a lifetime in the mouth. Halliday reckons Paringa has a very definite resemblance to the northern Rhone.
We have a stunning lunch in the award winning restaurant which offers a view over the winery and allows us to watch Lindsay’s son Jamie clamber up and down barrels as he prepares for the vintage. During a lunch of snapper and venison I sip a single vineyard Pinot Noir 2007. It has a mature colour, and an intense raspberry and dark forest fruit nose, and is absolutely perfect with the venison. The restaurant has one Chef Hat. The Australian equivalent of a Michelin star, and is easy to see why. They seek perfection in here, as they do with everything at Paringa Estate. But when it come to the wines, they may already have found it.