By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 14 March 2020
A small spit of land south of Melbourne is fast becoming known as the hot spot for Pinot Noir in mainland Australia.
Mornington Peninsula is well known for its beautiful wetlands, stud farms and alfresco lifestyle, but it is now gaining a reputation as Australia’s ‘Pinot Coast’. Not only is it producing Pinot Noir with fabulously bold flavours, but there is a big diversity amongst the 50 cellar doors on this small peninsula – and the quality in the recent 2017 vintage has never been better.
“The wineries here are largely small-scale family-owned with the average size of vineyard plot just 2 hectares”, says Australian wine expert Natasha Hughes MW. “Pinot Noir here is all hand-crafted in small batches using Burgundian techniques on lots of site-specific vineyards, offering a fascinating diversity from such a small area of land”.
Hughes explained this diversity clearly with a tasting of Mornington Pinot Noirs divided into two categories: Up the Hill and Down the Hill.
The first group of wineries based ‘Up the Hill’ are on the eastern side of Arthurs Seat in the southern part of the peninsula. Soils here are red volcanic clay over granitic bedrock and the climate is very maritime with constant sea breezes and cool winds from the southeast. The style of Pinot Noir here is beautifully elegant with light cherry fruits as shown by wineries like Ten Minutes By Tractor, Polperro, Paringa and Stonier.
In contrast, Mornington Peninsula’s ‘Down the Hill’ wineries like Kooyong and Moorooduc further round the peninsula towards Melbourne are based amongst lusher pastures with sandy duplex and sandy loam over grey clay. With a warmer microclimate, less exposed to seabreezes, Pinot Noirs from here are more opulent with richer fleshier fruits - but still with Mornington’s characteristic refreshing acidity.
“It hasn’t always been like this”, explained Hughes. “Pinot Noir has been in Australia since the early 1800’s, and it is known that vines have been planted in Mornington Peninsula since 1886, but thanks to phylloxera and Australia’s fascination with fortified wine styles, this cool climate variety and Mornington’s area remained unexplored for nearly a century”, says Hughes. “In fact, in the 1920’s the peninsula made no wine at all”.
The modern wine phenomenon here derives from the late 1970s onwards – but it was not until C21 that winemakers really focused primarily on Pinot Noir with 60% of plantings, rather than on Cabernet which early pioneers had planted. Quantities are tiny here and Mornington Pinot Noirs are still not well-known, compared to closest rival Yarra Valley, which produces three times as much Pinot Noir.
Expansion of Mornington’s current vineyard size of 1,020 hectares is very unlikely. Just one hour from Melbourne, land prices are exhorbitantly high – so with scarcity of land for vineyards on this cool climate peninsula, this compact area will remain a haven for a small number of dedicated Pinot Noir boutique producers.
UP THE HILL
STONIER ‘LYNCROFT VINEYARD’ MORNINGTON PENINSULA PINOT NOIR 2017 (13.5%)
£34 Oxford Wine; Matthew Clark
Stonier was one of the first wineries here in 1978 and first planted Pinot Noir in 1982 amongst Mornington’s rolling hilly landscape. Light and elegant in style, this is from a late ripening site giving herby notes, rich cherry fruits, light spicy finish.
TEN MINUTES BY TRACTOR ‘WALLIS’ MORNINGTON PENINSULA PINOT NOIR 2017 (13%)
£41.40 Majestic Wine; St Andrews Wine Co
Founded in 1997, this distinctively named winery was set up by three families with vineyards all ten minutes apart. Winemaker Martin Spedding crafts this rich pure fruited, juicy structured textured Pinot Noir.
POLPERRO ‘MILL HILL’ MORNINGTON PENINSULA PINOT NOIR 2017 (13.7%)
£42 Graft Wines
From Sam Coverdale’s highest vineyard at 220 metres close to Arthurs Seat. Polperro Pinot was the lightest in our tasting with raspberry fruit aromas, plummy fruit flavours with hint of cinnamon and clove, firm tannins, tightly bound flavours, quite complex.
PARINGA ESTATE MORNINGTON PENINSULA PINOT NOIR 2017 (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£49.99 North & South Wines; Strictly Wine; Great Wines Direct
From vines planted in mid-1980s by pioneer Lindsay McColl on red volcanic clay at 150 metres altitude. He made his first wine in 1987 - in a fish tank. Paringa’s Pinot was undoubted the star of the tasting with sour cherry fruits, smoky meaty notes, fresh acid, spice, beautiful balance and elegance with long smooth finish; a Pinot Noir with a future to last. Very good.
DOWN THE HILL
MOOROODUC ESTATE ‘ROBINSON’ MORNINGTON PENINSULA PINOT NOIR 2017 (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£24.99 Mr & Mrs Fine Wine; £27.50 Hennings Wine; Butlers Wine Cellar
Low lying Robinson vineyard at just 60 metres altitude tended by Richard & Jill McIntyre since 1982, their daughter Kate McIntyre MW has crafted a fleshy ripe dense Pinot with vibrant acidity and beautiful soft tannins.
KOOYONG ‘MASSALE’ MORNINGTON PENINSULA PINOT NOIR 2017 (13%)
£19.60-£22.50 Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews; Exel Wines, Perth; Great Western Wine
Herby peppery notes with a muscular texture and sappy juicy acidity, finishing with hints of oak from 25% new French oak used. Not as classy and elegant as the rest, but good value for Mornington Peninsula Pinot.
OCEAN EIGHT MORNINGTON PENINSULA PINOT NOIR 2017 (13%) ***STAR BUY***
£40 Strictly Wine; Corking Wines
Winemaker Mike Aylward picks early on his flat Tuerong vineyard and de-stems all his fruit to achieve light elegance. Dark savoury pure fruits, opulent with a hint of salinity and elegant finish.
YABBY LAKE SINGLE VINEYARD MORNINGTON PENINSULA PINOT NOIR 2017 (13%)
In one of the newer wineries on the peninsula, winemaker Tom Carson fashions wonderful Pinot Noirs using 25% whole bunches to add zest; ageing for 10 months in large 500 litre puncheons: good depth of colour, bright strawberry fruits, liquorice and cherry undertones, soft succulent mouthfeel with a sleek silky finish.
Join Rose’s Classic Australia Wine Tasting at The Scores Hotel, St Andrews Friday 26 June 7.30pm £36 www.rosemurraybrown.com