Previous columns have contrasted the difference between the monoliths that control Australia’s wine industry, and the dwindling group of family-owned estates that continue to produce unique wine.
One of the latter is Mt Moriac Wines in the foothills of the Moorabool Valley in the Geelong region of south-eastern Victoria.
Australia’s first vineyards were planted in Geelong and the region was known for premium wine during the gold rush era from the mid 1850s. But the phylloxera epidemic devastated the region in the mid 1870s and all vines were removed to try to stop the pest.
Vineyards were not replanted, mainly for economic reasons. More money could be made from other agricultural pursuits. Winemaking did not really resume for almost another century when the Anakie and Idyll vineyards pioneered winemaking in the late 1960s.
Over the past quarter century Geelong has become acknowledged as one of Australia’s finest cool climate regions for chardonnay and pinot noir. Geelong wines actually fall into three distinct regions: one on the Bellarine peninsula surrounded by ocean, with the other two 10 to 20km inland with much warmer and drier locations.
The Bellarine peninsula benefits from a cooling maritime influence in summer and autumn. Wines made away from the water tend to be sturdier and richer than the lighter and more aromatic wines produced on the peninsula. Chardonnay is the region’s most planted variety.
Mt Moriac Wines has three levels of wine, based on where grapes are sourced. Mt Moriac Estate wines use only grapes from the 43-acre estate. Winemaker Lee Evans said only hand-selected fruit from low yielding vines were chosen for these wines. The estate’s prized pinot noir vines are about 20 years of age and just reaching maturity. One of the best blocks is named after the daughter of owner David Lindros, Penelope.
The Mt Moriac range uses some estate fruit with the rest sourced from the Geelong region. Grapes for the every-day drinking Shed range can come from a range of locations.
Mt Moriac focuses on chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz because these grow superbly in the Geelong region, though small portions of pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and pinot meunier are also grown.
The most fascinating wines are the Mt Moriac Estate sparklings, made from the traditional champagne grapes of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Current wines are from the 2006 vintage. These have been produced using the “methode traditionelle” — the approach adopted by the great estates in France’s Champagne region.
The 2006 blanc de noirs was the most impressive of the three sparklings I tasted, though all were excellent wines. This beautifully balanced wine is made entirely from estate-grown pinot noir. It offers delicate aromas of white peach and strawberries, with a touch of lime, combined with clean and inviting texture and crisp acidity. Grapes came from Penelope’s Block.
All sparklings spent 50 months on lees. These give lovely aromas of brioche and warm bread. The blanc de noirs is quite dry but is the kind of wine that could be consumed at all stages of a meal.
The 2006 blanc de blancs is made only from chardonnay. It received relatively low dosage of 8 grams of sugar per litre, which explains the exciting acidity. Despite the acidity it still has a creamy and nutty texture. The mousse – the explosion of bubbles in the mouth when one tastes the wine – is passionate and incisive. The wine offers aromas of lime and stone fruit. Another lovely wine.
The final sparkler was the 2006 cuvee riche, made entirely from pinot noir. As the name suggests, it is rich, silky and compelling. Indeed, it is more luscious than many pinot-based sparklings, offering flavours of raspberries and spice with a creamy mousse.
The finish on all the sparkling wines is long and refreshing. All could be drunk throughout a meal, though the blanc de blanc is best suited as an aperitif and the cuvee riche for dessert.
These are definitely wine to be sought out. At about $A 35 a bottle they are bargains because they offer superb quality for the price.
Winemaker Lee Evans said the Mt Moriac range was designed to be satisfying to the palate at a price that would please the average wine drinker. These wines retail in Australia for about $A 30.
In 2009 the business bought the Waurn Ponds Estate label after the local university killed its winemaking program under that label. Mt Moriac purchased all current wine from Deakin University and also leased the Waurn Ponds vineyard from the university. The two brands continue with a common headquarters and ownership.
Next week’s column will discuss the pinot noir wines from the Geelong region.