Australia’s sole Sikh winemaker

Australia’s only Sikh winemaker has been crafting wine in the southern mainland state of Victoria since 1996. For publication in week starting 22 January 2018.

Paramdeep Ghumman’s journey to becoming a winemaker was very different from that of the Burgundian winemakers he admires. He grew up drinking tea while his French counterparts learned about wine at their father’s knee.

Param was aged 30 before he tasted his first glass of wine — Champagne — on a flight from India to Australia in 1981. That year he and his wife Nirmal, a doctor, migrated to Australia so he could work in the IT industry. At the time Param never thought he would make wines currently served at some of Australia’s best restaurants.

The couple purchased 20 hectares of land used to raise beef cattle on the rolling hills in the south of the Mornington Peninsula in 1991. The land was almost bare and Param worked hard to plant trees as windbreaks against the prevalent winds. The estate is near the village of Flinders on the southern tip of the Mornington Peninsula.

At first the property did not have electricity and they relied on solar panels. A feature of the estate is two large railway carriages sited near the winery. These were made in the 1930s and are a link to Param’s ancestors who worked on India’s railways. The carriages also provided accommodation for their daughter’s friends for sleepovers because the house the parents built in 1997 was too small.

Nirmal and Param named their estate Nazaaray (it means “beautiful visions” in Punjabi) and in 1996 started planting 2.4 hectares of vines after considering other options such as an orchard or an olive plantation.

Two thirds of the 6,100 vines consist of a range of Pinot Noir clones (MV6, 114, 115, D2V6 and 777 for the vine aficionados). Param happily admits “I love Pinot Noir”. The rest of the grapes are Pinot Gris — Param was one of the pioneers of this variety in Australia — along with Chardonnay, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and a tiny plot of Riesling. The last is “for personal consumption, three or four cases”.

Nazaaray Estate produces an average of about 800 cases a year, making it one of the Mornington Peninsula’s smallest commercial vineyards. It is one of the few properties in the area where wine is made on site. This means the grapes are in pristine condition when they enter the winery.

Last May Nazaaray Estate’s Reserve 2015 Pinot Noir won the people’s choice award at the 17th International Cool Climate Wine Show, from 544 wines entered. The same wine also won a silver medal at the London International Wine Challenge.

Wines are available for tasting by appointment at the cellar door, which has a viewing deck overlooking the estate. From there one can see the pristine blue of the Pacific ocean. Kangaroos often bound through the paddocks, according to visitors. The rolling hills are mostly farm land dotted with eucalyptus gums, which offer a distinctly Australian perfume in summer.

Param follows sustainable principles, though the estate is not organic or biodynamic. His practices include spreading hay in the vineyard as mulch to conserve water and planting trees to encourage birdlife as insect control. “We’ve planted 1,000 Australian native trees between the vine rows to create separate vineyard areas.”

Sheep work as lawn mowers and also fertilise the vineyard. They are the “baby doll” breed. Their small stature and tiny feet means they cannot damage vines. Hens also free range around the property.

“We encourage animals and insects, and you should hear the sounds of the frogs at night,” Param said.

The estate stopped using chemicals such as pesticides in 2011 when Param believed the vines were sufficiently developed. This was a brave decision because disease had cost him in the past; he had no grapes in 1999 and 2000. In some years such as 2014 yields have been very low.

Param stopped irrigating the vines in 2007 to force vine roots to go deeper. His land has about one metre of clay, which retains moisture in the hot summers, then deep layers of volcanic basalt which give the wines distinct flavours. “It’s about the true expression of terroir,” he said.

The vineyard’s location and orientation means that grapes ripen over a long and slow period to produce excellent fruit. Param believes that “85 per cent of wine quality comes from the vineyard”.

Param studied electrical engineering in India and worked for major companies such as IBM. When he and his family migrated to Australia he worked in IT as a software designer and consultant.

He started to learn winemaking in 1996 and became fascinated by the wines of Burgundy. Param’s wines are European in style. His Sauvignon Blanc is more Sancerre than Marlborough, and his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are decidedly Burgundian.

Three 2013 Pinot Noir were available at a special tasting. Blend 1, with its attractive aromas of raspberries and morello cherries, is mostly a combination of the MV6, 114 and 115 clones. It was bottled in May 2015 after 20 months in older French oak. Blend 2 is 70 per cent MV6 clone with the balance D clones. It also spent 20 months in France oak, 40 per cent new.

The flagship Family Reserve label relates to wines “which meet and exceed our expectations,” Param said. It spent 22 months in French oak, of which 60 per cent was new. The wine contains a touch of Pinot Meunier, a grape usually used for champagne. The 2015 version won the people’s choice award at the 17th International Cool Climate Wine Show last year.

All Pinots have subtle aromas and quality fruit, built around a structure of silky tannins from the oak that mean the wines could be cellared for up to a decade for the first two wines, and up to 15 years for the reserve. The 2014 Pinot Noir has more concentrated fruit because of low yields that year, so the tannins seem less pronounced because of the depth of the fruit. This is a another fine wine.

Special mention must be made of the 2016 Chardonnay, which is like a quality Meursault from Burgundy at about half the price.

Every three months Nazaaray Estate offers a tiffin lunch buffet to show that Indian food pairs well with wine.

Words: 1,031

Categories: Australia, Burgundy, Not home, wine

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