The Mornington Peninsula is the heart and soul of Australian Pinot Noir. This region is renowned for boutique wineries, verdant countryside and stunning ocean views.
Plunge Wine Tours’ host, Arthur O’Bryan has lived and worked in the wine industry here for over twenty years. His tours are like a personal sommelier guiding you through the region’s great wines, vineyards and winemakers.
Over winter, Plunge offers a wine masterclass on wheels; a fun and interactive day’s adventure that typically includes meeting winemakers, tasting out of barrel, and vineyard walks.
Public vs. Private Tours? Public Tours combine people with other groups on a shared (public) day’s experience. Importantly, Plunge Wine Tours only offer private wine tours these are exclusively curated to the couples who have booked the day’s adventure, allowing the privacy and personal attention you deserve.
The winter time itinerary is all geared toward enhancing wine knowledge and ensuring the most memorable experiences.
A Mornington Peninsula wine tour offers an exclusive experience within the quiet solitude of barrel rooms during winter. At Willow Creek Vineyard, meet one of the region’s premium winemakers, Geraldine McFaul who also happens to be the wife of your tour host. Together, taste wine from barrel and learn about various winemaking styles. Brave the elements for a vineyard ramble and then spend the day visiting other cellar doors to see how wine is made over a private tasting.
To drink Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir is to contemplate an ancient volcano with a cool sea breeze at your back. The Peninsula’s crab-claw like coastal stretch is washed by three waters; mildly gentle Port Phillip Bay, soupy, rough Western Port Bay and turbulent Bass Strait the lifeblood of vineyards and tasty, supple wines, tense with tannins and alive with acidity.
Across this region, winemakers learn and better understand the rich diversity of this landscape through the lens of the Pinot Noir grape. Their wines reflect volcanic soils in vineyards bound by sea and bathed in bright sunshine.
Filmmaker, Fred Schepisi grows Pinot Noir in Red Hill while across the ditch, his old mate, New Zealand actor/winemaker, Sam Neill hugs his pig while making Central Otago’s brooding and sorrowful wine. The sun is a stark signature of the Australian cinema that these men have created and just as terroir is traceable in wine, brilliant light provokes a sense of place in films shot in this hot and fragile land.
As film lovers we watch cinema from all corners of the globe. As wine lovers, we feel privileged to drink foreign made wines. As they have piqued our interest, the French have owned our palate with Burgundy wines of density and perfumed grace. French cinema explores psychology through images shot in soft, diffusing light. The cultural existence the sun plays above has Mornington Peninsula wine expressed as bright Pinot Noir with burnt berry scent, cherry-fruit and soft and silky tannins.
The hills around Main Ridge to the sea feature fertile volcanic soil formed by granulated tephra forty-five-million years ago. Today they are bathed in sunlight as brilliant as a cinematic spotlight over land. Winemakers dream of making greater wines, but they can’t just dial-up Chambertin, as these coastal slopes bear little resemblance to the revered Côte d'Or. Imitating Burgundy is not an honest interpretation of Mornington Peninsula terroir. Winemakers should seek a pure expression of complex soils, salty air, and hot summer days. Pinot Noir with energy and complexity defined by a gentle sea breeze, bright fruit and sunshine in a glass.
Volcanic soil and coastal climate are the lifeblood of tasty wine with great acidity
Close-planted Pinot Noir vineyards are the colourful kite surfers of the wine world- they’re expensive and complicated to run but, in ideal conditions, the results can be mesmerising. Driving around the Mornington Peninsula, there are close-planted vineyards at Merricks Creek (est. 1998) and Ten Minutes by Tractor (est. 2016), while a tour of Victoria finds the typically stumpy vines planted at Punch Vineyard in the Yarra Valley, Bass Phillip in Leongatha, Bindi in the Macedon Ranges and at Australia’s oldest close-planted vineyard in Bannockburn. Here, the Serré Vineyard (est. 1986), produces one of the country’s most celebrated Pinot Noirs with superb length and energy. Its fruit density and savoury tannins formed from whole-bunches means it’s a wine comparable to Cru Burgundy with great ageing potential.
Turning off the water plays a critical role in a close-planted vineyard’s success as dry grown vines limit yields and increase fruit intensity. Amongst Burgundy’s Grand Cru sites, the old vines at Domaine Dujac’s, Clos de la Roche in Gevrey-Chambertin reign supreme. This vineyard is capable of producing wines of beguiling complexity. In the New World, close-planted vines typically produce wine with more power as the vines age. In younger sites, such as those on the Peninsula, the rich volcanic soil and coastal climate presents extra challenges. Dense foliage and tight bunch frames are prone to disease pressure like powdery and downey mildew from ocean-borne humidity which also increases weed activity and vigour. Also, the back-breaking task of picking grapes along knee-high vines in high humidity is a job few would ever wish for.
Forever chasing the holy grail of Pinot Noir, the vast majority of Mornington Peninsula vignerons have trellised their vineyards with Vertical Shoot Position (VSP) but a small band of resistance farmers have opted for a more interesting post and wire configuration. The V-shaped Lyre trellis, which straddles vineyards in Main Ridge, Red Hill and Merricks is most distinctive for producing wines with plenty of intensity and power. Across double-spaced rows, a broad and airy canopy reduces disease pressure and filters sunshine to ripen fruit slowly. At the vine’s base, the trunk is split close to the ground ensuring short arteries deliver nutrients closer to the source. Paringa Estate’s The Paringa, (est. 1989) and Stonier Wines’ KBS Vineyard (est. 1985) are two of the Lyre’s finest work. The Paringa having received many trophies and acclaim from wine shows and critics in Australia and internationally. Once they reach maturity, it will be interesting to see how the close-planted vines stack up against these local wines grown on the big V.
The London-based Bibendum Hunting Party visited the Mornington Peninsula after touring wine regions throughout Australia. These lads were wined and dined by the nation's most iconic wine brands, so how does the Peninsula go about entertaining six wine hunters who sell over £20 million of wine annually? They pull-out the big guns.
To ensure an unforgettable experience, event organiser, Arthur O'Bryan asks Captain Johnny Wrout, a local fisherman with property on Flinders Island, to fly freshly caught crayfish to his secluded beach-house overlooking Balnarring Point. Here, one-hundred metres offshore, out on Western Port Bay, a padlocked underwater pen is where the Captain’s giant crayfish are fattened up for the pending feast.
A glorious day greets the Hunting Party on Balnarring Beach as they roll-up their trousers and sip Stonier Cuveé while splashing about in the shallows. Out on the water, bare-chested Captain Wrout (wearing his budgie smugglers) rows a wooden dinghy out to hunt and gather lunch. After locating the wire pen, he untangles the scaly crays from their watery lair, returning to the beach with four massive creatures splayed out on the bottom of his boat.
The lads enjoy a flight of Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay as Chef Guy Mirabella cooks the orange crustaceans over an outdoor fire, serving them on a white linen-draped table loaded with garden fresh salads, roast vegetables and kipfler potatoes drenched in local mayonaise. Feasting on fresh crayfish while the swell rolls across a sun-dappled ocean is without doubt the Peninsula's finest moment.
During summer, the Mornington Peninsula is a glorious location for winemaking. The Southern Ocean wedges this crab-claw of rolling hills, volcanic soils and leafy vineyards on three sides so it's constantly cooled by the maritime breeze. Occasionally this secret spot is shared with the rest of the world. The UK Bibendum Hunting Party left the region with three pallets of Mornington Peninsula wine bound for high-end department stores like Sainsburys and London restaurants like Hibiscus, Sketch and Jamie Oliver's Fifteen.
A senior executive from Barclays of London toured the Mornington Peninsula after watching his horse run in the Melbourne Cup. Here's what he had to say...
Ex-Lord Mayor of London, Rt Hon Dr Andrew Charles Parmley and his wife took the Plunge on a sunny summer's day in mid-January. Andrew is President of the Worshipful Company of Vintners in London. With over five-hundred members, and founded in 1363, the Company's origin is steeped in the history of the City of London and the import, regulation and sale of wine. The Company continues to maintain strong links with the UK Wine Trade. Vintners' Hall is known as the London Wine Trade's spiritual home. Amongst the people Andrew met was Stonier Winemaker and CEO, Mike Symons who explored the possibility of hosting the renown Stonier International Pinot Noir Tasting at Vintner Hall next time it travels to London.
There is a moment when the spirit of the vineyard is revealed. One may think one knows wine and yet, on this day, one truly discovers it.
Out on a perfectly still autumn day, two couples on a tailor-made wine-lovers tour dropped into a few wineries to taste freshly minted 2018 Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir.
Tasting young Ocean Eight and Principia Pinot Noir out of barrel brings focus to winemaking styles; structure, aroma and flavour. But young wines drawn from their oak treasure chests also provide insight into the growing season and the terroir of the vineyard.
These wines (both MV6 clone) showed traits defined by their unique terroir. The Ocean Eight exhibited a perfumed, plucky cherry character while the Principia was richer, dark fruited and more succulent. These differences can be traced to the warmer, seaside down-the-hill site and the cooler up-the-hill Main Ridge vineyard.
When these Pinot Noirs are bottled, they are sirens for the place from where they came. Throughout the journey, terroir is a fascinating stamp on a distinctive regional character of lighter, elegant Pinot Noir.
Plunge Wine Tours delve deeper into the Mornington Peninsula to reveal the secrets of the cellar, the vines and the wines.
On a Plunge wine tour, the smallest detail takes on special importance. When Arthur O'Bryan commits to taking you on a private tour for one or two people, he won't ask you to share your adventure with others. This is vital, as every Plunge wine tour is driven by the creativity engendered by years of focussing on customers' needs first.
The heart of the region's charm is in rarity. In a world where profusion is synonymous with mediocrity, Plunge Wine Tours look to what is unique and create a day's adventure which in itself is like no other. Arthur actively seeks wineries that offer exclusive experiences or are of such high-quality, they can't be ignored. Many winemakers are his friends, adding to the joy of the day. There is a focus on regional produce: Cheese from local dairies, olives from local groves, oil, and bread from local producers and bakers. When guests sit down to feast, the highest quality ingredients are enjoyed, sourced from across the region.
Plunge Tours' independence is its freedom. The secret of this freedom is summed up thus: "Every decision throughout a tour is driven by a single priority, the quest for absolute quality and our guests' enjoyment. This is the pathway whereby a wine tour becomes an unforgettable adventure."
Whole-bunch fermentation is the Burgundy-inspired practice of including some portion of grapes still attached to their stems into the fermenter. It’s a technique that well-seasoned winemaker, Michael Glover has a sizzling analogy: “If a destemmed Pinot Noir is an eye fillet, then a whole-bunch Pinot Noir is a juicy rib-eye, cooked on the bone with more tannin and flavour.”
If the recent explosive growth in whole bunch fermented pinot noir is anything to go by, lovers of dark flavours are being well rewarded by a modern take on an ancient craft. Devotees say it adds perfume, density and tannin, while some say potassium in the stems adds liveliness but dilutes colour and even suggest that wines from cooler vintages benefit more than those from warmer ones.
With increasing interest in whole-bunch Pinot Noir, today, up the hill, down the hill and across the plain there are plenty of older sites (vines 20+ years) producing excellent wines to taste. Good examples include: The Stonier Windmill from Merricks, Garagiste from Balnarring, Nazaaray from Flinders, Prancing Horse from Red Hill, Dexter from Merricks-North, The Garden from Moorooduc, Zuma from Crittenden’s in Dromana, Willow Creek O’Leary from Balnarring, Principia Altior from Main Ridge, and the Yabby Lake Single Vineyard from Tuerong.
Before this new wave of whole-bunch obsession, Stonier Wines were focused on vineyard typicity and site expression with its monopole program that began in 1999. The unique terroir of the Windmill vineyard led the winemakers to include eighty per-cent whole-bunches to the 2003 Stonier Windmill Pinot Noir. So attractive was this wine in barrel, they decided to add a portion to the 2003 Stonier Reserve blend as well.
At the annual Stonier International Pinot Noir Tasting held in Sydney in 2005, a gathering of two-hundred Pinotphiles saw one wine soar above the pack of Burgundies and New World Pinots. As the evening tasting concluded, James Halliday AM and Len Evans AO OBE celebrated a wine they described as: “Beautifully perfumed…that doesn't have the fingerprints of the winemaker all over it... a wine made in the vineyard.” The packed Wentworth Ballroom lit up when the hero wine was unveiled as the 2003 Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir. With twenty-five percent whole-bunches and a forty-five-dollar price tag, this wine outshone two Grand Cru Burgundies and soon achieved cult status in the Australian wine trade as 600 dozen were snapped-up in eleven days.
During vintage, nature puts a natural squeeze on pinot noir grapes when bunches are loaded into small, open fermentation tanks and allowed to go through wild yeast carbonic maceration. The whole-bunches then spend an extended time on skins as the gentle art of pigeage (French for ‘punching down’ or naked grape stomping) replaces a modern plunger to build colour and tannin. Whether they finish as ten-percent, one-hundred percent, or something in-between, tasting a 100% whole-bunch wine from barrel is not for the faint-hearted. In youth, these wines can look tight with an acid thread from which the tannin, oak, herbs and little berry flavours hang. In time, all elements will fuse into a highly structured wine characterized by far greater cellaring potential.
The 2015 Yabby Lake Block 6 (fifty per-cent whole-bunch) is a beautifully balanced Pinot Noir that shines radiantly a few years after bottling, having achieved a silkiness and harmony with elements that were once separate – oak, acidity, tannin – now fully integrated with rich cherry fruit. This wine reveals herbal and dark berry flavours with smooth tannins of such length it suggests cellaring for up to fifteen years. Reminiscent of Burgundy, it's a wine of wild perfumed grace.
On a Plunge Wine Tour, we can visit cellar doors on a day-long Festival of the Whole-Bunch. Micro-makers like Garagiste, Hurley and Principia are tasted along with wines from senior producers like Stonier, Crittenden and Moorooduc Estate. We visit vineyards and look at wines in their spiritual home and appreciate the complexity, depth of flavour and cellaring potential that whole bunches provide.
Before every Plunge Wine Tour I gather local delicacies from across the Mornington Peninsula. Sunny Ridge strawberries are delicious and purchased direct from the farm-gate with flavours to calibrate your palate to the region’s fine Pinot Noir
Darrin Gaffy’s approach to winemaking is a singular pursuit of excellence. In recent vintages he has made complex wines that speak from the soil of his exceptional vineyard site in Main Ridge. Plunge visitors can’t help but be charmed by this gregarious man, Ralph his dog and his lovely wines.