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.