Ever since my first taste, I’ve loved the wines of Dappled. The Chardonnays display a greater level of richness, extract, and texture that is becoming harder to find in the Yarra Valley, where picking early is becoming all too fashionable. The Pinot Noirs are chiseled muscle, with bright juicy fruit and exotic spices. Ethereal Pinot Noir, with the heft and stuffing to age longer than almost any other examples to be found in the region. And then there’s the experimental, or avant-garde wines, surely some of the most successful of their style in Australia. Price for any wine anchors our choices and the wines of Dappled, I would contend, are amongst the best value fine wines I have ever encountered, from anywhere in the world.
We always sell out of your Appellation wines first, and I’m always kicking myself that we didn’t get more. These wines are always our reference point for quality and value, but we haven’t been able to find anything nearly as good for the price. Can’t you make more!
Not really. We don’t make a lot of wine and to be honest there’s not a lot in it. Its becoming harder and harder to make the Appellation wines at that price point. We operate on a shoestring, buying parcels of really high quality fruit. If I could find more fruit of at least the same quality, well, that would be different. But there’s just not a lot of it about.
With such a tiny production, why do you even bother to sell your wines in Sydney, when you could just as easily sell them into markets closer to home?
I reckon that approach is pretty short sighted. Obviously, I want my wines to be in venues I like and I want to spread my distribution as far as possible. People need to see your wines, and not everyone in Sydney or Brisbane, or Newcastle is going to visit the Yarra Valley. We have a website, that my wife takes care of, but its better if people see the wines in a great restaurant or fine wine retailer.
Somehow you manage to build richer Chardonnays than just about anyone in the Yarra, but the wines have lovely tension and freshness too. Unlike so many other, often famous producers, your Chardonnays are never sour with that Granny Smith/sour lemon edge that I really don’t like, although they seem popular.
Its tricky. Mac Forbes pick early, Giant Steps picks a bit earlier than me. But I like the riper styles. Ripeness and weight, with good acidity. I build texture by foot stomping, putting the juice with full solids straight into barrel. I use the lees too, but I don’t want my wines to be heavy or creamy, so there’s no stirring. The ferments are wild and I use lots of different format oak. 600, 500, 228, 300 litre formats. There are others too. This way there’s lots of different ferments. The parcels are kept separate and not blended at this point. This is a good way to build that texture and complexity. Every ferment is going to be a little different, even if the fruit is from the same source, they are still going to look different.
Do you make wines that you like to drink, or is there a certain pragmatism involved?
Bit of both really. My experience with restaurants is different to wine writers. Ultimately, who’s buying the wine? Most people know what they like and buy it. Many winemakers make wines for wine writers, but I make wines that I like, and what I think people will like. You still have to sell what you make, so its not a crime to be making a style of wine that resonates with a lot of people.
Some of your wines, in particular the Appellation series, are what I would call classical or traditional, and yet some of your wines, are really avant-garde.
Well, it comes back to making wines you like to drink, but also appealing to lots of people. The limited release wines are where I can experiment and its really important to keep my brand relevant to new age drinkers. Some Sommeliers wont let you through the door unless you’ve got something pretty funky. If I can appeal to them, quite often the same Somm will take my more classical wines like the Appellation range, because they know they have broad appeal. But you have to get through the door first. I only have my range of wines, not a portfolio of options. Quite often, I’m surprised how popular some of the limited release wines are. I made an Ullaged chardonnay, Jura inspired, and it sold out straight away. People loved it, and here was me thinking that it only had limited appeal.
What are your thoughts on ‘Natural’ wines? A lot of your techniques are traditional, and yet you don’t identify as natural.
I’m totally minimal, I don’t add anything. The only thing I add is sulphur. Wine must be clean. Jura with a really low pH and acidity sky high, they can get away with it. If you’re going to make a natural wine, you need to understand the chemistry. It might be clean going into the bottle, but once you cross the Nullarbor, or put it in a shop window in the sun, it goes to shit. And for some of the new generation of wine drinkers, all they know is faulty wine.
You mentioned the Ullaged chardonnay. By the time I’d heard about it, you had sold out!
I thought people would say the wine’s fucked, or what’s wrong with it? And I’d have to explain that that’s the way its supposed to be. It’s a wine bar wine. A wine to have a foot in both fields. I don’t drink a lot of this kind of wine myself, but the great thing about wine is the diversity and with this wine I felt I had added something to the conversation. The one good thing about the avant-garde is that its bringing more people to the wine scene.
How would you like to be seen by the wine-buying public at large?
I want people to access good booze at a bloody good price. Hopefully, people will buy my more expensive wines, and see the value in those too.
And the more expensive wines. Do you know what you’re going to make. How do you choose a vineyard for a single site and not one that goes into the Appellation range?
Firstly, I make about 350 dozen of the Appellation wines, so there’s not a lot to go around. They are a blend of upper and lower Yarra fruit, picked at about 12 – 12.2 baume. The lower Yarra fruit provides weight and structure while the upper Yarra, acidity and freshness. The single vineyard wines allow me to better understand the vineyards. I pick one, which seems to have that little bit more richness, I like rich. But also light and shade, acidity and volume. Often the single vineyard wines come from the upper Yarra, where you can get volume and weight if you pick a little later. I keep all the parcels separate, so I can decide later. I pick the one I think’s the best, simple as that. The wines get longer in oak, on lees and newer oak too. There’s usually more whole bunch in these wines too.
Are you inspired by Burgundy, in the context of single sites?
Tasting wines from Chambolle or Gevrey they are so different. Significantly. You can get that in the Yarra too. Clonal selection, particularly Pinot, they mutate and change. Established sites like Mount Mary or the Farrs, Bindi, they all have there own clones from mutation, and their wines are unique. They take cuttings from their own vineyards and propagate what they have. The older vineyards not only make the best wines, but some of the most distinctive.
Your wines are reductive, particularly the single site chardonnays. Is this something you aim for?
I don’t go and try for a reductive style at all. In 2018 for example we had a hard spring, with lots of disease pressure, so we had to spray more than usual. I reckon the more you need to spray, the more reductive the wine. My wines are all foot trod, wild fermented on full solids, and left to age on lees until bottling. I don’t do any lees stirring. I find it can be very oxidative to the wine. There was less disease pressure in 2019, a very warm and dry vintage, so there was a lot less spraying. And the 2019 chardonnays are a lot less reductive than usual, where as the 2018 single sites are some of the most reductive wines I’ve made due to the disease pressure.
And the whole bunch element to your wines. I find your reds more avant-garde than the chardonnays.
My whole bunch regime is “experience”. I used 50% of whole bunches in my first vintage and the wine still tastes green. The fruit was from an upper valley vineyard and the bunches were so green. Cactus juice. I didn’t love it. These days I try and stay around 25-30% for the Pinot’s. I do like a bit of bunch. But I want to see the fruit. Shiraz, I reckon you can go a lot more. The bunches add a silky fruit and complex underlay. The texture is different, longer and more expansive. I don’t use a lot of new oak, 15-25%. The more oak, the more bunches. There’s so much to consider though. The vineyard, the length of the ripening period, the clone. Some clones have greener stalks than others. In hot years you use the canopy to try and shade the bunches, which despite the heat can lead to green bunches. The longer, cooler vintages I reckon get the ripest bunches because of the extended hang time. This comes from experience, especially when you’ve worked with a vineyard for a while.
And the future? What’s 2020 looking like?
Its a small year, down about 50%. But there’s some really good wines. It was a very intense vintage. We had a fair bit of rain and really poor fruit set. Small bunches and we picked 2 weeks later than normal. I only made 1 barrel of shiraz due to bird issues. Ironically the birds came to us because of the drought. Pinot looks really elegant. More in the 17 spectrum, an ethereal style. Higher acid, elegant, prettier. I’m going to make a 100% Cabernet Franc.
I’ve worked for the big guys and I found if something needed doing, you’re better off doing it yourself. I want to stay small. I like doing everything myself. My wife does the marketing, so I just focus on making the wines. Without investors, or a wealthy family its pretty much impossible to establish your own vineyard. No. I really do just want to make good wine, at a great price, for people who appreciate a good bottle.