Deep Down Under with Gary Mills

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Pretty much the sole reason I managed to visit so many amazing producers this latest trip to Australia was down to Gary Mills. I’d corned him at Restaurant and Bar Show in Hong Kong earlier this year and asked his advice. “Sure no worries I’ll hook you up”, he said, “who do you want to see?” I had no idea really. But luckily Gary did, and proceeded to put me in touch with some of no doubt the most exciting winemakers in Australia today. More on these to follow...(see Deep Down Under with Timo Mayer).

It was only right therefore that first on the hit list was Gary himself. A disused tractor shed down at the bottom of Yerring Station’s rather grand enterprise currently houses Jamsheed, this physical positioning summing up the juxtaposition of Gary’s more ‘natural’ winemaking vs the more conventional methods used by Yerring Station. It gave me the impression of a badly behaved school child banished to the naughty corner where, unbeknownst to the teachers, the realms of misbehavior can be explored ten fold!

“So what do you want to taste?” asked Gary. A silly question really directed at two MW students and a wine writer. The lot! Which was pretty much how things panned out. What I love most about tasting with winemakers in their cellars, is that 9 times out of 10 they get totally over excited and start pulling bottles and barrel samples from just about everywhere you can think of. It was no exception with Gary.

We started with the Jamsheed Le Blanc Plonk 2016. 100% Riesling this is full of fresh lime, lime blossom, honeysuckle, peach with racy acidity and stony mineral touches. The vineyard is an alpine one, 500 metres above sea level on shale and schist soils over granite bedrock. The wine went full solids into foudres for six months and was unfined and unfiltered.

These low intervention methods are, along with use of wild yeast, whole bunch fermentation, skin contact for whites, old oak and very low levels of sulfur, at the heart of Gary’s winemaking. He likes to make a pied de cuve in the vineyard, building up the vineyard yeast populations and establishing them before entering the winery to ensure that its is these yeasts, not other commercial strains that are flying around, that start the ferments. He’s also moved from stelvin back to cork believing the wines look better under the more natural closure.

Next up was Madame Chardonnay 2016, showing lemon, lime, peach and honeysuckle flavours with a touch of toasty oak and a subtle hint of struck match from reductive winemaking. Full solids straight to used barrels (lightly toasted, untoasted heads) for fermentation and maturation on lees 6-7 months with limited stirring. Textural complexity is the result.

Garden Gully Riesling 2016, from a vineyard planted in 1892, displayed mandarin, honey, pickled ginger, kaffir lime leaf with a highly distinctive saline element, apparently very characteristic of this vineyard. Located in Great Western, a sub-region of the Grampians, the soil here is known as Concongella, a dusty clay over deep ironstone, which imparts clear minerality to the wine. The grapes were foot stomped to extract more flavour and phenolics from the skins. Having the stems in contact with the juice allowed the low pH level to be brought up. It was fermented and matured in old oak puncheons.

To compare an older vintage next we tasted the Garden Gully Riesling 2011. This was a horrendous vintage apparently. There was so much rain that the vineyard flooded. Despite the foul conditions Gary made the wine and it has, somehow, come right. Still young yet with touches of petrol development, lime, honey, the same saline character as the 2016 and 15g/l R/S with evident botrytis give this the feel of a German troken style. Really delicious.

The Beechworth Roussanne 2016 is deep gold in colour with complex fruit - peach, apricot, quince, golden delicious apple, ginger, beeswax and a hint of salted almonds. Very oily and textured with soft acidity. At 550 metres above sea level this vineyard is schist over granite bedrock boulders. Highly textured due to some skin contact and old oak aging. Roussanne is a wine I rarely drink but this one is certainly one I’d pick off a restaurant list if I could find it as it’s complexity, both flavours and texture, would be awesome for food pairing.

The whites over we moved onto reds starting with one of my favourite Cabernet Francs Ma Petite Francine 2016. Pure raspberry and blueberry fruit with touches of kirsch and cinnamon, this is 100% whole bunch fermented in stainless steel with zero sulfur, 10 days on skins then into old puncheons for four months to settle and complete malolactic fermentation. A touch of funk with such vibrant fruit makes it easy to see why this is a sell out wine in Japan. Gary is convinced that the Yarra Valley will see more and more Cabernet Franc in years to come as climate change becomes a greater reality here.

Petit Le Pinot 2016 is 85% whole bunch showing very tangy, spicy, perfumed red berry fruit with animal/savoury touches and a touch of attractive stemmy character. Smokey nuances from aging in 3-4 year old barriques. Aeration of the must is achieved by pumping off the juice and pouring it gently back over the cap. The wine is very pale in colour, a direct result of whole bunch as the stems absorb it, but Gary isn’t interested in this aspect of the wine, flavour and textural complexity being much more his concern.

Le Syrah 2016 shows evident VA, another potential by product of whole bunch, and characteristic of some of Gary’s wines which has been known to be divisive amongst different tasters. I personally love a bit of VA. To me, as long as in check and not nail varnishy where it certainly becomes a fault, it adds an extra dimension of lively freshness. The Syrah is better for it, I believe, with vibrant cherry, plum, raspberry fruit and spicy, savoury, meaty undertones. A really great value, everyday Syrah.

And then it was on to the big boys from barrel. Gary’s top single vineyard Syrahs are some of the most exciting wines, for my money, coming out of the Yarra today. I often blind taste these against other Syrahs from the rest of the world and they usually come out on top. Whole bunch fermentations followed by long macerations and ageing in old oak are the techniques used on these wines. Yarra Valley Seville Syrah 2016 is showing the funk, a distinct comte cheese note on first whiff, followed by black plum, meaty chorizo notes and sweet cinnamon spice. Fine grained yet ripe, slightly dusty tannin. A bit of fruit was destemmed to make the fermentation run faster. Tense and energetic it spent 60 days on skins.

Pryen Syrah 2016 is sourced from quartz laced, pink granitic soils. This is the warmest site in a cool region thus shows very plush blackberry fruit on the front palate. Big tannins, touches of underbrush and a racy freshness despite such ripeness. A long, lingering violet finish makes this wine really attractive. Huge aging potential.

Garden Gully Syrah 2016 shows the same signature saltiness as in the Rieslings. From 140 year old vines, this has an incredibly complex nose full of dried violets, eucalyptus, grilled lamb meat, blackberry and liquorice. In comparison the 2015 is more red fruited, redcurrants with spicy chorizo notes, great freshness and loose knit tannins.

Then to finish the Beechworth 2012 from bottle. 100% whole bunch for this one, again a totally different set of aromas quite unique to the vineyard in question – smokey, tequila notes with black pepper and raspberry. Integrated yet chunky tannins and high VA. 40-65 days maceration. A stunning wine. Unfortunately already sold out here in HK else I’d be buying it up in a flash. Happily the 2013 is also a cracking wine.

Jamsheed wines are available to buy from Victoria Wines in Hong Kong

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