A brand new Vinorium exclusive and the first time they have set foot in the UK. We sit down with winemaker Maryann Egan and chat about life at this exciting family run winery.
Established in 1963, Wantirna Estate ranks among the elite in Australia and we are so thrilled to exclusively launch their wines across Europe. These are beautifully judged, handcrafted and terroir driven wines which reflect meticulous attention to detail in all aspects of viticulture and winemaking. Unquestionably, this trio represents the most classical examples we have sampled from Australia, which effortlessly compete with Bordeaux and Burgundy, albeit with their own footprint of brilliance. Thoughtful and intelligent wines which demand everyone’s attention…
The label artwork: Wantirna gradually renamed their wines to include the names of their four granddaughters. In addition to that, there is an illustration by the well-known cartoonist and artist, Michael Leunig depicting something about each of the girls’ personalities.
We love working with so many family run wine producers and Wantirna is another wonderful example. James Halliday described your parents as ‘early movers in the rebirth of the Yarra Valley.' Could you tell us about your family's story and provide us with an insight into the developments of the Yarra as a winemaking region?
My parents Reg and Bertina started the vineyard in 1963. It was the first vineyard in the rebirth of the Yarra Valley. The early plantings were a bit of everything, as Reg thought that the vineyard would be an experimental site and that he would have to move to another location as the suburbs continued to spread. So, he planted a bit of a fruit salad to see what performed best - the classics like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But also, Grenache, Pedro Ximenes, Shiraz, Crouchon, Barbara and Malbec. As the vines produced grapes, he gradually assessed their performance and replaced them with the varieties that did well in the cool climate. As it was early in the 1960s, there was no real cool climate wine areas in Victoria to look to for advice, all the grapes were being grown either in the Riverland area around Mildura, or in the Great Western area that is much warmer.
As it happened, the Victorian government reasoned that many thousands of hectares should be ‘rural, open space, green wedge’ area and since we are in this overlay, the vineyard has been able to continue on, just 22km for the centre of Melbourne city.
At the time Reg was a solicitor and the vineyard was a hobby. It wasn’t until 1985 that he gave up his being a Barrister, to concentrate full time on the vineyard. By this time the vineyard had been consolidated to Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot which was added in 1991.
We love the idea that you have become a ‘fashionable’ winery quite by accident, through your single-vineyard wines and use of concrete fermentation vessels! Are these methods something you have been using for some time now? What attributes do you believe concrete brings to your wines?
Our single vineyard production means that the wines are very much a reflection of the season. We don’t aim to make the same wine every year. It is important for the wines to be of a Wantirna Estate style perhaps, but still very much show the different characteristics of the season.
The open concrete fermenter gives a very gentle ferment with no temperature spikes. It is an intangible thing, but the wines always seem fruitier, which is the fruit forward character our reds have. It is also easier to lock down for some post ferment maceration to develop the tannin structure.
What was life like growing up as part of a winemaking family? Did you follow a similar wine upbringing to the French, with wine introduced at a young age, let down with a little water? Did you ever consider an alternative career or were you always heading back to make wine?
Well of course like many farm children, we always thought life was much more interesting in the city, living on a vineyard was just annoying when we had to help out during vintage! We were lucky as children though to travel to Europe frequently and to visit many wine growing areas. We were ‘dragged around freezing cold underground cellars’ whilst Reg spoke not so good French to the winemakers. My sister Liz and I loved the food we ate on these trips but were a little less interested in the vineyards! We always remember though visiting Château d’Yquem and the winemaker pouring us both a full glass of 1964 and encouraging us to enjoy it. I think I was 10 at the time, and naturally it was delicious! We were also lucky to be friends with the Laurent Perrier family, so had many visits to their Champagne house. When I was later a winemaker at the Moët et Chandon owned Domaine Chandon, Yarra Valley winery, these visits took on more interest.
My first degree was actually in Physical Education, with emphasis on rehab and physiotherapy style work. But like every other Australian I went backpacking around Europe once I’d finished my degree, and ended up in Burgundy, picking grapes and doing some winery work once I’d run out of money. After my return to Australia I enrolled into the wine science Oenology and that was that.
How has the business developed since you returned to Wantirna following the birth of your daughter Amelia in 1996? Are Amelia or your second daughter, Hannah now part of the winemaking business? Is your Father still actively involved with the vineyard and winemaking? Moreover, has he let go of the reins?
The business has probably become more of a ‘business’ since I returned. Reg made the wine and it had always had a great position within the Australian wine scene. But the wine scene worldwide has become more crowded these days, not just with excellent Australian wines, but also from around the world too. It is important to keep relevant, keep on those social media sites, talk to somms and writers etc... My days at Domaine Chandon consolidated the science of winemaking, but also time spent in other parts of the world influenced the ‘natural’ side of winemaking for me.
All the granddaughters have helped, on and off at the vineyard, but Isabella (my niece) and Amelia worked the most. But it has been their job during their university studies, at this stage I can’t see any of them being involved more permanently. Amongst the four girls Isabella is finishing her PhD, Lily works in food tech for an importing company, Amelia is a teacher and Hannah is a nurse. So, they enjoy the drinking part of the wine! All of them do try to come along to trade days when they can. Reg is indeed still involved, actively doing many of the vineyard jobs in particular. He’d say he was the ‘interferring winemaker’ and has indeed passed the vast amount of responsibility over to me.
The wines are all names after the granddaughters and the cartoons on each of the labels are adorable, what inspired these?
Michael Leunig, the artist, is a famous cartoonist, satirist and social commentator in Australia. He has published many books and has quite a quirky outlook and on life. He’s a friend of Reg’s. So, when the granddaughters were all born, the wines were renamed from just Chardonnay to Isabella Chardonnay etc. Michael drew labels partly after conversations with Reg about the girls, and partly just nice drawings!
What makes the Yarra Valley, and specifically your little corner of it, such a special place for both winemaking and living?
The Yarra has a lovely cool climate. Whilst with global warming the seasons are definitely getting warmer, it is reliable enough to be able to ripen quite a few different varieties. The early ripening grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir do definitely ripen earlier. But the evenings are cool and allow the grapes to relax after a warm day. Also, we have all adapted our viticulture to keep the grapes more sheltered from the warm February sunshine. The Pinot in particular needs extra protection from the sun, but I think we have adapted well. The later varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon ripen beautifully in the Yarra, without ever getting over ripe and jammy as you can sometimes see in other regions in Australia. I actually live in the suburbs of Melbourne, I’m a bit of a city girl for living but love to work in the country!
Is the winemaking community in the Yarra a close-knit one? Is there much in the way of friendly competition?
It is a very close-knit region – like most in Australia I’d say. I have some very close friends that I can always call on to discuss things, and we have regular tastings together. We also do a lot of events together, and share the same Australian distributor so we catch up when we do trade days (when they occur again after the crazy COVID time). The Yarra Valley Wine Growers Association is a strong group, both for advocacy and as a technical and marketing group. I’m also part of a Yarra Valley Wine Women group that we put together a few years ago, not to be exclusive, but just to highlight the women winemakers of the region. We all happen to be friends too, which makes it easy!
On the rare occasions you get to escape the vineyard, what would we find the Egan family getting up to?
You find our extended family at our beach house on the Mornington Peninsula. The house has expanded so that we can all be there together. Especially over the Christmas summer holidays, and it’s a great time for me to get a whole lot of different wines to introduce them all to. You’ll also find my immediate family chasing powder snow for some backcountry touring, whether in Australia, NZ, Japan or Canada.
Could you give us some of your favourite food pairings for the Wantirna wines?
Hmm, I’m a bit of a ‘drink what you like when you like’ kinda girl…
Your volumes are tiny so we appreciate how lucky we are with the allocation we are able to bring to the UK. How would you introduce each of the wines to the new, UK market?
We look to have the vineyard site shine. To not overdo the oak, or fiddle too much. We don’t lees stir our Chardonnay, basically we ferment the juice in barrel and leave it alone. We use 25% or less new French oak, oak should be the nuance in the background, rather than the main event. The Pinot Noir we destem and then ferment, without the stalks. The whole bunch character – I’ve tried a portion in the past – doesn’t suit our site. We like the Pinot fruit to shine, to show the place where it was grown, and to have a nice backbone of tannin. The Cabernet blend is similar. A touch more new oak – around 30% as that really balances the beautifully ripe character we get. Tasting the Cabernet grapes is one of the most important vineyard and vintage time decisions. It’s important to get past that herbaceous character, but to pick before the grapes get too ripe and lose their ‘cabernetness’. Overall, we use a light hand on our winemaking, and let the vineyard do the talking.
Upon initially sampling your wines we described them as, “deeply impressive, incredibly considered and as close as the Aussies will get to the wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux. Highly sophisticated.” Do you think the time you spent working in France has influenced your winemaking?
I think maybe a little. Australians are good at the technical side of things, mostly the French are good at the mystery of making wines! After spending time in France I think I try to keep an eye on the tradition, but wave a scientific eye over the process as well. I don’t make wine to a recipe, if I think the pH should be allowed to get a bit higher to allow the wine characteristics to shine, I don’t panic and adjust the acidity. I don’t like ‘funky’ wines, but of course wines need to have personality. The vineyard gives us grapes that are ripe, without being over ripe. It’s important to always taste, taste and taste the grapes in the vineyard – it’s one of the most important aspects of winemaking.
We’ve heard lots about the troublesome (to say the least!) 2020 vintage! How has it been for you?
It started with poor flowering in November, so we had a small crop. We didn’t think it would be quite as bad as it was until we actually picked. So, like most of Victoria, the crops were down more than 50%. The start of COVID didn’t affect us in terms of picking staff as we get the girls’ friends that are still at uni along to help. It was just a weird time with the news of the world and the endless reminding people to wash their hands and stand apart at morning tea.
If you had a crystal ball, what do you think the future will hold for Wantirna?
Probably things will continue along as they are. Not sure what will happen once I get too old to sling hoses and do vineyard work. But we’ll see. The biggest issues will of course be the amount the climate changes and how much it affects the grapes. We are doing a lot of work in the vineyard to protect the vines and grapes from the hot summer sun, and so far this has been successful.
How big is your home cellar collection and what gems do you have hidden away in there?
In terms of our own wines, we have a fairly poor museum collection! Being so small we have always tried to please the odd request for some older wines, so we don’t have much ourselves! For me, I have a mixture of wines from my Yarra friends – Mount Mary, Gembrook Hill, Yeringberg, some Tasmanian wines and Burgundy - also quite a bit of Nebbiolo based wine – from Piedmont and Valtellina.
We like to think we have a tempting selection of wines from your Aussie neighbours. Aside from your own wines, which wines from our range would you pop into your basket?
Pierro - lovely Margaret River wines and pioneers of the area
Chambers – these fortified wines are world class
Pooley – Tasmania is one of the most beautiful places on earth so anything that reminds me of there, I love!
Nocturne – great wines and people
Hoddles Creek – local heroes, making terrific wines and part of our Yarra Valley Family
** Introductory Offer Ends Monday 14 Dec at 9:00am **
Winemaker "The 2018 Amelia cabernet sauvignon merlot is showing trademark Amelia elegance and finesse with a little bit extra in ripeness. The grapes matured beautifully with generous fruit flavour, showing off the uniqueness of this single vineyard blend. Small amounts made, the 2018 was an exceptional year."
Amelia Cabernet / Merlot 2018
97+ - 98+ Points - Stuart McCloskey “This is not powerful per se – more ethereal, terroir driven and as close to a left bank Bordeaux I have ever sampled from Australia. The wine needs coaxing from the glass - 4-hours in a decanter does the trick and delivers an extraordinary sense of minéralité. Supremely focused with tightly coiled fruit. Time being the only key to unlock its full potential. Violets aplenty which work wonderfully, along with brooding, dark fruits, laced with fine herbs, bay, graphite, minerals and sea salt. The balance is astonishing, the flavours slowly creep up on you. A wine which is utterly effortless, so pure and so precise. Today, this wine exudes intellect and detail – the best years are yet to come. Nonetheless, it is outstanding in its youth, but will be close to perfection in its prime (10 years in my opinion). In short, a very special wine which must be served with consideration and the mood to match. Served using Zalto Bordeaux glassware.”
98+ Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz "Classical aromas of currants, juicy cherries, dark chocolate, fresh bay leaf and undergrowth. Notes of roasted coffee emerge with aeration, which adds to the allure. Lots of ripeness and confidence presented in a controlled and elegant manner. A self-assured and very fine perfume. The palate follows suit and builds beautifully with trademark cassis, cedar spice and savoury tannins. Wantirna provides an utterly compelling and powerful Bordeaux blend with exemplary finesse. Much of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are part of the original 1963 plantings with small additions of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. There is much class on show with captivating generosity and layers of texture which will provide amazing drinking over the next 10-15 years or more. Nevertheless, and as with any great wine, it drinks beautifully today with 3-4 hours of decanting. Sampled using Zalto Bordeaux glassware."
Special Introductory Offer: £32.95 per bottle
Winemaker "The 2019 Isabella chardonnay is a beautiful balance of restraint along with good ripeness. A season that allowed one parcel to be picked a little earlier than usual, with the balance of grapes picked after a warm spell. It is drinking beautifully, showing elegance and softness, with lovely acid backbone, and will certainly age gracefully."
Wantirna Estate Isabella Chardonnay 2019
98 Points - Stuart McCloskey “Time in the glass is the great benefactor (mine was left for an hour) resulting in a bouquet that blossoms and comes alive with buttered lemon, citrus peel, quartz, salty sea spray and chalk – vibrant and captivating. The palate delivers wave after wave of seductive buttered citrus fruit underpinned with razor sharp acidity. The density and palate feel are truly remarkable for such a young wine. I fear you would miss the amplitude, sheen, depth and glossiness if poured straight from the fridge (word to the wise). Yet another suave, seamless and immensely pleasing wine which will only get better over the next 10+ years. For Burgundy purists or those seeking something special, but do not want to part with £100 – this is the one for you. Compelling drinking. Decant for an hour and serve using Zalto Bordeaux glassware.”
97-98 Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz “Another superb and chic offering from Wantirna. Time in a glass / decanter and preferably for an hour will work wonders. With aeration, the perfume becomes more expressive and unfolds with an abundance of fruit, sweet buttered pastry, oyster shell and citrusy freshness. The palate feel is equally compelling. This is a Chardonnay which exudes confidence (whilst retaining its modesty), it is generous and beautifully balanced. One of my ‘new’ favourites. Sampled using Zalto Bordeaux glassware following 2 hours of decanting.”
Special Introductory Offer: £32.95 per bottle
Winemaker "The 2019 Lily pinot noir is wine with a generous fruit weight and flavour. Again the grapes were picked across the season, allowing different blocks to get to optimal ripeness. Drinking well young but like all our pinot noirs will develop beautifully with time. A great 2019 vintage."
Wantirna Estate Lily Pinot Noir 2019
97-98 Points - Stuart McCloskey “The bouquet is a captivating mélange of wild berries, raspberries, wild strawberry, rose petal, orange rind with subtle and savoury nuances developing in the background. The tannins are silken and gently clutch to the fruit which glide effortlessly across the palate. Wild berry flavours fan out with a positive undercurrent of sorbet-like blood orange which I love. Clearly, Wantirna style centres on femininity, charm and a gracefulness without losing sight of the fruit or its place. Spectacularly harmonious with a long, mineral laced finished. Lily is just beginning her journey and will provide so much drinking pleasure over the coming 10-15 years. I am looking forward to resampling in a year or so. Decant for 1-2 hours and ideally serve using Zalto Burgundy glassware.”
97-98 Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz "I will begin by saying – please, please decant these wines. I came back to my glass of Lily’s Pinot Noir after 3 hours and it unfurled beautifully. The perfume is simply wonderful displaying an array of sweet and savoury red berries, citrus and wild flowers. The palate has great depth and a fantastic weight – not light, not heavy, but perfectly delicious. Cascading berries are supported with an effortless structure which flows with much grace. The flavours melt away softly but they do not fade. A beautiful, beautiful wine. Plenty of class and elegance without turning lean. Superb! Sampled using Zalto Burgundy Glass following 3 hours of decanting."
Special Introductory Offer: £32.95 per bottle
Wantirna Mixed Three Pack
1 x Wantirna Estate Amelia Cabernet Merlot 2018
1 x Wantirna Estate Isabella Chardonnay 2019
1 x Wantirna Estate Lily Pinot Noir 2019
RRP £109.50 per bottle
Special Introductory Offer: £98.85 per 3 pack
A vast array of stunning wines awaiting discovery
Please allow 48 hours for all deliveries
Our preferred UK courier, DHL Parcel UK have provided an outstanding service throughout this year, during such an extraordinary time. As Christmas fast approaches, people are turning to online ordering more than ever, leading to record numbers of parcels passing through their network. The Vinorium alone saw a rise of 200% in the last ten days of November.
All orders received by us before 2pm are despatched the same day without fail, but in the past 72 hours we have seen at least 30% of our orders delayed in the DHL system. This is far from ideal and beyond our control. In light of this, please can we ask you to be mindful and allow 48 hours for all your deliveries.
As ever, my team and I remain at your disposal.
Thank you for your kind understanding.
My very best wishes, Stu
Our Christmas cut off times
Last orders will leave our HQ on Tuesday 22 December @ 2:00pm
HQ collection available: Cut-off for collection 12:00 noon on Wednesday 23 December
All orders placed after 2:00pm on 22 Dec (unless collecting) will be dispatched on Monday 4 January
"The Vinorium has celebrated three Decanter awards for ‘Australian Wine Specialists of the Year’ in a row which we are immensely proud of. This is a celebration of the best wines of 2020 which my team, you and I have all enjoyed."
Sensational biodynamic wines from McLaren Vale.
Gemtree Wines is owned and operated by husband and wife team; Melissa and Mike Brown. They are dedicated to growing their incredible wines, naturally with minimal intervention in the winemaking process along with an environmentally friendly farming system. Gemtree produce biodynamic and certified organic wines which are powerful, concentrated and beautifully express the true characteristics of each grape variety and region. Team Vinorium have been blown away by their range and we are very excited to share them with you all.
"Great wine deserves the best glassware"