Q&A with Franco D'Anna of Hoddles Creek Estate
Exclusive to The Vinorium
Run by Franco D’Anna, Hoddles Creek are responsible for producing some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to come out of the Yarra Valley and are privileged to occupy one of the very best sites in the region. This is purely coincidence as the D’Anna family, who originated from Italy, bought the property in the 1950s, about a decade before planting began again in Yarra Valley after years of the industry being in decline. The Hoddles Creek property is located in the Upper Yarra Valley which is much cooler than the rest of the region, making it perfectly suited to growing premium level Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and as a result, the Hoddles Creek wines have been some of the finest to come out of Yarra Valley.
Hoddles Creek are one of the hottest names in the region right now and we are thrilled to be able to bring the wines exclusively to the UK and introduce a wine of such magnificent quality to all our customers.
We got in touch with Franco D’Anna for an exclusive interview to get his thoughts on his life, the region and how he manages to produce such incredible wines.
"Without a doubt, as a collection of wines we make the most consistent and exciting examples compared to any other regions."
You are from an Italian heritage but your family had owned the Hoddles Creek property in Yarra Valley since the 1960s. Where did you grow up?
My parents were born in Italy, and arrived in Australia in the late 1950s. We have always been involved in food and wine, both in Italy and also in Australia. My siblings and I grew up surrounded by our family work, although it’s not really work when it involves food and wine. We lived in Melbourne and would come up to Hoddles Creek on weekends to help run the farm. Back then, there were no vines, only some cattle and an expansive vegetable garden which would need tending.
What was family life like growing up? Were meal times a typically Italian occasion with the whole family eating and drinking together?
Family life always involved keeping the Italian traditions that my parents and their parents had in Italy. To this day, we still make our own salami, our own passata and grow our own vegetables on the farm. Meal time always included too much food and good wines. I always remember, that regardless of what wine was on the table we were all allowed to taste. I cannot remember when we had a dinner that didn’t involve food and wine. I’m trying to impart the traditions we learnt from a young age to my children so we don’t forget our heritage. It’s always important to remember and reflect where you have come from so you don’t forget the past. It is amazing now to think that now we have done a full circle and some of these traditions are now quite popular in Australia.
Has your family and heritage influenced your winemaking style today?
At Hoddles, we almost have a European model of running the winery and vineyard. All my staff work both in the vineyard and winery, so they can understand why we are so particular about growing good fruit. Our motto here is ‘vineyard is king’ which really means it all starts in the vineyard and in the winery we just nurture the wines along. When I first started out, I graduated with a viticulture degree as I wanted to get the core ingredient right before I understood winemaking. Winemaking really isn’t that difficult, in fact it is harder to do nothing than always looking at the wines and trying to manipulate them. When I started winemaking, I knew nothing and to this day I still make wine the same way. It’s about doing the simple things really well.
You have spent time working vintages in several regions across the world, including Piedmont and Burgundy. If you could produce wine in any region of any country, where and what would that be?
I love making wine at Hoddles, it sounds stupid but I love this place. I’ve grown up on the farm and have a really strong attachment to it. I enjoyed working overseas but really I went over for a specific reason. I worked at Passopisciaro on Mount Etna in Sicily to look at natural wines and native Italian varieties. I worked in Piedmont to understand tannins, which we have been trying to get more, finer tannin in our wines. In Burgundy, it was about looking at winemaking with a different set of eyes. When you’re making your own wine from fruit that you’ve grown, you tend to be a bit safe, so I wanted to see what other people were doing. Winemaking is risk and reward. To be safe, you make boring wines, you need to really push the boundaries sometimes to make great wine.
Can you tell us a little about your 1er Cru range and the idea behind them? The labels suggest that they are quite Burgundy inspired. Were you influenced by your time spent in Gevrey-Chambertin?
We started that label for a bit of a laugh. Wine is so serious sometimes we just wanted to have some fun with the label. We made a Pinot Blanc in 2008 that didn’t look like anything that was grown from Australia as it tasted from the land rather than the sun. From that, we made a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir that are really well sought after. The Pinot Noir made Langton's Classifiaction from the very time it was eligible. So, it was fun doing a label like that but the wines are serious and up there for the best examples in Australia.
How do you feel about new world regions still being compared to Burgundy for Pinot and Chardonnay? Do you think that it is time that these regions are recognised as being great producers in their own right?
I’m not sure a Burgundian producer would compare their wines to Australian wines, so I’m sort of the same. Everything is so different in regards to terrior that I’m happy to make wines that reflect their place and don’t really bother comparing them to wines from other regions.
What can you tell us about the Yarra Valley and the people who live there? What is it about the region that makes the wines so special?
The Yarra Valley is quite a diverse grape growing area. It is really split into two regions; Lower Yarra and Upper Yarra. The Upper Yarra is perfect for growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other delicate varieties. It is higher in altitude with cooler nights so acid retention is great. We are based in the Upper Yarra and quite fortunate that my parents found a place that would be perfect for grape growing some 36 years after purchase. Our winemaking community is really close knit, and we share ideas and taste to try benefit the region as a whole. I’m president of Wine Yarra Valley which includes nearly all the wineries and vineyards. My generation has a sense of ownership of where we want to take this region and work hard together to make it happen.
Yarra Valley has a reputation as being a hub of creativity in winemaking. Does it feel like this as a winemaker there? Does the region have a good sense of community among winemakers?
The circle and trends of winemaking I think really start in the Yarra. From moving away to big broad sun filled chardonnay to having chardonnay with precision, acidity, and reflects where it has grown, really started in the Yarra. Same goes with whole bunch in reds, the Yarra was one of the first regions really to adopt it. Saying that, you don’t know how far you’ve pushed the boundaries until you have gone too far. Some of these trends are coming slightly back into the middle. Our community as winemakers in the Yarra is unmatched compared to other regions. We want to work together to increase our knowledge of how to become better.
The Hoddles Creek Estate is based in the Upper Yarra Valley. Do you feel that it is superior to the rest of the region? Could you tell us a little about the terroir?
The Upper Yarra is really split into two soil types. The red volcanic soils which are quite fertile and the duplex great loams which are great for water retention. I think it’s only superior in regards to what varieties we can grow up here. We can’t make great Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz as it’s too cool and wet. Both areas have their advantage. Upper Yarra is perfect for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as it retains the delicacy of the varieties, our acids hold really well and we can get perfume in Pinots that the Lower Yarra can’t get.
Do you feel that the region produces some of Australia’s finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?
Without a doubt, as a collection of wines we make the most consistent and exciting examples compared to any other regions. Our climate in the Yarra is perfectly suited to these varieties. As the climate warms, growers are looking for vineyards that are cooler. As a relatively young region, we have the advantage of finding new sites that counteract warmer years.
We are really excited to also get our hands on the Syberia, Road Block and PSB single block wines as well. Could you tell us about what it is that makes each block so special? How did you identify these as being superior in the first place? How do the two single block Chardonnays differ?
Syberia is a beast of a block. It’s a 10 acre vineyard planted on a steep slope facing east with the row orientation East-West. It was different to plant like this when it was established as people were always looking for the warmer slopes. We really don’t do anything on it, it naturally crops at 3 tonnes per hectare with soils that make the vine work quite hard. Road Block was originally planted to Sauvignon Blanc and I pulled it out and replanted to Chardonnay. I just had a feeling it would make a great Chardonnay block. It’s our lowest altitude block, but one of the coolest. It’s terraced into the East side of the hill and protected by a line of trees at the bottom. So it only really sees morning sun, which means the fruit doesn’t ripen too quick and has great balance and poise. PSB is a close planted block that runs down to the south and next door to our 1ER block. Less fruit per vine results in greater intensity with still having the hallmarks of Upper Yarra, namely perfume and structure. These three blocks were not intended to be planted to make a single block wine. We have made them over a long time and they always were a little different with their own personality. I think that’s what makes them exciting and gives great joy in the winery to make wines so different from the same place.
We are building one of the best collections of new world Pinot Noirs in the country and yours are a fantastic addition to our range. Would you say that the PSB Pinot Noir is the “jewel in your crown”?
PSB and 1ER Pinot Noir are equally positioned. Both are different but very unique. This is the second release of PSB for us and every time I look at it I’m always fascinated how it is evolving. The fruit is amazing, so we don’t kill it with oak or whole bunch. To me it’s very important to really understand site, and for us site is the most important.
Your wines see very minimal intervention. How important is a minimalist approach of winemaking to you?
We don’t really need to do anything as the vineyards are so good. There are no additions of acid, enzymes or fining to any of the wines so we can concentrate on working in the vineyard rather than doing winemaking trials! None of the reds are filtered and all made by gravity. Minimalist approach to winemaking is very important as you retain the balance that was out in the vineyard. Every time you fine wines, you are taking something out and affecting the balance. I think it’s another reason why our wines age for so long. Plus I couldn’t think of anything worse than manipulating wines, fining is about correcting the mistakes you make in the vineyard or through vinification. I’d rather have wines that have personality than making something that tastes all the same.
What do you personally like to eat and drink? Do you have an all-time favourite wine?
I could eat pasta three times a day I think! I love cooking, so normally weekends are about sitting down with a nice glass of wine and cooking something that the family enjoys. All time favourite wine would be Soldera for me. It’s a wine that speaks place rather than variety and has a fantastic history in Italy as being one of the early pioneers.
What do you love most about being a winemaker?
Being able to make something that people enjoy. We get the opportunity to grow something and turn it into a product which is unique and always alive. So many other jobs are thankless or quite boring. I love opening the gate to the farm in the morning and hate leaving the place.
We understand that you are planting some new vines. What split of varieties are you planting? How many acres are you adding to the estate? Will the new plantings produce new wines or become part of the existing range?
I have purchased the property next door to Hoddles which had been in the same family since 1969. It was land that I couldn’t pass up as it’s such a beautiful place. Sometimes you see a patch of dirt and fall in love with it, so I was rapt when I could finally secure it. We will plant about 50 acres on it. At the moment, I think it will be mainly Pinot Noir. It has a lovely aspect down to the south and is identical to our 1ER and PSB blocks. The first vines will be planted in a few months. I’m not sure which range the fruit will go in. Initially it will go into Wickhams Road (our second label) until I can understand the fruit. Once the vines mature, I’m sure the quality will be there to go into the Estate range. The fruit will dictate where it belongs.
What does the future have in store for Hoddles Creek?
Hopefully playing more golf! I’m happy doing what I’m doing and not rushing to change things dramatically. We are always evolving and looking at better ways to do things. At the moment it’s an exciting place to be.
1er Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2017
Top Rated Pinot Noir at the 2020 Halliday Wine Companion Awards
97+ Points - Stuart McCloskey "Franco’s 1er Pinot Noir always comes from a block from his top paddock vineyard called 'SRM'. This block faces West but runs down to the South. This is the only block which sees the inclusion of around 20-25% whole bunches in the ferment. There’s a heavenly, very pure bouquet – crushed wild strawberries intermixed with a melange of red berry fruits, anise, a tartness coming from cranberry scents and a lift from aromatic violets and rose petal. Everything is pulled together with a lovely minerality bordering salinity. The palate is medium-bodied and tensile. Wonderful judgment between the fruit, filigree tannins and perfectly pitched acidity. As with the nose, the purity is breathtaking. There’s a captivating sense of weightlessness – Feminine and highly intellectual. The never-ending finish of blood orange sorbet is a joy. Franco should seriously consider a rebrand from 1er to Grand Cru as this is special. Drinking now to 2025 and would benefit from a further 1-2 years in the bottle. Decanted for one hour and served using Zalto’s Burgundy glassware."
£30.50 per bottle
95 Points - Campbell Mattinson, The Winefront "This is swish. Straw-yellow in colour, stone fruit riddled, shy on the nose but textural and alive on the palate. A gentle creaminess, spice notes, slate even, honeysuckle and toast. Extremely pure. Flowing robes of flavour. Grapefruit-like bite to the aftertaste, as a distinct positive. It’s still gathering itself but already it’s a treat to drink. A beautiful, beautiful wine."
£30.50 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £139.00 per case of 6
97 Points - Gary Walsh, The Wine Front "Struck match, lime, grapefruit, almonds, chicken stock, flickers of cool green. Fine and composed, surges through the mouth, grips on tight, and doesn’t let go. So long. Flint, chalk, crunch, texture, subtle bitterness. It’s all here. It’s very Adult Chardonnay. Racy. A nudge and wink to those in-the-know. Outstanding."
96 Points - James Halliday "Bright straw-green; the complex bouquet has a positive touch of funk, as does the palate, but it's here that all the parts of the wine are fused together. The seamless flow of white peach, melon and grapefruit is given context by delicate cashew oak and fine acidity."
£35.95 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £166.40 per case of 6
95+ Points - Gary Walsh, The Wine Front "A single vineyard wine, close planted to Pommard and MV6 clones. I liked it from first sniff. Cherry, spice, subtle biscuit oak, a distinct sweet earth/mineral thing happening, and some dried herbs and flowers. Medium-bodied, good amount of flavour, particularly impressive tannin – fine, thick and graphite – pulls the ripcord of juicy acidity on the long finish. Complex. Composed. Cracking. My kind of Pinot Noir. Tasted May '19"
£35.95 per bottle
Hoddles Creek Roadblock Chardonnay 2017
95 Points - Campbell Mattison, The Wine Front "Fabulous chardonnay. The cup runneth over. Slick, spritely, satiny and sustained. There’s flavour, there’s finesse, there’s a flourish to the finish. Lemon, lime, a sorbet-like aspect, nectarine and white peach, with a classy clip of spicy-sweet cedarwood oak. There’s almost a bacony aspect here, a smoked meat note, rosemary even, though it’s exquisitely pure of fruit. Potential for positive development is huge."
New single block wine for Hoddles Creek Estate. Originally the block was planted to Sauvignon Blanc, then pulled out and replanted with the Mendosa clone of Chardonnay on 101-14 rootstock. Different style to the Estate Chardonnay, 1ER and Syberia. Picked early (11.5 baume), whole bunch pressed to tank over night to settle the vineyard dust, then transferred to older barriques for fermentation.
It's a very cool block, facing East it only sees the morning sun and planted on a steep block with the rows terraced. Even at low sugars, we get ripeness and richness through the mid palate as flavour is well ahead of sugar in the ripening phase. The wine should age gracefully for 7-10 years.
£35.95 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £166.40 per case of 6
Featured in Langton's 'Top Six': The Best wines of 2018
95 Points - James Halliday "This is Wickhams Road's twin playing games with you, for there is that little bit more of every facet of Wickhams Road present in this wine, even its colour is that little bit greener. It's the extra dimension of the faintly reductive aftertaste that draws me back for more."
Campbell Mattinson, The Winefront "White peach, custard powder, more spritely stuff like lemon zest and green olive, perhaps a touch of spice. Light and fresh, some lactic/cheese flavour and stalks, with fine acidity and chalk dust texture, and a savoury finish of good length. It’s a good release, though perhaps a bit different in style this vintage."
£17.50 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £74.00 per case of 6
93+ Points - Gary Walsh, The Wine Front "Juicy and peachy, spiced oatmeal, fennel and a little stuck match. It’s flavoursome with ripe pear and nectarine flavour, flinty texture, an appealing grapefruit cut to the acidity, and a long, well-defined chalky finish. Feel the quality of quiet confidence. It’s a great thing to drink even as a young wine, though a couple of years will help it along too."
£17.50 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £74.00 per case of 6
Gary Walsh, The Wine Front "Red fruits, hazelnut and spice, floral perfume. It’s light and perhaps a diffuse, at least as a young wine, but does deliver flavour, fine emery tannin, mouth-perfume, with a savoury autumnal finish of good length. Almost certain to build complexity and depth."
£17.95 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £76.40 per case of 6
Mike Bennie, The Wine Front "A wine that proudly shows the colour of the grape, asserting that texture, detail, structure and complexity are a by-product of thoughtful winemaking with pinot gris. ‘Whole bunch fermented’ says a sash on the label now too.
It’s a tightly wound expression, slender in shape, refreshing with tangy acidity, fragrant in red berry and floral perfume, though flavours are a touch washed out in the fray. That being said, the chalkiness to texture, the chew and bite of skinsy fruit personality, and the general ease of drinking, all play a part in ‘recommendation’ here. It’s a paired back release this year, more ‘Provencale rose’ than Radikon Kisi, but the drinkability and general sense of deliciousness is all there."
£18.95 per bottle
Also available In Bond @ £81.40 per case of 6