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Wine

Meet Tom Carson of Yabby Lake

With the popularity of Australian Pinot G continuing to climb, we chat with Yabby Lake general manager and winemaker, Tom Carson, whose Red Claw Pinot Gris 2016 is so deliciously food-friendly.

Along with being an award-winning winemaker, you’re also heavily involved with the Australian wine show circuit – including holding the position of Chairman of the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. What’s exciting you most about Australian wine?

Australian wine is in a wonderful period at the moment, there are so many small producers producing stunning wine. As we have seen at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards, this year a Grenache won the most coveted Trophy in Australian wine, the Jimmy Watson Trophy. Grenache is a wonderful variety and produces stunning wines, particularly from the incredible old vine resources of South Australia – couple this with a modern, sensitive approach to winemaking and we are finally realising the potential of this variety.

You’ve worked in multiple wine regions across Australia and France, and this year celebrate ten years at Yabby Lake –  what drew you to Yabby Lake and the Mornington Peninsula?  

Yabby Lake is a stunning property and is an amazing vineyard site. It was the unrealised potential of this site that really drew me in – just imagining what was possible with this vineyard had me hooked, and 10 years on that hasn’t changed.

Fruit for the Red Claw Pinot Gris 2016 was harvested in early February 2016, which is quite early for the Mornington Peninsula! How’s vintage 2018 looking? 

Yes, 2016 was the earliest vintage we have ever experienced here, picking 10 days earlier than ever before. 2018 is shaping up nicely and we should be harvesting late February this year!

Both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio have really found their place in the Australian wine market – what is it about Pinot G that makes it so popular?

It is a wine that is easy to connect with – it’s subtle, finely detailed, but also wonderfully drinkable and really suits that summer weather when you are craving something refreshing but also interesting.

What makes the Red Claw Pinot Gris stand out from the crowd?

Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Pinot Gris captures the variety and region in a way that just draws you in and makes you an instant fan.

What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)?

I remember when l was very young, maybe 5 years-old, treading grapes in a garbage bin and thinking what great fun it was getting covered in wine and grapes. It’s funny how things work out!

Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home?

I am massive fan of Yarra Valley Chardonnay, particularly from Oakridge, old vine McLaren Vale Grenache from S.C. Pannell, and Nebbiolo from Italy.

What is your ultimate food and wine match?
Chinese roast duck and Pinot Noir! Yes, it is a bit of a cliché, but have you tried it?

What do you do to relax when you’re away from the winery?
On a golf course! Well, l try to anyway, but that depends on how the game is going!

Your must-do for visitors to the Mornington Peninsula.
Peninsula hot springs in winter.

Beach in summer.

Golf in autumn and spring.

What is your favourite…

Book?

Girt by David Hunt – every Australian should read this book and True Girt.

Movie?

Alien.

TV show?

Game of Thrones.

Restaurant? 

Kisume.

Breakfast?

Coffee.

Lunch? 

Long.

Dinner?

In summer a barbeque eating outside and enjoying a few nice wines.

Time of day/night? 

Morning.

Sporting team? 

Essendon FC.

Beer? 

Proper Italian brewed and canned Peroni Nastro Azzurro – not that rubbish they brew and bottle here, it is a scandal and should be exposed.

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Wine Traveller Mornington Peninsula
Words by Mark Hughes on 25 Jan 2018
Just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula is a slice of paradise with its alluring blend of calm bays, eucalypt forests, farmland and surfable southern swells. It is also a mecca for quality produce, from strawberries to apples, olives to cheese, and of course, wine. The cool maritime climate allows for elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with a host of alternative varietals, and it is the recognised birthplace of Pinot Grigio in Australia. While wine has long attracted visitors, the region’s culinary offerings have also been garnering plenty of praise of late. Many are located in wineries and one of the first you’ll find just off the Mornington Peninsula Freeway from Melbourne is Yabby Lake. Winemaker Tom Carson is renowned in these parts and his award-winning wines provide the perfect match to the delicious seasonal fare served up by chef Simon West at their relaxed cellar door and restaurant. Think asparagus and gorgonzola tart enjoyed on the verandah overlooking the vineyards. 
Not far down the freeway near Dromana is a man and a place of legendary status – Garry Crittenden from Crittenden Estate. Garry planted one of the first vineyards in the region over 35 years ago. These days, his son Rollo is winemaker, producing classy flagships and unique alternative varietals. On the picturesque Crittenden Estate, you’ll find gorgeous lakeside villas and the delightful Stillwater at Crittenden Restaurant. Originally a small café built by Garry’s wife Margaret, it was taken over by dynamic duo Zac and Jacqui Poullier, who impress with a menu of shared plates and a la carte dishes such as corn fed duck breast with boulangere potato, pumpkin puree and local cherries.  Just up the road sits Foxey’s Hangout. Two decades ago, brothers Michael and Tony Lee made a tree change, trading in their Melbourne-based hospitality business for a life making wine on the Peninsula. Pop in for a wine tasting, then grab a deck chair on the verandah and enjoy seasonal shared plates while overlooking the sloping vineyard.
Everything and anything You’ll find both ends of the food spectrum in this amazing region. Rebecca Ettridge started Wombat Café, the Mornington Peninsula’s first all vegan café, which sits in a row of shops opposite a series of walking trails towards Dromana. It serves breakfast, lunch and a range of take home meals as well as awesome organics smoothies such as the High Roller – banana, chia seeds, peanut butter, vanilla and almond milk topped with peanut crumble.  Up the rise to Red Hill and along Arthur’s Seat Road, you’ll find one of the Peninsula’s new gems behind an old Liberty service station; Red Gum BBQ – a low and slow American-style barbecue joint run by enterprising young couple Melissa and Martin Goffin. What started out as barbecues for friends grew into pop ups at markets and finally, they took the leap, left their jobs and opened Red Gum in an old truck mechanic shed. Big, open and with a rockin’ country music sound track, it is fun for the whole family. Try a range of local brews while sampling smoked specialities such as beef brisket and pulled pork with sides of cornbread and Melissa’s secret slaw recipe. 
Perfectly paired From Red Hill, head towards Merricks  and you’ll come to the impressive Polperro, where unflappable owner and winemaker Sam Coverdale has created a triple treat: stylish wines, luxurious villas and a stunning bistro. It has outdoor seating for the summer and a cosy fireplace in the winter to enjoy dishes such as grass-fed beef fillet with truffle custard, pea purée, asparagus and beef jus.  Not far away is a winery and restaurant of renown, Paringa Estate. Chef Adam Beckett presides over a seasonal menu that has earned a chef’s hat for five straight years. His King George whiting with pea crumb, broccoli and half turned potatoes is nearing acclaimed status. Ten Minutes by Tractor is equally revered in the dining stakes. Chef Stuart Bell’s Fromagarie Menu is perfect if you’re on the go, or settle in for his eight-course degustation if you have all afternoon.  If you’re keen for food and activity, head towards Shoreham to Montalto. They have quality wines and a recently renovated restaurant that makes use of produce from their vege patch. They also have an amazing sculpture-in-the-vines trail through their vineyards, which is a great way to walk off a decadent lunch. 
Jumping Jackalopes Without doubt, the most talked about development on the Peninsula in years is  Jackalope Hotel. Built onto the existing structures at Willow Creek Vineyard at Merricks North, it offers super high end accommodation, whose every hallway and open space is a veritable art gallery. It is also home to the mind-blowing Doot Doot Doot restaurant, where chef Martin Webster’s edgy cuisine is wowing diners and has already scored a hat. Its 1200-bottle wine list is simply stupendous. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxed, the same venue hosts Rare Hare cafe, whose wood-fired oven signals more casual but still impressive lunch fare. Not far from Jackalope is the iconic Merricks General Wine Store, which is a welcoming café, cellar door and an art gallery all in one. Then head south to the hamlet of Flinders. Here, you’ll find a quaint General Store, whose shelves stock gourmet goods and local beers, Georgie & Bass, a café and cookery school, and  Mornington Peninsula Chocolates. If you’re down this way, follow the  southern coastline past world famous golf courses and the RACV’s spectacular state-of-the-art resort at Cape Schanck (due to be completed in April) and head towards Rosebud to find Blue Mini Eatery & Emporium. Owner and all-round go-getter Tracey Fleming has filled an old bowling alley with eclectic furniture and works by local artists (most of which are on sale) to create a place where you feel instantly at home. Chef John Ward dishes up a menu of fresh, zesty organic fare, while Tracey, who caters events all over the Peninsula, has recently launched Boneo Road Roasters, roasting her own coffee using ethically sourced beans. 
Peninsula Produce If you’re keen to get more intimate with the amazing food of the region, there are plenty of places where you can sample produce fresh from the source.  At Benton Rise at Tuerong, Ryan and Deb Sharpley have a perfectly balanced aquaponics system sustainably farming veges and salads alongside rainbow trout. Ryan also grows exotic mushrooms, which he supplies to local restaurants. In addition, every weekend, they host the local farmers’ markets in an old ‘red rattler’ train carriage. Get there early, as once the produce is gone, it’s gone. And there’s lots more. You can sample an amazing array of bee delights at Pure Peninsula Honey, try fresh goat’s cheese (and pat baby goats) at Main Ridge Dairy, pick berries at Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm, crunch on fresh apples and down ciders at Mock Red Hill, or taste estate-grown olive oil over lunch in a gorgeous setting at Green Olive at Red Hill.  The more time you spend on the Mornington Peninsula, the more you appreciate this remarkable region, its glorious produce and the wonderful characters plating up perfection. Discover the Mornington Peninsula in style by designing your ultimate drive with Avis. With Avis Signature Series you can choose the exact model of BMW or Mercedes you like. Any drive, anywhere. Visit avis.com.au for details.
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Celebrating Christmas with Brown Brothers
We recently caught up with Ross Brown from the iconic Brown Brothers to talk Prosecco and Christmas. Your Brown Brothers Vintage Release Single Vineyard Prosecco 2014 is our Wine of the Month for December – what makes it so special for this time of the year (or anytime really)? Sparkling wine is all about celebration with friends and Prosecco is the new exciting fashion for Sparkling. It’s fine, zesty, dry and refreshing and just perfect for those lazy summer days. Brown Brothers has over 126 years of history in Australian winemaking and family is obviously very important to you. How is your family planning on spending this Christmas? Having all the immediate family around the Christmas dinner table is mandatory, but just a bit more complex this year, as Emma our youngest daughter is living in Napa Valley, California. We have all made a commitment to be in Mammoth Mountain, a ski town for Christmas. We will go by the local market and buy oysters and salmon for entree and duck for mains. My wife Judy's confit of duck recipe is a family legend. What wines will your family be enjoying over Christmas? This year as Emma is hosting, she's sourcing the wines with the brief to surprise us with the best of California, especially Pinot for the duck. Can you remember the first wine you ever tried? No, not really. There was always wine on the dinner table, and I was always allowed to taste, as long as I described the taste and aroma. It was no big deal as wine and food was a natural. When did you fall in love with wine? Growing up in the 1960s drinking wine socially was a risky business – real men drank beer! In the 1970s wine became fashionable and I had lots of friends curious about what wine I had brought to the party. I guess that was when I fell in love but not only with the wine. It’s a tough question, but do you have a favourite wine or varietal? When I'm asked which is my favourite wine, my reply invariably is the "next one". In truth Riesling is my favourite white varietal – the flavour dimensions are remarkable with lean and minerally Tasmanian styles through to rich, ripe and generous Noble Riesling. With reds I'm fascinated with Pinot Noir. For me it’s about the silken texture – fine and powerful and so reflective of the vineyard. It matches so many different foods and I'm already thinking about that duck for Christmas. What is your favourite wine memory? This is an impossible question as my entire life has been wine. I have been just so fortunate to grow up in a thriving family business, based in beautiful North East Victoria, and to share a wine and food lifestyle with so many wonderful people. Having dinner with friends and finding that gem that has remained hidden in the cellar for far too long, and it opens fabulously, along with a flood of memories around the year the wine was made, is the ultimate Saturday night filled with lots of laughs and short memories! How do you spend your time when you’re not making wine? With my daughter Katherine now winemaking, I'm delighted to run away and admire her good work, especially knowing she has the best mentors in the world. Judy and I love the ‘hunting and gathering’ lifestyle, we are crazy about fishing and love Tasmania. There we can catch crayfish, calamari, and flat head or fly fish for trout all in one day, and if it's a really tough day, fit in a game of golf just for the frustration. For me seeing another generation, my three daughters, excited and totally engaged in the wine business is the greatest reward, especially if they find a great Riesling and Pinot for Christmas dinner and don't forget the Prosecco! What is your choice at Christmas: Carols by Candlelight  – love them or loathe them? A must on Christmas Eve.  Sparkling Shiraz, Champagne or both?  Prosecco is the new Champagne. Plum pudding, pavlova or trifle?  Depends on the age of the Noble Riesling. Turkey, glazed ham or seafood?  Seafood, seafood and more seafood. Christmas lunch or dinner?  Don't know the difference as it starts around 11am and goes on and on.... Boxing Day recovery?  This calls for exercise and this year given a white Christmas, we will all be skiing probably until lunch.
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Meet Alex Russell of Alejandro Wines
More and more alternative wine varietals are being grown and produced here in Australia. We catch-up with Alex Russell to chat about his passion for these delicious drops and his exciting alejandro range. Your alejandro label focuses on a diverse selection of alternative varieties of European origin including Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Fiano and Arneis – why these varieties? Shortly after starting work for Angove in Renmark, the then chief winemaker Warrick Billings, introduced me to Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC). RVIC at the time was an importer of new varieties and they would propagate the vines and produce trial wine from them. I agreed to produce trial wine for them on a voluntary basis. I bottled their 2008 vintage and started making wine for them in 2009, in addition to my role at Angove. Before long, we were crushing far more than anticipated and the facility was filled with small winemaking equipment I had been accumulating since the early 2000s. As far as choosing different varieties, I’ve never accepted the status quo. In 2011, Fiano , Vermentino and Montepulciano were bullet-proof during the worst vintage we had had in 30 years and the latter two went on to win Gold medals at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. From there I led RVIC into their own label, Cirami Estate. It was a little too entrepreneurial for RVIC and we parted ways after vintage 2014 at which point alejandro was born. I didn’t choose these varieties, they chose me. These varieties are perfectly suited to being grown in the Riverland and Mildura and produce textured, flavoursome and distinctly varietal wines. What would you say to our Members to encourage them to try more of these varieties?

If you enjoy wine enough to purchase through Wine Selectors, you know enough about wine to broaden your horizons. Have an open mind, ignore the name, even set up a blind tasting with friends, and just take the wine for what it is – it’s much easier to remember Saperavi or Bianco d’Alessano when you’ve had a great experience with them.

What makes the Riverland region so suited to growing Mediterranean-style and alternative varieties? Riverland and Mildura regions are equally suited to alternative varietal wines. If you’ve travelled to Spain or Italy during summer months, you’ll know the climates in Mildura and Renmark are very similar. The regions are hot and dry, with low disease pressure and there is so much sun. These varieties love sun and heat with Montepulciano ripening among the latest of all – late April for vintage 2017. Many of these wines, Graciano and Tempranillo , are as boozy in Spain as they are here. That said, the whites are produced with moderate alcohol to retain their fresh, distinctive flavours. Can you recall the first wine you tried? My parents always drank wine – from a cask. We had sips of wine here and there, but the best memory of my first wine was following work selling pies at the footy – the MCG. I was 14 or 15 years old and I had made my first wine by this stage, but I remember this fondly because it involved getting wine from the super boxes of the old northern stand. The foil capsule had been removed from these reds and were therefore unsalable. I took the bottles home with quite a number of Four’n’Twenty pies and my father and I sat on the couch and we ate pies and drank red wine together. Making it more memorable for me was how hot and red in the face I became having bumped consumption from a few sips to a couple of glasses. When did you fall in love with wine? I think I fell in love with making booze before I fell in love with wine. I was always close with my dad, he’s gone now, but he loved his beer. I used my pie selling income to buy a home brew kit from Kmart and produced Coopers Lager – though this was after I’d made my first mash beer using 4.5L demijohns and every item of stainless in the kitchen. Do you remember that moment? What happened? After the first mash came, Coopers, ginger beer, apple cider, elderberry wine and in Year 10, I made my first Shiraz, ironically from Shiraz juice concentrate out of a can from the Riverland ’s Berri. Another memorable moment was vintage 2002 in Mildura, working for Littore Family Wines. At the time they had a Merlot block in Gol Gol with 2000m long rows. I found a rogue vine in row 57 from the north end, 16 panels to the south. It was an off-white variety, I picked the fruit and soon realized it was Gewürztraminer. My housemates and I drank that wine before it had finished fermenting. Do you have an all-time favourite wine to make? Why is it this wine? That’s like asking who your favourite child is – all wines are different and there’s an occasion for each. I do like making Montepulciano, but mainly drink Tempranillo and Durif. Now with a vineyard in Tasmania, I also produce Pinot Noir which is a very interesting wine. There’s a wine for every occasion and every appetite. There are some 15 wines in my range – gives me a lot of choice! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I like to compare competitors’ wines, like varieties and other obscure varieties, but the quaffers I like are Rosé wines. I’m not a fan of Cabernet Rosé or ‘drain off’ Rosé but give me a purpose produced Rosé with four days cold soak and I’m all over it. What is your ultimate food and wine match? My first experience with such food was at the 2012 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show where Stephano di Pierre cooked and we had Vermentino with freshly shucked oysters with lemon and fresh oregano. Tempura Sardines are great with Bianco d’Alessano. In Tasmania we grow Wiltshire Horn sheep for meat. They mow the vineyard down in winter and keep hard to slash areas clean during the growing season. The meat is rich, tender and moist – Lagrein is a good match for this lamb. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? My wife and I lived in China for 12 months, near the North Korean border. I used to cook a lot more but now my wife cooks anything and everything, she has a knack for it. When I cook I go Chinese and cook the dongbei cai from the north east of China, Dalian and Pulandian. These are better suited to Tsingtao and Mi Jiu and although considered qiung ren cai (poor man’s food) they are simple and delicious: Ban san ding is chopped cucumber and red onion with fresh roasted peanuts (skin on) with fish sauce and sesame oil dressing (and a dash of MSG). Tu dou zi is shredded potato with carrot, green chilli and garlic, stir fried for about 30 seconds with fish sauce and sesame oil. Xie hong shi chao ji dan is stir fried egg and tomato, again with fish and sesame, and don’t forget the garlic. It’s simple and really quick to prepare. What do you think is special about your wine region? Tasmania is now home and we are expanding our vineyard. Pinot is a great variety to grow and produce and the whites are excellent – although most visitors are left a little wanting for a big red. Riverland and Mildura (and Riverina) are the work engines for Australian wine and where I gained all my experience. They are quickly snubbed by many but do produce good wine. My greatest criticism of South Australia and the Riverland is that even many Riverland businesses dismiss their own wines when tourists ask for something local, offering Clare or Barossa instead. Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? Spain. Fly into Barcelona and jump in a rental car and head up to Ainsa, Mont Serrat. We have a winemaker friend named Ara there who I worked at Zilzie with in 2008. She came back to Australia for vintage 2012 in the Riverland and might have helped a little with alejandro in 2016 when she was here on holiday. Ara lives in Hellin and produces wine from Murcia region. Spanish food, wine and beer – ahhh! What is your favourite… Movie? Gladiator. I’m a wanna be Maximus, and the sound track I used to play when I slept – my housemates were worried at the time. TV show? Dexter, everyone loves it when a baddie gets it. Big Bang Theory because I was one of those nerds – a cross between Howard and Leonard. Sport/Sporting Team? Cricket…. Beer? My taste constantly changes depending on the day or the menu, but I love hoppy beers and stouts and pilsners with saaz and hallertau hops.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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