Yarra Yering Dream Vertical
From humble beginnings in 1969, Yarra Yering grew to become one of Australia's most enigmatic and elusive wine icons. But in 2015, all of that changed, dramatically.
Founded by Dr Bailey Carrodus in 1969, Yarra Yering was part of a small group of producers who re-introduced wine to the Yarra after the economic effects of WW1 and a market shift to fortified wine had growers converting their land to dairy use in the 1930s. Dr Carrodus had a Master of Science degree and worked as an Agricultural Horticulturist in New Zealand. He came to Australia to study winemaking at Roseworthy and instead of heading back across the ditch, decided to go to Oxford, UK, and pursue a Doctorate based in plant physiology. After graduating and undertaking a vineyard study tour of Europe, he returned to Australia and began lecturing at Melbourne University, before working at the CSIRO.
Initially, he was going to make wine in his retirement, but when he began to explore the Yarra, he was so inspired he bought land and planted vines.
Yarra’s Modern Inception
At the time of planting Yarra Yering, there was only Wantirna Estate and Fergusson with established vines in the valley. Mount Mary, Seville Estate, Warramate, Yarra Burn and Chateau Yarrinya (now De Bortoli) were in their infancy and Yeringberg and St Huberts had just started re-establishing their estates.
Dr Carrodus’ first vintage was 1973. Influenced by the great wines of Europe, he made Dry Red No.1: a Cabernet blend and Dry Red No.2: a Rhone-styled, Shiraz-based wine.
By the 80s, table wine had started to become fashionable and the wines of Yarra Yering became highly regarded, collectable wines. Dr Carrodus, however, was intensely private and not interested in that side of the wine game. He never tweaked his labels, changed styles to suit the market or entered wine shows.
The only way you could get Yarra Yering wines was at the cellar door, which only opened one weekend a year in May.
Yarra Yering Stage No.2
In September 2008, after a short illness, Dr Carrodus passed and his vineyards, as per instruction, were sold in-tact to continue unchanged. The Yarra Yering ship maintained its course over the next five years under the winemaking of Mark Haisma, and then Paul Bridgeman, before Hunter Valley-based winemaker Sarah Crowe took over the reins in 2013. Having plied her trade at Brokenwood and Bimbadgen Estate, with educative stints overseas in Oregon and France, Sarah was ready for her next challenge.
“I had been contemplating where my future would be, and if it wasn't going to be in the Hunter,” said Sarah, “basically, it was Tasmania or Victoria.”
Sarah had only tried a few of Dr Carrodus’ legendary wines before applying for the position, but was energised by the prospect of her future at Yarra Yering.
“In the very beginning, everyone was like ‘Oh my god, you must be nervous,’ she recalls. “I was like, ‘no, I’m just excited; look at this vineyard, look at this history; this is going to be awesome.’
“But slowly, as I started doing things like blending, it hit me that this is really important. The weight of history and expectation was real.
“The 2014 vintage I pretty much did what I was told. But in 2015, I decided that I was going make the best wines I could, the best way I knew.
“I didn’t do too much,” she remembers. “The heart of the wines are still the same, there are little differences, but I’m trying to put the vineyard front and centre and have the winemaking in the background.”
Sarah’s changes may have been subtle, but the results were spectacular. In 2017, she received one of winemaking’s highest accolades by winning James Halliday’s Winemaker of the Year. For Sarah, it was not only great recognition, but affirmed the pathway she was taking with Yarra Yering.
“I had been anticipating some negative commentary around the wines, as they were quite different,” said Sarah. “But, the conversation was positive. It was a relief to have that support and congratulations on making beautiful wine.”
The tasting begins
To explore the shades of Yarra Yering, past and present, Sarah hosted Selector through a tasting of their second label, ‘Warramate’, plus some verticals of Yarra Yering icons.
The Warramate vineyards sit up the slope from the Yarra Yering vines and the wines are distinctive and wonderful value.
The Warramate Riesling was clean and fleshy with a silky and gentle Rhine-like mouthfeel. The Chardonnay was fine-boned, with restrained stone fruits, nuts and a fresh, racy finish. Like the Riesling, the Pinot Noir was fleshy and unctuous with creamy red cherries, strawberries and dried fruit aromatics. The Syrah was classically styled with pretty layers of black fruits, earthy aromatics and good concentration, while the Warramate Cabernet was delicious and dangerously slurpy; a perfect lunch wine.
The Yarra Yering wines followed and from the outset it was clear that these wines are truly remarkable.
We tasted Chardonnay first and the message was all about generosity delivered with restraint. The 2016 was fleshy and open with complex white stone fruits, figs and white flowers and a creamy restrained finish. The 1989, at nearly 30 years old, was glorious, proving well made ‘Aussie Chardy’ can go the distance. There was obvious nutty development, but it still showed freshness with citrus curd flavours, complex peach and preserved lemons.
Pinot Noir followed and the 2016 was very classy: fresh, crunchy, complex and smoky with mouth-watering acids, superfine tannins and a fine core of blackberries and cherries. The amazing 2004 followed with leathery, forest floor and mocha aromatics and a palate of blackfruits and strawberries. The 1987 was a lovely wine with smoky aromatics and delicious dried red and black fruit.
The Underhill is a unique expression of Shiraz characterised by dark, concentrated, savoury fruit and fine tannins. From the first sip it was clear why serious collectors love this wine. The 2016 was fresh, complex and designed to last. The 2012 had silky tannins and a beautiful mouthfeel. The 1996 was starting to show tertiary development, but still had mouth-watering sour cherry flavours.
We then arrived at the wines that started it all, and there was a real sense of nostalgia when we tasted the two Dry Reds.
The Dry Red No.2 is Dr Carrodus’ Yarra Valley interpretation of the Rhône – Shiraz blended with Viognier, Marsanne and Mataro. These wines, just like the Dry Red No.1s, remain true to the versions of the 70s and 80s and are a privilege to taste. They are unique to Yarra Yering and totally befit the regard in which they're held. Favourites were the perfumed, savoury, complex and finely textured 2015, and the creamy and opulent sweet fruits of the 2014, while the 2012 seduced with its fine textures, earthy red fruits and spice tinged palate.
Dry Red No.1 is Yarra Yering’s nod to the great wines of Bordeaux and is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Unlike many Cabernets, No.1 is so approachable as a young wine; medium bodied and elegant with fine tannins and restrained power.
Again, like most Yarra Yering wines, the Dry Red No.1 is designed to go the distance with the 86 showing amazing freshness and a creamy mouthfeel. The 2004 wowed us with soft silky lines and unique sarsaparilla flavours and the 2012 seduced with its soft regal poise.
September 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of Dr Carrodus’ passing and whilst Yarra Yering is no longer the elusive enigma it was, it is clear that under Sarah’s watch, the future of Yarra Yering is secured. Just as he would have wanted.
The wines of the tasting
Pinot Noir: 2017
Cabernet Sauvignon: 2016
Chardonnay: 2016, 1989
Pinot Noir: 2016, 2004, 1987
Underhill Shiraz: 2015, 2012, 1996
Dry Red #2: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 1986
Dry Red #1: 2015, 2012, 2004, 1986