Every other year the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, hosts an international Pinot Noir Celebration. For obvious reasons, several of Burgundy’s better wine producers are usually invited. They tend to arrive in Australia’s greatest concentration of Pinot Noir vineyards skeptical and leave impressed.
It is difficult to think of any of the world’s mushrooming hotbeds of Pinot Noir production that are quite as maritime as the Mornington Peninsula. It enjoys almost constant breezes, whether from the northwest over Port Phillip Bay or cooler winds from the southeast of the Southern Ocean. But these seem to serve merely as heal moderators rather than imbuing the wines with any obviously marine flavours. Indeed, the locals say that what determines ripeness and picking dates is much less likely to be the elevation of a specific vineyard but the prevailing winds to which it is exposed.
Summers are (usually) mild with mean January temperatures less than 68°F (20°C) – cooler than mean July temperatures in Burgundy although there are occasional heat spikes that can inflict sunburn on the delicate Pinot grapes.
Vines have been grown on the peninsula since 1886, and in 1891,14 grape-growers were mentioned in a royal commission into the fruit and vegetable industry. The modern wine scene dates from the early 1970s and the modern pioneers include Main Ridge. Moorooduc. Paringa, and Stonier, now part of Lion Nathan. Other old hands, all intensely involved in improving quality and promoting the region, include Eldridge. Kooyong, and Ten Minutes by Tractor, ImiI there has been no shortage of new talent.
Fine food, fine art, fine wine
Unusually for Australia, there is no contract winery in this lush pastoral landscape, dotted with grand houses and estates built by well-heeled Melhoumites. Instead, a good 60 of the 200-plus growers follow the Burgundy model of growing their own vines and making their own wine. An intense level of hands-on involvement is encouraged by the fact that two-thirds of wine estates are less than 10 acres (4ha). Because the area is so close to Melbourne, there are more than 50 cellar doors and, in line with Melbournian Culture, many of these wineries have fine restaurants and/or art galleries attached. About a third of all Mornington Peninsula wine is sold at the се I lar door. Too little of it is exported.
Mornington’s signature grape
Although they haw slowed because of the high cost of land here, total plantings of the vine doubled between 1996 and 2008. Pinol Noir has definitively been crowned the signature grape of Mornington and accounts for about half of all plantings with more than 1,060 acres (420ha) in 2008, but the region is not quite as dependent on Pinot Noir as say Central Otago in New Zealand is. Chardonnay (some of which is very fine) has fallen to about 25%. of all vines, while fashionable Pinot Gris/Grigio is now more than 10%. (The Yarra Valley has almost twice as much Pinot Noir in the ground as Mornington but it represents less than a quarter of all vines planted.) Soils vary considerably and include the red volcanic soils of Red Hill, the sedimentary yellow duplex of Tuerong, brown duplex of Merricks, and the sandier clay loam of Moorooduc.
The MV6 clone of Pinot Noir, Australia’s most common, thought to have been brought rain Clos Vougeotby James Busby in the early 19th century, has played an important part in the Mornington Peninsula although Burgundian clones arc now increasingly planted.
The most notable feature of Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir is its refreshing acidity and purity. Very few wines are especially deep Coloured nor particularly potent, but they are generally very pretty without being light. Wines, whether Pinot Noir, Pinot (iris (T’Gallant pioneered this variety in Australis here), or Chardonnay have crystalline, well-defined structure and no excess of body. For much of the late 20th century, Mornington Peninsula was a sort of playground for Melbournites who liked to get their fingers sticky with grape juice, but as vines have matured and the people growing them have been sucked into the absorbing minutiae of wine culture, quality has perceptibly risen so that this is one of Australia’s most rewarding sources of handcrafted wine.