You really do realise how diverse the Yarra Valley is on the drive to Chestnut Hill in Mt.Burnett. From St Huberts road it’s a 45-minute drive past Coldstream, Wandin, Yellingbo and Cockatoo. Through rolling hills of red earth, to rural flatland and running rivers. Sitting atop the edge of the Yarra Valley, Chestnut Hill vineyard was established by Croatian migrants Charlie and Ivka Javor in 1985, and is now leased by winemaker Jayden Ong.
As we pull up, it doesn’t take long to notice the history of the property. The classic 1980’s brown brick home with neat established garden, looks out onto rows of thick gnarled vines. Just by the house are olive-green sheds with faded hand painted signage. It has a quant charm and slightly forgotten feeling. The carpark, signage for the Gents and Tastings this way, hints at a once active venue open to the public. After a few echoed “Hello’s?” Jayden appears with a big smile on his face. We’re welcomed into the winery, which is a feast for the eyes. Tanks, barrels, cartons, apple picking bins, all bathed in sunlight streaming through the open doors. Amongst the barrels Jayden stops for a story or two. He shares some fond memories of growing up in South West WA in the 1980’s and 90’s. His father, Malaysian Chinese and Mother, English, both worked in medicine. “We were the first Ong in the phone book!” He laughs. A lot of his mates were Italian and he was introduced early to an eye-opening culinary world.
At University Jayden studied Commerce, and upon graduation took a short holiday to Melbourne. There he fell in love. “It was the music scene that got me, I ended up staying.” Jayden soon got a job in a bar and a career in commerce quickly began to fade from view amongst the fast paced and exciting environment. “In 2000, I started working at the Melbourne Wine Room. I was introduced to some incredible wines there on a regular basis. We would taste often and talk openly about wine and winemaking.” Wine and hospitality luminary Marcus Ellis taught young Jayden a lot of what there was to know. “Only recently I showed Marcus through my wines. We’d come full circle, it was a special moment.” By 2006 Jayden knew he wanted to take his wine education to the next level and enrolled in Charles Sturt University’s Wine Science degree. Vintages through and after university included Curly Flat in the Macedon Ranges, Moorooduc, Allies and Garagiste in the Mornington Peninsula. All specialising in Chardonnay and Pinot, these are cool climate varieties Jayden loves. With new friends from Charles Sturt, he rented some space at Dromana Estate. “It was a great place to learn and grow together.” Here One Block was born, Jayden’s first label. Working with single vineyard sites of the highest quality. “I didn’t want just any fruit, I wanted the best I could get my hands on.”
During this time Jayden was working with Melbourne Chef Andrew McConnell at restaurant Three, One, Two. “We’d like to catch up in the afternoon out of work and talk business over a nice meal and a glass of wine. We couldn’t find anywhere you could just walk into at four in the afternoon and be fed. So we thought, ‘why not open something ourselves?’” Cumulus Inc was born and it soon became an institution. Not long after they created a little sister venue above the Flinders Lane address, Cumulus Up. The venues pride themselves on consistency and service of the highest quality. 10-years on and Jayden is just stepping back to allow more time for his busy winemaking career. “I’m no longer doing 90-hour weeks on the floor.” He smiles with some relief. “But the business is still very much a part of my every day.”
Far from Flinders Lane, in the wide-open expanse of Mt Burnett, the scenery is like a painting. Clouds cast shadows on the rolling hills that drop steeply to bush below. Then in a moment they clear and the fields are bathed in light. We watch a farmer drive around on their tractor, laughing at how miniscule they look amongst the enormous fields. About the property Jayden explains, “I was originally just looking for a place to make my wine. The vineyard was a huge bonus.” Winemaker friend Timo Mayer put him on to it in 2016 and it all fell in to place. “There’s a plot that was planted in 85’ and a plot in 94.’” He points out. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir all grown without irrigation. “When I saw that this vineyard could cope with the heat of the 2016 vintage I knew I could comfortably keep the vineyard dry grown.” It was immediately changed over to organic and Jayden is letting the grass and weeds come back, using alternative spray treatments such as whey from the Yarra Valley Dairy to combat mildew. Some trees and bush have been cleared to encourage airflow and circulation around the vineyard, again combatting mildew that loves stagnant pockets.
In the winery Jayden opens releases from three of his four labels. One Block, his single vineyard locally sourced varietals, La Maison de Ong, two different Yarra Valley Syrah’s and his brand new label Jayden Ong Wines with fruit grown at Chestnut Hill. “Grown, made and bottled here.” He says proudly. The Stables restaurant team begin talking excitedly about pairings for the upcoming Seasoned Spring Dinner we are here to discuss.
Three years ago Jayden and his wife Morgan bought a property at Mt Toolebewong they now call home. They quickly established an organic vineyard there planting three clones of Chardonnay which are nearly three years old. The site is unique to the region which is famous for vineyards filling the Valley floor. Their vineyard is 700m above sea level and can host snow in the Winter. It’s really an ideal spot for Jayden who loves high altitude, cool climate wines. “I like wines that give you a glimpse of something. Not something that shows itself all in one go. Wines that are fresh, wines of power and focus.”
Join us in The Stables at Stones on Sunday October 21st for our Spring Seasoned dinner with Jayden Ong. Beginning at 7.00pm with a pre-dinner Negroni Spritz (using Jayden's own Vermouth!) and canapés, before guests are invited to take their seat at one long table for an intimate, interactive dinner with the winemaker and restaurateur.
Executive Chef Hugh Davison and team will present a 5-course menu matched with a selection of Jayden’s wines, with a swirl of his delicious brandy to finish. Throughout the event, Jayden will share stories about his journey and life as a winemaker.