On a winding drive off Old Healesville Rd, through dense State Forest, hills part to reveal a beautiful pocket of neighbouring farms and an 18 year-old vineyard called Paul’s Range. The site in Upper Tarrawarra is where winemakers Behn Payten and Troy Jones grow chardonnay and pinot noir for their label Payten and Jones.

For most of the Yarra Valley, harvest came early this vintage due to a long hot summer. This heat is something the guys are growing accustomed to, “and we’re considered a cool climate region” Behn laughs, on what is a memorably hot February day. 

In annual tradition, local friends and family lend a hand for the day. Crouching under the nets and fruit heavy vines, pickers chat away over the snipping of cutters and the plonk of falling bunches into buckets. The vineyard is ‘dry-grown’ which means it isn’t manually watered. The result is a small, dense and sweet fruit bunch. Hard work in the vineyard has paid dividends for the pair who say the 2016 vintage is shaping up to be a cracker. Most of the crew work locally in the industry and have a connection with the vineyard that stretches back to early vintages.

Behn who has his degree in viticulture, previously brewed beer and cider with our neighbours at Napoleone. Troy has been in hospitality in the Valley for years, for a period managing the restaurant at Stones where we fell for his down to earth nature, passion for good drink and stories. He also runs St.Ronan’s cider with his mate Eric Driessen. Behn’s father Peter, a horticulturalist, has played a huge role in the success of the vineyard, with the pair saying “Without his hard work, attention to detail in the vineyard and dedication, we would have nothing to work with.” Peter worked in Mudgee NSW at Botobolar, the first organic vineyard in Australia before moving to the
Valley in 1988.

Now managing an impressive 10 varieties under three labels, the guys have a passion and reputation for “hands-off” wine making, experimenting with wild yeasts, minimal additions and no preservatives or sulphurs. Reciting highs and lows of each vintage since their first in 2006, Troy reflected “We didn’t know what we were doing, each year we’ve improved.” A humble reflection on what has been a huge 10 years for the lads. “We’ve surrounded ourselves with knowledgeable people in the industry. Listened and asked questions. We’ve been working 9 days a week since we started and that’s what you’ve gotta do but we love it.”

We ask Troy about the reasonable pricing on all their releases. “That’s a very conscious thing. We believe in attainable wines, we don’t want to rip people off just to make a profit. I have to look you in the eye and sell the booze at what I know is a fair price”. And quite the salesmen Mr Jones is. Animated in his descriptions and stories behind the particular vintage and style, he tells it how it is.

By the last row we were drawn to the kitchen by the smell of slow roasted venison wafting through the vines. Up at the house the spread Behn’s beautiful wife Emmanuel put on for the hungry workers was simply mouth watering. The venison, a troublesome deer that had been eating the vineyards chardonnay grapes, found its way to our plates served with baked potatoes, salads and fresh bread. Ending our day with full bellies and a glass of wine in stained hands we looked out to the vineyard in anticipation of the next vintage.