In the Yarra Valley’s relatively short history, vineyards have been established, nurtured, decimated and reborn. There’s been great vintages and there’s been tough vintages. Mistakes have been made and lessons learned. Wine styles have come and gone. All the while a small property in Gruyere has been producing some of the best wines to come out of the region. Originally inspired by the finest vineyards and wineries of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, a “perfect site” at the foot of the Warramate Hills was established in 1969 by accomplished academic Dr Bailey Carrodus. He called it Yarra Yering. From his original plantings the vines would grow to produce some of the most esteemed wines in the Yarra Valley and indeed the entire country.
Between then and now, Dr Carrodus, along with other legendary Yarra Valley vignerons like Guillaume de Pury and Dr John Middleton, has put the Yarra Valley on the map. The quality of Yarra Yering wines, inherently balanced, precise and elegant, have built a reputation and following few equal.
In 2013, when the legacy of it’s late founder was passed on to a talented young winemaker from the Hunter Valley, a bright new chapter for the winery began. Achieving near perfect scores in James Halliday’s Wine Companion and being awarded Winemaker of the Year for 2017 at the QANTAS epiQure Halliday Wine Companion Awards, Sarah Crowe has made an incredible impression in the five vintages she’s been at Yarra Yering. As we drive to the winery to visit the talented winemaker, you can imagine our excitement to meet and discuss our Autumn Seasoned Dinner in The Stables at Stones on Sunday April 22.
At the entrance to the tasting room, still referred to as “the house” since it was converted from the original Carrodus abode, Sarah greets us warmly. In classic winemaker garb, band t-shirt, stubbies and boots, she invites us through to the winery. As we walk past the vines there is almost a skip in her step, not in a rush but in excitement. We are visiting in the middle of vintage and the first harvest of pinot noir is arriving just as we turn the corner.
Unlike most wineries that run on adrenalin and loud fast radio, calm music wafts through the low ceilinged building. A small team of young assistants go about their tasks, greeting us with smiles as we arrive. Harry the patchy whippet gives us a bashful bark then slinks off shyly. “He doesn’t like his photo being taken.” Sarah says with a laugh.
We snake between the winemaking equipment as it hums and spins. All German, all state of the art, yet simple in it’s purpose. Pinot bunches jiggle down the sorter and Sarah picks out leaves as she talks. “Nothing but the best bunches make it to the press.” Many vineyards would simply press this fruit all together, especially coming from such an established and excellent site. Not Sarah though, she strives for perfection, yet she’s creative and playful with the fruit too. “Winemaking isn’t a recipe you follow year in, year out. You have to respond to the season and what you are seeing and tasting.” Portions are treated in different ways before they are pressed off to juice. It’s a creative way of making wine, giving complexity to the final product. Working with Dr Carrodus’ handmade traditional “tea chest” half tonne open-fermenters, fruit will ferment in different ways. “10% of something here. 20% of something there.” Sarah makes it all sound easy, but it takes a special kind of skill and understanding to make wine at the level Yarra Yering is so famous for. To quote Sarah from a Wine Companion article. “When I came to Yarra Yering people expected so much more from me and the wines. People expect there to be change – and of course there has been, that’s inevitable – but they either want me to change everything or nothing, and the truth is somewhere in between.” Pulling back the oak level and letting the fruit really shine, has been a gentle but beneficial touch to the releases.
The wine is all barrel aged two stories down in an impressive concrete bunker. A big investment at the time, it shows how serious Dr Carrodus was about making wine of the highest quality. Amongst the rows of barrels, there is a stillness and beauty. How the wine sits peacefully, such a contrast to the pace of the outside world.
“Shall we taste some wines?” Sarah asks us. A rhetorical question we’re sure...
In the sleek private tasting room, we are taken through the current releases. Yarra Yering purchased the neighbouring Warramate vineyard in 2011, and Sarah opens some for us to taste. “It’s complete freedom.” Sarah says, referring to the winemaking. Coming from a vineyard of the same age and made with Sarah’s same thoughtful approach, they’re a great introduction to what she can do. Our Stables Front of House team discuss how they could make for an interesting tasting side by side at the dinner.
With the Yarra Yering wines, Dr Carrodus sought a classical purity that went beyond winemaking trends or consumer fads. And its true, great wine never goes out of style. With such a loyal following and such high expectation, it’s been a fantastic challenge for Sarah, and one that she’s taken in her stride. From the subtle changes of less oak and more fruit, to the complete change to screw cap and her own release Light Dry Red, a classic Hunter Valley blend of Pinot and Shiraz. She has a wonderful confidence yet with no sense of ego. Her whole face lights up when she smiles and there’s an almost palpable enthusiasm to her craft and pride for the winery she now calls home. Sarah has made her mark on Yarra Yering with a respect for the history and legacy of Doctor Carrodus that will always be there.