The home of revered winemaker Timo Mayer, must surely sit at one of the best viewpoints of the Yarra Valley. Atop the aptly titled Bloody Hill, Timo and his partner Rhonda built their fantastic rammed earth home 14-years-ago. With its curved roof and dynamic interior, it watches over the vines that Timo has made his name from.
Together with The Stables at Stones restaurant team, our visit doubles as a meeting to talk about our next Seasoned dinner. Through established garden and backing on to the lush Moora Moora bush, we’re shown through some of his 40-acre property. On the way to his shed, we stand on the hill and take a moment to just absorb the beauty of the Yarra Valley from such a special spot. Drenched in the warmth of the sunset and looking down right religious, Timo gives us a lesson in geography. Not only knowing each vineyard in sight, but there beyond, the topography, climate and soil types.
Enlightened, we are invited to his shed to talk through some stock. The rustic exterior, hides a modern interior. The seemingly ordinary shed is a well insulated, temperature controlled holding for his precious releases. Inside, the large space contrasts with the small amount of stock left from his 2016 vintage. Timo points at pallets barely half full, “That’s all allocated, that’s all allocated, I can’t remember where that stuff’s going, but it’s allocated.” Up to 40% of Timo’s wine is exported overseas. In America, at Eleven Madison Park, the current World No.1 restaurant, to Scandinavia and Japan. “I love the scene in Japan, people have good taste, an open mind and a thirst for anything produced in low quantities.”
As we head back to the house for a tasting, Timo explains to us his plans of converting his shed to his own winery. Since his first vintage in 2002, Timo has made his wine at Gembrook Hill where he’s also been the head wine maker since 2000. Moving to set up his 30 tonne winery on site at Bloody Hill, the converted shed will allow 10 tonne of fermentation space. “The plan is to have two varieties fermenting at a time. Once everything has gone through fermentation, they’re pressed, into barrel and I piss off to Europe for eight weeks.”
Each year Timo catches up with top venues around the world and introduces his new releases. Amazingly, Timo also finds time to produce two releases of German varietals with an old friend, in his home town just out of Stuttgart. He returns in Spring to check on his vines and tend to the growth. Explaining his methods, it’s made to sound simpler than it surely is. “In spring we thin new shoots, positioning and spacing growth to open the canopy. In summer we’re watching the growth of the fruit and leaf plucking the side facing the morning sun, to expose the fruit, whilst leaving shade on the afternoon side to protect from the hottest time of day.”
We gather in the kitchen and Timo generously opens all his releases. He talks about the attributes casually but proudly. “Ah, that’s beautiful” He reacts, smelling a glass of his whole bunch Nebbiolo. He speaks about the wine referring to the fruit and the natural process that makes the end product, rather than himself, the maker and the work. Timo comes from the school of thought that great wine is made in the vineyard. That great fruit makes great wine. Admittedly though, someone with his inherited talent and experience makes it seem simple. His method is one of minimal intervention. The fruit is picked by hand and simply fermented naturally in whole bunches. This process gives the wine a stalky, textural mouthfeel, with added complexity. “Up until about 120 years ago, the world only drank whole bunch wine. The destemmer was developed quite late in the history of wine making.”
Born in a small town in Germany, to a wine making family with a 400-year history of the craft, Timo needed time to travel the world before beginning the family tradition. His travels led him to Australia and studies in Wagga Wagga. From his first visit to the Yarra Valley Timo fell in love with the region, but not really for its wines. Timo wanted to make wine that was interesting, engaging, moorish and funky. His first job was at De Bortoli where he was mentored by the influential Steve Webber, an advocate of the funk. Timo is now famous for his style of wholebunch wine making, a method rarely practiced in the Yarra Valley before he arrived. Establishing his own vineyard on Bloody Hill in 1999, and moving from De Bortoli to head winemaker at Gembrook Hill, he crafted his style and approach. Speaking of his own Mayer releases, “Since the 05’ vintage my methods haven’t really changed. All varieties are bottled at the same time, in mid-Feb, with minimal sulphur.” You don’t have to spend much time with Timo Mayer to realise he’s a highly creative, motivated and energetic character. Timo’s presence is instant and his warm smile and jolly laugh makes everyone feel at home.
The Stables at Stones is proud to host the second Seasoned dinner on Sunday June 18. The dinner will showcase a regional menu and some of Timo’s 2016’ releases, including his Mayer Cabernet which is literally grown over the garden fence at our neighbours the Oarths at 16 St Huberts Road.
After our visit and tasting Chef Hugh Davison spoke eagerly of the menu, “It’s exciting to write a menu to the wines rather than the other way round, which is far more common. It’s a great challenge and tasting Timo’s wines has got me really excited for the night and what it can be.”
For further information on the Seasoned Winter Dinner with Timo Mayer, visit thestablesatstones.com/seasoned