Artisan winemaking , De Bortoli style

By Michael Harden
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De Bortoli Wines

De Bortoli Wines

When the De Bortoli family bought the Chateau Yarrinya winery in 1987, the Yarra Valley was just beginning to flex its winemaking muscles.

There was no doubt that the area had potential – Chateau Yarrinya had won the Yarra Valley’s first Jimmy Watson trophy in 1978 – but it had yet to receive the whole hearted stamp of approval that came in the 1990’s. Winemakers knew that it was an excellent winemaking district and that chardonnay and pinot noir could do great things in the region but beyond that – and as far as the general wine drinking public was concerned – it was all off the radar.

Leanne De Bortoli, who moved to the Yarra Valley with winemaking husband Steve Weber to run the new property, recalls a time when there was virtually no wine tourism in the area. In the early days, a good weekend saw a car an hour pulling into the winery, something that seems inconceivable now with the car park at De Bortoli cellar door and restaurant busy every day and the weekend Yarra Valley roads full of people trawling the wineries.

The volume of traffic is not the only thing that has changed at De Bortoli and Steve Weber is a good example of how the winemaking culture in the Valley is changing with the confidence brought by increased crowds and acclaim.

Spurred on by travel overseas and drinking more European wine styles, Steve has embarked on a fundamental change in philosophy about making wine in the Yarra Valley. Most importantly, he has come to believe that wine should have a sense of place and that De Bortoli should be making wines that reflect the regional characteristics of and within the Yarra Valley. More and more, he and his team are abandoning the tricks employed in many New World wineries – filtering, pumping, centrifuging – and embracing the notion that most of the work in a good wine comes from the vineyard rather than the winery.

Organic practices are being embraced, vineyards realigned to catch or lose more sun, hand picking and sorting being adopted, particularly in the vineyard’s premium sites and grapes are being picked earlier at lower sugar levels. Steve has embraced the idea of minimal handling and the notion that “the more gentle we are with the fruit and the winemaking the less we have to do – let nature look after itself”.

These practices are now being displayed in both the Gulf Station and De Bortoli Yarra Valley range of wines – elegant pinot noir, restrained chardonnay, beautifully balanced shiraz viognier – and will be even more obvious in the new limited release reserve range Steve has been developing. Single vineyard wines will also push the new philosophy.

There are many small wine producers in the Yarra Valley that are taking an artisan, hand-made approach to wine but the fact that De Bortoli, one of the region’s largest (150 hectares of vines), most recognised and consumed labels, is heading down the same path seems to show that the Yarra Valley is heading into a new, exciting, regionally specific era. De Bortoli has hung out a sign that says watch this space.

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

De Bortoli Yarra Valley Winery and Restaurant, Pinnacle Lane, Dixons Creek, Victoria (03) 5965 2271

Regions

  • Melbourne Surrounds (VIC)
  • Yarra Valley (Wine) (VIC)

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March 12th, 2007
 
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