Hand making pinot noir with passion

By Louise Johnson
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Pinot Gris barrel at Ocean Eight Vineyard and Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Pinot Gris barrel at Ocean Eight Vineyard and Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©Ocean Eight]

Cellar door at Ocean Eight Vineyard and Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

There’s something about pinot noir that gets hold of winemakers and never lets them go. Winemaker Mike Aylward from Ocean Eight on the Mornington Peninsula caught the pinot bug while working at his family’s winery Kooyong and is now on a mission to produce the perfect pinot.

Pinot noir caught Mike's attention back in his days at Kooyong. “There were six of us that were working full time and loved wine. We would go out for tastings and we trialled lots of varieties, but it was always back to pinot and back to burgundy and so we ended up spending a lot of money and drinking really good booze. And, because we're based on the Peninsula, you tend to drink a lot of local pinots and then you just get to love the variety,” says Mike.

It’s the elegance of pinot noir that has captured Mike’s imagination. “It's not a rich variety so you've really got to play on that elegance. That's what I love about it. And, it goes so well with foods. It can really enhance the food. I've had some great dinners where the food’s just good and the wine’s just good, but you put them together and all of a sudden it's magic.”

Ocean Eight has been operating for just four vintages, so is a very young winery. The Aylward family sold the Kooyong to the owners of Port Phillip Estate in 2004 and started work on a new wine brand, converting a stable yard at their property in Shoreham into a small gravity fed winery.

Ocean Eight is concentrating on just three varieties – pinot gris, chardonnay and pinot noir. “Those varieties suit the Peninsula really well. I guess we really defined our styles before we started making them by doing trips over to France and meeting winemakers over there and seeing how they make their wines. I love elegance in pinot noir, so we work the vineyard down to a finite degree to make sure we get elegance and layers of complexity into the wine.”

Open by appointment only, Mike says he really wants to give wine lovers a unique experience when they visit and show them how wines develop through the winemaking process, which is something that can’t be achieved at a normal busy open cellar door.

“I think it's great to see pinot directly out of the barrel so I like to get them down [in the cellar] and show them,” he says. Ocean Eight has two vineyard sites and Mike enjoys demonstrating the differences between the sites, and the differences between each individual barrel. Then he is able to demonstrate how the different batches are blended together to come up with the end product. All the Ocean Eight wines are hand made, produced in small batches which allows Mike to blend different characteristics from the barrels to create complexity in his wines.

“Each batch of fruit that comes in we process in very small batches so instead of ending up with a big batch of wine sitting there ina barrel you've got lots of different batches and that means ultimately you can select different batches that blend together and really build complexity in the wine, different flavours and structures inside the wine.

“So it's really important to have lots of small batches and the only way to process that is by hand and then blend by hand. Obviously everything is hand-picked. It's really labour intensive,” he says.

The day VisitVineyards.com visited Mike was draining some barrels of pinot gris, ready for the blending process. We tasted from a “funky” barrel, an almost creamy, yeasty wine, and another barrel that was much closer to what we expect pinot gris to be. Mike is excited to find such “funky” barrels. The addition of just a small percentage of that wine into the finished product will add complexity that you wouldn't find in big batch process.

“I like to have very small groups here that are passionate about wine, but they don't have to know a lot. I want to get people drinking pinot noir. I think it’s such a beautiful variety. I want to get them across from shiraz and cabernet. We don't have food and we don't have other distractions, it's all about the wine here,” he says.



  • Melbourne Surrounds (VIC)
  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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