Chardonnay sea-change

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Brian Stonier, wine icon of Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Brian Stonier, wine icon of Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©]

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Brian Stonier, Stonier, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©]

Sick of staying home on the cattle farm at Ballarat while his family went surfing, Brian Stonier of Stonier Wines on the Mornington Peninsula, decided to rationalise and chardonnay history was made.

"It was an accident that happened," he says. "It was a career change, totally unexpected and unplanned because we moved from farming. I had a holiday farm at Ballarat where we were running cattle and I was going up there feeding the cattle while the family went to the beach at Mt. Eliza and that didn’t suit me. So we decided to rationalize and the children said "well, we’ll go anywhere where there’s good surf". So here we are about 10km from Point Leo which is one of the best inner surfing beaches and found this land that was available, 100 acre block, and we were very taken with it."

The family ran cattle for the first year, planting an acre of vines behind the house in 1978.

"I think it was probably to do with a South Australian background, a heritage of going to the wineries and as a child we would go there every year for family holidays. So I think the South Australian memory is the only reason I can put it down to wanting to grow grapes.

"We found 2 other people who were growing them in the region at that time but neither of them had Chardonnay. It was extraordinary luck that we then planted some of the first Chardonnay on the Mornington Peninsula and were then about the 3rd of 4th grower to start here. Sheer hobby farm experience, so it started from that one acre, and we went on planting every year from 1978 to 1990 when we had finalised with our last planting."

It hasn't all been easy. "I didn’t know that you had to grow champagne sparkling wine from two grapes and so I can still remember ringing up and saying could I please have some champagne grapes and some grape grower laughed his head off and said "well don’t you know how you do it?". So that was all part of the history of wanting to set up something to enjoy and to see how we could go.

"I’ve always enjoyed something new and a different challenge to learn. I knew nothing about it, there was a huge amount of expert advice available which we were very keen to get and so I started there using skilled consultants right from the word go. And indeed much of the growth of the Mornington Peninsula is based on the knowledge of doctors, lawyers, surgeons, judges, who all were interested in and were used to taking advice from other people. So I think one of the reasons the Peninsula went ahead so quickly in the 80’s was the fact that the people were all prepared to rely on the experts. And there were experts in the profession full time. I am thinking of Nat White at Main Ridge Estate who was an engineer, Deputy Director of Ports and Harbours in Victoria I think, and he became the full time grape grower. So he knew more than the rest of us, he was well experienced and qualified. So he was very helpful and the Association, as it got going slowly, 10, 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 members by 1990, all used and shared their experience and knowledge."

Brian believes the grape-growers and winemakers of the Peninsula are blessed. "For example you are an hour and a half from Melbourne on freeways where the traffic is easy to control, there is a wide range of interests down here on the Mornington Peninsula with people having developed lots and lots of different activities from boating, fishing, harbour-based ones on each side. Western Port is out here on the eastern side, to Port Phillip on the western side of the Peninsula, so it’s land locked, it’s water surrounded on 3 sides out to Bass Strait and it’s got lots of those advantages. People can come surfing.

"The bed and breakfast industry has developed over the last 20, 25 years. The residential accommodation is second to none for holiday resorts and it’s got a huge number of visitor traffic reports. There is a tourism association now, very active, that can provide all the information. The vignerons themselves produce an outstanding map that gives you a great list of wineries to visit. There are 42, 44 cellar doors open, most of them open every day of the week, and that is identifying it as a serious tourism resort area.

"Almost everything, I think, is being grown here, as it is around Australia. Whether that’s a desirable feature, it’s not for me to say, because we have decided to become known as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir specialists and arising from that is sparkling wine. So I think we felt having tried other varieties that are more variable, less accessible depending on the weather, that we would like to concentrate on those two particular varieties, and we have had sufficient success with them to feel that we are on the right track."

He attributes success to quality people. "You have to have a brilliant winemaker. We, in our 23, 25 years of growing, or 21 years of winemaking have had two quite brilliant winemakers. The first was Todd Dexter who made 17 vintages with us, and has now only just gone very recently but his assistant for seven years, Geraldine McFaul was our winemaker and she is now our full time senior winemaker and she has outstanding palate as had Todd Dexter, and has exactly the same objectives and ambitions. So I think that’s one of the keys.

"The second key is of course to grow good grapes and that here where we are surrounded and subject to the weather, the winds, the maritime climate is a huge plus and the slow grape growing is terrific. But the viticulturalist has to be outstanding and our vineyard manager Stuart Marshall has been with us now for eight or nine years and he has learnt all about the Peninsula. He has worked very hard to make sure that the grapes are quite outstanding."


  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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