Mornington research pioneers

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Stillwater at Crittenden, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Stillwater at Crittenden, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©Mornington Peninsula Tourism]

Garry Crittenden, Crittenden Estate, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Crittenden at Dromana Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Garry and Rollo Crittenden, Crittenden Estate, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
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Garry Crittenden, Crittenden at Dromana Winery, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©VisitVineyards.com]

When Garry Crittenden planted his first five acres at his newly established Crittenden at Dromana Winery in 1981 he doubled the plantings on the Mornington Peninsula at the time.

“I took the total plantings from five to 10 acres, and we (now) have something like 2,500 acres of vineyards where we are. I put in cabernet sauvignon at that initial planting and a little bit of pinot and chardonnay,” he says.

The Mornington Peninsula has now made its mark on the wine world with pinot noir and chardonnay, but Garry still has his original cabernet planting. “For us it’s pretty much an icon wine.”

“We have the distinct advantage that the Chardonnay vines are a minimum of 13 years old, and some going up to 21 years old. I think that confers a big advantage on us ... they’re very mature vines, they are very much in balance, the cropping levels are right. We also have the advantage of having been making wine here for something like 18 or 19 of those years ...19 vintages we’ve had here, and that gives us a lot of experience with handling the fruit from the region,” he says.

Pioneering a new wine region comes with a unique set of challenges. Everything had to be learned – there was no one to provide advice on the viticultural side. “You could always call on someone for winemaking help, but just learning how to grow the grapes in this region was quite a challenge.

“I was lucky in that my background was horticulture, plant physiology, and I had, even though I had not grown vineyards, extensive experience with plant culture, and I simply went to the text books and read up as much as I could about viticulture and grape growing.

“There weren’t too many Australian text books in those days ... and so I read Californian books, and I read South African books, and I read translations from the French, and it’s fair to say that, not only was I a pioneer in what I was doing, we pioneered a lot of viticultural techniques here.”

Crittenden of Dromana has always been a research centre. “We did a lot of collaborative research with the local Department of Agriculture, trailing different trellising systems, different training systems, different irrigation schedules, and that in itself was exciting, just being here and breaking new ground.

Garry is still as excited by the wine industry as he was in the early days. “I’d like to say you get a bit blasé about it, but you never do,” he says.

The focus of the industry on the Mornington Peninsula has become tourism. “I think there’s something like 2,500 acres of vines planted [in the region], and I think there’s well over 100 different vineyards, or vineyards under different ownership; there’s probably 40 wineries and cellar doors, and many of those cellar doors have restaurants attached.

“We really encourage people to come and sit on the balcony here and enjoy lunch and have a glass of our wine, and preferably take a case of it home in the boot with them,” he says.

“The Mornington Peninsula in plan perspective always reminds me of a map of Italy! It is one of the few places in Australia that can stay green year round. It’s just a unique meso climate in that we get reliable summer rainfall, evaporation levels are relatively low, so you can come here in mid-summer in January, you can go surfing, you can go sailing, you can play golf on a number of world class golf courses, you can visit the wineries. It’s just, I think, a most magical place to come to.”

Regions

  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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