The flight from Adelaide to Melbourne is a short one, and before I knew it I was at the arrivals hall, being greeted by Bill Downie. We headed off to the city for a spot of lunch and to meet with Adi Badenhorst, who was to be joining me for the rest of my itinerary. It’s nice to have a travelling companion: it takes a bit of the pressure off you if someone else is also asking questions, and Adi, who many of you will know makes wine in South Africa’s Swartland region, is a hearty man of good cheer. Solid road trip material. Fuelled with a thoroughly good burger from Arbory – a new restaurant next to the river, running along an old platform of Flinders station – we headed off to Gippsland.
Gippsland is one of Victoria’s largest wine regions in terms of geographical spread, but its smallest in terms of area under vine. It’s green, lush and beautiful, and Bill Downie has a beautiful farm on which he’s planted a small, incredibly high density vineyard. While most of his wines come from other vineyards, he’s just made the first wine from the property. It’s called Guendulain Farm, and just 180 bottles of the inaugural 2015 were made. It’s textural and vital, made with no additions at all. ‘It’s as close as I’ve come to making a true wine,’ says Bill.
Bill has also built a small winery on the property. Tall and gentle in manner, he’s working naturally to produce true expressions of place. As well as his high-end wines, he’s also making wines from interesting varieties grown in the Riverland, under the affordably priced Save our Souls label (he quips that this should be called ‘Save our Asses,’ for the positive effect it has had on cash flow). He’s also just taken delivery of a fine horse. It’s enormous, and I was a little intimidated by it: where do you stroke a horse when it comes up to you and nuzzles you? And what happens if this giant of a horse steps on your foot by accident? Fortunately it didn’t.
The next and final visit of the day was to Patrick Sullivan’s farm, also in Gippsland, where we were to stay for the night. This was quite a stunning place. Here we met up with Anna Martens, the Aussie-expat Etna wine producer, who was also staying. Patrick took us on a walk up the hill on his property, where the views were astonishing, only marred by the warnings to look out for snakes: apparently there are gazillions of them around. At the top, we cracked open a bottle of his Britannia white, and drank in the views, the peace, the place and the wine.
Patrick’s winery looks pretty rudimentary, but he’s expanding it for the next harvest. He’s got some very attractive ceramic eggs, made up in Byron Bay, as well as a collection of barrels. These are intriguing, beautiful wines. We also tried some of Anna’s Etna wines (Vino di Anna is her label) over dinner, which went on a long time: there was a lovely spirit to the evening. We ended up going to bed at around 2 am, full of wine and contentment.