In 2017, winemaker Sarah Crowe became the first woman to win the prestigious James Halliday Winemaker of the Year award.
Sarah became Chief Winemaker at the iconic Yarra Yering winery in 2013 and her work here has resulted in many accolades. Her modesty in the face of all this is also impressive. She describes making her wines, some of the most lauded in the country, in such down-to-earth and low-key terms, omitting of course, the mountain of talent and incredible work ethic required to make wines of this calibre. Engaging, pragmatic and no-nonsense, she does without the obfuscation and mystique so regularly cultivated by many winemakers.
Yarra Yering was established by the extraordinarily talented Dr Bailey Carrodus, a pioneer of the modern Yarra Valley wine industry. Carrodus obtained his Bachelor’s degree and subsequent Master of Science from Victoria University College in Wellington, NZ in 1952. He followed this with degrees in viticulture and oenology, ie. grape growing and winemaking, at Roseworthy College (now part of Adelaide University). In 1962 he headed to Oxford, obtaining his Doctor of Philosophy for research into plant physiology at The Queen’s College. That’s a lot of post nominals and a lot of wine knowledge!
In the late 60s Carrodus moved to Melbourne where he initially worked at Melbourne Uni before moving to the CSIRO. In 1969, while still working at the CSIRO, he purchased land and planted grapes on the north facing slopes of the Warramate ranges, in a sub-region of the Yarra Valley known as Gruyere. The site is next door to Warramate winery, which is next door to Coldstream Hills - the winery established by James Halliday.
Yarra Yering’s first vintage in 1973 was the first commercial vintage in the Yarra since 1922 and while several wines are made these days, back then only two were produced, Dry Red No.1, a Claret (Bordeaux) inspired blend and Dry Red No.2, a northern Rhône inspired blend.
By the 1980s Yarra Yering had gained an international reputation for the outstanding quality of their wines:
“One of Australia’s vinous treasures,” Jamie Goode, Wine Anorak (UK).
“Best known for producing some of Australia's greatest wines,” Decanter Magazine.
“An Australian icon that delivers very special wines,” Berry Bros. & Rudd (Top UK wine merchant).
“Have always produced wines of extraordinary depth and intensity,” James Halliday, 5 stars.
Carrodus himself gained a reputation as a bit of a genius, in his own determined and eccentric way...
Dr Bailey Carrodus.
“Bailey was one the most intelligent, determined, self-assured, stubborn and obstinate people I have ever met. He was eccentric, quirky, razor-sharp, persuasive and rather affected. He was however impossible to dislike.” Jeremy Oliver.
“I met Carrodus a few times before he died, and he often lived up to his reputation as a private man who found fools insufferable – seeming to view wine journalism as a special kind of foolishness.” Max Allen.
“Charming and highly idiosyncratic,” James Halliday.
Despite the accolades, don’t forget just how different the wines of Yarra Yering were to the prevailing powerhouse styles of the 80s and 90s. The fruit came from Victorian, cool climate, low yielding vineyards, with no irrigation, all of which were unknown back then. And while the wines had concentrated fruit, they were a relatively lighter style with firm acidity, as well as a certain savoury element. They also showed exceptional longevity. This leaner, more European style is all the rage now, but back then it was a world away from benchmark top quality Australian reds. But Carrodus stuck to his vision and it’s only now that we truly appreciate just how ahead of his time he was.
Bailey Carrodus died in September 2008, aged 78, a loss mourned not only locally. Several hefty international publications including Decanter Magazine (UK), The Times (UK), Jancis Robinson (UK) and Wine Spectator (US) published articles acknowledging his immense contribution. And one of the residential colleges at The Queen’s College, Oxford, carries the name “Carrodus Quad” in his honour.
Yarra Yering vineyards.
In 2009 Yarra Yering was sold to a small partnership headed up by investment banker and wine industry heavyweight Edouard (Ed) Peter. As James Halliday noted: “It was Bailey Carrodus's clear wish and expectation that any purchaser would continue to manage the vineyard and winery, and hence the wine style, in much the same way as he had done for the previous 40 years. Its acquisition in June '09 by a small group of investment bankers has fulfilled that wish.”
Despite the pressure such a legacy must bring to bear, Sarah Crowe has proved herself more than equal to the task. James Halliday described the 2015 vintage in the Yarra as “a close to ideal year” and Sarah has made the most of conditions, producing what are universally regarded as some of Yarra Yering’s best wines ever, with reviews to match.
Grab a few bottles of each - you'll be glad you did in years to come.
Yarra Yering Dry Red No.1 2015
The 2015 Dry Red No.1 is made up of 67% Cabernet, 16% Merlot, 13% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot. Dry Red No.1 is rated ‘Excellent' in Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine.
The 2015 is a glorious wine best described by the winemaker.
“Stylish, lifted nose settling into itself after a few years in bottle. A medium-bodied “classic” Bordeaux style featuring a fleshy, fruit-layered palate integrated with earthy complexity. In true Yarra Yering tradition, it combines power with poise, concentration with finesse. This is a wine for the long haul that will reward patience with abundance. Aroma: Stylish, lifted nose settling into itself after a few years in bottle. Shows signature blackberry, aniseed, sarsaparilla, marzipan and cassis with hints of bergamot and sage. Palate: A medium-bodied 'classic' Bordeaux style featuring a fleshy, fruit-layered palate integrated with earthy complexity. Juicy acidity, characteristic of this vineyard, underlays soft expansive fruit and fine dusty tannins. In true Yarra Yering tradition, it combines power with poise, concentration with finesse.” Winemaker’s notes.
“This is a superlative, tightly furled Bordeaux blend of pedigree, age-worthiness and a sapid quiver of blackcurrant to herbal notes: crushed, dried and strewn about the palate, all tightly guarded by gravelly tannins and juicy natural acidity. The oak handling, too, smacks of expertise: a fine-grained and well trained hedge, embellishing the savoury air of the style rather than overwhelming it…. an imperious, beautiful wine with a long, long life ahead.” 99 Points & Special Value Star, James Halliday. As well as James Halliday’s Top 100 for 2017.
Sarah reckons it will cellar 25+ years under the right conditions.
I can offer it for $99 a bottle (limited). 2013 vintage now available $110 - click here
Yarra Yering Dry Red No.2 2015
A Rhône inspired Shiraz blend made up of 95% Shiraz, 2.5% Viognier, 2% Mataro, 0.5% Marsanne. Another wonderful wine.
“Fragrance and headiness, this wine exudes intense perfume, mixed berry fruits, floral notes and spice. The addition of Mataro and co-fermentation with white grapes Viognier and Marsanne, intensify the Shiraz character while providing complexity, richness and generosity. Aroma: Intense perfume, mixed berry fruits, floral notes and spice.
Palate: Primary fruit leads onto savoury graphite and white pepper, underpinned by stalkiness and concentrated meatiness. Winemaker’s notes.
“… this medium-bodied, graceful expression… A bright vermilion robe invites one into a kaleidoscope of violet, baking spice, black cherry and blue fruits of every description. Anise, iodine and vanillin oak sashay effortlessly with diaphanous grape tannins and a flow of natural acidity.” James Halliday, 96 Points.
Sarah reckons it will cellar for 20+ years under the right conditions.
I can offer it for $99 a bottle (limited). Click here to order
I should mention that I also have a few bottles left of this delicious wine.
Yarra Yering Dry Red No.1 2012
“Excellent hue and depth; this is a top-flight No.1, fully reflecting the excellent vintage; the flavours are bold and luscious, yet the wine never threatens to lose its shape; first there is the multi-variety complexity, second the perfectly balanced ripe tannins. It almost seems superfluous to mention the new French oak, but it too helps weld the wine into its utterly coherent whole.” 97 points, James Halliday.
“Deepish red colour with a slight tinge of purple. The bouquet is complex and stylish, with smoky charcuterie fruit-oak interactions. It's intense and refined in the mouth, elegantly weighted and beautifully proportioned, with a long and lingering, perfectly balanced palate. The tannins are silky soft. A gorgeous wine”. 95 points, Huon Hooke (a high score for him).
“Possesses a deep garnet color and is beautifully scented of red and blackcurrants, black cherries and red plum with underlying cedar, violet, menthol and dried herb hints. Medium-bodied, it gives outstanding intensity supported by firm grainy tannins and oodles of freshness, all leading to a very long, earth-and-herb-laced finish.” 94+ points, The Wine Advocate #217.
I can offer it for $99 a bottle (limited). Click here to order
Sarah is also winemaker for the adjoining Warramate winery and for those of you who remember just how good the humble Warramate Black Label Cabernet is, I also have some of the recently released 2015 vintage. Such a well made, delicious and incredible value wine.
Warramate Black Label Cabernet 2015
Rumour has it that Dr Carrodus asked to buy Warramate and when turned down, planted the Yarra Yering vineyard right next door. The same group that purchased Yarra Yering also purchased the adjoining Warramate winery in 2011 - the result being that both estates’ wines are now made in the Yarra Yering winery by Sarah, using the same artisanal techniques and equipment.
Halliday rates Warramate 5 stars saying it’s “long established and perfectly situated” (he would say that - the winery he established is next door!) and “all the wines are well made.”
“Aroma & Bouquet: Intense varietal nose in the bounds of youthful exuberance. Shows signature blackcurrant & sarsaparilla notes well supported by integrated leafy characters, synonymous with the variety. Palate: A medium-bodied “classic” claret style featuring a succulent, fruit-layered palate, integrated with earthy complexity & fine dusty tannins. Juicy acidity underscores well-weighted voluminous fruit and a deep, long finish, combining generosity and concentration, with finesse rarely found at this price point.” Winemaker’s notes.
“Unique flavours of rosemary-infused blackberries, pine needles and bracken work on a finely tuned, medium-bodied palate. Plenty of that here with lacy tannins, neat acidity and cooling freshness.” 95 points, James Halliday. Unsurprisingly, this also gets a Special Value Rating - Jane Faulkner.
This is an underrated gem - you can't go wrong with it.
I can offer it for $26 a bottle. Click here for new vintage
Click here to go to our Yarra Yering food matches.