By Sarah Ahmed for Decanter Magazine, Sept 15, 2020
This family estate in Australia’s cool-climate Mornington Peninsula was one of the first to realise the region’s potential for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Sarah Ahmed discovers their love of flirting with ‘dangerous’ techniques and recommends 11 recent releases…
Australia is known for flying winemakers and flying doctors. It also has a distinguished tradition of high-flying winemaker doctors: from early settlers Dr Christopher Penfold and Dr Henry Lindeman whose names live on in famous wine estates, to Margaret River’s modern pioneers, Drs Cullity (Vasse Felix), Cullen (Cullen) Pannell (Moss Wood) and others.
And Dr Richard McIntyre of Moorooduc Estate, who planted one of Mornington Peninsula’s earliest vineyards in 1983 and is today known for being at the forefront of cool-climate viticulture.
Scroll down to see Sarah Ahmed’s tasting notes and scores for Moorooduc Estate’s latest releases
Pragmatism brought McIntyre to Victoria’s southernmost maritime region. Being within an hour’s drive of Melbourne allowed the avid collector of Australian wine to pursue (and self-finance) a desire to make wine, while still practising surgery.
But there was a certain serendipity too, which started a decade earlier.
During a four-year stint as a registrar in Oxford in the 1970s, while studying for a PhD in Medical Sciences, McIntyre discovered Old World wine, particularly Burgundy. The young doctor fell in love with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
By 1980, when McIntyre returned to Australia, it was still early days for home-grown Chardonnay; Pinot Noir was embryonic. Undeterred, in 1983 McIntyre planted both grapes from the outset (albeit only two rows of Pinot Noir). Fast forward to today and both varieties have become synonymous with Moorooduc Estate and Mornington Peninsula as a whole.
Putting down roots
McIntyre believes his scientific background has served Moorooduc Estate well, over and above an understanding of wine chemistry. It encouraged him to ‘ask questions, try to find answers – especially by trial and observation – share knowledge and collaborate with others, even if they were competitors’.
And he was in good company. Civil engineer and oenology graduate Nat White had planted Main Ridge Estate in 1976, making his first wines in 1980, while nurseryman Garry Crittenden (Crittenden Estate) had acquired a vineyard in the same year. They became McIntyre’s mentors.
Crittenden’s belief in the potential of northern Mornington encouraged McIntyre to put down roots in the Moorooduc district in 1982. Based on incorrect weather data (which suggested the climate was too warm for Pinot Noir), both planted Cabernet Sauvignon, as had White. However, even though the peninsula itself is regarded as marginal, the warmer, drier north and Moorooduc Estate’s northwest-facing aspect made sense for late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon.
McIntyre’s eldest daughter Kate recalls fond childhood memories of accompanying her father to the vineyard every Saturday after his hospital rounds, listening to The Goon Show on the car radio. Other than an annual ski trip the family spent holidays at the vineyard, with McIntyre taking a month off surgery at harvest. But the Moorooduc property tugged at the heartstrings of the now 36-year-old McIntyre and in 2000 he, wife Jill and their young family left Melbourne to relocate to Mornington permanently.
Nat White made the McIntyres’ first vintage in 1986 – a single barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon. McIntyre began making the wines with his mentor’s help once a winery was completed in 1987. Describing White’s training as ‘super safe’ (the Australian tradition), the pair began to deviate from the script.
Adopting what McIntyre calls ‘dangerous’ techniques, they started extending macerations, naturally fermenting and leaving wines unsulphured over the winter to undergo spontaneous malolactic fermentations.
Daughter Kate – who became a Master of Wine in 2010 – recalls the reaction of James Halliday to wild ferments. ‘Isn’t it terribly risky?’ Australia’s foremost wine critic asked her. This was around the millennium; only in the past decade have wild ferments become commonplace for Australia’s top Chardonnays. (Perhaps the sourdough bread McIntyre bakes for the cellar door every Saturday got him ahead of the curve?)
Kate McIntyre MW at the fermenters
Dangerous deviations and innovative experimentations had successfully enhanced the wines of Moorooduc Estate, and others followed their lead. With savoury nuance, texture and layers to balance the region’s intense fruit and high natural acidity, the world-class potential of Mornington Peninsula’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir was becoming evident.
Encouraged to focus on these varieties by Kate (now working in the family business), McIntyre not only planted the rest of the vineyard with them but, in 2006, head-grafted the Cabernet Sauvignon over to Pinot Noir too. These plantings enabled McIntyre to explore the broader selection of Burgundian clones as well as New Zealand’s Abel clone which had become available, allowing him to build more layers and texture in the wines.
Another way was to explore different sites. Having increased the capacity of the winery tenfold in 2001, McIntyre began sourcing fruit from other vineyards. In addition, he made small-batch wines for clients, notably Ten Minutes by Tractor (from 1999 to 2016).
Vineyards and wines
Mornington Peninsula’s diverse terroir includes lower sites on the north’s sedimentary soils and cooler, higher sites on southern volcanic soils, which typically ripen two to three weeks later. The impact of cooling airflows differs, depending on the undulating topography and exposure to Port Phillip Bay to the west, Bass Strait to the south or Western Port Bay to the east.
It was gratifying, says McIntyre, to discover that working with multiple vineyards of similar age, similarly managed and planted to the same clone ‘confirmed the importance of terroir in the production of high-quality wine in our part of the world’.
In 2010, he restructured the range, introducing top-tier, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the McIntyre, Robinson and Garden (Pinot Noir only) vineyards.
The Estate range has become a vineyard blend: principally McIntyre for the Chardonnay plus some Robinson, while the Estate Pinot Noir is typically equal parts McIntyre, Robinson and Garden vineyards. In the past, declassified fruit went into second label, Devil Bend Creek. But for about 10 years it was mainly sourced from the Osborn family’s vineyard, for whom McIntyre had made wine. Moorooduc Estate also makes small amounts of Shiraz and Pinot Gris.
The ‘Heath Robinson Tower of Power’
Discussing the estate’s evolution with McIntyre during a visit in 2010, I learned about his pride and joy – a gravity-fed ‘Heath Robinson Tower of Power’ rigged up to protect his hand-picked Pinot Noir. I also learned about the errors. He admitted searching for more length and intensity than was appropriate in young vines, then picking too ripe and using too much (up to 50%) new oak. Today he picks earlier – also because the climate is warmer – and uses less new oak: the 2016s have 25%; the 2018s, 20%. It integrates exceptionally well in the single-vineyard wines.
Balance and tannins
Despite the earlier picking, Moorooduc’s Chardonnays don’t compare with Australia’s new-wave lean and mineral examples, which are harvested earlier still, and often made without malolactic fermentation or bâtonnage. McIntyre’s Chardonnays – and Pinots – are weightier, with flavoursome, supple fruit and savoury, textural layers. They also have beautiful balance: the Chardonnays with firm acidity and surprisingly low alcohol; the Pinot Noirs with ample savoury tannins.
‘We love tannin,’ enthuses Kate, who has been the estate’s marketing manager since 2004 but also gets involved in winemaking. ‘As vine age increases, we see more tannin structure – to an unusual degree for New World Pinot Noir.’
The stately tannins are an authoritative but unshowy presence in all the Pinots – destemmed, apart from the Garden Vineyard cuvée. It is the only wine to undergo 100% whole-bunch fermentation because it is the only Pinot from a mono-clonal vineyard. The MV6 clone can produce quite foursquare wines, so whole-bunch fermentation brings ‘stemmy’ complexity, with a spiralling, dynamic tannin structure. It’s proof that McIntyre is still happy to flirt with ‘dangerous’ techniques. As is Kate, who describes Moorooduc’s Pinot Gris on Skins as ‘my baby’.
Since first falling in love with the wines of Burgundy more than 40 years ago, Richard McInryre’s intellectual curiosity, force of logic and touch of the maverick has tested and trounced the theory ‘that one was wasting one’s time planting Pinot Noir outside the Côte d’Or; that Pinot Noir ‘did not travel”.
Lovers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Burgundy and beyond will find much to admire in Moorooduc Estate’s wines.
Moorooduc Estate: a timeline
1982 Richard and Jill McIntyre buy property in Moorooduc (McIntyre vineyard)
1983 First vines planted: red Bordeaux varieties, Chardonnay and two rows of Pinot Noir
1986 First production: one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon
1987 20-tonne winery completed; more Pinot Noir planted.
1990 First commercial release of Pinot Noir
1994-2006 Rest of McIntyre vineyard planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz; in 2006 Bordeaux varieties grafted over to new Pinot Noir clones
1996 Wild yeast trials begin, following Burgundy trip the previous year
2000 Family moves full-time to Moorooduc from Melbourne, following completion of a family home (and restaurant/B&B accommodation, managed by Jill until 2010)
2001 New 200-tonne winery completed
2010 Single-Vineyard range introduced; source of Estate range broadens beyond McIntyre vineyard
Moorooduc Estate: the facts
Owners Richard and Jill McIntyre
Location Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Annual production 6,000 cases
Vineyard sources McIntyre estate vineyard (5ha) and leased vineyards: Robinson (6ha), Garden (2ha), Osborn (3ha) and Dunns Creek (3ha)
Soils Volcanic (Dunns Creek); all others sandy loam/clay
Portfolio Estate range: Pinot Gris, Pinot Gris on Skins, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Single-Vineyard range The Moorooduc McIntyre Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; McIntyre Shiraz; Robinson Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; Garden Pinot Noir
See Sarah Ahmed’s tasting notes and scores Moorooduc Estate’s latest releases
+ Add to My Wines
From the McIntyre vineyard’s oldest Chardonnay vines, this has a tightly drawn nose that hints at the structure and concentration to follow. In the mouth there is stony minerality alongside a firm, very persistent backbone of lemony acidity and an (attractive) phenolic, savoury chew impress. Opening up, it reveals ripe…
+ Add to My Wines
Similar vinification to The Moorooduc McIntyre (spending 10 months in French oak, 25% new) and predominantly sourced from the McIntyre Vineyard (with Robinson Vineyard fruit), but this is more upfront and generous. Intense, with flavours of smoky, perfumed oak, ripe white peach, lemon and fresh fig alongside complexing earthy, salty,…
A rich, expressive nose, with earthy, freshly dug Jersey Royals, fresh fig and white peach. These follow through on the palate textured by well-integrated savoury oak and lees influences. Reflecting a longer ripening period than in 2016, this has tangy, ripe, rolling, lemon acidity which makes for an elegant delivery…