This is a remarkable project from Robert Walters, who for over 15 years has been wine buyer for Bibendum Wine Co. in Australia (no relationship with the UK entity). In the course of his work he’s dealt with many of the top growers in the classic regions, and he’s gleaned a lot of their knowledge. ‘This led me to develop an obsessive interest in the kinds of places and practices that lead to the world’s greatest wines,’ he says. And it spurred him to want to put this knowledge into practice.
After a protracted search for the right sight, he found a property in Bullengarook in the Macedon Ranges. It’s at 500 m altitude on the southern edge of the foothills of Mt Macedon, surrounded by forest. Overall, the property is 33 hectares, but only a small part of this is vineyard. The climate here is certainly cool (it’s not always possible to fully ripen Pinot here), with large diurnal variations, and rainfall of 700-900 mm. The ancient soils are quite rocky and consist of eroded quartz and sandstone with some clay and silt.
Between 2012 and 2018 Walters proceeded to plant what is one of the new world’s most remarkable vineyards, at planting densities ranging from 12 000 to 33 000 vines per hectare. To give you some idea of how unusual this is, typical planting densities in Australia are 1500-3000 vines per hectare, and in Burgundy – which is what we normally think of as high density – the vines are a metre apart with a metre between rows (10 000 plants per hectare).
The vineyard is planted with nine different clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and is organically farmed. Some of the vines are ungrafted. The idea is to have no irrigation once the vines are established. The vines are pruned using the Poussard system that is becoming fashionable in Europe because it respects the sap flow of the vine and is thought to reduce the incidence of trunk disease. ‘Many of our vines are spur only, with no cane,’ says Walter, ‘like a two armed gobelet, and we also now have a section of the vineyard that is bush vine/gobelet proper.’ Tressage is also carried out: weaving the shoot tips with each other to avoid trimming the canopy.
To suppress weed growth the soil is cultivated. ‘There is a lot of confusion around this practice,’ says Walters, referring to the fact that critics of cultivation say that it oxidises humus and is bad for soil microlife. ‘When it is done correctly, minimally and at the right times, we believe careful cultivation to be enormously beneficial to both the soil and the health of the vines.’
The overall method of farming is very costly because most work has to be done by hand. Walters has the equivalent of three full time people in the vineyard, including manager Remi Jacquemain, which is one person per hectare (3.1 hectares are under vine). Often in Australia it would be one person for 50 hectares.
The Place of Changing Winds Between Two Mountains Pinot Noir 2019 Macedon Ranges, Australia
12.5% alcohol. From several parcels of vines with densities between 12 000 and 14 000 vines/hectare. MV6, 777 and 667 clones, 50% whole bunch, aged in 500 and 600 litre Stockinger casks. Minimal SO2, no fining or filtration, 1321 bottles made. This is just beautiful. It has a rich, sleek, smooth texture with some lushness and elegance to the red cherry fruit, yet also amazing freshness and a supple personality. Lying just under the fruit there’s some fine ginger spice character as well as some dried herb character. This is silky and elegant, but there’s some seriousness, too. So fine-boned but there’s structure, too, under all that sleek fruit. So impressive: it’s not their most expensive wine, but it’s still one of Australia’s very best Pinots. 96/100
Place of Changing Winds Clos de la Connerie Pinot Noir 2019 Macedon Ranges, Australia
12.5% alcohol. This is a section of the vineyard that forms a north/northeast facing amphitheatre with a planting density of 12 500 vines/hectare. One-third whole bunch, no fining or filtration, minimal SO2. Taut, complex black cherry fruit nose with some spicy notes shoring up the fruit. The palate is ripe and rich with smooth cherry and plum fruit, great concentration and some silkiness. There’s volume and density on the palate here, with the fruit supported by some fine tannin (it’s actually quite structured) and also subtle earthy, tarry hints. Fine green notes lurk in the background. Lovely depth and elegance to this complex wine, which shows good ripeness without losing balance. Remarkably rich given the relatively low alcohol content. Such an interesting wine, that needs some time to show its best. 95/100
Place of Changing Winds High Density Pinot Noir 2019 Macedon Ranges, Australia
12.5% alcohol. Just 568 bottles are produced. Between 20 000 and 33 000 vines per hectare, with all the work done by hand and low yields of just 100-200 g per vine. Fully destemmed and then aged in one Stockinger and one Dominique Laurent cask. Minimal SO2. This has an amazing floral nose with sweet black cherries and stewed plums, and finely integrated green notes. The palate is fresh and supple with a grainy edge to it, and lovely sleek fruit. It’s fully ripe, but there’s also freshness and structure, with some complex spice and dried herb notes as well as black cherry and plum fruit. This has weight, but it also has softness and polish, and is so silky and refined in the mouth. Shows lovely freshness on the finish, with the structure to suggest that there’s a long future ahead. 96/100
Place of Changing Winds Tradition Pinot Noir Syrah 2019 Macedon Ranges/Heathcote, Australia
12.5% alcohol. Sweet, ripe and enticing on the nose with some jammy blackberries and notes of pepper and dried herbs. The palate is ripe but lively with a smooth black cherry mid-palate book-ended by some liqueur-like richness and some lively, peppery spiciness. There’s some structure here, and a long, expanding finish with some juicy green notes, and a bit of prickly spiciness. So distinctive, and quite compelling. 94/100
Place of Changing Winds Heathcote Syrah Colbinabbin Vineyard 2019 Australia
13% alcohol. This wine is a product of a long running collab with Alain and Maxime Graillot, initially made by Luke Lambert, and is where Rob Walters began his wine producing journey. Today it’s the team at Place of Changing Winds who make the wine. There’s an amazing elegance to the palate, which is soft and smooth, without being jammy. It’s a ripe, luxurious wine showing great promise, with a hint of meat and pepper savouriness alongside the ripe fruit. There’s a sleek ripe side to the wine but also some good definition and focus. Very fine, doing a really difficult job of balancing ripeness and freshness really well. 94/100
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com