The wines of Giant Steps, Yarra Valley and Tasmania, Australia


It’s a new era for Yarra Valley winery Giant Steps. It was recently purchased by Jackson Family Wines, and in 2021 they appointed a new head of winemaking and viticulture, Melanie Chester.

Melanie Chester

The winery was started by Phil Sexton in the late 1990s. He is a serial entrepreneur, and started and sold two breweries (Matilda Bay and Little Creatures  and a winery (Devil’s Lair) in Western Australia, before moving to the Yarra Valley and planting a vineyard in 1997 (first vintage of Giant Steps was 2001).

I visited in 2006, and was impressed. Now, I’m even more impressed.

Melanie arrived in November 2021, so her first vintage was 2022, and it wasn’t a vintage you’d necessarily choose to start with at a new job. ‘It was horrendous in terms of crop,’ she says. ‘Three of the last vintages have been affected by La Niña, with a cold, wet spring and flowering, and bad winds.’ The Yarra was up to 60% down in yield, and Giant Steps was 35% down overall. ‘But with this came more concentration.’ The Chardonnay bunches weighed 55-60 g when they normally weigh 110 g, and the MV6 clone Pinot was as low as 45 g a bunch. This influenced winemaking decisions: ‘for Pinot the stem to juice ratio would be out of whack for whole bunch,’ she says. 2023 was also a difficult vintage. ‘The best vintages are the cooler ones like these,’ says Melanie, ‘but from a farming perspective they were pretty tough.

Melanie began her winemaking career at Treasury, with stints at Great Western and Seppelt. Then she had a long spell at Sutton Grange in Victoria. She’s very sharp, and an astute taster, and it’s going to be exciting to see what she does at Giant Steps. They have a beautifully designed gravity-flow winery in Healsville, and are now building another one. Steve Flamsteed, the previous chief winemaker, is still involved, as is previous owner Phil Sexton. ‘Gravity is a massive part of the quality of the wines,’ says Melanie.

In terms of Chardonnay winemaking, ‘we are not super-reductive,’ she says. ‘We are not driven by reduction: we focus on the fruit.’

The Jackson Family involvement has provided resources, and in the last 12 months they bought the Bastard Hill vineyard which used to be owned by Accolade. It’s a 13 hectare site planted in 1985 for sparkling production. Based in the Upper Yarra on red basaltic soils, it has a 27 degree slope. It was planted by Ray Guerin, a viticultural legend who used to work for Hardy’s. He also planted Applejack, another vineyard that Giant Steps use, but that was his weekend fun vineyard.


Giant Steps Tarraford Chardonnay 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
This is the most northerly and lowest elevation vineyard, and although it should be the warmest because of this, it isn’t. It’s a small vineyard planted to P58 clone and leased from the Long family. Hand picked, whole bunch pressed after cooling, using the a gentle cycle. The pristine juice goes to barrel (all 500 litres, 10% new) with full solids and is handled oxidatively. Wild ferment. Taut and linear with subtle mealy notes. Mineral and finely spiced with layered citrus and white peach fruit. Fine, delicate with lovely freshness and precision. Fine spices on the finish. 94/100

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
This is the home vineyard, planted in 1997, and it’s a 30 hectare site with 12 hectares of Chardonnay. Because of Phil Sexton’s connection to Margaret River he wanted to plant gin gin clone, but Melanie thinks that there’s a lot of Mendoza clone, which is quite similar, as well as some true gin gin. There’s also some of the Bernard clones, too. There are lots of different aspects to this site. This shows lovely texture and intensity. Mineral and taut with lemony notes and some subtle ginger and pear. Nice saltiness here and a touch of structure. Lovely detail and precision. 95/100

Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Chardonnay 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
This is in the upper Yarra, which is more sparsely planted, and is a sloping vineyard. Planted with a sparkling clone. Giant Steps are working on the canopy structure here trying to shelter the fruit, because they don’t like sunny skins on Chardonnay. It’s a 13 hectare vineyard with 2 hectares of Chardonnay. Restrained on the nose with hazelnut and almond, as well as some apple skin, some mealy hints, and delicate lemon. Linear and focused on the palate with good fruit, nice freshness and a sort of tension. 95/100

Giant Steps Primavera Pinot Noir 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
This is from 300 m, in the upper Yarra. Primavera is red volcanic basalt, quite a rare soil type in the Yarra, found in seams. 60 million years old, this is fertile and well draining soil, which gives the vines an easier life. One block is MV6 and the other is 115 and G8. Supple, elegant and fine with fine red cherry and redcurrant fruit. Fine, pure and delicate with lovely purity and finesse. Notes of pomegranate and cranberry. Has a sense of delicacy. 94/100

Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
From an 800 m vineyard with grey soils. Clones Abel, MV6, Pommard, 114, 115. There’s a lovely purity of fruit here: raspberry and strawberry with nice spicy notes. There’s a richness and silkiness but also some nice tannin. Lovely fruit presence with really fine structure, as well as hints of beetroot and plum, and fine pepper notes. Stays elegant but has ageing potential. 95/100

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
This comes from the best part of the vineyard, the middle belt, planted with G5V12, MV6 and Pommard clones. Highly aromatic, with ginger, spice and iodine, as well as spice and red fruits. The palate is supple and fine with lovely texture and silkiness, but also some grunt and spice, with a little red jelly and some saltiness, as well as sage and lavender notes. 94/100

Coal River Valley, Tasmania

Giant Steps Fatal Shore Pinot Noir 2022 Coal River Valley, Tasmania, Australia
‘There is so much diversity within Tasmania,’ says Melanie. Coal River is down south near Hobart, in a rain shadow from the west coast. It’s a dry, cold landscape. Three tributary valleys flow down into one central valley, and the best sites are on the east faces of these slopes, away from the frosty floors. They have been buying grapes from the Nocton vineyard since 2016. Supple, fine, elegant and pure with delicate red cherry and wild strawberry fruit. Such purity, balance and elegance with concentration but also finesse. Exotic but also elegant. 97/100

Older notes:

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 Yarra Valley, Australia
13% alcohol. This is all about restrained richness. It’s a Chardonnay with some richer elements: some meal, toast and spice, together with pear, peach and pineapple, but also some finesse and some lean citrus and green apple notes. Shows purity and concentration, with a bit of crystalline citrus fruit. There’s a lot of latent potential here: while currently it’s a bit constrained and turned in on itself, with a primary sort of character, I think it could develop really well. 93/100