The peregrine falcon is the fastest member of the animal kingdom, recorded at speeds over three hundred kilometres per hour in its hunting dive. Its preferred diet is mid-size birds, but it also takes rabbits, other small mammals and small reptiles. It mates for life and returns to the same nesting spot each year. Nests have been found on tall man-made structures as well as on cliff tops and in the hollows of tall trees.
When Graeme Quigley and Sue Kerrison spotted a pair of peregrine falcons nesting on their newly acquired block of land, on the east side of Mt Camel just past Chinaman’s Bend, they decided to name their vineyard Peregrine Ridge. Many vineyards have a vineyard dog that keeps the birds away from their ripening grapes, but Graeme and Sue have the peregrine falcons to protect their crop. They have no need to net the vines to protect their fruit. “The only problem,” says Graeme, “is that the birds are so interesting to watch, especially when their young are learning to fly, that they distract us from work such as pruning.”
Graeme and Sue grew up in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Both their families had a keen interest in food and wine. “My Mum and Dad had frequent fancy dinners, they had a passion for food and wine, and I learned about matching food and wine from them,” says Sue.
Graeme thinks that his Mum and Dad would probably be arrested today for serving alcohol to minors. “We were encouraged to try a little wine or beer with meals. We had little glasses when we were very young, and the glasses got bigger as we did. We grew up knowing that good food and good wine was an important part of life.”
Sue studied business and finance and still works in that field. Graeme is an engineer with a Masters degree in mechanical engineering and a degree in metallurgy. He now manages his own engineering consultancy. “Much of our work is design work, anything from printed circuit boards to large bulk carrier ships,” he says.
Their busy lives led to a poor work-life balance. Sue’s family was used to leaving the city behind on weekends and she thought that having somewhere to escape to would help achieve more relaxation. “I didn’t care where, I was used to going to my nan’s place in the bush,” she says, “but I’d have been happy with a beach place, anywhere to get out of the city.”
But Graeme is not a sedentary person and the beach did not appeal to him. Making wine appealed to him and, in the mid-80s, he thought about the Yarra Valley. He had a chat with David Fieffe of Yarra Burn and the advice he got was to think about it very carefully. “It’s a good way to waste a lot of money,” he was told.
So he thought about it for fifteen years. In 1998 they were still working hard. Graeme was travelling to India a lot. Finding somewhere they could eventually grow grapes started to excite them again. “We had a list of must-haves,” says Sue. “It had to be within an hour and a half of Melbourne, it needed to have a pleasing aesthetic, in an area with a good reputation for quality red wine. We started looking around Sunbury and Macedon Ranges, and we did lots of research.
“The area north of Heathcote looked good. One property came up for sale but we were unable to attend that auction.” Just over a month later, Graeme noticed that a property almost identical to one they had just missed out on came on to the market. But Sue had started to lose interest. Rather then suggest they continue looking for a property, Graeme said “I am working too hard, let’s just go for a drive in the country.”
When they arrived in Heathcote, Graeme said, “Oh look! There’s an auction today.” The property was passed in, but they returned the following weekend to make sure and then made a successful offer the following Monday. “It’s one hour and thirty five minutes from Melbourne, we missed out on meeting that criterion by five minutes,” says Sue. The property had been running sheep and the previous owner had experimented with some crops.
They planted six acres of grapes in 2001, added five acres in 2003 and two and a half acres in 2008. The 2008 grapes struggled through the hot 2009 summer, some didn’t make it. But when the weather cooled down the damaged vines reshot, only to be hit by hail in 2010 and humidity and disease in 2011. They started pulling off fruit in January 2011 to protect future vintages. “We’d rather lose a year than compromise quality,” says Sue.
Both Sue and Graeme work full time in Melbourne, and spend weekends and any other spare days working at their vineyard. Graeme’s mum helps with pruning, and to make herself even more useful, she completed a viticulture course at Northern Metropolitan Institute of Technology. Graeme also completed a winemaking diploma. “But you really learn about wine by making it,” he says, “taste and gut feel are needed as well as the underlying science.”
One experiment they have done is comparing the results of maturing their wine in different oaks. Sue likes American oak, Graeme likes French oak. “Once the wine has gone into one oak you can’t change your mind,” says Sue. “Your preference depends on your palate and your drinking experience. It’s very subjective! Our customers can sample the same wine after it has been in each of these oaks and taste the difference that the oaks make. We developed our passions based on what we are familiar with, but it’s always worth trying something different, broadening our knowledge and experience of wine.”
Their biggest challenge is finding enough time to do their weekday jobs, tend the vineyard, make the elegant reds they prefer, and also market their wines. “What’s fashionable in wine changes like all fashions,” says Sue. “Many sommeliers want a leaner style of wine, one that is not so fruit driven. But when fruit is picked before it is ripe then the tannins come through in the wine. The result is an astringent wine with under-ripe flavours that is not so drinkable.
“We want to make wine from ripe fruit so we tend to ignore the changing fashion and try to make the very best wine we can. Cambrian soil is helpful when it is deep enough, ours is at least six metres deep in the vineyard areas. If there is heavy clay beneath it then it’s not so good. Vines can suffer in the heat when they don’t have deep enough roots. Building up organic matter helps water retention and plant health.
“We have the best aspect as we get the sun nearly all day, with the beneficial morning sun and not the late afternoon baking sun. This is important because it is sunlight, not heat, which ripens grapes. We take a sustainable approach to the control of parasitic biota, we don’t want to use unnecessary chemicals as they change the soil biology. We do lots of mowing and we use mulch, but not straw mulch as that strips the nitrogen out of the soil. We use composted wood chips as they assimilate into the soil.”
Sue and Graeme plan to open a cellar door in 2012. “We’ve got all the permits and we are looking forward to opening the cellar door every Sunday. We will be doing some revegetation which will help retain the forty plus species of birds that visit and reside with us. The cellar door will be sited near the tree that the peregrine falcons nest in, with a bird hide and a nature walk for people to enjoy our wildlife, as well as our wines, when they come to visit.”
Their wines are slowly finding their way into restaurants and they are winning awards. Trophies and awards help their marketing and they have found that critics’ reviews are important. “It all takes time,” says Sue, “I work on one relationship at a time.”
Are the American-oaked wines or the French-oaked ones winning awards? Given that critics and the general public who vote on People’s Choice awards have different palates and different experiences of wine, it should come as no surprise to find that both have won awards. The American-oaked wines have won more gold medals from judges with the French-oaked wines winning more People’s Choice Awards at wine shows.
“We keep our website up to date and we exhibit at the annual October Heathcote Wine and Food Festival. We have had tastings at Cellar & Store in Heathcote as well as at South Wharf during the Melbourne Wine & Food Show. The challenge is to identify the best place to put your marketing effort,” she says.
Would you recommend winemaking to others? “Yes, if you are passionate and ready for lots of hard work. A lot of money needs to be spent before you see a return. It’s four years before the first harvest, then twelve to twenty four months in the barrel, and twelve more for the wine to settle before it is ready for sale.
“It’s ten years before you start to see any return from your investment, that’s why you need to be passionate about it,” says Graeme.
$18.00 in any dozen
$20.00 per bottle
Out of stock
Inky, deep purple with purple to garnet hue. Rich, sweet spicy plum pudding and brady, with soft cedar and dark chocolate overtones. Intense dark plum fruit, brandy and spicy vanilla bean with hints of cedary oak. This vintage port-style shiraz exhibits a full palate with a long persistent finish
$40.50 in any dozen
$45.00 per bottle
This is a medium bodied wine style that is best served chilled.
2008 was a hot season that followed a warm, dry Spring. Vine growth was good and even throughout the vineyard. Summer was generally warm to hot and relatively dry throughout the ripening season. This produced small, concentrated berries with rich plum fruit flavours. During the mid March heatwave we ceased picking and resumed when cooler conditions prevailed in late March.
2009 was also a hot season that followed a cool, dry spring. Vine growth was moderate throughout the vineyard. Mid January, temperatures soared to 40 degrees and the extreme conditions did not abate until mid March. This resulted in significant vine stress, a modest degree of defoliation and berry shrivel. Ripening was supressed, resulting in a fine, elegant wine style.
Blending fruit from these two vintages has produced a medium weight, elegant sparkling shiraz, with high natural acidity and spicy fruit characteristics.
Winemaker: Graeme Quigley & Sue Kerrison