Mick Cann was a bank manager for twenty-eight years. “I got disillusioned,” he says “when banks changed their focus from service to sales. I didn’t agree with their philosophy.
“A bloke I’d known for a long time, a mad mate of mine, David Anderson, had a property at Heathcote. A group of friends planted some grape vines one year but they all died. The following year David said, ‘I’m going to do this on a larger scale and plant five acres ’. That was the birth of Wild Duck Creek Estate. We learned a bit more about how to plant them and prune them. It was a good reason to get out of the city on weekends.”
Mick needed something to distract him from his dissatisfaction with banking, so he helped David plant the vines, and they grew really well. “As we were going to have some fruit the following year David decided he would buy some fruit and make wine. He purchased some shiraz from the late Gordon Leckie of She-Oak Hill, we crushed it at Huntleigh, and then it went into the fermenter. David was still working and doing a bit of travelling, so the fermenter went on the back of his truck and, everywhere he went, the fermenter went. At one time it ended up in my driveway at Greensborough while David was away. But the wine was good. I drank the last magnum a year or so ago and it was still very nice.
“We learned by doing. We learned about sugar levels, yeasts, ferments, pH control, cleaning barrels and scrubbing out vats. We got a lot of advice from John Ellis who was always willing to share his knowledge. We had many a lesson over a whiteboard at Hanging Rock Winery. I’d take my annual leave from the bank at harvest time to help David at Wild Duck Creek Estate.
“We learned a lot from John Ellis and others about balance in wine and that eighty percent of wine quality depends on what happens in the vineyard. You can’t make good wine from inferior grapes. The skill of the winemaker in handling good fruit is what makes top quality wine. You can try and get some complexity into the wine, how you press it, what oak you put it into. I am a bit partial to Russian oak for shiraz. There are ways you can produce something different but a key factor is to ensure balance in the wine.
“In 1994, an opportunity came up to buy a block of land on the east face of Mount Camel. So I spat the dummy, left the bank, and bought my vineyard block. I spent four days a week working part time in Melbourne and three days building the vineyard, living in a tent or staying with David and Diane at Wild Duck Creek.
“The biggest challenge I had was managing all the physical work in setting up the vineyard as I did it all. Site selection is critical, as is the soil, and it’s smart to seek an area with a reputation for quality wine. Not everyone agrees, but I like an eastern facing site so it gets the cool morning sun and avoids some of the hot afternoon sun. It’s sun that ripens grapes, not heat. The block I chose had everything: the right side of the hill;0 deep cambrian soil; and an easterly aspect. The vineyard is a traditional north south orientation.
“It would be perfect if I had a magic wand to control the weather so there was no hail, no frost, no heatwaves, no humidity, rain at the right time, and no diseases. We had it all in 2011, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but it’s the same for all rural industries. It’s too early to say how my 2011 vintage will be, maybe another three more months before we know. So far, the fruit character seems pretty good. I was very careful with the picking. I have high hopes that it will be a good year. But you can never really rest until it’s in the bottle, anything can happen, there’s constant monitoring.”
Mick has had a few challenges along the way. “I got a new hip in 2005 and an infection followed. I had five lots of surgery before it got sorted out, eight months off my feet. I had no vintage that year, I couldn’t even prune. But you learn to roll with the punches. I am my own boss, it’s a relaxed and easy going lifestyle in a good year, a bit more stressful in a bad year. I’ve got no regrets, it’s always better than the bunfight in the city.”
Mick sees a great future for the Heathcote wine region. “The reputation the region has achieved in a short time is astounding,” he says. “We are now recognised Australia wide for our shiraz quality. But that’s not all there is to the Heathcote story. Cabernet, merlot and petit verdot do really well here, and some people are experimenting with Italian varieties such as nebbiolo, but the jury is still out on some of the newer varieties.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about alcohol levels in wine. For the Heathcote region, shiraz at fifteen percent alcohol is normal. The fruit doesn’t ripen til it’s around fourteen and a half to fifteen percent. If you pick too early then you lose the flavours. Good fruit flavour needs ripe fruit. If we picked at twelve percent then there’d be no flavour, acid would dominate because the fruit is not ripe.”
Marketing their wine is a challenge for many winemakers. Mick has no problems. He is a small producer with a big reputation, consistently achieving a high rating from James Halliday. “I aim for my wines to be in the upper middle bracket of quality at middle bracket prices,” he says.
The most enjoyable part of being a wine producer ? “It’s all about the customer,” he says. “It’s most enjoyable when you see the customer reaction to your wine. When you serve up what you think is a good wine and the customer also thinks it’s a good wine, that’s very satisfying. I have an agent in Melbourne who puts my wine into some restaurants and clubs. The Melbourne Club is a regular customer, as is the Press Club and a few good restaurants.
“I love the face-to-face contact with customers at the annual October Heathcote Wine and Food Festival. I don’t have a regular cellar door, but if I’ve got some wine available I am happy to make appointments for people to come out and meet the maker. I only make about four hundred cases a year. There’s hardly any at retail outlets, and there will never be any at the discount liquor barns that seem to be expanding.”
$32.40 in any dozen
$36.00 per bottle
Out of stock
Most of the grapes from Mick Cann's property are destined for neighbouring Wild Duck Creek, where they are vinified into Heathcote's most prestigious wines. Like all good vignerons, Mick retains what he believes is the very pick of the crop for his own personal use. Showcasing samples directly from oak barrel, he was overwhelmed by the interest and the decision was made to design a label and to bottle the inaugural St Michaels Vineyard. He has released an extremely limited, small batch Shiraz, with remarkable structure and stately palate.
$21.60 in any dozen
$24.00 per bottle
Out of stock
Matured on old French oak for 6 months to allow integration this wine has been bottled young to allow for the traditional bottle maturation of this style of wine. A crust or deposit may develop with time so decanting is recommended. Enjoy with aged cheeses or the Christmas fruit cake.
513 Pook Road, Toolleen 3551
0427 558 786