Mornington Peninsula: Eldridge Estate’s David Lloyd talks vintage & sub-regional variation, plus a mini vertical
At the end of last month I caught up, at last, with David and Wendy Lloyd of Eldridge Estate, Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula (pictured).
I’ve exchanged emails and tweets with Eldridge Estate’s David Lloyd and sampled the beguiling Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Gamays he and his wife Wendy (pictured) make in Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, over here and there when they were in Turkey. So it was good to meet them at last when they visited London a few weeks ago.
Falling for Pinot
Known as the playground of Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula is just 90 minutes drive south of Victoria’s capital and I’d always assumed that the couple were Melbournites who’d been lured into the wine game. Not so. I learned that David, a scientist, started consulting on wine in the 70s in Coonawarra before succumbing to the ample charms of Pinot Noir.
By the time the couple had saved up enough cash to buy Eldridge Estate in 1995, Lloyd had consulted for a dozen or so Mornington Peninsula producers, which provided him with a great insight into where the fruit ripened every year.
Perversely, when it came down to it, he ended up buying land in an area which he’d previously identified as “no go,” because of its ripening problems. So what changed? Lloyd explained that the ripening problems stemmed from the fact producers used to be in a race for the fruit with Hitchcock-like clouds of birds, which meant grapes were being picked too early. However, by the time he bought Eldridge Estate, the advent of bird nets had allowed producers to let the fruit hang for longer and fully ripen. As a result, Lloyd says you didn’t get peppery (unripe) fruit any more, plus the wines were more elegant.
The wind chill factor
As to his wines’ elegance, Lloyd and 15 other growers have been carrying out some research these last five years. Cheerfully admitting “I’ve been making wine for 30 years and it gets obsessive,” the former scientist’s presentation was very focused and informative. His aim? To demonstrate how the complicated interplay of Ocean (Bass Strait), Westernport Bay and Port Philip Bay breezes is even more influential than elevation when it comes to sub-regional differences.
Reporting the findings of the project he explained that, though it had long been understood that vines in the hinterland (“Uphill”) ripened at different times than“Downhill,” producing lighter coloured Pinot Noirs and higher acid Chardonnays, this was “a gross oversimplification.”
In fact the interaction of the three breezes results in temperature variation even at the same altitude. By way of example, Lloyd referred to Ten Minutes by Tractor’s Wallis vineyard at 120m and Moorooduc’s vineyard at 100m where, over a fifteen year period, harvest dates have averaged 19 days apart. For Lloyd, the crucial difference between the vineyards is not the slightly higher elevation of the Wallis vineyard, but its exposure to cool Bass Strait winds that only hit one side of the Peninsula, not the other (where Moorooduc is based). Summing up, Lloyd says of the Peninsula’s wind chill factor, it means “we’ve got a spot for Gevrey and a spot for Chambolle.”
A mini vertical
Having explode the Uphill/Downhill myth, our tasting of three vintages of the Chardonnay then Pinot Noir dealt a blow to any malingerers who might harbour doubts about vintage variation in Australia (yes, I still encounter some at tastings…).
Lloyd says the 2007 vintage started cool but ended warm, resulting in structured wines, whereas the 2008 vintage, the inverse, produced powerfully fruity wines. As for 2009, he reckons it was the perfect mix and, I must say, much as I enjoyed the 2007s & 2008s, the 2009s really stood out for their finesse and balance. Below are my notes.
And while we’re talking vintages, first here’s Lloyd’s take on 2011 which, he says,“provided nature with an opportunity to see what they could throw at us…lots of rain and humid weather.” For him a cool year has resulted in relatively approachable, aromatic Pinots and some really special, ageworthy Chardonnays. My apologies and to David and you for the circular saw “accompaniment” – more penetrating than it seemed at the time…
Eldridge Estate Chardonnay 2009 – pale yellow with a delicate nose and palate of vanilla poached pears and melon with hints of sweet, juicy mandarin and a lick of cinnamon. Very fine, long and lingering with a lovely freshness to its silky fruit. A beautiful wine.
Eldridge Estate Chardonnay 2008 – a touch deeper in hue with richer, riper, weightier white peach fruit, layered with white chocolate, nougat and spicy oak. Having undergone a full (natural) malo, it’s subtly creamy/buttery rather than silky in texture (Lloyd reckons using solids puts the emphasis on (smooth) texture rather than buttery flavour). A real powerhouse.
Eldridge Estate Chardonnay 2007 – a deeper colour again with ripe herbal angelica notes, marzipan and cedar oak on the nose. It’s a little too evolved for my taste, with a very savoury, nutty palate, though there’s (wind chilled) Peninsula freshness to the finish.
Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir 2007 – despite its floral, violet nose the 2007 Pinot is quite sumptuous in the mouth with good depth and layer. It has a delicious gamey edge to its bright core of red cherry fruit, hints of liquorice/coltsfoot too. Svelte supporting tannins make for a gently ruffled texture and carry a long finish with an undertow of minerals.
Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir 2008 – this is the palest wine of the three. Lloyds says because it was cooler towards the end of the vintage, extraction was very gentle. It’s a vivid Pinot packed with juicy small red berry, cherry and currant fruit, some fleshier plum too, with some coltsfoot in the background. Very fine, silky, elegant and persistent from start through long finish. In a word, fruity!
Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir 2009 – a deep hue with sweet scented glace cherry and red and black berry and cherry to the nose. In the mouth raspberry comes to the fore with its juicy fruit and attractive edge of slightly woody seed, though the tannins are silky. Mineral-sluiced, floral and bright-fruited, the finish is long, animated and elegant. A really sensual Pinot, brimming with youthful promise.