Ten Minutes by Tractor Pinot Noir: a 10 year vertical & a new look

How do you make a small fortune in wine?  Start out with a big one, so the joke goes.  But it didn’t deter he who should perhaps know better, financier Martin Spedding, from chucking in the day job and following the dream to make cool climate Pinot Noir at Ten Minutes by Tractor (TMBT) in Mornington Peninsula, Victoria.

Here, he says, the pronounced maritime climate “means we get a very consistent and less varied climate with, year to year, less variation than other areas including Burgundy and Oregon.”  He adds within Mornington Peninsula there’s a significant difference between the north and hillier, cooler south and contrasts TMBT’s southerly Main Ridge vineyards with those of winemaker Richard McIntyre of Moorooduc in the north.  At Main Ridge, the higher elevation results in lower temperatures by a factor of around 0.6 degrees centigrade, which translates into a harvest which is 2-4 weeks later.  And within each area, north and south, because the peninsula is “very undulating with lots of valleys,” he says air flows through the valleys significantly affect individual vineyards.

Spedding, who travelled all over New Zealand and Australia looking for best place to grow Pinot Noir before alighting on TMBT, says “the 2001 vintage hooked me.”  He took over in 2003 and though he freely admits “it’s been crazy embarking on this journey and funding the wish list that never gets smaller,” he’s clearly more than happy with his lot.

A growing estate

In fact his lot is extending.  The estate, which was established by three families whose eponymous vineyards (Judd, Wallis, McCutcheon) were 10 minutes by tractor apart (hence the name) is based in Main Ridge in southerly Mornington Peninsula, in a so-called cooler “up the hill” area.  Spedding now augments the fruit of these original three vineyards, taking “down the hill” northern Peninsula fruit from Coolart Road and Northway Downs for the entry level 10 X label. Last but by no means least, the Spedding Vineyard located behind the cellar door in Main Ridge, is the region’s first certified organic vineyard.  It’s used as a test bed to trial techniques.  No bad thing in 2011, a very difficult wet vintage, since it allowed him to trial sprays to combat mildew.

In future, he’s toying with the idea of producing two wines from one of his single vineyards – one from the top of the hill, the other from the bottom.

The wines

TMBT released its first wine in 2000 and, since then has made 35 different Pinot Noirs.  Its three tier range comprises the entry level 10 X (a blend of estate and grower fruit), the estate blend and three single vineyard wines – Judd, Wallis and McCutcheon.

Though a wine was released in 2002, Spedding elected not to show it because, by reason of“atrocious flowering conditions,” grapes were mostly sourced from other vineyards.

Referring to the vintages in which he has had a hand, Spedding says his aim has been “to see the lovely beguiling interplay between fruit and the savoury secondary characters – not just pretty fruit.” And as this characterful vertical which captures the light and shade of each vintage shows, he’s done a good job.  These are subtle, well structured wines which draw you back to the glass – as always, if only there was more time to linger!

Ten Minutes by Tractor Wallis Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000

A classic vintage, good rains, winter/spring – fruit harvested 24 March.  Garnet, with a pale bricky rim. A sweet scented nose shows ripe, sweet strawberry with a hint of savoury brown liquorice and “ripe” barnyard, all of which follow through on the palate in an initially sweet burst, supported by firm but ripe tannins.  It finishes a little attenuated, with the accent on a mushroomy note.  Drink up.

Ten Minutes by Tractor Reserve Pinot Noir 2001

A cool spring/winter, with some rain during the growing season so harvested on 14 April. Garnet with coltsfoot/light aniseed overtones and earthy sous bois.  In the mouth it’s quite earthy, meaty even and firm.  Seemingly drier than the 2000, though there’s a baked plum quality to the finish. Drink up.

Ten Minutes by Tractor Wallis Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003

The first vintage to be bottled under screwcap.  The fruit was picked on 23 April. Cool wet weather during flowering reduced yields.  This together with a very warm dry summer accounts for the 2003’s intensity and structure.  A soily, salty nose leads onto a mineral palate with oyster shell, good levity and freshness supported by firm, graceful tannins. My pick of the first flight of three.

Ten Minutes by Tractor 10 x Pinot Noir 2004

According to Spedding, with 2009, one of the best vintages of the last 15 years – quite dry and, though December was very warm, thereafter the weather was quite moderate and cool.  A large crop of grapes was picked on 22 April (Spedding admits after 2003’s miserable crop, we were too reluctant to take fruit off) and careful selection was key to the success of the wines.  Deep plum with a violet lift and some sous bois, this shows lovely sweet ripe fruit, well balanced by acidity making for a pretty wine with red glace cherry, slightly creamy cassis and earthy beetroot notes to the finish.  For an entry level wine it shows good length and life with its fresh balancing acidity and ripe backbone of fine tannin.  Very good.

Ten Minutes by Tractor Pinot Noir 2005

A solid year with good winter rains and good weather through February to early April when the grapes were picked.  Plum/garnet hue, with coltsfoot hints to its baked plum fruit which become more pronounced –more liquorice – in the mouth.  A big, savoury wine with bony tannins; a little warm.  Good.

Ten Minutes by Tractor Pinot Noir 2006

Quite wet over spring and, though February was cool, this was the first of a run of very early vintages, with fruit harvested 19-20 March.  Plum with a narrow garnet rim and quiet nose and palate – really quite closed, with the emphasis on structure and away from fruit.  Good balance, ripe but textured suede tannins and mineral acidity suggest it’ll be worth the wait.

Ten Minutes by Tractor McCutcheon Pinot Noir 2007

Very cool with some rain in spring resulting in very low yields and very small bunches and berries.  The flavours came early and the fruit was picked early on 20 March.  With its high skin to juice ratio, this deeply coloured wine has an animated nose and palate, with bright sweet floral fruit, red and black, earthy beetroot and that coltsfoot/sweet pine needle note.  Lovely balance here, with supple fruit, smoothly delivered on melting chocolatey tannins.  Well integrated acidity makes for a long, persistent, lacy and lifted finish.  On song – really lovely.

Ten Minutes by Tractor Wallis Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

A great vintage, with fine weather through January to March until 8 March when an unprecedented heat wave over 4-5 days led to sugars skyrocketing and dessication.  The fruit had to be picked within a week-10 days, which proved a logistical nightmare.  Spedding reckons TMBT got off reasonably lightly in a vintage of 2 halves – those affected by heat and those not, because those nearest to being picked were more affected (TMBT had been about a fortnight away from picking).  Picked on 19 March, this Pinot is very pale.  Though poised, precise, finely structured and possessed of an enticing aromatic undertow of savoury dried pine needles, compared with when I tasted it in September in Mornington (see here), it seems quite shy.  Keep.

Ten Minutes by Tractor 10 x Pinot Noir 2009

A cold and wet winter with good fruit set and, though February (during veraison) was hot, Mornington Peninsula ducked the bush fires and the rest of the vintage was fine.  The grapes were picked on 29 March and this wine features fruit from the new northern vineyard for the first time.  Deep and dark in hue and aroma, with subtle herbal notes, the palate is sumptuous, with seductive velvety tannins, supple and succulent plum, black and red cherry fruit and just a hint of baked fruit.  A powerfully fruited, well structured Pinot.  Very good.

Ten Minutes by Tractor 10 x Pinot Noir 2010

A great season, the fruit picked between 4-20 April. A youthful tight still raw nose and palate shows sour cherry and rhubarb, but there’s no shortage of thrust and an echo-ing finish is long, floral and bright-fruited.  Very promising.

The next decade

Spedding reckons that, in the last 5 years, there’s a greater consistency of quality across the peninsula which he attributes to the warmer weather and increased vine age.

It’s also about producers’ increased understanding of their vineyards in this young region, whose first commercial winery was founded in 1975.  Take harvest dates, which have shifted significantly over the last decade.  Spedding explained that, in the early days, it used to be a race between winemakers and the birds as to who would get to the grapes first.  This combined with the cold wet 80s resulted in wines that were green and high in acid.

In the early 90s, producers realised that nets were the answer and, he reckons, because of this and the criticism about wines being too green and high in acid, picking dates went the other way, resulting in the ripe/overripe wines of the late 90s and early 2000s.

However, since then, producers have focused on maintaining natural acidity, picking as early as possible for structure, (though harvest dates have slipped back in the last 2 cooler years – Spedding still has grapes on vines now!)

Going forward, he says the region’s best is yet to come and reckons similar attention to detail will reap further benefits.  So, while, for example, he says everyone gets excited about clones, “you quickly learn there’s no silver bullet, rather it’s about arduously chipping away at lots of little things.”    As they say, patience is its own reward, and I sense Spedding is a patient man.

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