Nick Farr is a master of the understatement. He was hardly fond of 2014 as a red-wine vintage, yet put together a 98-point Farrside and 97-point Sangreal. The 2013 he dubbed “crowd pleasers” and 2012 was a year of “lazy winemaking” but naturally the wines were outstanding and the accolades flowed as freely as ever. So along comes a vintage tailor-made for top-notch Victorian Pinot. “I’m generally quite reserved about the future of any of our wines,” Nick confesses, “but the potential of 2015 wines is quite obvious.”
Indeed ! So what a pleasure to unveil these at last. From this auspicious harvest we have the Farrside and Sangreal Pinot Noir, the Shiraz, and the inaugural release of the exceptional GC Chardonnay by Farr.
The overall season was quite balanced in temperature and rainfall. After quite low yields of the 2014 vintage, 2015 crops were back to average through the older vineyards and slightly higher for the young ones. After another fairly dry winter the Farrs relied on continuous rain events throughout the growing season. By mid to late January the vines were looking great, and after much canopy maintenance were in perfect balance. A summer storm in early February finished the season off nicely and fulfilled the season’s promise. The sublime texture and structure of these wines is down to the very mild to cool temperatures during February.
The Farrs started picking in the last week of February for a couple of the thirstier soil types, but really got under way from the 3rd of March when Tout Près was harvested. The fruit had fantastic acidity and flavour from even ripening, and the extended cool days and nights late in the piece. It’s a credit to the vines that in balanced, healthy fruit years the fermentation follows suit – nice and easy. The wines, too, have an ease about them, but with all the detail and excitement you could hope for.
Aside from the spectacular GC Chardonnay, the whites here are from 2016, a harvest that yielded extremely fine and mineral-driven wines for the Farrs. Broadly characterised as a warm, fast, early vintage, it’s a far more nuanced picture for the vineyards of Bannockburn. The scene was dominated by fluctuating temperatures and conditions. An unseasonably warm May and June, followed by a very cool and wet July and August, had the Farrs on edge. Budburst was early by two to three weeks and the trend continued through fruit set and vérasion. It was a warm summer but thankfully with no extreme heat. Good rains and thunderstorms arrived chez Farr towards the end of January, which maintained vine health to a much later picking date than initially expected. What they thought would be an abrupt vintage starting on 18th February, didn’t finish until the family picked the last of the Farrside Pinot on 31st March. As in 2015, the weather was highly favourable during the end of February, helping to slowly ripen the fruit and develop more structure and fine tannins. The result is wines that are approachable but with all the elegance of a cool vintage here.
2016 Viognier by Farr RRP $70
The Viognier by Farr is a blend of two vineyards. One is the original house block planted in 1994, which has friable red soil over limestone leading to sandstone—similar soils to the Sangreal Pinot Noir and By Farr Chardonnay. The second vineyard is a younger planting of unknown clones in red ironstone soil. The Viognier is a difficult variety to manage, with the tendency to grow horizontally rather than vertically, being very thirsty and having a tendency to become sunburnt very easily. This prompted Nick’s decision to pick the fruit earlier to retain natural acidity while maintaining varietal character, creating a more delicate and refined drink.
Viognier is foot-stomped and left for two or more hours on its skins, to extract phenolics, flavour and texture. The fruit is then pressed, cooled and put straight into barrel with all solids for a natural fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is encouraged with gentle stirring during the end of autumn. The wine is then racked, fined, filtered and bottled 11 months after harvest.
2016 Three Oaks Chardonnay by Farr RRP $85
The Chardonnay by Farr comes from the same site as the Sangreal Pinot Noir. It’s an exposed, hungry north-facing slope of red soil over limestone, planted in 1994. The Chardonnay vines are a mixture of Dijon clones and P58.
The fruit is picked by hand and whole-bunch pressed. All the solids are collected and chilled before being put to French oak barrels (30% new). A natural fermentation occurs over the next two to three weeks at cool temperatures. After fermentation, a bit of stirring helps start malolactic fermentation, which is usually completed by mid-spring. The wine is then racked, fined and lightly filtered before bottling 11 months after picking.
2015 GC Chardonnay by Farr RRP $115
The most exciting wine from the 2015 vintage is without doubt the new GC Chardonnay by Farr (GC = Gary Charles). With all the knowledge that l have been able to extract from my father (not always easy) we created a high-density planting of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on an exposed côte. These hillsides facing east, north east and north will be the backbone of the Farr destiny for decades to come. They consist of the most suitable clones, rootstocks, trellising and management you’ll find. This is our tribute to what ‘Gazza’ has achieved and provoked over 40 years not only in our region but for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Australia.
The wine has an amazing smoothness and calmness that stretches the length of the palate, surrounded with textured fruit and mineral elements. We have been playing with the fruit from these vineyards for eight years, fine-tuning the style of wine that these sites are producing. This is the vintage that saw it all come together with purity and balance. – Nick Farr
The winery yeast always has a nougat aroma and nothing has changed here. You know it’s ripe but the aroma spectrum is savoury all the same. Good oak, a little fennel too. Cool, river pebble minerality from front to back, follows a nice line of acidity. Some phenolic firmness. Those savoury elements are repeated on the palate with lime and fresh pineapple fruit, as well as some marshmallowy oak. Pushes on to great length; autumnal flavours linger. This is seriously good. – Sam Hooper, CellarHand
2015 Farrside by Farr RRP $86
The Farrside vineyard consists of black volcanic soil over limestone on a northeast-facing slope. The vine rows run east to west to shade the fruit from over exposure. It’s a mixture of 114, 115, 777, 667 and MV6 clones. Although the Farrside and Sangreal vineyards are only 300m apart, the differing conditions means that this vineyard is picked 10 to 12 days later. The darker soils and cooler growing conditions give a more masculine and edgy wine.
The fruit is hand-picked and sorted in the vineyard, then fermented in an open-top fermenter. Between 40 to 50% of the fruit will be destemmed and then cold soaked for four days. Nick uses only the natural yeast for the fermentation process, which takes roughly 12 days. Grape-stomping (known as pigeage) will occur two to three times a day depending on the amount of extraction required, and the wine is then placed in 50 to 60% new Allier barrels by gravity. It is racked by gas after secondary fermentation, then again at 18 months to be bottled.
2015 Sangreal by Farr RRP $86
The Sangreal Vineyard is the oldest planting (1994) on a north-facing slope of red ironstone on the surface going to limestone to bluestone below. The rows run north to south, gaining full sun exposure throughout the day and resulting in prettier, more perfumed wines. It’s always the first vineyard to be harvested.
Sangreal is consistently made with 60 to 70% whole bunch and aged in new oak. It is fermented in a five-tonne oak barrel with an open-top fermenter, and cold soaked for four days before a natural fermentation of seven to nine days. Once the cap falls, the tank is pressed. The wine is racked only once after malolactic fermentation, then sulphured and bottled, the entire process taking a total of 18 months. The wine is unfined and unfiltered in order to retain its natural flavour and bouquet. Sangreal is the most seamless and perfumed of the three single-vineyard Pinots.
2015 Shiraz by Farr RRP $70
Shiraz fruit comes from the original By Farr vineyard, planted in 1994. It lies on a north-facing slope, and the red volcanic soil has a base of limestone with deep-set sandstone.
All fruit is hand-picked from the VSP trellising, with 20% left as whole bunches in the fermentation. Most years we co-ferment between 2 and 4% Viognier with the Shiraz, the date determining whether or not the former is co-fermented and bled back. It is a natural fermentation, with the fruit remaining in the tank for 19 days before pressing. Shiraz sees 18 months in French oak, 20% being new, and is bottled under vacuum.