GC, RP & Tout Près: The Farr Holy Trinity

It’s a bit like summiting Everest and realising there’s another peak with a better view a tad further on.
Such is the quality of the initial By Farr release, taking in Chardonnay, Sangreal, Farrside et al, that it arrives with feverish anticipation and, often as not, vanishes in a puff of head-spinning smoke.
And, mirroring those same vintages – the white one year ahead of the red – we’re treated to an encore that raises that dizzyingly high bar even higher.
So now we welcome back to centre stage Nick Farr and his tight band of close-planted treasures. A year on from his coronation as Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year – following in his father’s footsteps, 19 years after Gary Farr wore the same crown – Nick remains as unfussed as ever by accolades and just as obsessed with vineyard excellence.
Unfortunately it’s a common theme with the Victorian harvests of 2019 and ’20 that single-origin wine from prized sites is desperately scarce. That’s the case at By Farr, where GC Chardonnay- in its sixth incarnation from 2020 – joins its Côte Vineyard sibling RP from 2019 alongside Tout Près Pinot Noir from the same year.
The real GC and RP – Nick’s parents Gary Charles and Robyn Pamela Farr – were involved in the 2020 harvest in a particularly intimate way, since pandemic restrictions left the family short of outside help. Likewise, the headtorch-lit pre-dawn picking that went on in 2019 brought everyone together in a memorable way.
Through a couple of challenging, low-yielding vintages, the family reflects the phenomenal instincts and resilience of the vines themselves. Sustained – propelled, even – by nature, the Farrs have captured precious nature in these three very special wines.

2020 was a year we thought would never end. Winter rains kickstarted the season, making it possible to achieve ample soil moisture leading into spring. However, we were then dealt a different hand from what we were expecting.  The constantly evolving environment, be it natural, social or economic, set the scene for the great unknown of 2020.
There’s too much for us to reminisce about in a year that saw a world in pain. Somehow our line of work – agriculture – was considered “an essential service”, and with that came a life on the farm that l loved. We also housed five international backpackers that l began to know a little too well…
Spring was harsh, with early season frosts causing a 15% loss across the Côte vineyards. Conditions quickly dried out, with strong, cold strong winds destroying the canopy and leaving shoots all over the ground. Those winds hampered fruit set, and then we had hail across the original house site.
In summer, hot, dry winds swept across the Victorian landscape with unthinkable bushfires across the state. The vineyard was not at the forefront of our minds. Then in the New Year, the wind settled and rain appeared on the horizon. Finally, the vines found relief before a very cool end to summer.
In autumn the vines looked battered yet verdant due to the mid-summer rain. Covid-19 was upon us, which begged the question: Who was going to help pick the fruit? Then the grapes ripened very slowly, making us wonder if we’d reach the desired flavour and sugar. We tentatively started picking on 15th March – but the fruit wasn’t ready.
We resumed harvest on 20th March in the Sangreal vineyard, which showed that there is always great sweet-fruit expression in this site, even in cooler years. As we ventured into other parcels for picking, we realised it was a year for less whole bunch in the ferments than is typical. We found there already to be a lightness and length to the juice, which is what whole-bunch fermentation generally brings to the wines.
We finished picking on 23rd April with some excitement, yet it had been a hard slog. My parents Gary and Robyn picked in a separate vineyard from the five backpackers, who in turn picked separately from our two permanent staff, in order to socially distance. The saving grace was that the fruit ripened extremely slowly, placing time on our side where in regular years we would have had 25 pickers a day helping.
The bottled wines are precise and fine. The reds to be released in 2022 have poise about their structure. The whites are complex and approachable. As light and fresh wines, they are perfectly balanced. All we can ask of our vineyards is that they speak and express their soil, the growing conditions of that particular year, and classic varietal characteristics.
We’re very fortunate to have had the opportunity to harvest our fruit, as there were many that where hugely impacted by fire, smoke or frost. During the coming years these wines will need to be tasted in a quiet corner to reflect how they came about. And there’s so much to reflect on, and all in the same year that the family secured our second ‘Winemaker of the Year’ award. – Nick Farr

There was great resilience shown this year by vineyard and vigneron. The vineyard and earth’s surface had never looked this dry, yet the performance of the vines this vintage was remarkable. We learn so much about our soil and vine health each vintage. To still see an abundance of foliage on the vine at this stage of the year shows us that the continual aeration, moisture penetration and general biological approach to viticulture is working in our unique and harsh Australian site.
With little to no rain during the spring months, the vineyards were very reliant on the (lower-than-average) sub-soil moisture from lower winter rainfall. Moving through the months of November and December, it was apparent that we were in for lower-than-average yields, and as we started to irrigate some vineyards in mid-December, we were conscious not to give the vines false hope, which might have led to unsustainable canopy and fruit load on the vines. When irrigating in years like this, we find it best only to help maintain the natural progression of the vines, regardless of the potential yields further irrigation can bring.
After an extremely warm month of January, we thought that the season had moderated until the forecast showed one final sizzling for the summer, starting on 26th February. The sugar levels rose substantially during the first two days of the heat wave, and therefore it was now game-on to harvest all the younger and weaker vineyards. Some 35 headlamps were purchased, and night harvesting commenced. The surreal calmness in the vineyard was quite breathtaking, as you could see light and hear voices without faces. – Nick Farr

Côte Vineyard – GC & RP
The north côte is a red to brown loam with buckshot stones across the surface. It’s the most exposed of the three côtes but is harvested last of all because of the large amount of clay, holding valuable moisture for a longer time than the other slopes.

The northeast côte is a continuation of buckshot until the soil becomes black and lined with limestone moving towards the bottom of the rows and a depression that divides limestone from sandstone. At the highest point of the vineyard you will find small amounts of sandstone in the grey sandy loam.
The east côte is divided through the centre of the slope by a rise. It has black volcanic soil with fragmented limestone in one direction and grey loam with buckshot stones in the other direction. Soil is king, as the east côte has the least amount of clay and therefore the least water-holding capacity, resulting in it being harvested first even though it is the coolest côte of the three. – Nick Farr


2020 GC Chardonnay by Farr RRP $140
The fruit is hand-picked then whole bunch-pressed in the winery. All the solids are collected and chilled before being put to barrel (about 50% new French oak). A natural fermentation will occur at cool temperatures over the next one to two months, and then a small amount of stirring helps to start malolactic fermentation. The wine is then racked, fined and lightly filtered before bottling 11 months after picking.
 A wine with great fruit presence and varietal character at the front of the palate, the power of this site then takes over and it finishes with a very assertive line of acidity.   As our greatest expression of Chardonnay, this wine has very quickly commanded a strong following around the world. – Nick Farr

 Named after living By Farr patriarch Gary Charles (GC) Farr, this wine is the epitome of tension and definition. Coming from the Côte Vineyard close to the winery, the GC is, so far, the apogee of the Chardonnay craft at By Farr. It’s wholly unAustralian in its fruit expression, in that it’s fully ripe but skilfully avoids overt sweetness of fruit. Stones, biscuit, spice, nuts, nougat, freshness and depth; the By Farr GC Chardonnay is fine-boned with nervy acidity, endlessly complex and layered. – The Farr family

2019 RP Pinot Noir by Farr RRP $140
The fruit is handpicked 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. We use only natural yeast for the fermentation process, which takes roughly 19 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’s racked by gas after secondary fermentation, then again at 18 months to be bottled.
A bouquet of absolute intrigue and undergrowth from an extremely fresh and high natural acidity vintage. The elegant yet savoury power that we’re growing to love from the Côte Vineyard wines is showing once again from both the Pinot and the GC Chardonnay. The palate is lengthy and layered. It is a Pinot that keeps giving with every minute in the glass. This is one of the great Pinots we have made, with fantastic ageing potential. – Nick Farr

Of all of the Farr family Pinots, RP – named after living matriarch Robyn Pamela Farr – is the most slender and febrile. Yet this delicacy is only in comparison to the other By Farr Pinots, which start off richer and more characterful than many. Only the best fruit parcels in the finest wood, then the most perfect barrel expression during élevage, make it into the RP – and the newly released wine is sitting tightly coiled, waiting. There is hallmark By Farr whole-bunch character, richly spicy and compact dark fruit. The palate of the wine is fresh and beautifully structured. Perhaps not an eternal wine (one can only wish) but one that will last decades. – The Farr family

2019 Tout Près Pinot Noir by Farr RRP $140
Only a touch over 2.5 acres, it has three individual soil types across a three-sided cirque (an amphitheatre-like valley head) that rises above the other vineyards. Each slope consists of a soil type. The largest slope is black volcanic soil of limestone, the second is quartz gravel mixed with red ironstone soil and the third, an iron strand in grey sandy loam. The clones that will acclimatise and mutate over time are currently 113, 114, 115, 667, 777 and MV6 to become the Tout Près clone. At 7,300 vines per hectare, Tout Près is the most densely planted vineyard on the estate (hence the name, meaning “very cosy”). The soils and intense competition force the vines to work hard, resulting in fruit that is lush but masculine and provides the coveted structure found only in the most ageworthy wines.
Tout Près is fermented with 100% whole bunches in a five-tonne oak fermenter. This wine has the flavour profile and intensity to absorb 100% new Allier French barrels. – Nick Farr

The Tout Près Pinot Noir is grown on another high-density vineyard. This makes a wine of terrific intensity and concentration. This cuvée consistently produces wines of terrific weight with wonderful aging potential. Tout Près shows notes of long, slow whole-bunch fermentation, creating richness and layered fruit expression. It shows Chinese five spice, ripe fruits and terrific tannins. This release of Tout Près is focused and beautifully structured, ready for celebration now, or a rewarding stint in the cellar. – The Farr family