Apparently this place is “best known for wonderfully intense Pinot Noirs and ultra-complex Chardonnays under several individual vineyard labels, plus equally mesmerising Viognier and Shiraz, the Viognier arguably Australia’s best.”
That’s according to the blurb confirming the Farr family’s position as the number-one estate in this year’s Real Review Top Wineries of Australia rankings.
Say what you will – and people do – about these lists, but it isn’t just coincidence that just one year ago we were announcing the release from the reigning Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year.
The Farrs, in other words, have form. And that form goes back a fair way. Nick’s Gourmet Traveller WINE gong signalled the first time two people from the same estate had won the accolade, coming 19 years after his father Gary was crowned.
This year marks 28 years since the planting of the Sangreal vineyard. Since then, this family has toiled, trialled and tinkered on their way to mastering everything that grows on their Bannockburn vineyards.
This latest release is another shining example of sound judgement and uncommon feel in the field and cellar. Back-to-back low-yielding harvests mean there’s hardly any of anything. But we know everyone lucky enough to taste them will love what they see.
2021 was an amazingly challenging yet rewarding vintage. Rainfall and humidity certainly challenged us throughout the growing season but this was met with a persistent, passionate and determined approach to create some special wines from conditions not regularly seen in Bannockburn. The team did an amazing job to keep the canopies open and clear of disease.
The moist and mild conditions from November through to early February were followed by great end-of-season temperatures and sunlight to sustain the great natural acidity and flavour that had built over the final month. Picking started on 9th March.
Great finesse and length were quickly apparent in fermenting wines. In barrel the freshness of acidity, fine tannins and – best of all – savoury and elegant fruit flavours promised a very strong set of wines to show come release. – Nick Farr
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 were 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
2021 Viognier by Farr RRP $110
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 Chardonnay by Farr. 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 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 conversion is encouraged with gentle stirring during the end of autumn. The wine is then racked, fined, filtered and bottled 11 months after harvest. – The Farr family
Light, bright yellow hue leads into a fresh and bright aroma of spice and honey nuances allied with subtle traces of nuttiness, stone-fruits and tropical flowers. The palate is intense and focused, richness without broadness, soft textured but not blousy. Extra-long and vibrant aftertaste, refreshingly dry and appetising. A benchmark Viognier. 96 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review June 2022
2021 Chardonnay by Farr RRP $110
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.
Reserved, quiet bouquet of stone fruits including white peach and pear, a hint of fresh-baked bread, the palate delicate and restrained, soft and round, with a clean, dry finish enhanced by a trace of grip. There’s good intensity and the wine has a seamless balance. It should build richness and complexity with a little more time. 95 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review June 2022
2020 Farrside by Farr RRP $110
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 mean 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. Roughly 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.
Similar in colour to the Sangreal, and with a similar sweet spice, though with a much firmer palate. These wines have a perfect fade from fruit to structure, a velvet-like character that so many don’t. It’s darker, firmer-edged and more upright. You can taste a fresher fruit note – black cherries and plums – plus a sense of fine oak. Really impressive. – Ben Knight
2020 Sangreal by Farr RRP $127
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.
I love the paucity of colour. This wine has richness and classic Sangreal perfume and spice. Savoury in that sweet and sour way; lightness, and generosity in equal measure. Cinnamon, cloves, anise, and sour cherries. That classic stem note, dill and fresh currants. There is a creaminess and softness that only comes with time in barrel. A complex and complete wine. – Ben Knight
2020 Shiraz by Farr RRP $110
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 about 15% 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 bleed 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, about 20% being new, and is bottled under vacuum. – Nick Farr
Plum and ripe cherries, then a bag of spice and pepper. The palate is soft and slinky, a velvet-like texture holding together a summer pudding aroma palette. Wonderfully savoury and aromatic at the same time. While Pinot Noir takes the By Farr limelight, you would do yourself a great disservice overlooking this as some of the very best Shiraz grown in Australia – and, as such, terrifically undervalued. – Ben Knight