Massive congratulations to Nick Farr, who’s just been named Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year 2020. It’s fitting recognition for Nick, who’s taken amazing strides with these vineyards and wines since effectively taking over – with enormous shoes to fill – some 10 years ago.
Nick’s win comes 19 years after his father Gary won this same title. This is the first time two people from the same company – or winemaking dynasty – have won this accolade. Gary was just the fourth recipient of this award all those years ago, and in the intervening years the Farrs have, quite clearly, not rested on their laurels.
Quite the opposite. They have never ceased homing in on every detail of each site and tailoring their viticulture to it. They have always embraced the ripeness, presence and power that Geelong affords them, and have not let up in the pursuit of finesse, detail and energy to complement those natural qualities. The tension has become more palpable, the mineral nuances more pronounced. Nick has, in short, taken great vineyards, great wines and raised them to a plane of even greater exhilaration.
In the meantime, the family has also added two more close-planted wines to the top of the pyramid, with GC Chardonnay and RP Pinot Noir joining Tout Près (the next release of these arrives at the start of November), as well as spreading their wings to the Otway hinterland to produce a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Irrewarra vineyard.
This is what great wine families do. They never stop seeking and finding those minuscule tweaks that refine a vineyard’s voice or allow a wine to speak more eloquently. Nick, on the other hand, won’t be running his mouth off about winning this award. He’ll let the wine to the talking, but we’re more than proud to sing his praises, because he thoroughly deserves this!
2018 Irrewarra Chardonnay RRP $66
Irrewarra is one of Australia’s most brilliant winemakers pushing himself further, delving into new territory and giving voice to another captivating landscape. The name is an Aboriginal term meaning “long spear throw” – and it’s partly the thrill of the hunt that drew Nick Farr to this frontier in the heart of Western District farming country, approximately 150 kilometres south-west of Melbourne. The slope is a mixture of grey sandy clay loams at the south end, to dark brown loams with fragments of buckshot and quartz gravels towards the north – all with underlying brown to yellow clays. Overall the soils remain very moist throughout the year, lending an attractive, spicy, damp-earth depth to these exceptional wines. The Chardonnay was aged in 1/3 new, 1/3 one-year-old and 1/3 two-year-old oak.
Light straw-yellow colour, the bouquet a trifle muffled and smelling of apricot and peach fuzz. Lemon as well. The wine is bright and crisply refreshing in the mouth, with reserve and tension, nervy and long. There is softness and richness in the centre, and it is quite a satisfying wine despite its youthful reserve. Quite a delicious wine. 93 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review July 2020
2017 Irrewarra Pinot Noir RRP $66
All MV6, 100% destemmed, whole-berry ferment. 1/3 new oak, 1/3 one-year-old and 1/3 two-year-old.
Medium to light red to brick-red colour with a tinge of purple. A strongly stalk-influenced Campari-like bouquet, the palate fresh and brisk with lively acidity and gentle texture, lightness of being and charm. The acidity is rather high, but refreshes the finish. A charming wine of real complexity. There’s a lot of nuance here – albeit very bunchy, but not overdone. 94 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review December 2019
2019 Viognier by Farr RRP $80
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 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.
Medium to light straw-yellow hue. A complex bouquet for such a young wine, hints of apricot, freshly-shelled nuts, lemon and a trace of honey just starting up. Delicious palate texture, medium-bodied and intense, smooth and rounded, properly dry and extremely long, with lovely elegance and palate line. A smashing wine. 96 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review June 2020
2019 Chardonnay by Farr RRP $95
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.
Stunning Chardonnay. Flinty, peach-driven, toasty, sweet with spice and cedar wood, but smoky and minerally in spades. Powerful up front and all the way through before completely setting sail on the finish. A complete wine if ever there was one. 97 points. Campbell Mattinson, Halliday Wine Companion 2021
2018 Farrside by Farr RRP $95
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.
It takes time in the glass for assertive cedar wood oak to settle into the fruit but at all steps along the way this wine oozes both quality and class. You’re in the most skilled of hands here. Woodsmoke, assorted cherries, twiggy spice notes, flavour-infused acidity and fine-grained tannin. It’s a truly beautiful wine. 97 points. Campbell Mattinson, Halliday Wine Companion 2021
Medium red colour with a trace of purple in the rim. The bouquet is pepper-spicy, stemmy and savoury, with a whiff of new kid leather, while the palate is elegantly structured and yet firm, tremendously intense, taut as a bow-string, and magnificently balanced. This is a stunning Pinot of a complex, bunchy style, already drinking well, with more held in reserve. 97 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review June 2020
2018 Shiraz by Farr RRP $80
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
A special wine. It’s all tang and undergrowth, cherries and peppery spices but putting names to the individual flavours doesn’t do the overall effect justice. This is a wine of fresh-faced beauty; it’s a glance and a wink and a nod all rolled into one. How. It doesn’t take you long into the first glass to start wondering how they did it. It tastes like a kind of magic. 97 points. Campbell Mattinson, Halliday Wine Companion 2021
Medium to deep red colour with a good tint of purple. The bouquet is earthy and faintly peppery with a savoury note from wood-ageing, the brown-spice notes adding to the impression of sapidity. Superfine, silky-soft tannins, seamless texture, tidy berries and spices to close. Refreshing acidity in balance. An exceptional, northern Rhône-style shiraz that is already drinking beautifully. (Viognier 4%). 97 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review July 2020