The latest vintages from the Farr family are always eagerly awaited and the 2019 whites and 2018 reds justify the anticipation. They are all lovely, and the By Farr Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Shiraz continue to be Australian benchmarks for these varieties.
Ralph Kyte-Powell, The Real Review
Much as the layperson likes to imagine the wine critic’s life a charmed one, in truth it’s often a repetitious slog through a seemingly unceasing conveyor belt of samples. Even the most jaded scribe is, however, open to being jolted back to life when something special springs forth. Ralph Kyte-Powell’s intro to his mid-June wine-of-the-week column for The Real Review reflects this. Viognier isn’t necessarily the grape most likely to get the juices flowing, yet it’s a different story coming from the Farrs’ vines. “The finish is very long and hauntingly aromatic,” wrote Ralph, whose Real Review colleague Huon Hooke was also taken by it. “Extremely long, with lovely elegance and palate line,” he wrote. “A smashing wine”. Joining this on the white front is the ’19 Chardonnay. “No matter what you call it, this is a beautiful wine,” declared Campbell Mattinson of the latter.
“2019 was a vintage that constantly had us on the hop,” Nick told us when we visited him in Bannockburn recently. It was the late-February heatwave that almost chucked a spanner in the works, rushing things along before later-season coolness punted the ripening of some reds further down the line. When the heat spike arrived, though, it was critical that the ready grapes came off fast, at the coolest time. They picked from around 1 or 2am, a forward patrol armed with head-torches strobing through the vine rows. It worked; a relieved Nick comments they “absolutely nailed the picking” of the Chardonnay – perfection that almost got away. “It’s quite surprising that the whites have the structure and the freshness they do.”
The reds in this offer come from 2018, a vintage that was ideally set up. “We had perfect spring rains, amazing canopy and then good, still, dry weather,” says Nick. So they ended up with a very different scenario from 2019’s protracted, fast-then-slow harvest. The 2018 picking window was severely condensed. Farrside came in just two days after Sangreal, compared with the customary lag closer to two weeks. Those two Pinots are already exceptionally integrated with brilliant, bright tannins. Fair to say the mineral nuances of both are more marked than ever these days, a factor that seems to tighten and tame the fruit. The tension is better than ever.
This set of releases is rounded out by “my favourite Shiraz I’ve ever made,” as Nick puts it. Here’s a pretty, seamless wine to quietly, but unequivocally, insist that Farr reds are as much about calm restraint as they are about the Moorabool Valley’s power and the identity of these exceptional vineyards. “2018 is a very sharp vintage,” Nick concludes. “A harvest we should be proud of.”
And it’s with great pride that we present this set of memorable releases to you.
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 head lamps 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
The 2017/2018 growing season kicked off a couple of weeks later than normal, due to substantial winter rainfall. The conditions quickly changed from wet to dry after Christmas when almost at full canopy. The vineyards where then reliant on perfectly timed summer storms that helped the season to progress.
Come the 2018 harvest, we found very consistent and evenly ripened fruit, with an abundance of fruit flavour. Considering how dry the summer had been in Victoria, the precise and limited rainfall fell at ideal times. The canopies were healthy and the temperature was mild through March, meaning the harvest was electric. All fruit needed to be picked simultaneously, condensing five weeks work into three and making for fun times. We’re really looking forward to seeing how the wines develop, considering the season was quite different from the previous three. – Nick Farr
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
It’s fragrant and scented, with hints of apricot, musky blossom, chamomile and whispers of yeastiness. The palate is smooth and refined, seamless yet rich, with just enough phenolic backbone for balanced structure. Barrel input is subliminal, yet its influence enhances the “feel” of the wine beautifully. The finish is very long and hauntingly aromatic. 95 points. Ralph Kyte-Powell, 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.
No matter what you call it, this is a beautiful wine. It covers the bases of freshness, flavour, texture and length and then adds the indefinable. If you feel in desperate need of one long lazy afternoon then this hands it to you. It’s stone fruity and grapefruit-edged and flinty and none of those things. Its cedarwood notes are painted on the bare skin of Chardonnay. Trust. From the first sip it establishes trust. 96 points. Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front April 2020
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.
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 Sangreal by Farr RRP $95
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.
Medium to full red colour with a tinge of purple and a touch of new leather to sniff, smoked meats and spices, the bunchy style of bouquet at a far remove from simple grapy fruit aromas. Floral notes emerge with airing time. The wine is full-bodied and firmly structured, a serious Pinot that will take many years in its stride and needs time to show its best. Power with finesse. A superb Pinot. 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
This is a dry red wine of terrific intensity, structure and complexity. Strange thing to say about a Shiraz grown in the Geelong region but there’s something a little Nebbiolo-esque about it. Not in its flavour profile, but in the way it goes about things. It’s not weighty or thick but it feels powerful; it offers fruit and an array of flavours but its feet are planted in acid and tannin; its peppery dryness kicks on again just when you thought it might stop. Basically it sets its style and the quality takes care of itself, which as it happens is (very) high. 96 points. Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front July 2020
ALSO AVAILABLE, IN LIMITED QUANTITIES
2018 GC Chardonnay by Farr RRP $125
The fruit is hand-picked then whole-bunch pressed in the winery. All the solids are collected and chilled before being put to barrel (35% 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 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. We love everything about this 2018 Chardonnay. It is a vintage of great balance and completeness. As our greatest expression of Chardonnay, this wine has very quickly commanded a strong following around the world.– Nick Farr
I’m not sure what to say other than that this is superb. It has flint, meal and woodsmoke notes, mineral too, but really, I mean, does it matter? It’s the progression of the palate and the pure, precise power of the finish. It’s the way it captivates. It stops the clock; you take a sip and for a second nothing else matters. I see nashi pear and nectarine, white peach and cashews. I see a brighter day. Top season, top patch, in top hands. 97 points. Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front April 2020
Light, bright yellow colour with a creamy, sur-lie bouquet which incorporates lemon juice and lemon pith, subtle touches of toasted nuts, and many other subtleties. The taste is fresh and bright with elevated acidity and a crisp, clean finish. Good persistence. This has room to grow and would benefit from another year in the bottle. An outstanding wine. 97 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review February 2020
2017 RP Pinot Noir by Farr RRP $125
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
Deep red/purple, youthful colour, with a strong stemmy aroma component, humus and undergrowth smells and flavours galore. Some chocolate notes. Freshness is assisted by vibrant acidity. Intense, vital and lingering, this needs time and will reward cellaring. As it rests in the glass, a complex cherry and berry fragrance emerges more and more. 95 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review February 2020
2017 Tout Près Pinot Noir by Farr RRP $125
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
Deep bright red/purple colour, with a strong dusty, potato peelings, whole-bunchy aroma at the first few sniffs. A whiff of vanilla. The wine is intense and refined, bright and penetrating, with great tension, finesse and lingering aftertaste. Excellent line and length, to use a favourite phrase of Len Evans’s. The acidity is piercing and carries the flavour long through the aftertaste. The tannins are fine and persistent. The texture is silky. It will richly reward cellaring. 96 points. Huon Hooke, The Real Review February 2020
We’re on the road here though. We are journeying. We’re sweeping through leaves, digging through undergrowth, licking at the sap and running through the forest in search of berries. In our wake; strings. Of tannin and spice and smoky acidity. It has intensity without feeling forced; it has such momentum through the finish that you feel carried along with it. The Farrs know how to farm a wine. 95 points. Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front April 2020