In 1977, an Italian restaurateur and his Australian wife purchased a vineyard in the hopes of establishing an early retirement. Instead, they continued to build it into an impressive piece that the Victorian Tourism industry proudly hangs its hat on.
Away in Ballarat for a week of work whilst my other half was adjudicating the famed South Street Eisteddfod, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get out and explore the Pyrenees wine region. With nearly thirty wineries in the vicinity of Avoca (approx. 1 hour from Ballarat), there are a handful that are considered authoritative stalwarts of the area; one of these is Warrenmang Vineyard & Resort. More than just a humble cellar door, Warrenmang boasts 60 year old vines, an award winning restaurant, conference centre, a plethora of accommodation options, tennis court and lets not forget, an impressive array of red and white wines all encompassed in this Victorian hideaway.
Luigi Bazzani (OAM) and his wife Athalie first purchased the vineyard from Wally Henning in 1977. Whilst Henning sold most of his plantings to French-American businessman John Goelet (who started Taltarni Vineyard in 1974), he kept one 200 acre portion for himself which he considered 'the jewel in the Pyrenees crown'.
The first vintage was released in 1978 and Bazzani's wine production grew, so did his vision for his Pyrenees gem.
Already armed with an authentic string of restaurant success under his belt, Bazzani expanded the vineyard to include an array of luxury accomodation options, conference centre, tennis courts, swimming pool and of course his fabulous restaurant, which has enjoyed top ratings from The Age and Gourmet Traveller for the past 18 years.
My Warrenmang experience began with an invitation for lunch in the restaurant with winemaker, Greg Foster. The restaurant features superb views over the vineyards and lingering Moonambel Valley. Already at the table was a bottle of 2008 Warrenmang Estate Shiraz decanting, ready for drinking but to kick things off, we drank the 2015 Unwooded Chardonnay. Crisp, but still enough body carrying hints of stone fruits and citrus with only a small taint of oak. As a winemaker Greg has spent time in both the Coonawarra with Penley Estate and Nobilo Wines in New Zealand. Two contrasting backdrops producing both hearty Australian Cabernet and Shiraz as well as a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Knocking over the two year mark at Warrenmang, he takes pride in the traditional winemaking methods used in the estate: hand picking, plunging and basket pressing pairing with the Italian authenticity of Luigi Bazzani. Warrenmang doesn't sell through any major local distributor and most of their wines are well and truly sold out not long after release, whilst overseas export does factor in a reasonable percentage of their sales.
There is no shortage of varietals grown on the estate, especially Italian table wines to the tune of Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Brunello (which are blended into their 'Vinello' release). The estate also grows Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. Greg tells us though, that their flagship releases are the Black Puma Shiraz, Warrenmang Estate Shiraz (decanting away..) and the Warrenmang Grand Pyrenees.
As we ate our lunch, it was optimal timing to get stuck into the decanted Estate Shiraz. Rich black and purple hues show through with dark blackberry fruit and cedar spice from 3 years oak maturation. Deliberate firm tannin balanced across the palate - delicious. Finishing lunch, we sauntered through the grounds where Greg led us to the wine cellars and production site, nestled in the beautifully bushy surrounds of the estate. We were treated to barrel samples of 'about to be bottled' Chardonnay (completed that morning) and the aforementioned prize winning reds. Seeing the innards of a winery really helps to get a feeling for the overall ethos I find, where you can see the spit stains on the concrete floor, barrels humbly nesting and my personal bent, the lack of anything that says 'mass production'. In the videos below, Greg speaks about the different wines.
The Grand Pyrenees release is a Bordeaux style blend featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz. It is a beautifully complex wine which aromatics of dried herbs such as bay leaf. Fine tannins weave their way through the spiced fruit profile, with a finish that is a great example of a Pyrenees style Cabernet. The Black Puma Shiraz sits at the top of the vine with all the fruit having been selected from eight different Shiraz blocks. This is shown instantly as richer and more concentrated fruit intensity appears immediately on the nose, fleshing across the palate smoothly. As Greg explains, it might be nit-picking, but the benchmark for this release is reached through finding that 'X factor' upon initial barrel samples. It's definitely one worth trying and the peak insight into Warrenmang's hand crafted beauties.
It's easy to see why Warrenmang Estate is a much loved piece of the Pyrenees wine canvas. Do stop in, or better still - stay for the weekend and experience what Luigi Bazzani and team have created.
For more info. visit the Warrenmang Estate website.