There are wine regions that claim to be cool climate and then there are the true cool climate regions that don’t need to be doing any claiming. Like those producers in the Mornington Peninsula that can almost touch their toes in the sea on the south coast of Australia. One of the pioneer producers in the region is Stonier from where Michael Symons gives his take on what it takes to make cool wines.
With average yields close to those of Grand Cru Burgundy it is difficult to make cheap wine at producers like Stonier Wines in the Mornington Peninsula, whose wines retail for between £19 and £140, says winemaker, Michael Symons.
This week sees 10 of the leading wineries and producers from Australia’s Mornington Peninsula region make the trip to a series of events including its key London trade tasting on September 6. As well as Stonier Wines there will be founders and winemakers from Polperro, Crittenden Estate, Kooyong, Mooroduc Estate, Ocean Eight, Port Phillip Estate, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Paringa and Yabby Lake Vineyard. All showing their styles of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Shiraz that are synonymous with the peninsula.
Michael Symons of the Stonier winery gives his take on the region and what it has to offer.
Tell us about your winery, a little about its history, and where you are now?
Stonier is one of the pioneering wineries of the Mornington Peninsula, founded in 1978. Truly cool climate wine regions, located at higher altitudes and/or closer to the cold waters of the southern ocean, were only just starting to be planted in Australia during the 1970s. Now 40 years later, there has been a lot of progression in these cooler regions. At Stonier we are lucky to have access to some of the Mornington Peninsula’s, and indeed Australia’s older cool climate vineyards.
What types of wine are you making for export and why?
We only make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the two varieties we think are best suited to the Mornington Peninsula. We don’t make any specific label just for export – we make the wine we think best suits where we are. We are not trying to copy old world wines, but enjoy the characters we get and enjoy the freshness of fruit and drive we can achieve from our vineyards.
What do you think makes the Mornington Peninsula unique?
It is a relatively small region, but one that is very progressive and works together strongly as a collective of wineries/producers. It doesn’t try to be everything to everyone, focussing very much on the varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, early ripening varieties that work best in cool climates such as the MP. It is a Peninsula, an hour south of Melbourne, surrounded by cool to very cold water, with a series of rolling north-south facing hills, together with a mix of other slopes in between, providing an array of very individual different viticultural sites ideal for high quality vineyards which has evolved very quickly over its 40-50 year history, thanks to a very collaborative approach by its producers.
Chardonnays certainly have a citrus, more than stone fruit, character about them, with good natural acid drive so important in this variety, whilst Pinot Noir always displays attractive lifted red fruits and a very savoury tannin profile.Located at the heart of Victoria’s ever reliable Pinot Coast, it is certainly a highly consistent wine region for quality cool climate Pinot Noir.
What makes it different to other Australian wine regions?
There are no other wine regions that have such an intense focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. For good measure there is also some Pinot Gris, which works very nicely in the region too. There is a real savoury edge to our wines that makes them very appealing with food and not so obviously New World in style.
What perception do you think UK buyers have about Mornington Peninsula?
UK buyers are very knowledgeable about wine in general, but it is fair to say that MP is still a region to be discovered by many UK consumers. We have been present in the UK market for 25 years or so now, but in the last 10-15 years there has certainly been an increase in the number of wineries across the region who have helped promote our regional story.
What do you hope to achieve by the tasting and events in London and the UK in September?
By being present at such events, it gives the opportunity for consumers (and trade) to discover the Mornington Peninsula and realise that Australian cool climate regions are real and are generating a pedigree of quality and style. With the help of the press, a lot of people are accepting and discovering Chardonnay quality from Australian regions and how exciting it is, but they will hopefully also realise that there are other regions in the world that are highly suited to Pinot Noir (also with increasing vine age) and it makes the variety more interesting this way.
Which types of importers, restaurants and channels in the UK do you think your wines are best suited to and why?
We would always like to say restaurants overall. Good quality Asian cuisine and traditional south-east French and north-western Italian food. Restaurants can also highlight the small quantities comparatively that we really make. However, you should never underestimate good retail shops that allow people to buy your wine and take it home to enjoy and really form an association with.
Why should a UK buyer come and visit your stand?
Will Byron (my fellow winemaker, and main picture) is a great guy – very humble and a great feeling for the region and our vineyards. The wines we are showing really have a great personality to them, formed by the vineyard and what the producer likes. But I think all the wines on show from everyone show a great personality.
What price bracket do your exports fall into?
With average yields close to levels of grand Cru Burgundy it is difficult to make cheap wine, plus there is a lot that goes into making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from cool climates. In general our prices are between £19.00 and £140.00, from our main Stonier blend, to our single vineyard and Reserve wines.
What other markets do you export your wine to and why?
Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan and Canada. We have a solid history in these markets over the past 25 years of exporting, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir tend to go particularly well with the cuisines in these countries as well.
What opportunities do you think there still are for premium wines from Australia?
To keep contributing to the groundswell of understanding about quality wines and how exciting some of the wines are now. A lot of these wines were always there too, so people are starting to see some of these wine now also. Also, there is a real chance to distinguish the premium from the cheap and cheerful, as every country has both levels, but Australia probably went hard on the cheaper wines first. Now it is time to discover how good the wines can be.
What are you most looking forward to about coming to the UK?
From a business point of view, it is fantastic to be back in a market where we have a bit of positive history and re-connect with trade and consumers alike who have tried our wines in the past. From a personal point of view, UK consumers and the wine trade always are very open to try and discover new wines, plus, as mentioned previously, they are very knowledgeable on the world scale – you can take the conversation to the next level this way. Hence, it is always a pleasure showing wines in the UK and learning from a different set of consumers/trade.
- If you would like to taste Stonier’s wines and those of the other producers then the Mornington Peninsula Winemaker tasting takes place on September 6 between 1pm-5pm at Australia House, The Strand, London, WC2B 4LA.
- Win flights to Australia and tickets to next year’s Pinot Celebration in Mornington Peninsula. Visitors to the Mornington Peninsula tasting in London on September 6 are in with the chance of winning two flights to Australia, accommodation and tickets to the Pinot Celebration on February 8th and 9th 2019. Held every two years the Pinot Celebration is the region’s biggest and most important wine event and packed with a host of activities from winemaker sessions to dinners featuring local chefs. All you need do to enter the competition is fill out an entry form at the tasting or post on social media. Find out more about the event and to register here.