Hillcrest is located in the heart of Melbourne's picturesque Yarra Valley, one of Australia's oldest wine regions. Planted in 1970, it was one of the pioneers in the re-establishment of the Valley, and it is this vineyard which provides the old-vine resource from which the rare Reserve, Premium and Estate wines are made.
Purchased in 1999, the neglected 48-year old vineyard was re-trellised to allow for better canopy management. Now farmed along organic principles, herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and other systemic spraying have been eliminated.
On the southern side of the Yarra Valley, the vineyard benefits from higher elevation and a cooler climate than the valley floor. The soils are low in fertility yet complex in structure. A thin layer of grey gravel top-soil sits over a complex yellow-grey clay loam, which changes in colour (to red/brown) and mineral content as the depth increases.
The entire vineyard is unirrigated and the vines must work to support themselves. Dry growing seasons cause little disturbance at Hillcrest as the vines, having established their own deep root systems over 48 years, draw on moisture deep within the ground to sustain themselves. The result is exquisitely concentrated and healthy fruit.
Typically the 1970 plantings, some eight acres of vines, will yield around 3 tonnes of Pinot Noir and 1 tonne each of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon - around 0.7 tons per acre! Yield per vine is the major determinant - around 400g each. Bunch weights are naturally low, around 35g-40g each. The berries are small and intense, often the size of small peas, allowing a high ratio of skin to juice. The plantings from 2000 and 2005, the former now showing the benefits of approaching 20 years of age, crop only marginally higher at around 900kg per acre as a result of denser plantings.
The two vineyard extensions, each around six acres in size (planted in 2000 and 2005), will over the longer term provide the necessary resources to expand the grapes available for the Reserve and Premium wines, however this fruit wont be considered for the Premium label unti the vines signal their 20th birthday. A separate Village classification is used for these wines in the meantime. Consistent with the old vineyard, the newer blocks (if they can still be called that) are unirrigated and unfertilised, which means they require a number of years to establish themselves. Whilst many vineyards aim to produce a reasonably-sized crop in the third year, the newer unirrigated blocks took between 5 and 8 years to produce their first crops, but the deep root systems they have developed, and the quality of the fruit, was well worth the wait!
Grapes are picked at optimum ripeness - ideally between 12.5 and 13.0 baume. For the Hillcrest site, this enables full physiological ripeness, flavour and tannin development, yet also allows retention of natural acid, keeping the fruit in balance and providing the backbone essential for good ageing.