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 44-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. Recent drought conditions caused little disturbance at Hillcrest as the older vines, having established their own deep root systems over 40 years, drew on moisture deep within the ground to sustain themselves. The result continues to be 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. More recent plantings crop only marginally higher at around 900kg per acre as a result of denser plantings.
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, however we do not intend to include this fruit under the Estate label until the vines reach 15 years of age, and 20 years of age before they will be considered for the Premium label. 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 quality was well worth the wait!
Fruit is picked at optimum ripeness - ideally between 12.5 and 13.0 baume. For our site this enables full physiological ripeness, and flavour and tannin development, yet also allows retention of natural acid, keeping the fruit in balance and providing the backbone essential for good ageing.