Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir elevated to the top echelon in the Langton’s Classification.
Bindi Quartz Chardonnay joins the Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir in the Langton’s Classification.
As we work hard to manage another challengingly cool season and hope for the forecast sunshine and warmth to arrive we reflect on some fabulous recent news. In 1990 Langton’s categorised Australia’s most recognised and sought after wines. In December 2023 the eighth Classification was issued, listing 100 wines in total, with the top category listing 21 wines. Whilst it is never the aim to attain such listings and critical review, that the vineyard work that began at Bindi in 1988 and the wine production commencing in 1991 has become meaningful is very rewarding. Our focus very much remains on nurturing and bettering our original sites and learning about and exploring the more recently planted sites while working towards several new plantings. The past and the future all playing their roles in the present.

Vintage 2023

The shocks and the horrors were well worth the bother.

The fourth year of the cool and the damp has an undeniably admirable stamp. How could this be? Something precious has risen above its origins and holds an increasingly exciting and somewhat head scratching promise.

It’s a tough one to figure for the filigree found us rather than us finding it, strive as we did. The spring and early summer were diabolically damned with damp as those months overflowed the dams and underwhelmed our expectations. Bastard months, one after the other. Vignerons were stuck in the La Niña rut. Bogged even, rutted to near ruin by rain. Crops were downed by the downey, savior sought in systemic resorts while the weeds grew as fast as did our weariness from the worry. Oh buoy, hope almost drowned by the deluge, a vintage nearly washed away. But not quite!

In one day it turned.

Christmas Eve presented sunshine and the broken records of rain ceased. The spin cycled to dry, it was a mid summer season saving run of warmth and calm and respite. Without it surely we’d have been doomed? But then the overly arid threatened and we questioned this opposite stress; too dry? Not quite. La Niña wasn’t done. The teary damp was resurrected over Easter, a viticultural insurrection no less, and the humidity pushed hard again through April. The game had turned to dodge fast and avoid the fetid fungus. Act on a clear understanding of what was on offer and, critically, what the present threats were. Deciphering what was realistic (as opposed to hoped for) was the key. Then, after the sharp work of grape gathering was done, the fruit and ferment management lessons kicked in. The good old days, learnings from the cool 1990s, were revisited in mind and print and conversation.

Lo and behold, quite ridiculously so, the vineyards and the wines have pushed through and somehow worked out. There’s still a way to go, with malic acids to reduce, pHs to shift, young life on lees to live. In the cold months the wines keep shifting but they do so peacefully and we like to mimic them.

Comparing 2023 to recent challenging years (with the 2021 aberration standing among the greats) is a surprisingly happy reflection. In the furious moments of weather mayhem and emotional adjustments it seemed impossible to arrive at something wonderful. Yet here in mid July the 2023 wines in barrel rise above the testing season, above the difficulties in 2020 and 2022. Again the volumes are well down but in the face of what may have been in October, or December, or March, or April it’s a big win for meaningful wines.

Gunung Willam Balluk, Woi Wurrung, Kulin Nation

When you start to look around, to read the old words, to see the paintings from 1770 onwards and then view the photos beginning in the 1860s you begin to see and understand the landscape and the people who owned and managed it. An important painting, looking from Gisborne to Mount Macedon, by Robert Hoddle in 1838, before new settlers had the numbers or means to clear the land, shows open fields managed by First Nations custodians, the Gunung Willam Balluk.

The newly invaded Australia rode on the sheep’s back on pastures created by First Nations people (country repeatedly referred to as park like by early European settlers). We then mined and washed gold from First Nations’ land and creeks. We became wealthy on and by taking their carefully managed lands; our beautiful old shearing sheds and majestic stone buildings speak of this wealth. Often these original custodians were killed by disease, violence or mournfully removed from their lands and responsibilities and relocated to reserves. Taking people’s land and therefore breaking a way of life that evolved over such a monumental amount of time was an utter devastation of the first peoples (estimated to be between 300,000 to 1 million at 1788). Their devastation brought about the opportunity for the prosperity of todays multicultural 26 million.

It took a long time but I finally learned this name of the peoples of the land where we live and farm here at Bindi. I’m fascinated, saddened and challenged to begin to feel the landscape, the ancient trees, grasslands and waterways of our land and the greater local landscape as it was moulded and managed for many thousands of years. These people were responsible for much of the cleared lands we grow our vines on and for the magnificent curated stands of ancient trees on this land where we live. They have my admiration and curiosity. And some sense of responsibility.

Gunung Willam Balluk, meaning creek dwelling people, managed the region south of Mount Macedon and towards Bacchus Marsh. This is the land of what’s been called Gisborne for a little short of 200 years. If you live in this area you know the creeks and the landscapes they were responsible for….for….30,000 years (120,000 if you follow Bruce Pascoe). They cleared and managed the land with fire. They deliberately created wildlife habitats and corridors and ensured their own safety by strategically reducing fuel loads to prevent and restrict bushfires. Their small family group farmed and formed our defined local areas and were responsible for their upkeep. They were not randomly passing though; they lived with the lands we live on today and they intimately knew and manipulated the views, the plants, the animals and ways of the seasons. They adjusted the randomness of the landscape into an order that gave sustenance, safety and cultural bonds.

Perversely, to the eventual detriment of the Gunung Willam Balluk (and all clans and nations) they created an open grazing oasis of productive grasslands, managed clean creeks and shelter belts that drew European farmers to quickly dominate this land and the local culture in a very short time. A tragedy in many ways that profoundly endures (yet has the possibility of some remedy).

Henry Gisborne, of the Border Police, came to the Macedon Ranges in 1840 to deal with the “aboriginal issue” faced by the first new settlers, who arrived in 1836 (long time locals were considered recalcitrants needing suppression). Gisborne left, his name stayed; the long continuing local culture was disrupted, dominated, alienated and driven away. Or worse. Their open pastures and creeks were taken and used for wealth creation of the new arrivals.

My family began here in Gisborne from 1850 in various forms; the Telegraph pub, New Gisborne butcher shop and the railway line establishment. In 1872 my grandmother’s father witnessed the last gathering of the Gunung Willam Balluk peoples on the banks of Jackson’s Creek. This family story always held a fascination. I was born about 500m from this creek. And then grew up on the open grasslands on Mount Gisborne, with its bordering defined stands of forest, significant individual ancient trees and grand views from strategic points. The grazing of the 120 years before I was born in many ways kept the landscape open and framed as it was before 1836, broadly before 1788. When you stop grazing or burning strategically the regrowth trees reclaim the space. It was not by accident we have many ancient preserved trees and then only the regrowth of recent years when the grazing stopped. The grazing gave an important economic return but also compacted the ground, led to water runoff and erosion into creeks and halted the diversity of sensitive plants and much animal habitat. Australia’s true first settlers and local people cleared land with fire and carefully lived for tens of thousands of years in small, sustainable numbers. The new graziers expanded in both human and stock numbers rapidly. Some complain about the  growth in houses and traffic today in and around Gisborne; imagine 1836 and then the gold rush of the 1860s and the effect on the long time locals who lived in harmony with this land. That really was a radical and heartbreaking disruption.

So, why “this”?

Wandering our land, seeing old trees and open ground, rock outcrops, long views to Mt Macedon, the You Yangs, Ballan and beyond has always made me think about how it was then and how it came to be. That European settlers, relatively few in number and without machines for clearing, being capable of making this open land so quickly never made sense to me. The old drawings of the town, early photos of the region made it impossible to be convinced that random nature or early European management made this amazing open grazing land. Bill Gammage’s The Greatest Estate on Earth helped explain our open grasslands and ancient trees. This land we work and farm and live on tells us of those who lived and worked here for so long. Our land at Bindi tells me stories and demands respect and understanding. So we begin. Reading AW Howitt, La Trobe’s compilation of letters from new settlers around the 1840s, Bill Gammage and Bruce Pascoe’s works has been revelatory and brings some clarity. Rachel Tanner’s 2001 research and compilation of information on the Gunung Willam Balluk is a very important work, a local starting point. These and other works are well worth reading and giving opportunity to make up your own mind on how things came to be and how our collective future can be improved.

Season Update

The 2021-2022 season has become one of the most memorable of our 32 cropping years since the vineyard began in 1988. An incredibly wet winter flowed, literally, into an incredibly wet spring which then ran into a very wet summer. Challenging!

Pleasingly there have been bursts of dry and brightness as the green vines have progressed their small crops to ripeness. Mid April will the see the harvest in full swing. Some blocks have rather meagre crops, others are more prolific and hopefully overall the volumes are reasonable. Pleasingly we have ‘banked’ some outstanding Heathcote Shiraz and Grenache in barrel and we have another project commencing early April under the Dhillon label; Riesling, Chardonnay and Rosé from the Macedon Ranges.

Excitingly, another wine release looms. We shall begin releasing some of the outstanding 2021 wines in late April, early May. The 2021 season was quite mild and was upgraded incredibly by two of the most outstanding ‘finishing’ weeks in Bindi history. The last week of March and the first week of April 2021 were truly golden times for elevating our quality to equal the best of anything done before.

International Pinot Noir Day

From wide to close, our pinot journey.

It’s a nice nostalgia to reflect on the explorative days in 2010 and 2011 as plans were made to establish the Darshan and Block 8 sites, for an evolution from our 1988 commencement plantings at 2,500 vines per hectare to 11,000+. Whoosh….time flies! It’s a sadness that founding Father Bill (Darshan) isn’t here to enjoy the results of those discussions and decisions; we are farming relationships with family and friends as much as we are farming vines for wines.

In 2010 an enlightening visit to the adventurous Erinn Klein at the Adelaide Hills winery Ngeringa was made to discuss closer planting and its management. Erinn showed me his narrow German Niko ‘tractor’……

The 2021 Season

We were very keen for rebounds of many kinds. The angst and grind of 2020 surely couldn’t remain shackled to us so far into 2021? Despite the wet spring and summer, the 2021 viticultural season ended incredibly kindly; amazing finishing warmth that concentrated the flavours and sugars while preserving the acidities. The amazing finish, the equal of any wonderful weather experienced over our preceding 30 vintages, capitalized on all the work done to keep the canopy open and the crop clean and the fabulously intense and ripe fruit was harvested in perfect weather conditions. The ferments have gone cleanly and smoothly and the wines are ticking along doing some malo-lactic in barrel. The push and pull, the rush and drive from September to April has its reward and the line up of barrels in the cellar is the equal or better of any season gone before. Who’d have thought this in mid March?!! A simple summary; we worked hard through spring and summer for two fine and final brilliant weeks to make the vintage. This remarkable 2021 vintage reminds us to stay patient and hopeful ‘cos it’s not over until it’s over!

Darshan Back Story

This is the summary from my presentation to the Victorian Pinot Noir Workshop in November 2019 detailing the establishment of our Darshan high density vineyard. It is sourced from these photos and records documenting and explaining the nature of the works.

Pictured is a bloody big bulldozer, but this Cat had no idea…….

You really would think that when driving a powerful D6 dozer the driver would know exactly where they were headed before the gripping and ripping began. But on this day this Cat was all over this park….all over the Darshan vineyard site. To the operator’s defence, this was the first time he’d deep ripped such narrow vineyard sites. After much head scratching and cursing the driver, vineyard surveyor and technology agent eventually got their collective minds around the software alignment and the big Cat got purring. That day they burned plenty of their time and diesel and they burned a lot of our money!

The big Cat was here in May 2013 as we established the Darshan site by deep ripping twice to a depth of 1m for 1.1m wide rows for 11,000+ vines per hectare. After working in vineyards and making vintages in Europe in the 1990s it could be perceived that these new Bindi works were based on those inspiring experiences and places, and in part they were. With domestic pride and no cultural cringe, it is important to understand the establishment practices commenced in 2012 and implemented through 2013 to 2016 were fundamentally local. There was no specialised equipment or imported technique used to establish the vines until the third season, which then saw different equipment doing similar work to that already being done in the wide rows. How parochial, Oi, Oi Oi!

This explanation of establishment practices is not a DIY user guide (though it could be a starting point) but a documentation of the plans, timing and practical works undertaken to get to the crop of 2017.

In 2013 it was dry end to the summer and the D6 was able to fracture and open the ground to prepare the site. This opening of the soil at significant depth was a continuation and bettering of the establishment practices starting with the 1988 Original Vineyard through to the 2001 Kaye. It literally set the ground work in place to give the vines the best start possible. This work required more accuracy than we had previously implemented and the set up of the technology was of great importance. Ripping in this narrower way had quite a different effect compared to those 1988 rows which are 3m wide. With rows just 1.1m wide this ripping created a more consistent underground landscape as the deep fracturing occurred very close together.

This site was surveyed in 2012 with magnetic imaging then explorative pits were excavated to confirm their relationship with the existing plantings. The findings of this work were in clear evidence by the roar of the dozer and the billowing plumes as the ripping hit areas containing resistant quartz and sandstone outcrops. In contrast, the softer volcanic and clay areas allowed the D6 to complete its work more gently. It was fascinating to watch a bulldozer tell of terroir. It might sound a bit like earthy overkill but having established vines in these soils over the decades it was known that the site benefits greatly from opening for ease of deep and rapid root development. The deeper the roots the less hydric stress, giving the vines a head start by taking the time.

A D6 is a bloody big beast to have crawling and compacting over your precious vineyard site. In 2008, during the Global Financial Crisis, the government was offering significant depreciation write offs so, with these new plantings in mind, we purchased the Fix Rehabilitator plough. It is fabricated outside nearby Daylesford in a rustic shed by the creative engineer Mike Fix and the design was influenced by Alex Podolinsky, father of Bio Dynamics in Australia. Darshan had soil conditioner prepared BD500 and compost applied three times prior to planting. The plough aerates the ground exceptionally well down to 600mm and incorporates organic matter. The Rehabilitator produces worked ground that sits higher than the surrounding unworked area as the soil has been aerated and lifted. It’s quite a wonderful tool that was used several times over 18 months to work the soil before planting.

In very wet winters and, more particularly, in wet springs the ground can be prone to waterlogging so in the 1988 plantings underground agi-drains were retro-trenched to pick up the excess water at the sodic clay layer, about 700mm down. Vines don’t enjoy ‘wet feet’ and the saturated ground deters deeper root development. Having learned from those previous works in similar soils, in the new block three equidistant 1m deep trenches were dug falling across the contour and filled with agi-drains and scoria. They collect the excess water and run to pits outside the vineyard where we can observe their effectiveness. They are running now after this particularly damp winter. In such a narrow vineyard this had to be done pre planting.

Clonal selection is of fundamental importance as there are many fabulous small berry and intensely flavoured clones but also there are some lower quality simple clones of Pinot Noir. The Darshan clonal mix was determined in 2012 and nods to old Australia with the focus on MV6, a clone believed to have come to Australia in 1831 with James Busby (it’s about as Australian as it gets when it comes to vine material). MV6 has proven to be an excellent clone for small bunches and small berries and both Block 5 and Original Vineyard are 100% MV6. After success in the 2001 Kaye vineyard there was a proven confidence with the more recent arrival Dijon 115 clone. What else to plant? From the Pinot Noir Workshop’s blind tastings of southern Victorian producers a belief formed as to the value of clones 777, Pommard and Abel. In Darshan we went with Pommard and 777 then added some Abel into the next planting, Block 8. The Darshan ratio is 50% MV6 with 115, 777 and Pommard in equal proportions.

Ah, the vexed question of irrigation! Over the years we have fine tuned irrigation and fertigation with soil moisture logging adding increasing strategy to our applications; we had no hesitation establishing the vines with irrigation installed. High Density vineyards have a greater ability for the whole vineyard profile to be drip irrigated as the rows are so close. The water meets up mid row beneath the surface so there is equal encouragement for root dispersion, particularly in friable soil. Establishing the vines in this environment in 2014 helped them explore down quite quickly. We were then able to target specific depths as we monitored the root develop. This was particularly significant work in the first couple of years and today, after four years of consistent crops and further root development, it is of less relevance but remains an important tool. Pleasingly, with closer rows comes more summer soil shading and wind buffering and with small crops per plant Darshan requires less irrigation.

Baring your soul and baring your soil; the young vineyard was worked for bare earth quite vigorously to remove competition from the establishing vines. Under older vines we like to see various plants growing for periods outside of spring but in new plantings we work hard to keep competition at bay to allow the shallow rooted vines the chance to establish strongly. The weed work was done by hand and rotary hoe; Darshan was established for several years by manual grind (backpack spraying). The stand-up-backwards-ploughing Niko track machine was purchased for our first cropping season, 2017 (this was the first time new equipment or practices were used in Darshan). During these establishment years of hard labour our undervine cultivation works were fine tuned in the older wider plantings using the Braun knife and disc on the old farm tractor. Cutting the soil and superficial roots and turning the soil over proved to be a slow but effective undervine management practice which was then incorporated into Darshan. After trialling straw mulch then undervine mowing, from 2005 to 2012, the old vineyards responded well to the cutting and turning so it was with confidence the knife and disc method began in the narrow rows in the 2016/17 season.

The rapid root development was mimicked by the canopy with excellent and consistent growth that required frequent copper and sulphur spraying to keep the establishing vines in leaf for as long as possible to in turn drive the roots to explore deeper. At establishment in 1988 the training wheels were firmly on and the posts had too few foliage wires and minimal clip positions. As time went by a much more intensive practice with significantly more clips and wires for training the foliage in a more detailed way was adopted. This system was used in the new plantings and managed the impressive growth in the narrow environment to encourage a thin and airy canopy that is less prone to mildews and botrytis.

The Darshan and Block 8 plantings were able to be committed to with confidence having proved the case by establishing vineyards and growing and making of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of well received quality for 25 years. It would have been impossible for us to confidently dive into density without this belief from the basis of proven quality and farming practices. There is ground work and there is groundwork. The decades before of wine community shared learnings and experiences gave ballast from which we could comfortably experiment. We now look forward to the market embracing the outcome in 2022, ten years after the surveying and digging and ripping and……..

Darshan is a personal vineyard and label for Dad, and for us. He used to counsel that getting the most basic things right first is the key; open soil, water, nutrients, lack of weed competition and healthy leaves. Another encouragement of his was patience; the establishment of a vineyard is not when it’s planted, the methodical works done before are fundamentally important.

The labels don’t reference high density or these establishment practicalities. As the family of labels has done for decades, they focus on the uniqueness of site and the special people who have inspired these wines.

I shouldn’t be excessively patriotic. Darshan is an Indian name for a wine made from a French variety. It is processed with Italian winemaking equipment then matured in French barrels. It comes from ancient First Nation’s land managed for 40,000 years. The vines are farmed by Australians of various descent (Indian, British and Vietnamese) utilising Japanese, American, French, Australian and German equipment. The lucky country, the lucky land, is multicultural Australia.

Vintage 2020

The ride was long and radical. When we thought ‘this season has had it all’ it gave some more, and what more it gave!

The early winter rains were a blessing and the soil saturated and the dams overflowed, as did our level of satisfaction. Then things dried out. Spring was dramatically dry and cold and then turned nastily windy, hot and dry. The countryside suffered. With the dry and cold of early spring came frightening freezes and hard frosts that damaged the new shoots. Here we go we said. The fruit set was disrupted by winds and wildly swinging weather and the crop was further reduced. The summer was so severe, the countryside so vulnerable, the mood was glum and our concerns went well beyond our own crops. Our colleagues and countryfolk and the fauna and flora of many states were scorched and tormented by smoke and fire in unimaginable ways.

Then things turned, and then they turned again.

From the middle of summer, the middle of January, the rains came.  The mild weather made for smiles for the season, brows softened and stock was taken. The vines took this relief and freshened as the countryside flourished a remarkable green brightness. The mushrooms sprang and the fragile crop and rebounding vines suddenly became a concern; humidity, spores and mould, delays in ripening, where was it all headed? The maturity of the fruit was slow and long,  ambling past March into the fast fracturing of health and economy as we moved from the burning then the rains to the shutdown of the pandemic. Unimaginable.

So, starting early April, under the umbrella of distancing, the careful crop clipping and wary winery work went on and the crop came in. This fruit that carries these remarkable twists and turns, barely half a crop, now ferments calmly in isolation, save for some careful tending by a skeleton crew cautious of becoming so.

Twenty 20 has barely got going but there is already so much size and shape to the story. The juices and wines have much character and depth. Some are quite beautifully harmonious and well structured. Yet, however they actually taste, we will pour so much of what we have personally and collectively gathered into our emotions and thoughts when we drink them and reflect on……well, a season that’s hardly 20/20.

September 2019

September is always an exciting month at Bindi. The vineyard comes to life, as does the flora and fauna around the property as the birds’ chorus builds and the wildflowers colour the bush and grass lands. It is also the month we release the final set of the previous vintage wines. There is a lovely loop as the last of the 2018s are released, the 2019s rest in barrel and the 2020 season bursts from the canes as buds then shoots.

The 2018 season has produced beautifully balanced and expressive wines. This fine season was neither cool nor hot and the balance in the weather and vines is evident in the charm and beauty of the wines. All the 2018s have a long life ahead of them yet will drink beautifully as they age due to their harmony. The 2019s are a different story, all bright and brash and charged with vintage and vineyard character as they slowly gain finesse and beauty. What will be the outcome for 2020? We have the vision, the usual fastidious processes will be followed and refined and then, in the autumn, we shall see!

High Density Vineyards

Darshan; this high density Pinot Noir vineyard, dedicated to “‘Bill” Darshan Singh Dhillon, planted to 11,300 vines per hectare, grew exceptionally well and produced its third beautiful crop in 2019.  This one acre (0.4 ha.) vineyard has always been run without herbicide or pesticide. The continued use this season of our narrow German Niko tractor (68cm wide!), configured to cultivate under vine and to spray three complete rows at once, has been exciting. The quality of this wine has stepped up significantly each harvest.

Block 8; three seasons ago we planted another high density Pinot Noir vineyard (1.888 acres with 8,888 vines and the eighth block established at Bindi (established 1988)) and it is a continuation around the slope from Block 5. We now have the first wine in barrel and it is looking exceptionally promising. These two new wines are taking our purity and depth ‘next level’.

Towards the end of 2022 we shall begin to offer these wines after we have made six wines from Darshan and four from Block 8. It shall be ten years from surveying and working the soil to the first release.

Notes on the just completed 2019 harvest. 10 April 2019

Notes on the just completed 2019 harvest.

After fifty consecutive winery days it finally feels like the harvesting and fermenting are done! The resulting wines in barrel tell the story of a remarkable and exceptionally successful season. It is now we take our first steps off the roller coaster that began in September 2018 and concluded in these first April weeks of 2019. Whilst still slightly giddy, the mind, like the wines, is naturally clearing and brightening.

This growing season began with the driest September in 110 years after a winter disappointingly devoid of saturating rains. It was an eerie omen and had us on edge for what could unfold as the Spring progressed. October saw an unprecedented run of frosts and our nerves were further frayed. Then, thankfully, the season making rains came. November and December provided relieving rainfall and the vines flourished and the dams rose. It really was a dramatic turnaround and the scene and the fruit became set for a potentially great run to harvest. These rains came with a little cost as a tickle of downey mildew saw a few berries lost and an unfriendly thunderstorm delivered berry splitting hail to any exposed bunches on the eastern side of the canopy. But, in the scheme of the season, these maladies were of little consequence.

The dramatic and weathering ride continued into January as the heat reared and seared what had been splendid green grass over the new year. It proved to be the hottest January recorded. February saw cooler and calmer conditions and it felt like the season had shifted, however a late sting in the tail saw some late month heat which brought forward the harvest of the high density vineyards (including the first crop from Block 8) and some earlier ripening clones in the Kaye vineyard. Overall March was quite mild and saw the harvest run over a record number of days with a March 7th commencement and a conclusion on the 26th. This meant most blocks ripened quite slowly and benefited from a run of lovely autumnal weather where the cool nights preserved acidity and freshness and the sunny days built intensity and structure.

Comparing the sublime 2018 season and wines to the 2019s makes for an intriguing assessment. The 2018s give the impression of effortless beauty; they are fine and fragrant, harmonious and driven with fabulous ageing potential. The 2019s are more powerfully structured yet have quite beautiful fruit embedded inside the scale. Such early days but perhaps for the next five years the 2018s will charm while the 2019s brood?  The run of fine seasons, beginning with the marvellous 2015, has quite remarkably continued.