For a small winery from Australia’s Yarra Valley that has never exported to Ontario, Oakridge Wines is making big inroads into this market with the LCBO’s listing of three of their wines this October. Winemaker David Bicknell sat down with me at the Toronto Hunt Club to discuss Oakridge’s winemaking philosophy. The tasting was hosted by agent Churchill Cellars.
Australia’s scenic Yarra Valley is just 50 kilometres northeast of Melbourne. Most of the wineries in this region are small to mid-sized and Oakridge is at the boutique end of this range, producing only 26,000 cases. The ratio of white to red wines is relatively balanced, with the predominant varietals being Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, at roughly 40% each.
Oakridge’s ownership has changed hands twice due to financial instability since it was opened in 1978. The first time was in 2001, when founder and winemaker Michael Zitzlaff became overextended just as Australia’s surge in wine production pushed the country into a major glut of wine. Zitzlaff sold out to wine conglomerate Evans & Tate of Australia’s western Margaret River wine region. The second time was when Evans & Tate ran into financial trouble in 2006. Tony d’Aloisio, then a commissioner with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC), bought the property that year and the winery itself in 2007, when Evans & Tate filed for bankruptcy.
Bicknell has played a key role in the winery since Evans & Tate recruited him as Oakridge’s winemaker in 2002 from de Bortoli Wines, where he had worked for ten years. A former male nurse, he is recognized as one of Australia’s leading makers of Chardonnay, winning numerous awards in the process. He has become a major proponent of experimenting with cool climate vineyards. To do this, he has had to partner with growers outside the region. This is because Oakridge’s 10 hectares of vineyards are situated in the warmer part of the Yarra Valley, which Bicknell delineates as lying north of the Warburton Highway. Alluvial soils and arid conditions characterize these vineyards, which are situated on the low lying flood plains of the Yarra River. In contrast, the 40 hectares of vineyards Bicknell buys from to the south of the highway enjoy a cooler climate due to their higher elevation and greater rainfall.
Oakridge offers three levels of wine. Their ‘Over the Shoulder’ entry level label accounts for half of their production and is aged 1/3 in old oak and 2/3 in stainless steel tanks. Their Vineyard Designate wines account for another 40% of their production and are oak adged in 20% new oak. The remaining 10% are their high end 864 wines, named after their address at 864 Marinda Highway.
Oakridge Over the Shoulder Chardonnay Yarra Valley Victoria 2011 (12.3%,V285759, $24.95) Look for fruit complexity rather than oak influences in this pale lemon wine. “We want it to taste like fruit, not trees.” Lemon and a streak of white grapefruit intermingle with honey and pear flavours in this wine, made with 75% estate grown, warmer climate grapes.
Oakridge Over the Shoulder Shiraz/Viognier Yarra Valley Victoria 2008 (13.5%;V284158, $24.95) was made with 7% Viognier in the blend. Plum coloured, this approachable wine has a slightly perfumed nose with match stick notes. It offers a full palate of black fruit flavours, compelling savoury nuances and hints of leather.
Oakridge Pinot Noir Yarra Valley 2010 (12.9%; V284059,$38.95) is a dark purple coloured wine, with impressive aromatics of cranberries and forest berries. Bing cherry flavours and red currants follow through with soft tannins in this elegant wine that was aged for 10 months in French oak.
All scores out of five apples.
Barbara D. Ritchie is a wine writer, lecturer and internationally accredited wine judge, who has travelled extensively throughout the main wine growing regions of the world. Her working knowledge of French, Italian, Spanish and German facilitates her in-depth winery profiles. A distinctive aspect to writing is her suggestions for food and wine pairings.