Experimental wine racks up awards

Minimum Wines content and impact manager Mat Bate (left) and winemaker Leigh Ritchie, who hails from Shepparton. Photo by Daneka Hill

A small winery in northern Victoria is pushing the boundaries of winemaking and reaping the rewards, says DANEKA HILL.

Minimum Wines is only on its fifth vintage, but the Toolamba-based winery is already stacking up the awards.

Recently, the Goulburn Valley team won two awards and two medals at the Australian Organic Wine Industry Awards.

Minimum Wines content and impact manager Mat Bate said the award-winning vintages were already sold out, but it was good to get industry recognition as a certified organic, carbon zero and experimental wine label.

“The wines we just received the awards for were our 2021 Hailstorm Special Pet Nat and The Colossus of Harry, a 2020 Sauvignon Blanc,” Mat said.

“The Colossus of Harry was the same wine which put our lead winemaker Matthew Purbrick on the Young Gun of Wine short-list.”

The Pet Nat won Best Park Wine Award and a silver medal for its ‘light hearted’ blend of Sangiovese and Chardonnay grapes, which made the judges deem it a perfect ‘picnic in the park’ wine.

The Colossus of Harry won Best Left of Centre Wine Award and a gold medal for its use of fruit skin contact.

Minimum Wines has two winemakers on the books and both are Goulburn Valley locals, with Matthew Purbrick growing up around his family’s Nagambie vineyard Tahbilk and Leigh Ritchie coming from Shepparton.

Winemaking has taken Leigh all over the world, but he never expected to end up in his own backyard.

“If you would’ve told me I’d end up making wine like this in the Goulburn Valley with grapes from a Toolamba farm I used to check fruit fly traps on, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said.

Leigh said Toolamba’s Italian-like climate helped with the experimental side of the winemaking.

“The Colossus of Harry wine was a real testament to the experimentation.

“We knew the vineyard in Toolamba so we knew what the fruit was going to give us and it wasn’t a New Zealand-style Sauvignon Blanc, so we didn’t bother trying to replicate the New Zealand style, which is boysenberry and high acid.

“We did something textural by keeping the grape skins on longer (during fermentation).”

The local outfit crushes about 100 tonnes of fruit a year and is producing 4000 to 5000 cases.

From the recent 2022 harvest, the team is promising some exciting outcomes and several firsts.

“Three new grape varieties were grafted into the Toolamba vineyard three years ago, so it’s only now (2022) we’re getting our hands on them,” Leigh said.

Mat said if a particular wine stands out it will be selected as a ‘short run’ or ‘limited edition’ wine.

“The short runs are really our most experimental,” he said.

“We’ve also got a totally natural sister-brand called Unpo, which is just fermented grape juice basically. That is the challenge on steroids and our very good stuff will go into Unpo.”

Unpo wines are created in small amounts and get shipped into the European Union where Matthew Purbrick (who lives in Berlin) plans to launch the sister-brand.

It means one day wine aficionados in France and Italy might sit around enjoying Toolamba grapes, nearly untouched since they left the vine.