Daylesford in Five Drinks

12 June 2020. Words by Jeremy Shiell.

Now that we’re emerging from the social symptoms of COVID-19, and have the opportunity to rekindle our relationship with our favourite places, we asked Jeremy Shiell, Daylesford native and one of Australia’s most respected sommeliers, to gives us his version of the area. As before, it’s a tale told through five favourite drinks…

Daylesford is an hour and a bit from Melbourne, home to most of Australia’s mineral springs, a thriving Instagram influencer community and its attendant luxury AirBnBs, and at the border of the Macedon Ranges, Bendigo and Ballarat wine regions. I moved here with my small family in 2012, after a few years at the helm of the Royal Mail Hotel wine list in Dunkeld – when Dan Hunter was on the pans and tweezers – to the relative metropolis of Daylesford. There are rich volcanic soils, great produce and foraging in the forests, and arguments about wine to be found in the hills. Since 2012, I have repped the wines of super-importer Andrew Guard in regional Victoria, and this vintage will commence the second year as assistant junior cellar hand (somewhere between the kelpies in terms of pecking order at the winery) to Josh Cooper, a ‘gentleman’s vintage’ where lunch and the choice of bottle at lunch is always very important.

2016 Domaine Labet ‘les Varrons’ Chardonnay, Côtes-du-Jura $100

I’ve worked slinging wine at Jen Latta’s Wine and the Country in Daylesford for about two and a half years now (it’s been open for nearly seven). It’s a great little shop and wine bar, with a cornucopia of vinous treasures, both local and tightly allocated imported delights, the likes of which disappear instantaneously from metropolitan shelves. Cheese and charcuterie fly out of the sister deli, DOS, and there’s a strong crew of locals. And now there’s a cool little wine community up here, too. Dilworth & Allain, the Lattas at Eastern Peake, Joshua Cooper, Troy Walsh from Attwoods, now in Glenlyon, and the beardy blokes up the road in Castlemaine – waves to the Boomtown massive – amongst others. And that’s without mentioning all the restaurants and their wine-obsessed staff. I could choose any number of bottles from the shelf that encapsulate ‘the shop’, but here’s a recent and annual favourite. Labet is a producer we jump on each year. These are terrific wines of detail and drive, with amazing focus, purity and minerality. Savoury and succulent too – so beautiful. There’s really nothing around like them for my tastes.

In super-exciting news, we’ve used the COVID-downtime to relocate and we’ll open as Winespeake: with vastly more bottles, more cheese and charcuterie, and more good times, on an iconic site in central Daylesford. Scheduled to open at the beginning of July, come visit!

Wine and the Country in Daylesford brought a new dimension of wines to the region. They’re now relocating and opening as Winespeake in July 2020.

2018 Latta ‘Tranquil’ Nebbiolo Rosé (en Magnum), Pyrenees $80 1.5L

I don’t think Owen actually put much of this into magnums, but if you see one in the wild, grab it. It’s a giant baseball bat of a bottle filled with freakin’ delicious nebbiolo (and a soupçon of sangiovese) rosé. Campari and amaro vibes make this supremely refreshing, and ridiculously smashable (this is where that extra volume comes in handy). Ridiculously, Owen, who’s in his mid-30s, has completed 20 vintages at Eastern Peake, after stepping in when his old man, Norm, had an accident in the winery. He is, for mine, one of the few Australian winemakers who can make low or no sulphur wines that don’t end up looking like murky bong water after 20 minutes in the glass (perhaps the cold Ballarat cellar climate helps too?). There have been more than a couple of large parties where turning up with this tucked under the arm (and into the wheelbarrow full of ice, parked in the paddock) really got things moving.

2014 Cobaw Ridge Syrah, Macedon Ranges $55

The summer of 2013/14 was fairly hot and ordinary in these parts, an occurrence becoming all too common. On a brighter note, it was also the summer Alex Foillard, son of Jean and Agnès Foillard in Beaujolais, arrived to stay with Alan and Nelly Cooper and son Joshua, with firm instructions from Villié-Morgon not to return to Beaujolais until “he could speak English.” ‘The Foillard’, as he was universally known in these parts, arrived rocking an epic French bowl cut and boundless enthusiasm. Cobaw Ridge, planted in the 80s, is certified biodynamic, and the granite in which the vines are planted lends the syrah in particular a very Rhône-ish feel. Perhaps apocryphally, Josh and Alex put a little more whole bunch than directed into the ferment, and the result echoes the very best of the Rhône, like an antipodean Pierre Gonon. Drink this at the bar at the Surly Goat in Hepburn Springs where chef Dave Willcocks runs a great country neighbourhood restaurant with a nifty wine list.

The Surly Goat in Hepburn Springs has a nifty wine list.

1976 Balgownie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Bendigo ($75-100 at auction)

Stuart Anderson’s influence is writ large across central Victoria. That’s his face on the label of the ‘Block 5’ Pinot Noir from Michael Dhillon’s Bindi in the Macedon Ranges. His daughter Jude’s partner is Gilles Lapalus, he of the fabulous hair, dapper scarves and of course Maidenii Vermouth, Maison Lapalus and Bertrand Bespoke and the early days of Sutton Grange. Anderson, before selling up in the 80s made some great wines, but it’s the cabernets that I reckon will be most remembered. From deeply unfashionable Maiden Gully near Bendigo, planted in 1969, out of undisturbed, cool cellars these are terrific, still alive and providing much pleasure. Bottles of the 1976, 78, 81 and 85 recently have all been excellent.

Guinness (pint of) at the Radio Springs Hotel, Lyonville $12

Between Daylesford and Trentham, after the pretty drive through Musk and the Wombat Forest, lies the Centre of the Universe (it’s signposted thus, so clearly fact), on the corner of High and Main Street, in Lyonville – The Radio Springs Hotel. Winters in these parts are pretty long; if it’s 10 degrees in Melbourne, it’s often four or five degrees in Daylesford and the Central Highlands. You need some good thermal underwear, flannel sheets and a good pub. Publicans Ken and Jackie, along with Graham and the other legends, run a decidedly great pub. There’s no music except when it’s live, the food’s set to comforting, there’s all sorts of paraphernalia adorning the walls, shelves and rooms, not to mention the cinema and tiki bar out the back. When there’s snow on the ground and the fires are roaring, there’s nothing better than a slightly surreal chat with Ken over the bar and a perfectly poured Guinness.

The Radio Springs Hotel can be found the Centre of the Universe.

Jeremy Shiell is the Victorian regional representative for Andrew Guard Wine Imports. He works for Jen and Owen Latta at Wine and the Country, in Daylesford, and drags hoses around in the winery for Joshua Cooper. Shiell is also one of Australia’s most respected sommeliers, with a lengthy stint curating the mammoth wine list at The Royal Mail Hotel, in Dunkeld. His tenure was during the peak of Dan Hunter’s reign when it was acclaimed as one of the country’s finest restaurants. Jeremy is a Daylesford resident, and can be found on Instagram and Twitter @JezShiell.

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