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Crittenden Estate, Mornington Peninsula Rollo Crittenden & Garry Crittenden

Top Vineyards

Crittenden Estate is one of Mornington Peninsula’s oldest vineyards, with Garry Crittenden planting his first couple of hectares in the 80s, which doubled the region’s land under vine at the time. Today, while the regional strengths of chardonnay and pinot noir remain the same, much on the Peninsula has changed. And the Crittendens have changed too, with Garry and his son Rollo steering the viticulture down a sustainable route that has seen vast benefits for biodiversity and soil health, as well as wine quality.

Garry Crittenden planted the estate’s first vines in Dromana back in 1982, helping to pioneer grapegrowing on the Mornington Peninsula at the time. Those first vines were pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, with additional plantings and grafting occurring over the years, with the last additions in 2007. Today, the focus is firmly on pinot noir – across seven clones – and chardonnay, with a smattering of savagnin and a tiny plot of arneis. There are currently 4.45 hectares under vine.

While Garry’s son Rollo is now at the helm, steering the operations in both the winery and vineyard, the pair have worked closely over the years to reassess the viticulture practices. Noticing a drop in the quality of their fruit some 15 years ago, they began to push in a sustainable direction.

“We gradually learnt that 25 years of conventional farming had taken a toll on our soil health and ultimately our vines,” Rollo says. “We are now on a quest to better understand the science of our actions so we can further refine our processes and ultimately improve wine quality.”

Those processes, which include apiaries to encourage pollination of both native species and vines, biodiversity corridors with a range of fruiting trees, the growth of interrow cover crops, an operation that produces 400 cubic metres of compost a year, and a major reduction (with the end goal elimination) of synthetic chemicals is firmly focused on building soil health.

Crittenden turning the compost they make on site for the vineyard.
The compost in hand.
“We are neither organic nor biodynamic,” Rollo says. “We selectively use positive aspects of both of these philosophies and combine them with other increasingly recognised findings…. One of our current projects is to better understand the fungi and bacteria in our soil and their beneficial interaction with our vines. We are learning that every process we take in the vineyard will impact the mycorrhizal layer one way or another – both positively and negatively.”

“We are neither organic nor biodynamic,” Rollo says. “We selectively use positive aspects of both of these philosophies and combine them with other increasingly recognised findings…. One of our current projects is to better understand the fungi and bacteria in our soil and their beneficial interaction with our vines. We are learning that every process we take in the vineyard will impact the mycorrhizal layer one way or another – both positively and negatively.”

While the Crittenden’s source fruit from across Victoria, their home vineyard is the source of their flagship wines under their ‘Cri de Coeur’ and ‘Zumma’ ranges, which include chardonnay and pinot noir expressions and a flor-aged savagnin in the style of the wines of the Jura. But without their investigation into restoring the balance in their soil and increasing biodiversity, Rollo believes some of these wines would never have been possible.

“Improved vineyard performance has resulted in an undeniable increase in wine quality,” Rollo says, “and allowed us to introduce a super-premium range of wines. Those wines have justified our investment in land management practices and encouraged us to put in place an ongoing program of vineyard improvement to underpin the future of our family operation for generations to come.”

Garry Crittenden standing amongst some inter row planting of rye grass.
Flattening the cover crop to suppress weeds, retain soil moisture, and ultimately add carbon back into the soil.

Since re-evaluating their viticultural practices and working to restore the soil, Rollo has seen an ever-increasing improvement not just in fruit quality, but also in the clarity of expression of site. “For many years now, and increasingly, I’ve felt our vineyard shows a unique character that can only be attributed to the patch of dirt where our vines are grown.

“For pinot noir in particular our wines show a fragrance and elegance – characters which appear to be amplifying as the vines grow older and we invest more heavily in the health our soils. These bright and generous fruit characters are supported consistently with almost chalky fine grain tannins and are evident year in year out – regardless of clone or the variable weather conditions we endure. ”

The future success for Crittenden Estate is also linked to managing the impacts of climate change, which Rollo says are unmistakably apparent over their long stewardship of the Dromana site.

“As a family with over 37 years’ experience tending to one site, we are acutely aware of the gradual impacts of climate change. While always playing our part to minimise our carbon footprint, via solar energy production and the like, we have witnessed firsthand the benefits our sustainable growing activities can have both in terms of minimising water usage and also maintaining vibrancy and energy in our wines. If we don’t want to change what we grow or where we grow, all we can do is change how we grow!”

Rollo Crittenden