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Malakoff Vineyard, Pyrenees Cameron John & Robert John

Top Vineyards

In Victoria’s Pyrenees, near Landsborough, the Malakoff Vineyard has become one of the state’s most celebrated grower sites, supplying fruit to a shimmering galaxy of winemaking stars. Owned and managed by father and son viticultural team Robert and Cameron John, the site was first celebrated by Northern Rhône superstar Michel Chapoutier when he saw the potential for greatness in Victorian gold country, but it is now perhaps better known for supplying nebbiolo and shiraz to more recognisably local makers.

Fruit from the Malakoff Vineyard goes to some luminous names, from larger makers to those distinctly niche. Brown Brothers, Latta Vino, Willow Creek, SubRosa, Lethbridge, Handpicked Wines, Fletcher, Out of Step and Ben Haines have all worked with Malakoff fruit, and many of those wines proudly wear the vineyard name on the bottle, rather than it being an anonymous source. Indeed, the Malakoff name has become a moniker of significant prestige, with it arguably contributing more to the development of Australian nebbiolo than any other Victorian vineyard.

And while nebbiolo is the variety often twinned with the Malakoff name, it is shiraz that is the site’s key grape. Planted progressively from 1997 to 2000, with further additions made in ’04 and ’05 – and an increase in the nebbiolo made in ’14 through grafting at the expense of some shiraz – the site now has 23 hectares under vine, with 4.6 hectares of nebbiolo and under a third of a hectare of viognier, with the lion’s share made up of three clones of shiraz.

“Each shiraz clone exhibits its own characteristics at our vineyard, elegant, spicy characters for the PT23 [clone], softer rounder characters for the BVRC30 [clone], and high fruit intensity with a hint of black olive character for the Best’s old block clone,” says owner Robert John. “There is, however, an overarching inky spice character across each clone from our terroir that makes our vineyard unique.”

“Each shiraz clone exhibits its own characteristics at our vineyard, elegant, spicy characters for the PT23 [clone], softer rounder characters for the BVRC30 [clone], and high fruit intensity with a hint of black olive character for the Best’s old block clone,” says owner Robert John. “There is, however, an overarching inky spice character across each clone from our terroir that makes our vineyard unique.”

While John notes that the nebbiolo is typically picked either early or late, making contrasting styles, the vineyard character is still a defining feature. “The style for the earlier picks is a lighter, fresh and very approachable and fragrant style, while the later picks show stronger flavours of spice, cherry and tarry characters. However, both styles exhibit our terroir showing a beautiful rose petal bouquet, which is very recognisable for all nebbiolos from our vineyard.”

Naturally, the farming of the vineyard is integral to the quality of fruit, but John notes that he is blessed with the foundation of an excellent site. “The vineyard is well sheltered with moderate slopes and a north-easterly aspect with no frost traps. The subsoil of red pervious clay interspersed with quartz gravel and ironstone is ideal for the growing of high-quality red grapes.”

While John notes that the nebbiolo is typically picked either early or late, making contrasting styles, the vineyard character is still a defining feature. “The style for the earlier picks is a lighter, fresh and very approachable and fragrant style, while the later picks show stronger flavours of spice, cherry and tarry characters. However, both styles exhibit our terroir showing a beautiful rose petal bouquet, which is very recognisable for all nebbiolos from our vineyard.”

Naming climate change as the biggest challenge facing not just his vineyard, but the industry as a whole, John works on multiple fronts to mitigate its impact. “We carry out an ongoing mulching program using our own mulch spreader, canopy management practice to protect the grapes from excessive heat, delayed pruning practices to manipulate harvest dates, and modifying irrigation practices relating to timing of vineyard watering to increase the effectiveness of our watering programs.”

Additionally, John is active in contributing to the change necessary to restore the local environment to hopefully have a broader impact on mitigation. “We have been active in improving the environment of our land adjoining the vineyard,” he says. “We have set aside areas as nature reserves and have an ongoing program of reducing and repairing soil erosion.”

A close relationship with makers is something that John prides himself on, with a spirit of cooperation the cornerstone. “We value very highly having a partnership with the winemakers and viticulturists of our customers, to ensure we provide the best quality fruit we can. We believe in fostering a co-operative partnership between ourselves and our winemakers to develop a shared responsibility on how the vineyard is managed.”

This close relationship and the overriding objective of quality over quantity means that yields are kept strictly low, while harvesting is targeted over several passes to ensure all grapes are at optimal ripeness in respect to the client’s specifications. John takes the care one step further, with an insulated storage shed being built to store picked grapes in pristine condition while they await collection. The extent that the Johns go to to satisfy their client’s quality demands – along with the very high standard of wines that come off the Malakoff Vineyard – make it one of the most highly pursued sources of grapes in the country.