It’s not an unfamiliar story for a top sommelier or restaurant/bar owner to be lured into decamping from their night job and setting up shop on the other side of the fence, making wine. Nor is it uncommon for a sommelier to dabble in making wine, to greater and lesser degrees. What is less typical,…
Ben Ranken Wilimee
In 2013, Ben Ranken and his wife, Sally Richardson, purchased the old Portree Vineyard near Lancefield in the Macedon Ranges. Sitting at 600 m above sea level and with most vines over 30 years old, this was no small thing. It’s no secret that chardonnay and pinot noir love cool territory, with enough sunshine but cool nights to preserve flavour and freshness, and Macedon (along with much of Tasmania) has long been hallowed ground for the Burgundian pair. That potential, with well-sited vineyards and meaningful vine age, is now expanding beyond the handful of makers – Bindi, Cobaw Ridge, Epis, Curly Flat etc. – that have properly made their mark over time in.
With a great resource of site and vine, makers like Ranken are capitalising. Armed with about as solid an education that you could get with De Bortoli’s Steve Webber, Ranken also worked in Burgundy at Domaine Michel Juillot, at Domaine Clavel in Pic Saint-Loup and at Chateau Lafleur in Pomerol, as well as in the United States. Ranken’s vinous history stretches back a bit further than that, though, with his childhood spent on a farm and vineyard in the cool territory of Tumbarumba, at the foot of the Snowy Mountains. His ancestor, George Ranken also planted some of this country’s first vines in 1841, at Bathurst.
On Cambrian (for chardonnay) and granitic (for pinot noir) soils, the vineyard stands next to an ancient Wurundjeri quarry used as a resource of greenstone for fashioning stone hatchets/tomahawks. The soils are some of Australia’s oldest, and Ranken farms using an organic mindset, with an ultimate move to biodynamics in the future. The winemaking is simple, with natural alcoholic and malolactic ferments and no filtration. The wines are also racked on a new moon to bottle. Additionally, Ranken has been experimenting with maturing wine submerged underwater, with bottles of pinot noir sitting under 5 m of pressure for five years, the first being the 2015, which is due for release in 2021.