Kirilly Gordon’s career has taken her from her Macedon home to wineries around Victoria and to Italy and France. As of 2021, she has looped back home, working at the vineyard the inspired her in the first place, Bindi. That role works in concert with her own label, Bowerbird Wines, specialising in shiraz and viognier, while Patch Wines is her most recent venture, a partnership to make fun, accessible wines that sprang out of the wreckage of Covid.
Gordon studied agricultural science at Melbourne University, with work experience in her home region inspiring her into pursuing wine as a career. “I grew up in Mount Macedon, in the middle of the Macedon Ranges,” she says. “As part of my degree we had to do a certain number of hours work experience and I was lucky enough – after doing a few weeks on a sheep and wheat farm in central Victoria – to be introduced to Bill Dhillon at Bindi, just down the road, in the summer of 1997. I didn’t have the first idea about wine or grape growing and distinctly remember mustering up the courage to ask Bill what made a wine a pinot or a chardonnay…”
The work with Dhillon inspired Gordon, and after completing her agricultural science degree she enrolled in wine science at Charles Sturt. “Working that summer with Bill in the vineyard was a turning point for me,” she says. “I gained an amazing mentor in life and found a passion for nurturing vines to grow grapes.”
Gordon studied part time while working at Hanging Rock Winery for about five years as assistant winemaker. “It was a great way to learn the practical side in the winery and the science side at uni. John Ellis had been dux at Roseworthy in his time and set high expectations for the scientific aspects of making wine,” she says. “It was a very fast learning curve for me processing fruit all the way from Swan Hill to Macedon… also very long vintages.”
A trip to France and Italy in 2004 saw Gordon do a vintage at Friulian progressive superstar Vie de Romans. Stints with Scott Ireland at Provenance Wines in Geelong, Bress in Harcourt, and three years at Sunbury’s Galli followed, along with a vintage in the Southern Rhône. “I worked with Scott Ireland for a couple of years before starting a family,” says Gordon. “I learnt more about pinot noir and chardonnay and pinot gris. I learnt that I loved whole bunches in shiraz! And became familiar with muscles I never knew I had plunging many open fermenters!”
Four years as the winemaker at Witchmount followed, then a brief stint at Coombe Yarra Valley was derailed by the pandemic. By that time, however, Bowerbird Wines had already taken flight. “By 2016 I had contributed to a number of medal and trophy winning wines,” says Gordon. “I felt it was time to put my name to my own label and experience the good and potentially challenging consequences of being 100 per cent responsible for all winemaking decisions. The Bowerbird name makes sense to me when I think of why we drink and share wine and food. I thoroughly enjoy creating a product that brings people together to share and pique interest discussion and enjoyment.”
Gordon’s first wines were a shiraz and a viognier. “I was able to see shiraz vinified from both Heathcote and from the Sunbury region side by side and appreciated the vitality and brightness that the Sunbury fruit had.”
She says that her first Viognier was inspired by a then newly found love of Condrieu in the Northern Rhône, along with a friendship with the “inspiring vigneron Christina Gillies” who owns Rupert’s Ridge Vineyard with her husband John Williams. “I am also partial to a challenge, and from vine to glass viognier was a challenge,” says Gordon.
And while the Coombe gig didn’t last, another brand emerged for Gordon. “After Covid struck, the amazing team I went to work with became disbanded, so I decided not to stay,” she says. “But I started another winemaking project with Matt Talbot who I had worked with at Coombe. Patch Wines is jointly owned by the two of us – my experience making wine and Matt’s experience in the trade and business management is a great match. We make wines with a less serious feel but that are nonetheless well-made and delicious.”
At the end of vintage 2021, Michael and Wendy Dhillon at Bindi asked Gordon if she would like to work with them. “For me it was coming full circle,” she says. “I had stayed in touch with them over the years, helping out with some bottlings and harvest and pruning. So now I am back there only a few minutes from home, spending much more time in the vineyard, driving the Niko tractors, throwing sticks for dogs, making the odd bit of wine and having at least 95 per cent fun.”