George McCullough Gum Wine

Top Winemakers

Having curated wine selections for elite Melbourne establishments like Grossi Florentino, Coda, Tonka, and King & Godfree, George McCullough developed a nuanced understanding of wine’s intrinsic link to gastronomy and terroir. His leap from an accomplished sommelier to a committed winemaker, from the dining room to the vineyard, underlines a profound commitment to the craft of wine. His intent with Gum Wine – launched in 2022, is to make fresh and savoury styles of wine, that are suited to food. The endeavour is centred on a vineyard in the Yarra Valley, but is complemented by wines sourced from Heathcote and Macedon vineyards. All wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

“I was sick of selling everyone else’s wine,” recounts McCullough. “It was time to make my own!”

“My years as a sommelier,” he reflects, “taught me about the delicate dance between a wine’s character and its context, an insight that profoundly informs my winemaking philosophy.”

The leap from sommelier to winemaker was fueled by a desire to create, to influence wine at its source rather than curate it. “There’s a deep satisfaction in crafting something from the ground up, in translating the language of the vineyard into a wine that speaks of its place and time,” McCullough muses on his transition.

At the heart of McCullough’s winemaking venture is his stewardship of a venerable vineyard in Cathedral Range. “Taking over this vineyard wasn’t just about making wine. It was about continuing a legacy, about understanding and honoring the narrative woven into this land over decades,” he shares, highlighting the profound connection he feels to the vineyard and its past.

“The vineyard was planted 40 years ago by Christine & Phil Challen of Little River Wines,” says McCullogh as he tells the story. “I chanced upon this site in Cathedral Range – years of fly fishing around the area and I only discovered it in 2019! Then two years later when I was setting up the negociant side of what would be Gum Wines, serendipitously, a colleague of mine introduced me to the owners. I requested to purchase fruit. Phil & Chris are in their later years and declined my request, stating that they wished to pull the vines out and run cattle through the property as they felt they could no longer look after the site. Feeling this would be a shame, I intervened. Within 24 hours I’d signed an agreement and had thrown myself in the deep end and have been managing and leasing the site ever since.”

The site is predominantly chardonnay, though there is a small amount of pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. “It is a very cold site, with harvest dates 3-5 weeks after much of the Yarra,” describes McCullugh.

“I think this influences my winemaking style as I love chasing acidity and freshness in wine and harnessing more spice laden aromas and aromatics. This isn’t without challenge though, the site is cold and receives a lot of rainfall in early spring typically due to its location on the other site of the Great Dividing Range. Canopy management and foliage thinning needs to be strict to reduce the pressures of disease. Chardonnay also just wants to grow and grow and grow!”

Central to his winemaking journey has been the mentorship of Adam Foster at Syrahmi, where McCullough honed his craft. “Adam’s guidance was instrumental, offering me a foundation in the practical alchemy of winemaking,” says McCullough. “At Syrahmi, I learned to appreciate the minutiae of winemaking, the subtle interplay of science and art that defines great wine.”

This mentorship was not just technical but philosophical, shaping McCullough’s approach to his own label, Gum wines. “Adam taught me to see wine as a narrative, a story of the vineyard, the season, and the winemaker,” he explains. “With Gum, I strive to continue that narrative, to create wines that are expressions of their environment, shaped by a sommelier’s palate.”

Through Gum wines, McCullough’s voice emerges not just in the wines he crafts but in the narrative he weaves, one that pays homage to his roots in hospitality and his respect for the vineyard’s legacy. “I’m not just making wine, I’m telling a story – one that I hope resonates with those who drink my wines, connecting them to the land and my journey.”

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