Simão & Co. Wines
With a range that covers significant territory, from the Alpine and King Valleys to Beechworth, Glenrowan and Rutherglen, Simon makes wine from all five of the North-East’s regions.
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, is to find said person running two of the country’s most successful wine and food endeavours, while also not just making wine, but running two vineyards, as well as sourcing select parcels of fruit, with all the headaches that are involved.
Jayden Ong is the co-owner and founder, with Andrew Mc Connell, of Cumulus Inc. and its wine bar sibling, Cumulus Up, and is responsible for overseeing the front of house and wine mentoring. On the other side, he and his wife, Morgan, own a property on Mount Toolebewong, in the Yarra Valley, where they have close planted a vineyard at significant elevation, which they tend organically. Additionally, they hold a long-term lease on the Chestnut Hill Vineyard, on Mount Burnett, which is a fruit source of fabled quality.
“We found a beautiful property on top of a mountain, that hadn’t been farmed before, and we felt this was the place we would set down roots,” says Ong. “In the winter of 2016, we also converted the Chestnut Hill Vineyard to organic farming principles, with some biological inputs. We saw the residual effects of the conventional chemicals disappear, and the vineyard start to build its strength in a more natural way. The net result in the wines is concentration and purity of fruit. We also achieved thicker skins, which resulted in more phenolics available for use, both in red and white wines.”
Ong cut his teeth at one of Melbourne’s legendary wine bar/restaurants, the now sadly defunct Melbourne Wine Room. Towards the end of his six-year stint there, finishing in 2006, Jayden took up a distance education Wine Science Degree at Charles Sturt University. He also completed vintages at Curly Flat, Moorooduc Estate, Allies and Garagiste, while also swinging the doors open at Cumulus Inc. in 2008, and Cumulus Up in 2012.
“I started working with wine through hospitality,” says Ong, “learning about ‘great’ wine from the end product – bottles on dining tables. Then I wanted to learn more, how these wines arrived on the table and where they had come from. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel widely, spending time in France, Italy, Spain and the USA before study and searching for a site.”
Well before finding his ideal site, the One Block label was launched in 2010, focusing on select parcels of fruit from the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula. Today, the One Block wines are joined by Maison de Ong, Moonlit Forest and the eponymous Jayden Ong ranges. Across the wines, the focus is on quality of site and then hard work in the vineyard, with organic practices and use of compost and cover crops, with no herbicides or pesticides employed. Winemaking is simple, with natural ferments, minimal sulphur, no fining and only minimal filtration, if necessary.
“The way we farm comes from a need to give ourselves the best opportunity to make great wine,” says Ong. “The way I make wine stems from an understanding of balance and texture, similar to Chinese cooking, and utilising traditional techniques to achieve layers. The eponymous wines are detailed, pure and expressive with an alluring character defined by the vineyard and vintage, while the Moonlit Forest is a range of unfiltered, minimal-intervention wines. Wines of texture and balance. Delicious drinks, sometimes made of unusual blends or made from unconventional or old-school techniques.”