Lyons Will is a small estate in the Macedon Ranges owned and run by husband-and-wife team Renata Morello and Oliver Rapson. Planted to chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir and gamay, the wines are as much expressions of variety as they are of the elevated, cold vineyard site and the traditional, manual winemaking.
“Our vineyard is 540 metres above sea level,” says Morello. “The unique environment and soils play a huge part in Lyons Will wines. All wines are made from exclusively estate grown fruit with minimal intervention in the winery to ensure the wines speak of the site in which they are grown. The range is all low sulphur, and the vineyard is managed with sustainability at its heart, no pesticides, herbicides or insecticides.”
The gamay has a whole-bunch carbonic component and a whole berry parcel. Both are basket pressed and aged in French oak. The riesling gets more of an old-world Germanic make than using classic Australian methods, with some skin contact, barrel fermentation and a dab of residual sugar. For the chardonnay, the fruit is destemmed and pressed to oak for fermentation, where it then stays on lees for almost a year before assembly in tank and bottling. The pinot noir components are separated into batches according to clone, wild fermented, sometimes with a little whole bunch, then pressed to oak and matured for 10–15 months, before assembly and bottling un-fined and unfiltered.
Morello never harboured a desire to make wine. She never studied winemaking, or viticulture. But she did have a pretty handy education in wine, thanks to her father. He was an avid wine collector, and somewhat food obsessed. A Calabrian immigrant, he had cellared many memorable wines over the years, and Morello had a rich ad-hoc education via a vast trove of Australian classics that had been cellared for a decade and sometimes two. Labels like Moss Wood, Pierro, Giaconda and Mount Mary regularly graced the table at home.
And even though a passion for fine wine was fostered, it was physiotherapy that was Morello’s chosen career path. She graduated in 1999, and after a stint working in country Victoria decided to head to the UK to work and travel. Time in Italy to learn Italian with her extended family pushed wine up the agenda a little. The wine bars of Europe, and particularly in Torino, where she was mainly living, cultivated the notion of starting her own. That never eventuated, but it did set the stage.
“When I met Ollie and he started talking about vineyards and wineries, I figured it wasn’t much of a stretch from what I had in mind, so it didn’t take much for me to jump onboard the idea of Lyons Will. Also, I love the country lifestyle, hell, why not pick up from Fitzroy and move to Lancefield!” Morello says.
At the time, Rapson was studying a night course in viticulture at NMIT, while running his digital media agency, a role he still maintains today. That agency was one he had started in London, his birthplace – though he had spent much of his childhood in Western Australia – later deciding to move the business and himself to Melbourne. It was a bottle of 1996 Moss Wood Chardonnay that the pair shared that pushed him deep into wine, enrolling in the viticulture course and setting things in train.
Morello was working in a physiotherapy research role and studying for her PhD when the prospect of decamping to the Macedon Ranges become a real possibility. In 2013, the pair bought an established vineyard near Lancefield at 540 metres altitude. The property is 12 hectares, and had 2 hectares devoted to vines, with a little more pinot noir than chardonnay. That same year, the couple planted gamay and riesling to double the small vineyard’s size. They also started to build a small winery.
Morello finished her PhD in public health in 2016, as well as having the couple’s second child, with the pair also completing their first vintage in the recently finished winery. The previous wines were made offsite, at Knight Granite Hills with the help of Lew Knight, but they enlisted the help of friend Shaun Crinion (Dappled) who talked them through the 2016 and 2017 vintages via FaceTime, phone and email.
The couple had decided to split the duties, with Morello focusing on the new vines, while Rapson tended to the original ones. “Divide and conquer is kind of how we run at Lyons Will,” says Morello. “In essence this means I am in charge of the direction and the winemaking of the riesling and gamay, Ollie the chardonnay and pinot noir.”
In 2018, the pair made the wines without recourse to FaceTime, a big step towards achieving a core goal. “We wanted to create a family winery, where every aspect of the vineyard management and winemaking process is handled by us,” says Rapson.
“Since arriving on the property, we have more than doubled the vineyard size, planting over 8 acres ourselves. All the trellis design and installations have been completely done by us, and all the sustainable practices such as livestock management, under-vine weed control, insect control measures and reduced spray management has been developed through us understanding our site better. Our ethos is simple: wine is made in the vineyard. Take care of the land and the land will take care of our plants. Produce high-quality fruit and this will enable the production of high-quality wine.”