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Mac Forbes Mac Forbes

Mac Forbes has become one of the great champions of sub-regional expressions from the Yarra Valley. With a prime focus on chardonnay and pinot noir, Forbes set about mapping the intricacies of the Yarra through an array of prime sites that he leases and meticulously manages. The Mac Forbes wines also take in Germanic-feeling rieslings from the Strathbogie Ranges, as well as syrah and cabernet from the Yarra and a range of experimental wines. Forbes was a Young Gun finalist in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Mac Forbes’ first taste of vineyards came while backpacking, when he ended up picking grapes in Gaillac, in the South of France. Forbes was no stranger to quality wine, mind you, with his parents ardent wine lovers. They were particular admirers of the Yarra Valley icon Mount Mary, and were friends with the founders, the Middletons. That sun-drenched labour and memories of drinking ‘Quintet’ on special occasions pushed Forbes to delve deeper.

It was at Mount Mary, under the ever-watchful eye of the late great Dr John Middleton, where Forbes started his winemaking journey in earnest. He credits that time with instilling in him the importance of working both big and small enough. Big enough to have enough layers to be inspired, and small enough that you know every vine, every barrel. Leaving in 2002, Forbes worked with Southcorp (Penfolds etc. back in the day) as a winemaker/ambassador for Australian wine in Europe.

“Dirk Niepoort has influenced my vision and focus,” says Forbes. “He has single-handedly sought out long forgotten vineyards in both the Douro and Austria and invested in their re-incarnation. Typically, these sites produce wines of greater purity, elegance and quality than many of the warmer neighbouring sites – a great inspiration to my own project.”

That job led to consultancy work in Austria, which also coincided with a stint with legendary Portuguese winemaker Dirk Niepoort, who also happened to be making wines in Carnuntum at the time. That meeting would prove a crucial one for him.

“Dirk Niepoort has influenced my vision and focus,” says Forbes. “He has single-handedly sought out long forgotten vineyards in both the Douro and Austria and invested in their re-incarnation. Typically, these sites produce wines of greater purity, elegance and quality than many of the warmer neighbouring sites – a great inspiration to my own project.”

That project took shape in 2004 when Forbes returned to set up his eponymous label based in the Yarra Valley. While he dabbled in varieties like barbera and dolcetto from further afield, his focus was always going to be built around the Yarra’s great strengths: pinot noir and chardonnay. No doubt fostered in Austria, Forbes also has an abiding passion for riesling, and began sourcing fruit from the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria’s north to produce versions with both subtle and opulent levels of residual sugar.

Forbes committed early on to an ambitious project to describe the subtleties of the Yarra through his wines, township by township. His was the belief that exploring sub-regionality through prime sites would unlock a greater future for the valley – a specificity that is essential in the old world, but still largely eluded us here, with umbrella regional tags dominating the subtleties of climate and soil detail.

Another bold move was to pare back ripeness, to shear back both chardonnay and pinot noir and be done with winemaking artefact to further reveal the signatures of place. His early chardonnays were tense and mineral, but not lacking for flavour and detail, while the pinots were expressly red fruited and fragrant, with layers of spice and detail. Both are styles that are now very familiar to drinkers.

While Forbes’ winemaking strolls through the ‘villages’ of the Yarra Valley and hikes into the Strathbogie Ranges for riesling, flexing the muscle of that versatile grape right through the sugar spectrum, his is a restless spirit. The Mac Forbes EB (experimental batch) range gathers in all manner of loose threads from his fervent imagination to turn out small-batch offerings unfettered by convention. From dabbling with varieties outside his established portfolio to toying with extended skin contact on whites and a vermouth built on native botanicals.

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