Mulline is Ben Mullen’s solo venture, focusing on sites across the broader Geelong region. Fresh out of a stint as the winemaker at a regional headliner, Mullen was keen to continue his relationship with the grapes of the region, but on his own terms. Mulline was born in the 2019 vintage, with classically elegant single-site expressions of pinot noir, syrah and chardonnay and a barrel-aged sauvignon blanc leading the way. Today, that venture has grown, with the Mulline brand becoming a Geelong leading light.
“We are currently in expansion mode at the moment, and it’s exciting to see our new brand go from strength to strength,” says Mullen. “Geelong has some amazing vineyard pockets around it, and a great willingness of people to work with us to see us grow and showcase the region the way we do. We have moved into our own facility in Sutherlands Creek, called the Moorabool Valley Wine Co-Op, along with Tash Webster from Empire of Dirt and Duncan Lowe from Rowsley Fault Vineyard. The cellar door will be open after harvest 2022.”
Mulline is a merging of Bens. Or rather of their surnames. Ben Mullen and his partner Ben Hine are Mulline. The latter Ben is a lawyer, which is how he became a hospitality veteran (all that study doesn’t support itself), recording a sizeable tenure at Adelaide institution Chianti. Hine is the Mulline business manager, while Mullen is somewhat of a youthful veteran winemaker, with stints at some glittering addresses around the world.
“I want to showcase the vast difference between the subregions of Geelong, as I felt there wasn’t enough acknowledged definition between the Geelong, the Moorabool Valley and Bellarine Peninsula. There is no hiding anything when you are making a wine from one site and one single batch, which shows a pure expression of the soil the wine comes from.”
A Barossa native, Mullen studied business and marketing while paying the bills through cellar door work. Before long, that marketing degree was switched out for winemaking, and he later graduated as a Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology at Adelaide University.
Mullen has worked at some of the finest wineries around the world, such as Leeuwin Estate (his first vintage, in 2012), Torbreck, Yarra Yering and Oakridge on our shores, as well as Domaine Dujac in Burgundy, and Craggy Range, New Zealand. He went to Craggy Range as an assistant winemaker, but he graduated to winemaker at the Hawkes Bay star in only 18 months. Prior to launching Mulline, he was the chief winemaker at Clyde Park.
“I had always wanted to start a label and make wines 100 per cent to my own style,” says Mullen. “I felt at the stage of starting Mulline that I had found the region that I wanted to work from. Geelong is very suitable to the style of wines I make; lots of aromatics and freshness but also underlying tannin giving really good complexity, and the region is growing some of the best fruit of the main varieties I work with – pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah and sauvignon blanc. It’s also close to Melbourne, and there’s an emerging group of new small producers that I wanted to be a part of.”
During his tenure at Clyde Park, Mullen launched a fumé blanc in the range – a bit of an obsession of his from his days at Craggy Range. At Craggy, Mullen saw a different side to a variety that is derided by many makers and wine aficionados. A challenge if you will, and one that he finds deeply intriguing. He has continued this thread with a textural and layered expression from the Bannockburn vineyard under the Mulline imprint. “It’s a different take on a variety that most people stay away from in the wine world, and something I can push the boundaries on in the winery.”
Mulline now has two ranges, a Geelong one that takes in vineyards in the broader region, and the Single Vineyards range. “I want to showcase the vast difference between the subregions of Geelong,” says Mullen, “as I felt there wasn’t enough acknowledged definition between the Geelong, the Moorabool Valley and Bellarine Peninsula. There is no hiding anything when you are making a wine from one site and one single batch, which shows a pure expression of the soil the wine comes from.”
Along with pure and fine expressions of pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah and sauvignon from selected single sites, Mullen makes a barrel-fermented sauvignon blanc from two vineyards; a nouveau-style pinot noir, which is lower in alcohol and sees 10 per cent whole bunch; a riesling from the Curlewis Vineyard that is naturally fermented, with a good 26 grams of sugar left in the finished wine; a fume blanc; and a pinot gris that sees a quarter of the fruit given skin contact.
Mullen uses indigenous yeasts, French oak, mainly neutral, some whole bunch in the reds and plenty of solids in the whites. “The Mulline wines are intended to balance the best of minimal-intervention practices,” he says, “while producing wines that are technically excellent and will stand the test of time. All the fruit that we use is grown using organic practices, which is important for achieving the quality that we aim for. Our wines are not fined and only minimal filtration, or none for some reds, is done before bottling. Only low levels of sulphur are used.”
Picking earlier and earlier to retain acidity, Mullen notes that he still sees the desirable flavour characters he’s chasing, which he partially puts down to improved practices in the vineyard. “A lot of work has gone on in some of the vineyards that I work with in regard to mulch, organic matter and organic management, trying to keep moisture in and the ecosystems healthy.”
In the winery, Mullen is also developing his methods, with increased use of skin contact on white batches to bring complexity to a blend, while still reflecting variety and place as a priority. “These blending components are used to make the most interesting and delicious wine we can,” he says. “We will be looking at some new oak coopers and vessel size to see what interesting complexity we can pull from the wines. We are at a great size now, and I have the ability to experiment a bit more, to push the boundaries. Through all varieties we are looking for varietal and vineyard expressions, but still showcasing the freshness, complexity and balance and making sure the wines have tension. Wines that are built to drink and built to last.
Ryan Ponsford’s Entropy label is the result of him being diverted from a successful artistic career to making syrah, pinot noir, semillon and sauvignon blanc in Gippsland’s Baw Baw Shire. With a focus on organic growing and minimal-intervention winemaking, learnt working alongside Bill Downie, Ponsford is also in the process of resurrecting a derelict vineyard, which will form the future core of the Entropy wines.
Built around a core principle of sustainability and respect for the land, Minimum Wines is the brainchild of Matt and Lentil Purbrick. Taking over the management of a Purbrick family vineyard in the Goulburn Valley in 2016, they have restored the site with regenerative and organic (certified in 2020) practices to produce three key wines: a chardonnay, sangiovese and syrah rosé, and a red blend that uses the same varieties with a dash of cabernet. As of 2020, the Short Runs range delves deeper into Matt Purbrick’s experimental side, with no fining or filtration, plenty of skin contact on whites and minimal sulphur.
Will Gilbert is a sixth-generation winemaker, with his great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Gilbert responsible for planting some of the first vines in the Eden Valley in 1842. That legacy is honoured under the Gilbert label today, with a range of Eden Valley rieslings, but the core of the Gilbert operation is in Mudgee and the frosty climes of Orange, New South Wales, with a focus on riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay and shiraz with several bottlings of each, and made in a way that highlights purity and elegance.