Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Vision realised: Avani Winery - Mornington Peninsula


Davendra and Shashi Singh are like many small-scale winemakers we have met on our travels. They have a passion for their craft and work hard to realise their vision. In their case, enough passion and daring to strike out beyond their successful restaurant businesses and take the considerable step of buying their own winery. This move occurred in 1998 when they purchased Wildcroft Estate, located south of Red Hill in the Mornington Peninsula. From 2000, Philip Jones of the Bass Phillip winery made Avani’s wines, with Shashi’s role in the winemaking process increasing from 2004 onwards.

Some reasonably young Syrah vines grafted onto older vines.
Halfway down the vineyard at the transition point from red to grey soil
As we walked with Shashi and Davendra through their winery and vineyard in early October, it was difficult not to be impressed by their enthusiasm, though also their boldness: Avani are possibly unique in the Mornington Peninsula (and if not, only one of a handful of wineries) to exclusively produce Syrah (quite rightly named given the style they aim for).
When asked about the exclusive production of Syrah, Shashi explained that following several vintages where Syrah stood out, they decided to take the advice of Phillip Jones, as well as trusting their own palates, replanting a conventional suite of Mornington grape varieties with Syrah. Shashi explained that they had initially aimed to make Pinot Noir using Bass Phillip's Pinot Noir as a (very high) benchmark. When the first few vintages turned out to be successful, though not exceptional wines (in their view), they decided to focus on the grape most assisted by the terroir. Acknowledging the time it takes, and the financial risks involved, it is still refreshing to see winemakers taking a punt to make wine based on the varieties that are empirically superior when grown on a given site, rather than persisting with a variety unsuited to the region and/or terroir.

Walking further down the sloping north facing Avani vineyard, the soil transitioned from deep red volcanic clay near the winery, to a slatey, alluvial grey lower down. Davendra and Shashi shared with us the journey they have taken developing the winery and vineyard over the last 15 years. This included the ongoing process of rehabilitating the vineyard, transforming it gradually from a conventional winemaking operation to an organic and biodynamic one, dramatically reducing the cropping levels while increasing the vine density.

Shashi and Davendra were rightly proud of the positive impact organic and biodynamic farming practices were having on the health of the soil (and as we would find out later that morning, on the wines themselves). The soil was healthy: soft underfoot with lush grass and plant life nearby.

The Avani vineyard, 3/4 down, looking toward the winery
Shashi and Davendra are now 100% in control of the whole winemaking process, with the 2012 vintage being the first made exclusively on site. A vertical tasting of the 2009, 2011 and an in-barrel taste of the 2012 confirmed that the wines being produced at Avani are on the improve as the younger vines on the vineyard mature, and as the increasingly confident winemaking is honed and perfected.

As we both left the winery on the sunny spring morning, it was clear that the story of Avani was one that should appeal to the hearts, minds and palates of drinkers keen to try small output, hand-made, honest yet exciting wines.








Tasting notes

2009 – Deep, vibrant red hue, A palate of ripe yet restrained dark cherry enlivened by an undercurrent of fresh natural acidity. Hints of florals, spice and a bit of white pepper. Good length. RRP: $55, ABV: 13.3%

2010 – not tasted

2011  Light to medium bodied, lighter coloured than the 09 vintage. White pepper, a touch of all spice, red cherry fruit. An impressive effort given the vintage. Nice fruit intensity, with a cleansing and focussed acidity. When combined with the similarly focused fruit, takes on pinot characteristics. Food friendly and versatile - perfectly suited to a variety of food pairings, even in the hot summer months. We were not surprised when Davendra informed us that the Sydney wine market has been keen on this wine. RRP: $55, ABV: 11.9%

2012 – Looks very promising based on the barrel sample. By this wine you could see a stylistic pattern forming – both in terms of the winemaking approach and the fruit on show. Florals and beautiful, layered light red fruits on the impressive nose. On the palate is an earthiness, more red and a touch of black cherry fruit, and an emerging touch of pepper with air. Line and length in abundance and refreshing natural acidity that once again frames the wine. Building on the strengths of previous vintages, though using top quality fruit from a superior vintage. Exciting times ahead for this wine.


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