Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year 2011 finalist: Nat White, Main Ridge Estate
The Mornington Peninsula owes a significant debt to this unassuming winemaker who has propelled the region and Aussie pinot noir into the minds and glasses of so many.
Nat White is a gentleman in the true sense of the word. His Main Ridge Estate wines are gentle too, not pushed or forced but clear and precise, wines of character and complexity, carefully crafted for the long haul. He is a pioneer, a perfectionist and a wonderful mentor to the increasingly successful band of Mornington Peninsula wine producers, happy to share his thoughts over a long lunch with good music and his exceptional wines.
He said at the 2011 Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration, “If you are trying to define your terroir, the first step is to have a fault-free wine.” These few words clearly define his wine-producing philosophy and his wines are an unambiguous reflection of his cool vineyard site. His two pinots, The Acre and the Half Acre, are demonstrations of the minute differences between each block’s soil and aspect.
White not only led commercial wine production on the Mornington Peninsula but was instrumental in bringing quality pinot to the attention of the Australian wine public. A civil engineer, he discovered the delights of wine while on a camping adventure through France in 1965, and then purchased a block of land on a dirt side road on the cool, southern side of Red Hill a decade later with his wife, Rosalie. It’s still a dirt road but now well travelled by those keen to seek out the scarce Main Ridge Estate wines and speak with the guru himself.
Progress at Main Ridge Estate has been measured by an acre planted each year over six years, though current plantings still measure a mere 3.5 hectares. If the winery is simplicity itself, it’s in the vineyard where the complexity begins, sustainability is the key, with little intrusion and lots of care.
All is revealed by White’s wines, which are a true reflection of the man – quiet, complex and understated, wines of sharp detail and careful crafting.
His chardonnay is rich and multi-layered; barrel fermented in new French oak with natural yeasts and kept on its lees with a complete malo–lactic conversion, they are tight and minerally, which ensures incredible longevity. His two pinots come from adjacent blocks, appropriately named The Acre and Half Acre. Both wines are made identically but reflect their different terroir. Fermentation in 2000-litre open vats with natural yeasts and gentle hand-plunging is followed by 18 months maturation in French barriques. The soils of the Half Acre block are shallow, producing small bunches and berries resulting in a more intense and tannic wine. The richer soils of The Acre block generate pinots that are softer and more suited to early drinking. All things are relative though and Main Ridge Estate pinots are built for the long haul, the 2004 Half Acre is just beginning to show its best characters.
Oh, and there’s another pinot, a minuscule quantity of succulent pinot meunier and an equally tiny quantity of blushing sparkling wine, just enough to share at the regular lunches, dinners and musical soirées that the Whites host. Their customers quickly become friends and repeat sales are common. A few lucky restaurateurs score a case or two but it’s the welcoming cellar door and dedicated mail list clientele that sustains this iconic Mornington Peninsula Estate, and all carried out in a gracious, understated manner that mirrors Nat White’s warmth and genuine humility.
TEXT PETER BOURNE
This article is from the June/July 2011 issue of Gourmet Traveller WINE.