Passion pays off
By Franz Scheurer
Phillip Moraghan had a vision that hardly fitted into his life as a business high flyer focused on accountancy. The vision, a direct result of his studies in Switzerland in the 1980s where he was seduced by the Swiss landscape and its marvellous wines and where he developed a fascination with Burgundy and its famous Pinot Noir, was to be a farmer, specifically a farmer growing grapes and making his own wine. However, unlike most who keep on dreaming, Phillip is a man of action and he purchased a property in the Macedon ranges, a mere 30 minute drive from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport and planted his first grapes in 1991. Mind you, he had to rip them up a year later and start from scratch, but that is another story. Nothing was going to stop him and the vineyard is now 14 hectares (33 acres), mainly Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay and a little Pinot Gris.
It certainly helped that his partner, Jeni, (and future wife) shared his vision and together they started the search for a suitable site, eventually settling on Launcefield in the Macedon Ranges. Curly Flat Vineyard is in one of Australia’s coolest viticultural areas at 575m above sea-level and produces premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vineyard is situated on a slope that catches the very last rays of sunshine before dusk and this prolonged exposure to sunlight in autumn provides a vital ingredient for the very special fruit that is produced there.
In the beginning Jeni and Phillip worked as volunteers in other vineyards to gain valuable experience but it was Macedon Ranges pioneer Laurie Williams who laid the cornerstone for their understanding and passion for growing grapes and making wine. Phillip started to study viticulture and travelled overseas extensively to gain as much knowledge as possible. He has done several vintages in the USA, including Ponzi Vineyards in Willamette Valley, Oregon and Russell Hearn’s Premium Wine Group on Long Island, NY.
Wines were made in a neighbouring vineyard with the Curly Flat team assisting, whilst a brand-new winery was constructed at Curly Flat and ready for the April 2002 vintage. In 2002 Phillip took over the role as wine maker with more than a little help from a famous Pinot maker and role-model. (Think Farr…)
The first vintage wines, the 1998 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were released in Australia in 2001 and the 1999 Pinot and Chardonnay a year later. Current wines available are the 2000 Pinot Noir ($44), 2001 Chardonnay ($35) and the 2000 ‘Lacuna’ Chardonnay (unwooded) ($22). Phillip also keeps a small stock of back-vintages so that new clients can obtain a couple of bottles of earlier vintages as part of a case. Exported to the USA as of 2002 and the first shipment going to the UK this month, the wines have received critical acclaim abroad and at home and there is absolute confidence in the ability of Curly Flat to consistently provide wine of the highest quality.
I met Phillip for lunch last week and found him to be an incredibly well informed and interesting man. From world politics to food and wine, his passion is infectious. His love for Burgundy and its wines is still there but the real passion is anchored at home, in Australia, in his vineyard with his vines and wines. His aim is to make wines that will rank with the very best Pinot and Chardonnay in Australia and the way he’s going I reckon he’ll get bloody close.
I found the 1999 Chardonnay to be a ripper of a wine. No wonder we have some of the French winemakers worried! It’s fruit-forward, generous, with a luscious mouth-feel, lots of stone fruit, a touch of orange blossoms and mere perceptions of oak and malolactic elements. I’ve tried three of his Pinot vintages and each one is appealing and satisfying with lots of dark berry fruit and just enough feral, ‘barnyardy’ elements to really keep me interested. The obvious vintage differences make it clear that here we have a winemaker who believes in the ups and downs of nature and is prepared to take the risk of a down to achieve the highest highs, instead of trying to make an acceptable, mediocre wine every year. Phillip, I salute you!
The wines can be purchased by visiting the winery, (by far the best choice as you get to enjoy the landscape and ‘feel’ the vines speak to you, or by mail order, fax order or from the website.
For more information or orders:
Curly Flat Vineyard
263 Collivers Road, Lancefield, Vic 3435
PO Box 164, Lancefield, Vic 3435
Phone: (61) 3 5429 1956 Fax: (61) 3 5429 2256