As young winemakers in the late 1980’s Kathleen, and her husband Kevin McCarthy deduced that the cool climate of the Mornington Peninsula would make it perfect for growing Pinot Gris. The cool humidity and number of cloudy days would create a long cool growing season. The region's deep red clay soils would hold water so the vines would nourish their grapes until the end of autumn, and there was enough rainfall for the vines to grow without irrigation as they did in Europe. Without masses of sunshine the grape ‘berries’ would be smaller and the flavour more concentrated. Thus started a love affair with the complexities of Pinot Gris. Consumers discovered its delights creating a groundswell of demand - and the region delivered.
To understand Pinot Gris you first have to know a little about Pinot Noir. Considered notoriously degenerate, it throws quite a lot ‘sports’ that are not true to type. This means that in a Pinot Noir vineyard you may find one shoot with one bunch of Pinot Gris. So Pinot Gris is in fact a Pinot Noir but one with less colour in the skin. Over the centuries European vignerons have cloned these precious shoots to create Pinot Gris vineyards.
As a further complication, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio wines are made from the same grapes. Vineyards located on the elevated slopes of Red Hill and Main Ridge ripen later and are picked around the end of April to produce Pinot Gris. When grown on the slightly warmer low lying slopes with shallow sandy soils, the grapes ripen faster and are picked around the beginning of March to make a Pinot Grigio style wine.
The Mornington Peninsula can rightly claim the mantle for Australia's best Pinot. The landscape of close and intimate valleys causes variation in aspect and micro-climate. Over the decades, clever winemakers have selected the most favourable sites for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. One of the unique attributes of Pinots is they are ‘site expressive’; vines planted in two locations produce different flavours, and these nuances show in the wine. This is the reason that the Mornington Peninsula does single vineyard Pinots so well. For both Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir the concentration of flavour in the Mornington Peninsula fruit means that the winemaker doesn’t need to use the influence of tannins, but uses the concentration of flavour that is naturally in the grape.
And once you have grown and picked the grapes you then have to make the wine... and that takes a whole lot of other skills. Kathleen and her team at Quealy Winemakers in Balnarring make wine using fruit from both the lower and the upper slopes, and they excel at it. You can taste the nuances and subtleties during a wine tasting in their barrel room where all the magic happens.