The curiosity and penchant for experimentation means that they do it all; from the hands-on hard work of growing and harvesting grapes, through the making of the wine with all its nuances, and then showcasing it to others. It’s a personal and passionate affair for the Crittenden family, and they love sharing their journey with other wine-curious people.
This family’s passion for wine has grown out of founding winemaker Garry’s background in horticulture and his deeper connection to ‘the land. Early in his career he became intrigued by the winery experience and directed his horticultural background into viticulture. He focussed on researching what sort of land was required to grow grapes well, with the insight that this would create the best chance of achieving great wines. The decision to establish a vineyard in this particular corner of Dromana was measured and intentional. Garry had spent several years looking for the perfect location to grow cool climate grapes, and the Dromana property had an ideal soil combination; a gradual north facing slope with sandy loam and a clay base. In 1981 the property was purchased. Vines were planted a year later, and the first vintage harvested in 1984. In the beginning the focus was predominantly Cabernet (no longer grown), with a little bit of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. At that time the wine was sold direct from the winery shed with a buzzer across the driveway to alert Garry and his wife Margaret that customers were arriving. By 1993 they had opened their own purpose-built cellar door and cafe.
Garry has always had a strong sense of stewardship towards the land, and this has heavily influenced Rollo. Although not certified, the vineyard is managed on organic principles with the aim of being biologically sustainable. They achieve this through processes like the use of cover crops and companion planting. It is no secret that Garry LOVES compost, and the huge rows of it are carefully tendered and ultimately spread throughout the vineyard on an annual basis. In this way the family feels that they are being responsible for the soil health for generations to come and are, in fact, setting the standard for sustainable vineyard management across Australia.
Garry Crittenden is a true visionary. His desire to not only make wine, but to take Mornington Peninsula wines “to the rest of the world”, saw him take a lead role in helping to grow the wine industry at a local, national and international level. It’s no wonder he was awarded the prestigious “Wine Legend” accolade by the Melbourne Food and Wine festival in 2012. It’s also not surprising that his son, Rollo, also became a winemaker and, by 2007, had taken over the primary winemaking role, going on to win the 2010 “Young Gun” Australian Winemaker of the Year award. “We want to evolve the tradition that has been set up by our family. Being such a part of it growing up, making wine has become my passion,” says Rollo. “The driver for me is to always make the best possible wine; try – learn – improve. You don’t rest on your laurels or cut corners. It is important to lean on the traditions, but still push the boundaries and continue to build the knowledge base.”
This is a grass roots multigenerational farming family, working in the business on a daily basis. Daughter, Zoe, joined the business in 2003 after 10 years in teaching. “Visitors enjoy connecting with our family. There is an authenticity they love,” says Zoe. “It’s a real-life working winery - you can smell the wine being made during vintage – and the family are responsible for the full ‘wine journey’ from the soil to the glass”. The family are justifiably proud of the accolades and awards they have received for their wines. In fact, they are a 5 Red Star Halliday winery (no mean feat) and now produce wines like the ‘Cri de Coeur’ Pinot Noir that was selected to represent Australian the Six Nations international wine challenge.
A few years ago Crittenden Estate went back to the drawing board and totally redesigned their wine tasting experience. Inspired by South African and Italian wine tasting offerings they opened their new Wine Centre in 2014. “We wanted to remove the physical barrier created by the traditional tasting at the bar, and challenge the visitor to reframe their tasting through a more engaged and conversational model”, says Rollo. “We don’t follow recipes or mainstream processes. We are not formulaic. We have the confidence to make our wine, our way… our tasting experience reflects our philosophy, and people love this.” There is a structure to the tasting experience, but it is not a ‘set’ flight of wines. Visitors are seated at tables and score their tastings, staff help the visitor compare and contrast different wines, and the visitors’ likes and dislikes informs the choice of wine offered next. The tailored nature of the experience allows the wine to shine and enables an appreciation of the depth of wine tasted.
The Crittenden Wine Centre carries on the family tradition of attention to detail across all aspects of the wine tasting experience, gently leading you through the tasting to find wines perfectly matched to your palate. “When people arrive, sometimes they have a perception of wine tasting as daunting or serious. We love helping unwrap an approachable and welcoming alternative tasting experience,” says Zoe. “The team will often gently challenge visitors with different styles of wine... and they love it! We often hear from visitors that they have ‘discovered’ a wine that they previously didn’t know about, and they now have found a new Crittenden wine they love.”
Crittenden Estate is proud to be a bit different. They engage with visitors on a personal level; sharing knowledge and facilitating an informative and enjoyable experience. Of course, with 20 wines all produced by Crittenden Estate there is bound to be something to suit. It's welcoming, engaging, informative and reflective; like having your own personal wine guide. The Wine Centre team are ‘people people’ and love sharing their passion for great wine; whether you are a wine novice, an up-and-coming wine drinker or have a sophisticated palate, there is a personal approach to satisfying the visitors’ wine curiosity, combined with facilitating a sense of discovery.
You can’t get these wines in any of the major chain store bottle shops, so it is well worth the trip to Dromana to try them out. You will leave having found the right wine(s) for your palate, the only question that will remain is “Did I buy enough?”