explore with us – Main Ridge Estate 2018 Wines

The dollhouse-sized winery, Main Ridge Estate, which kicked things off on the Mornington Peninsula when Nat White planted his first vines in 1975 (Baillieu Myer beat him to a vineyard, planting in 1972, but Nat had the first commercial winery), changed hands a few years ago. It seems that the transition has been seamless and that the wines are as good as ever. Great news for lovers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as MRE has been at the forefront of both varieties for many years.  

Vines were first planted on the Peninsula back in 1886 and soon, there were six thriving vineyards. But, as so often happened back then, economic depression, changing consumer tastes and phylloxera combined to destroy the fledgling industry. Seppelt had another crack in the 1950s, planting 100 acres at Dromana but, in an eerie and almost clairvoyant occurrence, a bushfire in 1967 wiped out the lot. 

Now, there are over 200 vineyards and 50 to 60 cellar doors, producing some of this country’s finest wines. 

The Whites had taken a trip to Burgundy in the 1960s and the bug had bitten. They purchased a small lemon orchard in the Red Hill sub-region, which Nat turned into around 7½ acres of seven different varieties, every vine planted by Nat himself. If moving on from their secure jobs as an engineer and teacher respectively was not a risky move then these varieties definitely were. Remember that when Nat was planting, it was only a year or two after the very first Australian Chardonnay, the Tyrrell’s Vat 47 1971, had hit the shelves, while Pinot was equally obscure. The White’s luck, first evidenced in their selection of a prime site (done for location, rather than any inherent characters which suggested it was ideally suited to viticulture), continued and those grapes have proved ideal for the region. Some people deserve all the luck fate throws at them. 

While a couple of the other varieties have hung around, this is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay territory. The range is basically the MRE Chardonnay, MRE ‘The Acre’ Pinot Noir and the MRE ‘Half Acre’ Pinot Noir. Their first vintage was 1980, although the Whites did make a whopping twenty litres from 1979. The wines were released in 1981, a Pinot Meunier for $5.50, Pinot Noir for $5.60 and finally, a Cabernet for $6.50. In those days, they were hefty prices. If I recall correctly, one of my very earliest wine purchases was a couple of bottles of Hill of Grace in 1982 for $5.50 (a real extravagance at the time, they were from the ’78 vintage – when I opened them years later, one was venomously corked, but the other was the nectar of angels. I figured that $11 was a fair price for a brilliant bottle as prices had multiplied by then). The MRE wines were winning recognition from the very start. 

Sadly, in 2015, Nat and Rosalie did feel it was finally time for them to stop. With no family of their own interested in taking over, they sold MRE to the Sexton family. Fair to say that there was considerable trepidation from consumers and critics as to whether the magic would continue with the new owners, the Sexton family. Son, James, is completing his studies as a winemaker and Nat has acted as a mentor. 

The latest releases are from the 2018 vintage. They are world class wines of extraordinary value (in world terms, if not in comparison with locals – although they are pretty good value there as well). The prices are pretty much what you would pay for Village Burgundy. These wines are so much better than that.  

Main Ridge Chardonnay 2018 – From vines which were 43 years old, clones being 70% 10V5 and 30% Mudgee Mix. 6 hours skin contact, 100% native yeasts, 100% Malo, 100% barrel-fermentation, Sirogue barrels, a third each of 1st, 2nd and 3rd use. 13.5%. A$65. An array of flavours – cashew nuts, oatmeal, stonefruit. There is excellent oak integration. Balance is the key. Good intensity. This vintage is offering fuller flavours than some releases. Good intensity and the intensity never waivers. A wine of great length. Texture is a highlight. Superb, creamy texture. Good complexity. A stunning Australian Chardonnay and one with real potential for the future. 96. 

Main Ridge Pinot Noir ‘The Acre’ 2018 – All vines are 43 years (or were at the time this was made). Clones, as I know many pinotphiles take these things extremely seriously, are MV6, D2V5, D2V6, 114 and 115. 100% destemmed, 18 days on skins and 100% native yeasts. French barriques, a mix of Sirogue and Saint Martin, 1st, 2nd and 3rd use. Unfined and unfiltered. 14.1%, A$75. Destemmed but it does exhibit some sappiness. A vibrant style. Strawberries, dry herbs, slightly darker fruits than the ‘Half Acre’. Youthful and slightly firm on the finish. Concentrated and just a hint of austerity at this stage. Fine tannins. Good length. This has a long way to go. Good intensity. It will be better in 3-5 years. 93. 

Main Ridge Pinot Noir ‘Half Acre’ 2018 – Details are identical as for ‘The Acre’, with the exception that the clones are MV6, D2V5, D2V6 and 777. The alcohol level is 14.3% and the price, A$90. For me, this is the pick of the Pinots. More florals here, red fruits, spices, red cherries. Finely balanced and seamless. There are lovely aromatics. A Pinot which dances. Finesse and elegance. This is slinky and seductive. Very silky tannins. Impressive length. The wine lingers exquisitely. A Pinot with real promise. 97. In truth, I first rated this as 96 when on the tasting bench, but with the chance to enjoy it that evening, it was obvious to me that it deserved more. Love this wine.

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