It was too good to be true, I saw this tweet by Maryann Egan from Wantirna Estate advising of an open day and started playing with the idea of paying them a visit.
It wasn't until the actual day that I visited their website and read that Wantirna Estate does two open days over two consecutive Saturdays in October, the catch – the open day (according to the website) was only open to mailing list members. So I did the only conscionable thing, I signed up then and there to the mailing list, packed the camera, grabbed the keys and set off.
It was the strangest drive because I am use to exiting EastLink at the Ringwood exit heading towards the Lillydale, however to get to Wantirna South the exit is a bit further down off High Street turning toward the city! Entering Bushy Park Lane, I was quite excited at the chance to visit another of the 're-founding' vineyards of the Yarra Valley, Wantirna Estate originally planted in 1963 (the others ‘re-founders’ being Yeringburg, Seville Estate, Yarra Yering & Mount Mary). When I created this project and identified sites to visit I wasn't expecting to have the opportunity as Wantirna Estate does not offer a ‘to the public’ cellar door.
This visit was unlike any vineyard/winery experience I have had to date. Entering the small 'Tasting Room' there were a number of groups of 3-4 people around the room, with a table in the middle of the room providing tasting notes, pâtè, bread and biscuits and as I was later to find out order forms. In the back left corner was a breakfast table/bar with glasses and the bottles on for tasting. Even though I had my notebook with me, it just felt wrong to open it and start taking notes – it just wasn’t that kind of environment. Also being a private property, not generally open to the public, I decided to leave the camera in the car too, at least for now. (Note: The above 3 photo's were the only ones taken, respectfully from the 'public area' available on the day out of respect for the privacy of the site.) With the 2013 Isabella Chardonnay in hand I moved to the edge of the room to taste.
The thing that struck me was the familiarity of the people in the room. At first this was a little daunting, am I an uninvited guest at a family function!? Then with an empty glass and moving towards the bar with the wines, I was approached by Maryann Egan who poured a taste of the Pinot for myself and another visitor, providing some highlights about the wine. She greeted me with a broad warm smile including words along the lines of "your new here aren't you". When I affirmed, she warmly introduced herself where I (a little star stuck) fumbled out my name and shook her hand. Not flinching for a second, Maryann proceeded to provide a short brief on the 2013 Lily Pinot Noir I had in my glass.
We commenced to discuss the wines, the vineyard and considerations in the viticulture based on aspect in relation to the Yarra Valley. Throughout the conversation additional people arrived which Maryann recognised, however was very generous with her focus and time. When she did excuse herself a few moments later she warmly greeted the newly arrived guests by name, who had flown down from Brisbane. At this point, I really was feeling as though a stranger in a strange land and a little out of place.
Next was the 2012 Amelia Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, poured into my glass by none other than Reg Egan. As I tasted, I noticed that this was a family event. Vineyard founder Reg Egan and his wife Bertina were each talking with separate small groups around the room, Maryann continued to greet new arrivals catch up on latest news from these ‘returning friends’ and pour out first tastings. All hands on deck for the annual open day with customers who were obviously very engaged with this family's vineyard and wines. Lastly was the 2012 Hanna Cabernet Franc Merlot to taste.
As I began to seek out how I could order some wine, I noticed that some of the ‘visitors’ had already placed orders in advance and were picking them up, so I approached the lady behind the bar and asked if I could order, she responded with a swift “no, not with me, I'm just the help” she jested. Overhearing my request, Reg politely excused himself from a conversation to assist me, providing me an order form, that was available on the centre table and letting me know not to be shy in letting him know when I was ready with the form. Reg reviewing and taking my order and payment, exited to another room to organise the order.
With the few minutes I had a began to scan the walls of the tasting room, noticing a framed article that detailed the history of the family and Wantirna Estate. That simple article framed and hung on the wall in the Wantirna Estate tasting room, provided character and a sense of place, that I have rarely located at cellar doors visited to date.
Upon handing over the box of wine, confirming its contents were equal to the order, Reg offered his hand over the box saying "I hope to see you next year", it felt like the warmest and most sincere farewell I have ever experienced from a stranger. I walked out of the Tasting Room with a 'wow' feeling. I have visited some family run and operated vineyards / cellar doors - yet I have never experienced such genuine 'family' feel amongst both visitor and host. This wasn't service, this was “you’re in my home - welcome, here taste our wine”. Whilst all around me familiarity, smiles, greetings, chats catching up on news of both visitor and host, heck it was a family reunion of sorts.
I will be back next year.
- Wantirna Estate was established by Reg and Bertina Egan, planting crouchon, pedro ximendez, barbera and dolcetto in 1963 in the family home in Wantirna.
Trivia: Reg Egan was a Melbourne Barrister turned winemaker when he moved on from his legal practice in 1984. In addition to wine making, Reg has authored three published books: “Lottie”, "A Breakfast in Bourg” and “Of Rivers, Baguettes and Billabongs”.
- By the 1970’s the vineyard was consolidated to focus on the classical varieties of chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot.
- Wantirna Estate is uniquely located in an outer Melbourne suburb of Wantirna South, surrounded by Dandenong Valley Parklands (Bushy Park), protecting the site from the suburban sprawl.
- Maryann Egan, daughter of Reg & Bertina returned to Wantirna Estate as winemaker and partner in 1996.
Trivia: Maryann is also published, contributing to Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine, is wine editor at Donna Hay magazine, wrote “Australian & New Zealand Wine for Dummies" published by Wiley and a presenter on "The Wine Lovers Guide to Australia" TV series on SBS.
- The wines are named after Reg and Bertina's four granddaughters.
- The illustrations on the labels for each was drawn by Michael Lunig with each cartoon depicting a unique aspect of each of the girls personalities.
- Wantirna Estate is open to their mailing list in October for 2 days each year. Mailing list subscriptions are available here.