Nick Farr, of pinot noir specialists By Farr Vineyards in breezy, barren Geelong, Victoria “only lives here for the soils” he said, which are largely red and black volcanic soils over limestone, though he’s got six soil types on his 36 hectares, including ironstone, on which the viognier is grown.
He puts pinot noir on the red soils for “a more seamless, softer style of wine” while the black soils give denser, more muscular styles. Most of the vineyards are planted over limestone.
Farr says conditions in Geelong, about 100km from Melbourne, are harsher than in Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley – “we have shallow soils, and half their rainfall”, which is around 540mm.
Soils have been a preoccupation from the early days. Since Farr’s first vintage here in 2001, one of his biggest learnings has been about conserving moisture in the vineyard. Not having any water between 2005 and 2008 meant, he said “we learnt what our vines could and couldn’t do”.
Moisture, he said “dictates the picking” which, no surprise, they do on flavour. He pays attention to the depth of top soil and its clay content, which helps to hold some moisture. He also uses a lot of straw mulching to minimise irrigation and to put nitrogen back in the soil. Farr also found that his Victorian rye grass cover crop, which dies off by the summer, reduced the in-row temperature by 2°C. This helps lower evaporation, but is offset by the regular winds in Geelong.
As a result of these harsh climatic conditions, Farr believes rootstocks are more important than clones in Australia, and he now uses drought and salt-tolerant rootstocks.
The climate may be harsh and changing, so in early 2012, Farr was prepping 2.5 hectares of north, north-east and east facing slopes, having grown sunflower, wheat and barley on the site for three years, and added 150 tonnes of organic compost. He explained “in the 80s and 90s you wouldn’t have got east-facing slopes ripe because the east slope is in shade from about 3pm”, but he’s happy fruit will ripen now, and at the cooler end of the flavour spectrum, which should be good for pinot noir.
Tasting, in situ, in the vineyard, February 2012
By Farr, Viognier 2009
No new oak, 10 months on lees. Peachy perfume, silky texture – richly textured with freshness and length. Very nice.
By Farr, Farrside Pinot Noir 2009
Black soil and limestone. 50% new oak. Freshness. Perfumed with hint of aromatic tar, but silky tar. Savoury, graphite, smooth textured. Vg
By Farr, Tout Pres Pinot Noir 2009
Quartz, gravel, limestone. 100% new oak. Lifted sour cherry perfume, with textured freshness and intensity. Wholesome and earthy. Can’t taste oak at all.
By Farr, Sangreal Pinot Noir 2009
60% new oak. Pure and perfumed, dark cherry, silky, with smooth, elegant and concentrated mid palate. Freshness and density. Seriously good.