Alex Speed visits a local vineyard where the sheep roam free, the fine wines are aplenty and the sunny deck beckons visitors keen for a taste of the good life.
McVitty Grove vineyard sits on six hectares of rich rolling farmland, a ten-minute drive from Mittagong, and five kilometres along Wombeyan Caves road. The cellar door and restaurant is a stylish glass and concrete building high on the side of a multi-million-dollar vista, with views out to nearby Mount Jellore and the Blue Mountains in the distance. It’s an idyllic setting. First impressions upon entering the vineyard are pleasing too: an avenue of golden-leafed trees lines the driveway; fattening Angus cattle graze in the lush paddocks; and a flock of black-faced Hampshire Down sheep, a rare British breed, graze among the vines and nearby olive trees.
No need though to call the neighbouring farmer and give him a blast for not mending fences, Jeff Aston, one of three wine makers at McVitty Grove, reassures me – the sheep aren’t interlopers. Born and bred here, they are chief weed controllers and pruners; part of the organic biodynamic farming practice McVitty Grove follows. (First championed by educator Rudolf Steiner in the 19th century, biodynamics sees all soil, plant, animal and human health as interconnected and influenced by cosmic influences.) Aston first instigated these sustainable methods at McVitty Grove in 2013 with the help of fellow winemakers Mark Bourne and Ian MacDonnald. The result was the Tractorless Vineyard label with varieties including pinot gris, rose, cabernet merlot, riesling and a new limited-release series, the Creators wines.
Aston says of Tractorless wines: ”We make these wines for real wine drinkers. If we’d made them five years ago they probably would not have sold that well because there are little too textural, a little too dry, a little too European for the general Australian market. But wine drinkers here are much more sophisticated now. We have a mailing list and the Tractorless vintages sell out quickly”. The Tractorless Riesling, I can attest, is delicious, with notes of zesty lemon and lime that Aston says are representative of the region. Time to try another wine, I think. With the promise of winning a case if I can guess which five varieties of red grape go into making it (spoiler: I can’t), I savour Tractorless Vineyard Lost Flock 2013, which Aston describes as a “rich, full-bodied wine to be enjoyed with friends around a fireplace”.
McVitty Grove is also the cellar door home of fellow award- winning local label, Cuttaway Hill. Owned by viticulturist Bourne, who produced its first vintage in 2001, the Cuttaway Hill range consists of eight grape varieties including chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and semillon sauvignon. Produced from grapes grown on several different local vineyards and bottled at Eling Forest winery, Bourne describes his baby as “a taste of the Southern Highlands based on clean varietal fruit”. Certainly, it’s an industry staple and local success story, selling more than 400 cases each year.
The cellar door also stocks other on-site farm produce such as olives and olive oil; and apple cider vinegar, which is also used to drench the sheep. Because, as Steiner – and Aston – surmise, everything is interconnected. And that includes wine making.
Great for: Wine lovers looking to sample some fine Southern Highland wines in a stunning rural setting.
Recommended: Tractorless Vineyard Lost Flock 2013, judged best red blend at the 2016 Australian Highlands Wine Show.
Getting there: McVitty Grove, 434 Wombeyan Caves Road, Mittagong, is 120 kilometres from Sydney via Mittagong and 10 kilometres from Mittagong CBD via the Old Hume Highway. Lunch Wed-Sun 10am-4pm; Dinner Fri & Sat from 6pm; Sun buffet breakfast from 8am. Wedding & function enquiries welcome.
McVitty Grove 4878 5522