Passion and patience are the essential ingredients for the Panizzuttis of St Maur Wines. Their dairy farm turned winery is a favourite Exeter landmark and the Cellar Door well worth a visit to sample the wines and maybe even sit down for a leisurely long lunch.
When Nerio and Mara Panizzutti bought the St Maur estate in Exeter back in the 1970s, it was one of the region’s biggest dairy producers. Guernsey cattle grazed the open fields and five families lived and worked on the farm. The Panizzuttis’ weekend getaway soon became a permanent lifestyle and in 1998, while still running the dairy, Nerio planted 16 acres of vines on the property. A generation later, their son Marco credits some of the vineyard’s success to the roaming dairy cows and their natural fertilisation of the verdant soil.
As any winemaker knows, creating the perfect drop is a delicate process and Marco believes wine is made in the vineyards not in the lab. ‘You can’t make good wine from bad grapes,’ he says. ‘We bottle every year and it’s truly a reflection of the year when you’re drinking it.’
For the Panizzuttis, winemaking is all about passion and patience. They produce around 1800 dozen bottles annually and 2018 is shaping up to be a ‘cracking’ year. A decent run of good weather (warm days, cools nights and the right amount of rain) has seen them hold back on harvesting, hoping for more intense flavours. Handpicking is Marco’s favourite part of the winemaking process, and is underway when we dropped in to taste the fruits of earlier seasons. ‘It’s a nice feeling as a farmer to have a good year and to know your fruit is in the shed,’ Marco says.
St Maur, named by former owner Everest York Seymour as a play on his surname, has retained much of the original bones of the dairy farm while being transformed to meet the needs of a winery. The milking shed is now the Cellar Door and the members’ private dining room, with soaring ceilings and spectacular views over the valley, has a charming barn like feel that reflects its agricultural roots.
Those first vines planted by Nerio (chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and merlot), are now 20 years old and delivering the quality of fruit for which winemakers hope. St Maur produces two ranges, the single estate Lot 41 from the mature vines, and the Saint Series, a blend of fruit from younger St Maur vines along with grapes from other local growers. In our Lot 41 tasting, the smooth 2015 chardonnay and the 2016 pinot gris are refreshing and easy to drink, and the earthy 2016 pinot noir with plum, cherry, pepper and blackberry flavours is a hit around the tasting table. But it’s the smoky 2015 cabernet sauvignon merlot, with its velvety texture, plum and chocolate flavours, and rich colour, that gets the most nods. A delicious, full bodied winter wine.
Marco says he loves to see people come together to share a love of fine wine, and that’s the premise behind their monthly long lunch concept. Exclusively for members, with 18 guests around the dining table, all food is sourced within a 50km radius and prepared by a selection of local chefs to complement the wines. There’s no membership fee, only a commitment to buy two cases of wine a year. And judging by how quickly the seats are snapped up, the long lunch is set to become a tradition.
As the team at St Maur begins producing the 2018 harvest, Marco is keen to sample the results. He laughs when asked if dairy farming or winemaking is the easier lifestyle. ‘When you’re reliant on Mother Nature nothing is easy,’ he says. ‘But winemaking is more enjoyable. We’ve created some great wines but I’d hate to think we’ve achieved our best wine yet because that would be boring.’ And that ongoing pursuit of excellence is precisely why St Maur wines are well worth a try if you’re stopping by. Their Cellar Door is open Thursday to Monday 10.30am-4.30pm.
St Maur Southern Highlands Estate Wines
Old Argyle Rd, Exeter
4883 4401 stmaurwines.com.au