This is the heart warming story of one man’s dream to bring families together over a shared meal, a brilliant drop of wine – whilst bringing Italy into your own backyard. Don’t believe me? Read on.
When I received a request to complete a review for Merrick’s Creek, I was stunned. Having spoken to a work colleague about their favourtie drop, it left me shocked and a little humbled to have them reach out to me.
On the day, I got to meet Peter and his son Sam where I ran through a couple of questions and delved a little deeper into what it takes to become a wine producer in Melbourne.
How it all began
Being fascinated by Burgundy, Peter was eager to bring Pinot Noir from Italy to Melbourne. Together with his mentor, he decided to get into the wine making business and in 2001, Peter bought a few vines in Merrick’s Creek.
In the same year, having secured a buyer for his first batch, production was in full steam and with only a day left to delivery, Peter got a gut wrenching call. The buyer wanted out. When they tasted the sample, it was not to their liking and informed Peter that they couldn’t see themselves being able to sell a single bottle. So Peter called around with his mentor’s help and found buyers for his produce. When the produce did arrive, Peter was told by his mentor to put it in for the local competition. Much to his surprise, that year’s harvest won the competition with a resounding 96 points whilst second place came in only at 86. And to think, this was the produce that the original buyer had rejected.
In 2004, Peter did attempt to open a cellar but family constraints put these plans on hold.
Instead he tried another pruning technique whereby you trim the vines before they reach adolescence to allow for a better yield. This had such a wonderful impact on the harvest that a marquee had to be brought in to store the excess.
Once more his mentor told him to enter into a competition, this time in Sydney and Peter walked away winning the best wine in the Australia and New Zealand region!
The quote that stuck out from our conversation was to ensure you did “One thing well”. Right now, Peter is focused on Pinot Noir and has plans to release Chardonnay later down the track.
I then had a chance to ask Peter and Sam a few questions:
1. What is your favourite bottle of wine?
Peter: Domaine Armand Rousscan (2008)
Sam: Admittedly I like our produce, the 2013 Close Planted Pinot Noir.
2. What characterisitics can we expect to enjoy from the upcoming harvest season?
Peter: It’s usually hard to tell before we have even begun harvesting. Harvesting usually starts in February and goes for six weeks. After that, the grape juice gets processed into wine over an eight month period. We also have different oak barrels to experiment with new flavours. And one oak barrel can produce about 3000 bottles.
3. What is the hardest part/something that surprised you about your job?
Peter: The first thing I really had to contend with is how much the weather plays a role in the wine making process. When the washout of 2002 happened, it was so bad, that we had to throw away most of the produce. Then in 2004, when the weather seemed similar to the 2002 season, I honestly thought that the wines would turn out badly. When I tasted it, to be honest, it wasn’t to my liking. But hey, we won the award in Sydney.
The second thing, was the money involved with the whole endeavour. Most of it comes from the labour – pruning and taking care of the vines, is the biggest expense of them all.
Smell. Smell is your best friend. Looking back, had I known what I know now, I may have been able to salvage the previous harvest, but that’s just it. It comes down to experience.
And always have good people around you. This is the most important thing.
As an offshoot, what are the things that you love about it?
Peter: Agriculture, the dogs within the vines, the sudden growth, anticipating the right weather. They are all absolutely amazing to watch it (the vines) grow from just plain sticks into something so much fun!
Sam: Enjoying the smell of the winemaking, being around here and involved with so many things. And it will all help with the fact that I am doing horticulture at Melbourne University.
And where do you see Merrick’s Creek going in the future?
Peter: I want this to be a place for people to enjoy good wine and food. I am not looking to build an empire, but have a place where you can come to relax.
I’m not even considering going into the retail world because of their low rates and large volume expectations.
Sam: Eventually I will be taking over and I just aim to support my family with this business. This place is so amazing and I have grown up here. I would love for my family to experience the same thing.
Peter had selected the best dishes to go with the wines he has produced.
Roasted Tomatoes, main ridge goat curd, grilled ciabatta and basil.
I have never known tomatoes to taste this good. The rock salt, the slightly drizzled bread and the goat curd make it a guaranteed taste sensation.
The Tarragon marinated mushrooms with ciabatta
These mushrooms were delicious and it just surprised me as to how wonderful and melt in your mouth the taste could be. I would definitely recommend this.
The 20 month aged Italian proscuitto di Parma, Shaw River mozzarella, tomatoes and basil with ciabatta.
This dish was hands down my favourite from all the dishes. The proscuitto was devine and the tomatoes were cooked and seasoned with salt and cutting into it, they maintained their shape and consistency. The mozzarella was incredible and I am truly at a loss for words as how to describe the smooth texture of it all.
The Wine Selection
This wine has a delicious fruity and light offering. It has a very low acidic taste, is crisp and not harsh on the palette at all. The lingering after taste is another important thing to note.
Merrick’s Creek Pinot Noir (2011)
Because of the El Nino that impacted Australia that year, the grapes were kept on the vines for 3-4 extra weeks. What you get, is the smell and taste of a solid wine but a light almost Rose like colour. A good entry in my opinion and something that you might consider serving as an entree wine.
Merrick’s Creek Pinot Noir, Close Planted (2011)
Now here was a wine I could really get into. It was warm, intense and light, with a soft body and a sublte spice – almost like paprika mixed with cinnamon. It gets this from being brewed in the redmond (a specific type of oak) barrels.
Close planted, is a technique whereby the vines are grown at half the normal spacing and they are picked at a lower level to the ground. This makes pruning and trimming really time intense and laborious as you need to be on your knees most of the time to individually pick the fruit.
Merrick’s Creek Pinot Noir (2012)
Also known as “Peter’s favourite”. This is when he experimented with pruning just before adolescence to concentrate all the best of the vine’s nutrients into the remaining grapes.
The result? An amazing smelling wine that was delicious, full bodied and had an even more intense flavour than the 2011. The colour is beautiful and is definitely one I recommend on it’s own.
Merrick’s Creek Pinot Noir (2013)This is one drop that you can allow to rest in the bottle for a little while. The strong and powerful smell and oaky taste just brings out this bright, bold number. Best served with a fine serving of delicious grain-fed wagyu beef. Anything less and you would be doing the wine, and yourself, a disservice.
Merrick’s Creek Pinot Noir, Close Planted (2013)
Also known as “Sam’s favourite”, this was simply the best bottle I had to taste from the cellar. It brought together the wealth of experience that Peter has to offer and this bottle demonstrated just that. A strong and beautiful taste, full bodied and a lingering taste that reminds you of all that Merrick’s Creek stands for: “Doing one thing right”. You cannot go any further than this bottle as the best all rounder. Have it alone or paired with a meal. I loved it so much, that I too bought one and am saving it for a special occassion later this year.
This is a family owned business that makes everyone feel welcomed. I have witnessed Peter and Sam move effortlesslu amongst the ebb and flow of customers and doing it all with a smile and enthusiasm that I personally found infectious. I enjoyed the fact that Peter got to know your name and ran you through the history of the place, it was almost like getting a personalised tour of the place.
Merrick’s Creek is like your home away from home. Eating good food paired with great full bodied wine.
You come to Merrick’s Creek for the wine. But you stay for the food, the view and the feeling of home. And that’s why I recommend this place hands down. This will be an amazing experience. It’s truly the differences that make you unique and Peter does Pinot Noir well.
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