Clare Burder and her partner Pete Allen grow and make wines under the Eminence label from their vineyard on the Whitlands High Plateau, just above the King Valley in north-eastern Victoria. Burder’s parents planted the vineyard, which, at 840 metres, is the highest in the state, in the late 1990s, but Eminence really took shape in 2018 after Burder and her dad, David, built the winery and Allen took over the vineyard management, putting into place a range of practices that greatly improved the quality of the fruit. “It’s an immensely challenging site with high rainfall, high vigour and high disease pressure,” says Burder, “but in the good seasons it produces inimitable wines, particularly sparkling.” With 26 acres under vine, they supply grapes to handful of top producers around the state (Athletes of Wine, Rouleur, Konpira Maru, Serere, Little Frances, Ocean Aged, Cofield, Anderson and Valhalla among them) and make tiny batches of pinot noir, pinot meunier, chardonnay, pinot gris, and rosé as well as a range of traditional method sparkling, all under the Eminence label. “The wines are very much of their place but are at the same time unpretentious, honest and even sometimes a bit whimsical,” says Burder, “a bit like me, even.”
When someone hands me a drinks list in a restaurant, I always look at the ‘other stuff’ or ‘in-between’ section – so many of our best wines sit outside of the usual ‘white, rosé, red’ categories. We need these categories for easy navigation, but sometimes we also need to forget about them and trust the person who is at the helm.
As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is directly from the producer. Pull up a bar stool at the cellar door and soak in the people and the place that created that wine. Having said that, we don’t have a cellar door yet at Eminence, but we do offer tastings by appointment in the winery – no bar stools unfortunately, but we do have some very sturdy milk crates.
There’s no better value on drinks list or in a bottle-shop in this state than Grace in Rutherglen. I aspire to have the energy of Erica and Matthieu Miller, who have enthusiastically championed local producers since the moment they opened. The ever-changing list is always polished and interesting.
My favourite place to buy booze is Bijou Wine Store in the city. I love its cosiness.
The last three delicious Victorian things I drank were… 2017 Tahbilk marsanne – this is so affordable and so damned good, and one of the only wineries in the country to be certified carbon neutral. And Fleet Wines’ pinot noir and pinot gris blend – our friends Lisa and Justin Jenkins in Gippsland make a superb range of wines and this one manages to showcase the best of both varieties without either fighting for your attention; a reminder of why blending beyond the standard French convention is an adventure that should be embarked upon more often. And lastly my friend Glenn Eberbach makes phenomenal sparkling wines from our vineyard under the Ocean Aged label – named for the fact that the bottles are actually submerged into the ocean while ageing on lees. The constant motion of the water keeps the lees suspended which has an almost magic effect on the wine. When they are lifted out again, the bottles are covered in barnacles. It’s wild, something really special.
I’d love to see us planting more pinot blanc. Many moons ago I was in Japan studying for my sake master qualification and I had a memorable conversation with a producer who said “sake doesn’t fight with food” when he was describing the magic of sake with different cuisines and flavours. I feel like pinot blanc is the closest thing the wine world has to sake. It’s light in flavour without being boring, not particularly fruity, textured without being drying and seems to have an inherent gentleness without being cloying or flat. For these reasons it’s a hugely underrated food wine, especially with lighter, summery flavours. We have one barrel of 2023 pinot blanc which we’ll be bottling soon, but if you can’t wait for that try the new one from Darling Wines in the King Valley.
The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is Michael Ryan’s Beechworth Bitters. Michael makes a range of fascinating, detailed amari – we’ve just polished off the last of a bottle of Up to Eleven. Dear Michael, please send some more!
If you’re unfamiliar with the wines I make but would like to check them out, I’d suggest you start with our new Cute Brut – a zero-dosage sparkling rose made from of a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, which is aged on lees for three years. We are moving to zero-dosage (which means zero sugar) with all our sparkling because I feel the sugar can weigh down the wine and cover up some of the finer details – so it’s super dry, clean and savoury. We also have a few dozen left of our 2021 red pinot meunier which is the wine I’m most proud of – ethereal and a bit eccentric.
The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been a growing acceptance of alternative packaging. If you’re a wine drinker reading this, please buy more wine in cans, cask and pouch! The wine industry is deeply attached to bottles despite the significant carbon footprint, but for small producers the cost of investing in alternative packaging is currently prohibitive – so if we had more demand from consumers, it would help us invest with more certainty.
For me, the most inspiring people in the Victorian drinks world are all the people who volunteer in our various associations and committees all over the state. Collectively, their effort keeps our industry evolving and thriving and we are all better off for it.