Drinking Victoria: Ben Haines

Published on 11 May 2022

Photo: Victorian winemaker and co-founder of Collaborative Fermentation, Ben Haines.

Your guide to what’s in the glass from the people in the trade. 

Ben Haines is just as good at making fun-time party wines as he is dinner-with-your-parents wines. The custodian of a small winery up in the hills of Steels Creek in the Yarra Valley, Haines has been producing cool climate and Mediterranean-style wines for the past 10 years. While you may be well acquainted with his established Ben Haines label, his latest experiment is Collaborative Fermentations (who make CO orchard wines): a side project he runs with with fellow winemaker Doug Lilburne. They co-ferment different grape  with locally sourced fruit to create zippy and fun drinks that will make perfect additions to your next dinner party.  

The last three delicious things I drank were:

A cold Carlton Draught at the Great Northern Hotel. 

Our new vintage of CO orchard wines. Wild, wacky, organic co-fermentations of orchard fruits (think sour plums, blood plums, peaches, and figs) with varieties such as pinot noir, syrah, roussanne and cabernets.

And finally, Delamain Cognac. Stunning Cognac, and every sip takes me back to tasting these liquid relics from the deep, musty cellars of Grande Champagne a few years ago. 

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is Gray and Gray. Local, casual drop-in. Eccentric wine list spanning the globe, and also with strong Victorian representation. Warm and inviting vibes with welcoming food for small groups. Massive date-night potential with sexy mood lighting. And, the charming maître d’/owner, Mitch Sokolin, can greet you in about 700 different languages.   

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I say thanks! 

The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is Hop Nation’s Dart Distilling gin. The Navy Strength will get your pants dancing. 

There’s no better value on a wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than many of the wines from the Lo-Fi Wines portfolio. So often, I drink a wine from their list, and I think – “how the hell are they able to sell these high-quality and difficult-to-access wines at these prices?” Inspiring.  

My favourite place to buy booze is Public Wine Shop. Melbourne wine boss Campbell Burton offers the spoils of unique, characterful organic and zero-sulphur wines from Australia and across the globe in a beautifully intimate space that happens to be just around the corner from my house in Fitzroy North. Happy happy, joy joy.

I’d love to see us planting more grape varieties that are suited to our evolving climate – in particular, lesser-known Mediterranean varieties that lend themselves to more experimental wine styles. It’s big work, but we need to be making the most of the diversity of our grape growing regions and thinking about the future of winemaking and the wine market. 

My guilty pleasure at the bar istasting a flight of wines at 7am, excused under the pretence of my Master of Wine studies. Otherwise, it’s a cold longneck of something from CUB.

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been the critical mass of colourful artisan producers presenting themselves to the world, and the embrace of these small producers and their unconventional drinks (whether wine, spirits, beer, kombucha or otherwise) by the Victorian drinking public. The future looks bright. 

Ben Haines Winery and Collaborative Fermentations, coferments.combenhaines.wine

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