Drinking Victoria: Pat Underwood

Published on 19 May 2021

Photo: Pat Underwood (credit: Annika Kafcaloudis)

Pat Underwood is an exciting young winemaker based in central Victoria, making wines under the Little Reddie label. 

Underwood is a Castlemaine local whose passion for good booze saw him leave regional Victoria to work the floor of Melbourne’s City Wine Shop. He was lured back to his hometown in 2014 under the guise of starting Boomtown Winemakers Co-operative, with friends Jarad Curwood (Chapter Wine) and Tim Sproal (Minim Wine), before establishing his own wine label, Little Reddie, the following year. He finds the best of Central Victorian vineyards, and across Little Reddie's core range you’ll find bright and bold minimal-intervention wines. You may have seen – or even drunk – his nebbiolo refosco, with its label inspired by a Sonic Youth album cover, at many of the best wine bars in town. 

The last three delicious things I drank were… Just as I’m writing this, I’m slowly recovering from my 30th birthday celebrations. There were numerous wonderful drinks; some older Australian wines in particular. The most memorable wine was definitely a bottle of 1978 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo, it was a blend of Brunate and Canubi crus. Amazingly long, effortlessly pushing on and on through the palate, and impressive weight too. I woke up the following morning tasting the wine in spite of the beers that followed. 

What was especially nice about this bottle was remembering the most lovely woman, Michel, who had taken me to the cellars beneath her shop in Florence to find it. I had stopped for lunch driving from the north to Pisa, and Michel – understanding my enthusiasm for and love of nebbiolo – walked past the bins, dismissing anything overvalued, and grabbed bottles from vintages that she knew well. When our chat eventually slowed down she charged me a pittance for four beautiful wines, wrote down her lunch recommendation and told me to write to her about the wines. It's the second bottle I've opened, so I owe her another email. 

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is tricky. I think maybe the defining thing about drinking in Victoria is the diverse ways people do it. It could be Winespeake, Edinburgh Gardens, France Soir, Gimlet or Neighbourhood Wine. There’s lots of great places, giving everyone a place to feel excited and comfortable. That’s rad.  

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant I almost always read it from start to finish. I can’t help myself.

The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is Big Tree Gin from the Macedon Ranges. It’s lifted, aromatic and very refreshing. There is so much good Victorian gin these days. I remember when Melbourne Gin Company and Four Pillars first hit the shelves and that moment of realisation that “hey, these are more than a curiosity, they’re bloody good!?”. 

There’s no better value on a wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than Lambert chardonnay. Pretty much any wine from the Lamberts is frustratingly balanced, consistent and delicious.The best. 

My favourite place to buy booze is Jen Latta’s Winespeake in Daylesford. I love visiting and the selection of wines is epic – basically all the wines I want to drink, from all over the world. It’s mostly curated by Jeremy Shiell, but Jen and her husband Owen Latta’s hands are there too. One of the coolest things I've noticed since Winespeake opened is that the wine lists of neighbouring towns have really improved – it’s much easier for small-town hospo folk to drive half an hour and be inspired by a great venue than to head to the city and take notes from places that seem so distant from their own. 

I’d love to see us planting more dry-grown grenache. This grape makes beautiful wines in extremely dry places; think McLaren Vale or central Spain, much of the warmer parts of Victoria – from western through to central Victoria – and to the Goulburn  and King valleys. I'd love to see this. It's a different sort of viticulture, but one that I think would be much more sustainable. 

My guilty pleasure in the fridge/drinks cabinet/at the bar is… don’t mind a Vic Bitter.

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been specific regionality being represented. To say “this is from Colbinabbin”, rather than just Heathcote. Or “this is from Gippsland, more specifically Baw Baw Shire”. Mac Forbes really preaches this gospel for the Yarra Valley. I think it does lots of things: it makes us pay greater attention to what's in the glass and it makes us think about the sense of place and what that means. I think it has made me really think about the European tradition of fermenting something to show a place – and how difficult it is to place this tradition on a land so wrought with dispossession and destruction throughout history. Sense of place is what it’s all about.

For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is Gabrielle Poy. Gabs is a wine buyer at Prince Wine Store, a wine show judge and educator. We worked together at City Wine Shop; she was one of many patient mentors there. Gabs continues to help me with my writing and the promotion of my wines, which is something that doesn't come so naturally to me. What makes Gabs so inspiring is her ability to transcend the bullshit. She can hold court with any and all corners of the industry and demands the respect of everyone who works with her, but never have I seen her behave egotistically or in a superior way. She is also very sure to call out (mine or anyone else’s) peacock male blah blah that at times is part of the show. We’re all aware that we have diversity issues in our industry, and I see people like Gabs as part of the solution. 

Pat Underwood is the founder of wine label Little Reddie. Follow his adventures at @little_reddie

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