In many ways you could say that Damian North and Pinot Palooza have a bit of a shared “Journey” when it comes to wine (see what we did there?). Damian joined us at the first ever Pinot Palooza with his first ever vintage and he’s been back every year since.
Originally a sommelier at none other than Tetsuya’s in Sydney, he settled in the Yarra Valley after stints in Oregon and Margaret River to start his own wine brand, Journey Wines.
And with each year, and each subsequent vintage, his wines just get better and better. So who better, we thought, to tell us about all things Yarra Valley and Pinot Palooza than a sommelier AND winemaker?
How was Pinot Palooza 2017 for you?
The Pinot Palooza 2017 East Coast tour was incredible! Bigger venues – how amazing was the Exhibition Building in Melbourne? – more people, more food, more everything!
How does it feel to have made the Top 10 National People’s Choice?
We have been at Pinot Palooza since the start – and have never won a place in the People’s Choice so we are absolutely stoked. I feel like the kid who has wins raffle and says ‘I have never won anything before…’
Tell us something interesting about your wines. What makes you different?
The linocuts on our Journey Wines labels tell the story of my Journey in wine. From being a sommelier in Sydney to making wine in the Yarra Valley, Oregon, Margaret River – then returning to the Yarra to start Journey Wines.
What style do you think characterises the wines of your region?
Yarra Valley Pinot Noir – particularly those from cool sites in what we call the Upper Yarra – really are in a class of their own in Australia.
Don’t be fooled by the light colour – these Pinots have an incredible depth of flavour.
To me they highlight the amazing characters that Pinot has that other red varieties do not – delicacy, brightness and freshness, with an emphasis on red fruit aromas and flavours.
Combine that with delicious softness and juiciness and they make for amazing wines, with an ability to match to a really wide range of food.
Tell us three things we need to know about your region?
There are really two parts to the Yarra Valley. The ‘Valley Floor’ is where it all started around the edges of the wide valley which the Yarra River meanders across, framed by the stunning Yarra Ranges to the East. The Upper Yarra is a much hillier and varied area to the South of the Valley Floor, with cool sites interspersed amongst rolling farmland. This part of the valley is about 150-250 metres higher than the Valley Floor, and vineyards here ripen around 2-3 weeks later than the Valley Floor.
To top it off, the Yarra Valley is only an hour outside of the centre of Melbourne, so you can have breakfast in a cool laneway bar in the city and lunch enjoying the stunning rural vistas in the Valley.
What’s the one thing we simply must do in your region?
Have a drink in the beer garden at the Healesville Hotel.
This is the natural habitat of local Yarra Valley winemakers, and you will see them frolicking with their families here on a sunny Friday afternoon.
Order a meal from the bar, and try one of the local wines by the glass from the blackboard menu in the bar.
This is possibly the best ‘by the glass’ wine selection in any pub in Australia – only featuring Yarra wines and often showing new wines from exciting young winemakers you haven’t heard of yet.
If not you, who else should people try?
G&T’s at Four Pillars, lunch at Oakridge, Cheese at Yarra Valley Dairy, walking at the Maroondah Dam park just outside Healesville, hike to the Mt St Leonards lookout for views back to the city.
What song should we listen to when driving to the winery?
What song should we listen to when driving away and onto the next one?