Timo Mayer’s New Yarra Classics
Sunday, July 12, 2020 in News
Timo Mayer's New Yarra Classics - by Philip Rich
Timo Mayer's journey, has stretched from his family's vineyard in the Württemberg region of Germany, to the mantle of one of the Yarra's most colourful and respected winemakers. Through handcrafting small batches of superb single vineyard wines, his story is one of the Yarra Valley’s greatest of modern times. Explore our portfolio of Timo Mayer wines.
Timo, a qualified motor mechanic, arrived in Australia in 1991 via Quay West in Florida, where he met his Australian born partner. After working as a motorbike courier in Melbourne, they headed to Cairns for the next four years, working in hospitality, diving and sailing.
‘Through handcrafting small batches of superb single vineyard wines, Timo Mayer's story is one of the Yarra Valley’s greatest in modern times’
After the birth of their first child (they now have three), Timo and Rhonda moved to Wagga Wagga for two years where Timo began his winemaking degree. Moving back to Rhonda’s home state, they settled on the Yarra Valley. In 1996, after wandering into de Bortoli saying, ‘Hey guys, I need a job,’ he found himself running the cellar, working alongside Yarra legends Steve Webber, David Bicknell and the late ‘Slingers’ (David Slingsby Smith).
‘These thoughtful natural wines reflect both the man and the place. They should be considered one of the Yarra Valley’s new classics.’
In 1998, Timo and Rhonda purchased a 40 acre ‘cow paddock’ on Mt Toolebewong in Healesville (at the very start of the upper Yarra) and renamed it Bloody Hill. They built a dam that year, and added a small nursery in 1999. The following year, they planted 2.4ha, including a small .20 ha of Chardonnay, 1.8 ha Pinot Noir (some close planted at 6000 vine / ha) and .40 of Syrah. At 200 metres, with Woori Yallock in the cool Upper Yarra a stone’s throw away on the southern side, and in what’s turned out to be a fortuitous decision, the Pinot was planted south east to get the morning sun. The Syrah (a marginal proposition 20 years ago) was planted on the south west slope to maximise the warmer afternoon sun.
In 2000, Timo left de Bortoli to become the full time winemaker at Gembrook Hill, where he ended up staying for 17 years. He spent his last few years at Gembrook making wines alongside Andrew Marks, who was also busy with his own Wanderer Wines label and the Melbourne Gin Company. Timo made his own wines (at Gembrook) for the first time in 2002, finally building a small winery at Bloody Hill in 2014.
‘Timo has become a master of whole bunch fermentations.’
After Gembrook Hill’s founder Ian Marks died suddenly in 2017, Timo decided the time was right for Andrew (Ian’s son) to take over at Gembrook, and for him to focus solely on his own wines. These days, apart from the wines made with his own Bloody Hill fruit (including three different Pinots), there is now Sangiovese and Nebbiolo sourced from de Bortoli, and Cabernet and Merlot from Coldstream, as well as the Mayer ‘Granite’ Pinot which comes from the Swallowfield vineyard in Gembrook.
All of Timo’s wines are made with minimal handling, low sulphur, larger and mainly older hogsheads and puncheons, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The Bloody Hill and Granite Pinot are made from totally destemmed fruit, but the rest of the reds are made using whole bunches and berries (to varying degrees) in the ferments. Indeed, Timo has become a master of whole bunch fermentations, having evolved the process from his first commercial vintage in 2003 where he used a relatively conservative 10-20% wholes bunches in the red ferments.
After some experimentation, Timo bit the bullet and made a 100% whole bunch wine, but wasn’t happy with the result, deeming it ‘bubble gum shit’. The wine was just too simple. In 2005, he began fermenting the batches in small ferments at 22 degrees to avoid the green, ultra-herbaceous aromas and flavours sometimes associated with the style.
Timo employs a semi carbonic/semi macerated process whereby the wine is locked up in half-tonne picking bins for ten days to undergo a semi-carbonic whole berry ferment, before spending another 10 days maceration and then being airbag pressed into tank. What Timo is after is that crunchy, vibrant and fresh fruit from the whole bunch carbonic ferment during the first ten days, and the savoury tannins from the macerated fruit.
The first Close Planted Mayer was released in 2006, and this is the only red that has both destemmed fruit and whole bunches, with the percentage of each depending on vintage conditions. The warmer the year, the larger the whole bunch component. The first 100% whole bunch wine, The Doctor Pinot Noir, was released in 2008.
The rest, as they say, is history, and these thoughtful natural wines reflect both the man and the place. They should be considered one of the Yarra Valley’s new classics.