The morning sun has raised its beams above the forested treetops of Happy Valley, a hidden away location tucked between Myrtleford and the Kiewa Valley in High Country Victoria. Here, in a small family-run vineyard, multi-award-winning winemaker Frank Ivone is pressing out the primary fermented skins of his 2021 Tempranillo.
The juice runs with a rich ruby-red hue that has an almost velvety appearance in the morning light. Frank captures a half wine glass of the liquid from the bottom of the press for me to sample – the aroma and flavour are intensely rich yet wonderfully balanced. Frank explains that Malo – malolactic second ferment – will soften some of the astringency, but I’m not concerned; I know that the product is already well on track to becoming one of the best Alpine Valleys wines of the season.
Eagle Range Estate is known for its low volume, high-quality boutique wines. The vineyard of ten acres rests on a northern facing slope at around 300 metres above sea level at the apex of two valleys: Ovens and Happy Valleys. Here, constant westerly winds protect the vines from mould and assist with frost protection. The cooling airflow also slows the ripening of the grapes in the evenings, which intensifies the flavour profile. The vineyard’s east-west planting channels the wind down the rows, reducing any possible damage to the plants in high winds. Additionally, due to careful canopy management maintaining a ‘roof’ over the bunches, the midday sun is kept off the grapes, allowing an even ripening temperature until harvest day.
The vineyard comprises around 50 per cent cabernet, with additional plantings of Riesling, Shiraz, Merlot, Tempranillo and Montepulciano. A little Saparavi completes the picture. This year will see the first harvest of the Montepulciano, a late-ripening Italian grape that offers a mid-weight palate balanced with richer fruit flavour than a pinot, ‘perhaps like a Nebbiolo’, says Frank.
At the high altitude, optimum ripening of Montepulciano is possible. The varietal’s spiced/savoury elements are perfected, as favoured in the Italian winemaking style. Skin and seed tannin maturity is achieved at a slow rate, enhancing the texture of the wine, with maturation typically occurring between late February and the first week in April.
‘It was grafted two years ago to cabernet rootstock, which has done exceptionally well, with large plump bunches on the vines,’ says Frank. ‘I have a sensational first crop on the vines.’
The best time to visit Eagle Range Estate’s cellar door to sample such new release wines is late spring, as Frank prefers to bottle his wines at winter’s end.
‘The cool environment stabilises the wines. During the winter months, the tartaric acids in the wines become crystallised and drop to the bottom of the barrel – this produces a much softer wine upon bottling and release.’
Three Daughters is Eagle Range Estate’s limited release range and comprises Riesling, Saperavi Tempranillo, and upon release in 2022, will include the new Montepulciano. The Red Label wines, Shiraz and Cabernet, use differing yeasts and American oak compared to the Blue Label Cabernet. The latter is matured in French oak, producing, for example, a softer Cabernet with rich blackcurrant and plum flavours. The Red Label Cabernet, by comparison, is leaner and tighter with more focused savoury characteristics. Firm, well structured chalky tannins set the Blue Label wine up for extended bottle ageing.
Frank uses barrels of Kentucky oak mixed with Minnesota oak sourced from the Shenandoah and Appellation mountains. High altitude timber like the Shenandoah oak is known for its slow-growing, tighter timber grains. These add subtle spiced flavours to the wines, also producing gentle tannins.
We suggest a blue vein cheese would be an ideal choice in terms of food matches as its acidity and punch will cut through the rich, fullness of the Blue Label Cabernet. However, the Red Label is more suited to a wide range of savoury dishes, such as braised rabbit or lamb and light pasta dishes. The fruit flavour, in this case, is more subtle and soft, leaning towards a cherry profile.
The winery is located at an easy 15 minutes drive from Myrtleford, Victoria and is situated in the picturesque Alpine Valleys region.
Eagle Range Estate
228 Happy Valley Road,
Ovens (near Myrtleford), Victoria
Tel. 03 5752 2518