The air is still and warm. The leaves on the vine are beginning to turn, some yellow, others russet and golden. Rutherglen Estates’ winemaker Marc Scalzo wanders the rows of Shelley’s Block vineyard, tucked away in the rolling hills near the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park. ‘This is my favourite vineyard,’ says Marc, the loose gravel in the soil crunching underfoot. He has been winemaker at Rutherglen Estates since 2007, creating award-winning benchmark wines as well as table wines of exceptional value. As we walk, Marc calls out the different varieties, ‘Durif. Viognier. Marsanne. Arneis. Sangiovese’. He stops and looks through the canopy of the vines. ‘I love autumn,’ he says with a smile. ‘The vines always look great to me when everything has been picked!’
Marc is a local boy. He grew up in Wangaratta where his father managed a bottle shop. ‘I have always been around wine,‘ he says. ‘In that bottle shop they specialised in local wines. Dad was often bringing home samples and asking my opinion.’ Marc looks out towards Rutherglen, sitting on a rise in the Murray flats, the old pubs and water tower bathed in late afternoon light. ‘One of my favourite memories of growing up is sitting around the family table at about 11 years old after dinner, eating roasted chestnuts and being allowed to have some red wine. Chestnuts and red wine are still one of my favourite food and wine matches,’ he says. ‘Dad’s Italian so we always were allowed a little wine as part of the evening meal. Just a little bit.’
As he grew up Marc gravitated towards winemaking. ‘That, and a complete lack of interest in the corporate world,’ he says with a cheeky grin. ‘I was always fascinated by wine, and the differences vineyards and winemakers made,’ he says. ‘It was that mix of agriculture, science and creativity that really appealed to me.’ Marc was 26 when he went to work with iconic winemaker John Gehrig at Oxley. ‘After a week on my first vintage,’ he says, ‘I was hooked.’
Marc travelled extensively, doing vintages at wineries in New Zealand with the large family-owned Delegat and then Seresin estates in Marlborough. He also learned from Rick Kinzbrunner at Giaconda in Beechworth. ‘Beechworth chardonnays are still some of my favourite wines,’ he says. Marc then moved down the hill and worked as a winemaker for Brown Brothers for seven years before switching to Rutherglen in 2007 to work with Rutherglen Estates.
When he arrived the vineyards were a mix of old and newer vines that had been planted just eight years earlier. That gave Marc a chance to help shape the house style. His Renaissance VRM for example, a viognier, roussanne and marsanne blend, is a lovely balanced aromatic wine with stone fruit and tropical notes and toasted brioche flavours from the oak and lees contact.
Marc brings us to a row of durif vines. Durif can be a massive wine with strong tannins and full fruit flavour. Instead, Marc makes a nuanced wine called Renaissance Durif with lovely rich blackberry notes and spicy aromas making it the perfect foil for roast lamb and other meats.
We head to the cellar door in town. It’s housed in the great brick and concrete vaults of the old Seppelt’s building. This is where Marc’s wines are showcased. He has mastered really authentic Italianate sangiovese, fiano and pinot grigio. Other wines open for tasting are arneis, savagnin, sauvignon blanc, tempranillo, zinfandel and shiraz. He takes out a very attractive bottle of wine with a pinkish-gold blush that he named Muscat BdV in tribute to the classic French dessert wine Beaumes de Venise. He pours a little taster into a glass and butterfly wings of alcohol spread up the glass. Sweet and floral, it has delicious hints of Turkish delight. He swirls the wine around, brings the glass to his nose … and loses himself in the moment.
Marc Scalzo’s Rutherglen
After tasting wine in and around town Marc recommends wandering the streets of this historic gold rush town with its grand old pubs, schools and halls. He says it is the perfect place to take a bike, riding out to Wahgunyah on the old rail trail or riding the Murray River flats between the wineries. He loves the Murray River, with its ancient river red gums and amazing birdlife such kingfishers and honeyeaters. He also insists you have a pie at the award-winning Parker Pies and try a pot at Rutherglen Brewery.
13–35 Drummond Street,
Tel 02 6032 7999