Dominique Portet Cabernet

Dominique Portet Cabernet

Travis Schultz & Ben Portet

With all that’s going on in the world at the moment, it would be easy to throw away the rose-coloured glasses and ruminate over the headwinds now facing the Australian wine industry. Quite apart from a lingering spat with our once largest export market, bushfires, and more recently, droughts, the wine industry is now also struggling to find the workers needed to pick fruit and manage the vineyards. Add to the equation lower prices from a growing wine glut and it would appear that the horizon looks rather bleak indeed for industry players. For the optimists amongst us, it’s times like this that we tend to try and focus on the positives; the opportunities that we can see and the past successes that we can celebrate. And to me, there’s something quite uplifting and motivational in a story about an industry champion whose plan has beaten the odds and whose vision defied the naysayers. And if you’re up for a feel-good story, read on – and discover the legend that is, Dominique Portet.

The eponymous Dominique Portet is the face behind the now famous Yarra Valley winery. A ninth-generation winemaker, Dominique had a blue-blooded introduction to the wine industry, given that the French national’s father was the vineyard and winery manager at one of the biggest names in the wine world, Château Lafite-Rothschild. After attending Montpelier University of Oenology, Dominique completed national service and then worked vintages in the Médoc, Rhône Valley, Provence, Champagne and even the Napa Valley in California. Since moving to Australia in 1976, Dominque honed his craft and carved himself a reputation as one of our industry greats – and arguably one as the father of cool-climate winemaking in Australia. His domestic journey started when he founded one of our iconic sparkling wine houses, Taltarni in the Victorian Pyrenees and then Clover Hill in Tasmania. It’s quite a pedigree!

Drawn to his roots in Bordeaux, in 2000 Dominique decided to establish a viticultural base in the Yarra Valley with a view to making wines of the style and calibre that would rival those of the Gironde Department that he once called home. And to be fair, his selection of site and terroir is a little unusual. The Yarra Valley is perhaps better known for its pinot noir and chardonnay – varietals which, according to the Wine Australia data, account for 41% and 27% respectively of the region’s 2020/21 crop!

By definition, Bordeaux blends are either merlot or cabernet dominant but contain smaller amounts of the support acts of petit verdot, malbec, cabernet franc or carménère. The British have generally called these wines “claret” – a term that was used in Australia as well until about the 1990s. When you consider that cabernet even now accounts for only 6% of the fruit grown in the Yarra, a decision to establish a winery that would make world-class cabernet blends in the district was, to many, a little surprising.

Fast forward to 2022, and there is no disputing the wisdom and foresight of the French genius. The 2018 Dominique Portet estate label cabernet sauvignon sells at about $65 – $70 and comprises 90% cabernet, 5% petit verdot, 3% malbec and 2% cabernet franc. And if you ask me, I reckon it’s one of the best Australian cabernet blends I’ve sampled and is drinking exceptionally well in its youth. It’s rather bright and lively in the glass and the freshness and aromatics bounce out and seduce you on the first sip. Still youthful, the exuberant raspberries and red cherries rise from the dark berry amalgam of flavours and embrace a brambly (if not slightly herbaceous) character through the middle. The finesse and seasoning of French oak is evident on the back end where a still zesty acidity interacts with chalky smooth tannins through a lush and lingering finale. The tantalising allure of the blend is intoxicating. A seductress in a bottle. As elegant, well balanced and complex as it is right now, I’m sure that the 2018 edition of Dominique’s nod to the Bordeaux Barons will reward the patient cellar-keeper over the next 10 – 15 years.

Every feel-good story has a happy ending, and for the Dominique Portet admirers out there, the good news is that despite Dominique now nearing the twilight of his illustrious career, the future of the vineyards, winery and brand is now assured by his son. Ben Portet who joined his father in 2008, has been taking the reins and applying his considerable skill and experience to the crafting of their artisan wines. And knowing Ben as I do, he’d love nothing more than to welcome you to their charming cellar door set amongst the rolling vineyards – you’ll find them at 870 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream Hills.

 

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