Exploring the Exquisite Wines of Giant Steps, Yarra Valley, and Tasmania in Australia

By | 23 April 2024

Website: https://www.giantstepswine.com.au/

The Yarra Valley winery, Giant Steps, embarks on a new journey as it recently came under the ownership of Jackson Family Wines. As of 2021, Melanie Chester directs their winemaking and viticulture processes.

The establishment of the winery can be traced back to Phil Sexton in the late 1990s. Known for his entrepreneurial ventures, Sexton has previously set up and sold two breweries, Matilda Bay and Little Creatures, as well as a winery, Devil’s Lair, in Western Australia. His shift to Yarra Valley marked the setup of a vineyard in 1997, which produced its first vintage under the Giant Steps label in 2001.

Back in 2006, my visit to the vineyard left me admirably impressed. Today, my admiration has only magnified.

Melanie joined in November 2021, thus her debut vintage was the 2022 season, which was not particularly an ideal start to a new career due to bad crops. Melanie states that ‘Three of the most recent vintages have been disrupted by La Niña, resulting in a frigid and wet spring, bad flowering, and severe winds.’ The Yarra yield was reduced by up to 60%, whereas Giant Steps saw a general reduction of 35%. However, this lead to a heightened concentration of crops. For instance, the typical weight of Chardonnay bunches which is 110 g, was reduced to 55-60 g, and the MV6 Pinot clone went as low as 45 g a bunch. This had a significant influence on the winemaking process, Melanie explains. The following season, 2023, also presented challenges, and whilst Melanie believes that the ‘coolest vintages produce the best wines’, they were difficult from a farming point of view.

Melanie’s fulfilling winemaking journey began at Treasury, followed by periods at Great Western and Seppelt, after which she had an extended role at Sutton Grange in Victoria. She is quick-witted and a discerning taster, and there’s much expectation and excitement surrounding her future ventures at Giant Steps. They operate a sleek gravity-flow winery in Healsville and there’s a second one under construction. The former chief winemaker, Steve Flamsteed, and the initial owner, Phil Sexton, are still involved with the company. “Gravity is critical to maintaining the quality of the wines”, Melanie affirms.

Melanie notes that when it comes to winemaking with Chardonnay, the team ‘doesn’t focus on extreme reduction, but rather, the core emphasis is on the fruit.’

The Jackson Family’s partnership has brought in resources. In the past year, they have acquired the Bastard Hill vineyard, formerly owned by Accolade. The vineyard spans 13 hectares and was initially planted in 1985 for the production of sparkling wines. Situated in the Upper Yarra with red basaltic soil, it features a 27-degree slope. Ray Guerin, a famed viticulturist who formerly operated at Hardy’s, is responsible for its inception. He had also planted Applejack, a vineyard employed by Giant Steps, which he considered his recreational weekend vineyard.

Giant Steps Tarraford Chardonnay 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
This vineyard is surprisingly not the warmest despite its location and low elevation. It is leased from the Long family and grows the P58 clone in its small area. The grapes are handpicked, cooled, and then whole bunch pressed loosely. All juices are transferred to barrels with all its solids and handled oxidatively with wild fermentation. The product is finely spiced with layered citrus and white peach fruit. It is delicate, fresh, and precise with a fine spice finish. It is rated 94/100.

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
This is Phil Sexton’s home vineyard established in 1997. The 30-hectare site has 12 hectares of Chardonnay with different clones, many believe to be largely Mendoza clone, and Bernard clones too due to the site’s varying aspects. The product is mineral, taut with lemony notes and undertones of ginger and pear. It has a pleasant saltiness, structure, and impressive detail and precision. It is rated 95/100.

Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Chardonnay 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
The sloping vineyard in upper Yarra houses this product. It grows a sparkling clone and has been working on sheltering the Chardonnay fruit from the sun by playing with the canopy structure. The 13 hectares vineyard with 2 hectares of Chardonnay produces product that is restrained on the nose with hints of hazelnut and almond, some apple skin and mealy notes and delicate lemon. The palate experience is linear and focused with nice freshness and a sense of tension. It is rated 95/100.

Giant Steps Primavera Pinot Noir 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
Located 300 meters up in the upper Yarra, this wine is cultivated in a rare red volcanic basalt soil in the Yarra. This fertile and well-draining soil offers 60 million-year-old vines an easier life. The product contains notes of red cherry and redcurrant fruit, pomegranate and cranberry, giving a sense of delicacy. It is pure, delicate with beautiful purity and finesse and is rated 94/100.

Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
From an 800 m vineyard with grey soils. Clones Abel, MV6, Pommard, 114, 115. There’s beautiful pure fruit expressed in the form of raspberry and strawberry along with pleasant, spicy undertones. The richness, silkiness and a touch of fine tannins contribute to the wine’s charm. Enjoy the lovely fruit presence and fine structure, with slightly detectable nuances of beetroot and plum, as well as minute pepper notes. This wine is elegant but has the potential to grow finer with age. 95/100

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2022 Yarra Valley, Australia
This selection is from the excellent middle belt of the vineyard, which is planted with G5V12, MV6 and Pommard clones. Intensely aromatic, with notes of ginger, spice and iodine, apart from the usual fragrances of spice and red fruits. The palate pleases with its supple, fine texture, and silkiness balanced with a bit of strength and spice. The subtle red jelly and a hint of saltiness add vigour to the blend, complemeted by traces of sage and lavender. 94/100

Giant Steps Fatal Shore Pinot Noir 2022 Coal River Valley, Tasmania, Australia
‘The diversity within Tasmania is quite remarkable,’ mentions Melanie. Coal River is situated in the southern region near Hobart, in a rain shadow from the western coast. Characterised by a cold, dry topography, three tributary valleys converge into one central valley. The best sites are on the eastern faces of these slopes, shielded from the frosty floors. The Nocton vineyard has been their grape source since 2016. The wine is supple, fine, elegant, and pure with a delicate burst of red cherry and wild strawberry fruit. A rare blend of purity, balance and elegance, with concentration underscored by finesse. An exotic offering that retains its elegance. 97/100

Past notes:

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 Yarra Valley, Australia
Alcoholic content is 13%. This is primarily regarding the restrained richness. The Chardonnay is characterized by some richer components: meal, toast, and spice, along with

pear, peach, and pineapple, but also possessing finesse and lean citrus and green apple notes. The purity and concentration are noticeable, accompanied by a bit of crystalline citrus fruit. There is plenty of latent potential: although presently it is somewhat constrained and withdrawn, with a primary type of attribute, I sense it could evolve remarkably well. 93/100

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