Andrew, Abi, Lucy and Charlie Clarke of Tonimbuk's Jinks Creek Winery. Picture: REBECCA SKILTON.
Twenty-five years ago sceptics told Andrew Clarke that it was impossible to establish a vineyard at Tonimbuk. Today Andrew and wife Abi oversee a thriving gourmet tourism business. The couple sat down with REBECCA SKILTON to talk about their sparkling success.
Nestled at the foothills of the Bunyip State Park is Andrew and Abi Clarke’s Jinks Creek Winery.
Surrounded by the picturesque Black Snake Range, the Clarke’s 100 acres showcases the best Gippsland has to offer. Horses graze on prime agricultural land, while ten acres of thriving vineyards proudly line the property’s centre. A myriad of birdlife and Australian native animals wander through the property’s clearing, reflecting the Clarke’s largely organic philosophy.
At the property’s heart is a 133-year-old shearing shed turned wine bar.
Built near Whittlesea in 1875, the rustic shed was relocated to Jinks in 2008 and renovated to house a restaurant, art gallery and cellar-door. The unique and atmospheric venue is constructed entirely from recycled materials sourced from Gippsland. It boasts old lining boards, a kauri pine dance floor and beautifully preserved pressed tin ceiling.
Perched above the vineyard with an exclusive view of the Bunyip State Forest, the wine bar boasts huge industrial steel windows, which overlook rows of prolific vines.
Standing there, it’s hard to imagine the rows of grapes not flourishing.
But when Andrew purchased the property from family in 1994, that’s exactly what he was told.
“Everyone told me that you couldn’t grow grapevines here back when I did it,” Andrew said.
“They said it was dairy country – that you can only grow grapes in Mildura. It was sort of pioneering because no one ever thought it would work and there weren’t any others around. But I knew it would be alright for grapevines because the property used to be an apple orchard.
“Apple orchards make really good vineyards because their roots open all the soil … and if you can grow apples you can pretty much grow grapevines. So here we are.”
Andrew’s love for winemaking started young. While his grandfather was a Melbourne wine merchant, Andrew was the second recipient of a winemaking scholarship from the Victorian Wine Industry Association in 1979. His scholarship saw him work in Sonoma California for Dave Stare at Dry Creek and in South West France in the Bordeaux region at Chateau Giscours.
When he returned home, he learnt from Australian industry icons such as Brown Brothers and Rick Kinzbrunner of Giaconda.
Having produced wine since the age of 20, Andrew has long established himself as a leading winemaker. In 1984, he started working in the viticultural consultancy industry, setting up vineyards and overseeing their day-to-day management. This is an activity he still does today, overseeing around 10 vineyards across Victoria.
In 1989 he started making wine under the Jinks Creek label from an old apple shed on the property. Andrew went on to sell his wines in top restaurants in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with export sales to New York and Singapore, and more recently, to both France and the U.K.
He has received an array of outstanding reviews, including five-stars from James Halliday and reviews with marks over 90 by American wine guru Robert Parker Junior.
In 1998, he met his wife and art-curator, Abigail Edwards, who would help expand the Jinks Creek name into the art world.
“We met 20 years ago at my family’s gallery in Portsea,” Abi explained.
“Mum has had galleries around Australia for 35 years – the same amount of time which Andrew has been making wine. After Andrew and I met, we closed the Peninsula gallery and I just decided it was a perfect situation where Andrew and I could bring our passions together.
“So we’ve amalgamated our talents. Once we rebuilt the shed, we could open the wine bar and have both the gallery and a restaurant – which Andrew had always wanted to do.”
Jinks Creek Wine Bar, Gallery and Accommodation (as it’s known today) was opened in 2008. Located 10 kilometres off the highway, the Clarke’s were often told that they had little to no chance of enticing visitors to their doors.
“People always said; how are you going to get people here? But we were never worried. We already had our reputation and we’re actually not that far from Melbourne. But still, a lot of people told us that no one would come out here,” Abi said.
“But it shows how you should go against the grain; they said to Andrew, ‘don’t plant here’ and then, ‘don’t open a restaurant and gallery’ but we’re still here. And we’ve sort of pioneered in those areas because we are still going after all these years.”
Today Jinks Creek Winery is an iconic Tonimbuk destination for hundreds of visitors each month. While Andrew continues to make his wine in-house (albeit in a new, larger shed), Abi runs the property’s B&BS, as well as hosting functions, weddings and monthly market days. However, her passion thrives through her popular Abi Edwards Gallery, which showcases artists such as Christopher Lees, Esther Erlich, Mark Knight and Janine Riches.
While she believes that the gallery provides the perfect hub for artists, she also strives to provide visitors with a place to immerse themselves in the art world.
“We feature lots of local artists – they have to be exclusive, iconic, quirky, unusual – in a niche of their own. I like artists who are doing their own thing; those we haven’t seen before – who put a twist on something,” Abi said.
“Art is an acquired taste like wine – not everyone understands art or they’re worried that they won’t – but it’s really about your gut instinct.
“Like with wine; you either like it or you don’t and you develop your taste as you go along. But you just have to dive in and experience it and that’s what I want people to be able to do out here.”
Andrew and Abi’s two children, Charlie (19) and Lucy (16), also play a role in the success of the business, the pair leading the kitchen when the wine bar and restaurant are open to the public on Sundays.
“Lucy runs the kitchen and floor and manages the staff. She also does a lot of changes to the menu and every area of the restaurant really – she’s quite the innovator,” Abi said.
Meanwhile, Charlie is a familiar face in both the kitchen and winery, cooking and working alongside Andrew.
“Both Charlie and Lucy have got things on the menu that they’ve added in and they both make drastic changes when necessary because they both have clear visions that we can’t always see – so we let them go full-speed ahead with those ideas,” Abi said.
In fact, one of the newest ideas encouraged by Charlie has been the introduction of the Jinks Creek Farm House Ale and Gippsland Cider.
Having recently purchased machinery from Germany, Charlie and Andrew have been creating small batches of Belgium Farm House Ale. Made from scratch on the farm, the ale is proving to be a hit amongst customers at the wine bar and inner-city restaurants.
“We saw a chance to make a bottle fermented, unfiltered Saison style beer with our own Gippsland rainwater that fits into our philosophy of artisanal produce,” Charlie said.
“The beer has been very popular and we are continually selling out at our wine bar and gaining more demand from outlets in Melbourne and Gippsland which is fantastic.”
But while the Clarke’s are always looking at ways to keep expanding the Jinks Creek name, there are some things that they admit will never change, such as their commitment to an organic, bohemian-themed lifestyle and support of the local Gippsland region.
“We’re not for every person and that’s okay,” Abi said.
“We’ve never advertised; we just seem to attract like-minded people. We’re bohemian, rustic and hand-made, which a lot of people from Melbourne are really searching and yearning for so I think that’s one of our secrets.
“And we just think Gippsland is just an amazing region.
“It’s really another secret; an untouched region that many people are only just discovering. More and more people are moving out here or coming to visit from Melbourne and I think to showcase what we have here is really important.”
More White Wine than Sauvignon, there's lightweight yellow fruit at its core, dressed up with confectioner's sugar and flour. Couple that with pineapple and passion fruit aromas on the nose, and meat-and-sugar flavors on the close, and you've just got a good but confused, varietally vague wine.
This 2005 has the right amount of age in the bottle, but the brickish edges don't do justice to this great wine. In the mouth acid level feels high but is quickly replaced by a ripe, fruity, robust wine that leaves you wanting another sip.
Planting of the Jinks Creek vineyard antedated the building of the winery by 11 years, but all of the wines are made from estate-grown grapes. Perched above the vineyard with an uninterrupted view of the Bunyip State Forest and Black Snake Ranges, a refurbished 100-year-old wool shed has been renovated to house a restaurant, art gallery and cellar door. This venue is constructed entirely from recycled materials sourced from Gippsland, including old lining boards, a kauri pine dance floor and a perfectly preserved pressed-tin ceiling. Exports to the US.
Author: James Halliday
(Four Glasses) 2002 Very light straw-green; the aromatic bouquet has slight signs of reduction alongside the tropical gooseberry fruit; the same jekyll and hyde characteristics come in to play on the palate. Others less intolerant of reduction would doubtless give the wine a higher score.
As with the ten best new wineries, this is a highly subjective list of wineries which have either shown recent but impressive improvement in their wines, or which simply deserve greater recognition. With one exception (Stanton and Killeen) they are all rated 4.5 stars, rather than five. Without wishing to appear presumptuous, a five-star rating is recognition in itself.
Good red-purple; an appealing balance of cherry/plum fruit and integrated oak on the bouquet, then a very powerful ripe palate with an array of berry flavours and even chocolate, relecting the seven different clones planted; the alcohol (13.8%) kick slightly on the finish, but there is every prospect the wine will age well.
Jinks Creek Winery is situated between Gembrook and Bunyip, bordering the evocatively named Bunyip State Park. Whie the winety was not built until 1992, planting of the 2.5 hectare vineyard started back in 1981 and all the wines are estate-grown. The 'sold out' sign goes up every year, small wondr in vintages such as 2000.
"When people buy your wine and say 'That's beautiful' there is satisfaction. Putting the vines, watching them grow and producing wine is a long road."
When he was a boy Andrew Clarke was fascinated with the grapevine growing in the yard of his parents' Sandringham home.
He was intrigued as the vine grew, spawned flowers, bore fruit and then took on the red and golden hues of autumn before the cycle started all over again. The young Andrew also soaked in the smell of oak bottling wine beside his grandfather, Robert Robertson, a wine merchant who ran a liquor store in bustling Flinders Lane. That he should grow up to become one of Gippsland's leading viticulture experts, helping establish new wineries and advising established growers throughout Victoria, should come as no surprise.
"I guess my interest came from my grandfather and also the strong interest I had in the grapevine growing at our house. I was fascinated by it. I liked the way the plant worked, the way it looked." said Andrew.
Today, Andrew tends seven acres of vines at his Tonimbuk winery, Jinks Creek. His family bought the 50 acre property in 1974. Nestled next to the magnificent Bunyip State Forest, it is a picturesque mix of lush green wines and native bush set against the backdrop of the Black Snake Ranges.
Clad in dirty blue jeans and equally well worked white shirt, Andrew walks among his vines, his barrel-like red heeler Trevor at his heels.
His is a boutique production. With the help of former Bunyip orchardist Victor Agnoleto, Andrew produces 10 ro 12 barrels of pinot noir each year and sux to eight barrels of Shiraz from grapes grown in the warmer East Gippsland climate at Longford.
The Jinks Creek label appears on menus at several restaurants in Melbourne and Brisbane, including Walters Wine Bar at Southgate, The George Hotel in St Kilda and All Nations in Richmond.
The label is available locally at the Pakenham Inn. Andrew planted his first acre of pinot noir and Chardonnay in 1979 when he was just 22. He had already completed his viticulture course at Wagga Agricultural College, which he attended on scholarship.
"It was all over the place, pretty messy," he grinned.
"The surveying wasn't spot on, some rows were wider than others but it was a learening experience. You learn a lot from your own mistakes." While the grapes were young, Andrew seized the opportunity to work at established wineries throughout Australia as well as overseas in France and California.
"In France there was a lot happening, still is. It is a very old industry there. I learnt a hell of a lot there about both viticulture and winemaking."
"I remember being sent to a 16th century vineyard in Entredermers to clean it up, organise the harvest and make the wine by myself. I guess you could say I cut my teeth there."
He has also worked at St Huberts in the Yarra Valley, Brown Brothers at Milawa and Fergusons in the Yarra Valley. He filed away the knowledge of people like Giaconda's Rick Krinzbrunner, with whom he worked at Brown Brothers, and Brian Fletcher, who was at St Huberts while Andrew was there. He credits German viticulture lecturer Max Loader as his principal mentor.
Andrew produced his first vintage under his Jinks Creek label in 1988. Before then he sold his grapes to Domain Chandon.
He says he likes the diversity of agriculture and the challenge of growing quality grapes.
"A lot more credit should be given to the growing of grapes as opposed to wine making" he said.
"You can't make a silk purse out of a pig's ear. Wine making is an adjunct to grape growing. If you get bad grapes delivered to a winery you're not going to make good wine."
"Quality becomes an issue because there are a lot of vineyards and an increase in supply which means a decrease in price and increase in the need for quality."
"More and more people are becoming educated as well as discerning, especially when it comes to different styles of wine. Even though price is still an important factor, people will experiment and taste different things.â€
"There are fads in the Australian wine industry. Three years ago demand dropped off for Chardonnay, but now it's back up there again. The public is fickle, they swap and change."
Andrew's consulting work takes him away from Jinks Creek and his young family, as new wineries spring up all over Victoria.
"People think [growing grapes] is the good life, but it is intensive agriculture that is knowledge based. You are always learning both sides of it."
Andrew and his wife Abi relaunched the Jinks Creek label three years ago with new label designs by Melbourne artist Esther Erlich.
Abi's family own the Libby Edwards trio of galleries in Melbourne, Sydney and Portsea. Esther Erlich is one of their most popular artists.
"We wanted them to be light-hearted, so people could pick up a bottle of our wine and not take drinking it too seriously."
"We love her art," added Abi.
The original painting from which the labels were taken hang on the walls of the couples farmhouse.
"Without saying too much about the wine, the bottle says you'll have a good time."
While Andrew's knowledge is now keenly sought, viticulture wasn't always lucrative.
"I was involved before I suppose you could say it was fashionable. For awhile it was really hard to get regular work in the early eighties through to the late eighties. There was a huge renaissance in the early 1990's."
Today vineyards are springing up all over Victoria. Andrew helped Michael Pullar set up his fifteen acre vineyard at Pakenham Upper and advised the Hardiker family when they were setting up Cannibal Creek at Tynon North.
He believes Gippsland has untapped potential to become as recognised a wine reason as the Yarra Valley or the Mornington Peninsula
"Marketing of wine is a real issue in this area. There is no unity. We need to have a few more wineries to say we're a region like the Mornington Peninsula or the Yarra Valley. At the moment we're a bit too obscure."
That could be about to change as Gippsland wineries demand notice at industry shows.
Jinks Creek took out a silver medal at the recent
Southern Victorian Wine Show for its 2000 shiraz and bronze for its pinot noir of the same vintage. Cannibal Creek also did well. Andrew hopes professional success will breed more interest in Gippsland as a wine region.
Professional recognition is the end of a long hard road that ends with the release with a cork and the filling of glasses.
"When people buy your wine and say 'that's beautiful', there is satisfaction. Putting in vines, watching them grow and producing wine is a long road."
As he mused on the commitment needed to produce wine, Andrew suddenly said he believed wine reflected something of the personality of those who made it.
What does his wine say about Andrew Clarke?
"Don't know. Hopefully it shows I've put a lot of effort in to it."
Andrew Clarke is a freelance viticulture adviser working throughout southern Victoria. Over the last decade he has been turning his hand to winemaking using fruit from his own Gippsland vineyard and suitably good fruit from Yarra Valley and Longford growers. The quality is surprisingly good, and the flavours are very complex rather than just offering simple fruit and oak driven flavours. They are the most exciting wines to come out of Gippsland since Bass Phillip and Moondarra.
Jinks Creek Pinot Noir 2000
This is one from Andrew's vineyard situated in the foothills of the Black Snake Ranges in west Gippsland. It offers intense fruit, foresty spice and earthy undertones, and beats the pants off most fruit lollyish pinots of similar or higher prices. For the viticulturists out there the clones planted are the faithful mv6 and d5v12, the newer 114 and 115.
Wine lovers can raise their glass to the local viticulture industry as up and coming wineries put Cardinia on the wine map.
Cannibal Creek Winery at Tynong North and Jinks Creek at Tonimbuk have matched it all with the best in the state to take honours at two recent wine shows.
Tonimbuk's Jinks Creek Winery fared well at the Southern Victorian Wine Show picking up a silver for its 2000 shiraz and a bronze for its pinot noir of the same vintage.
2000, Jinks Creek Gippsland Pinot Noir, Shiraz. Feb 25, James Halliday.
The little Jinks Creek winery of Gippsland has come up with three wonderful wines from the 2000 vintage. The first is Gippsland Pinot Noir (90 points, $22), loaded wih ripe fruit reflecting the seven different clones planted; the next is an astonishing Yarra Valley Shiraz, even by the standards of the vintage, super-powerful and concentrated but not over-extracted (94 point $28) and a Gippsland Shiraz, once again with very ripe fruit and multifaceted small berry flavours (92 points, $20).
A warning these wines sell out very quickly and were available at the time of writing, but may have sold out since.
Autumn Issue 2002
Gippsland Rising Star
Impressed with the 2000 offerings from this small family owned vineyard in South-east Gippsland. Armadale Cellars is happy to present 2000 Jinks Creek Sauvignon Blanc and 2000 Jinks Shiraz.
2000 Jinks Sauvignon Blanc
Attractive herbaceous aromas that manage to avoid those tom-cat scents. Riped fruits are evident on the bouquet that follows through on the palate to provide a fresh, taut style.
2000 Jinks Longford Shiraz
Don't let the name lead you astray, this wine will not shutdown. Shiraz provides more savoury, earthy characteristics reminiscent of Northern Rhone. The palate shows those desirable fleshy, dark fruits offset by that trademark peppery Shiraz spice.
The Weekend Australian - Feb 23-24, 2002
2000 Jinks Creek Pinot Noir
Yarra Valley Shiraz and Longford Shiraz
The little Jinks Creek winery of Gippsland has come up with three wonderful wines from the 2000 vintage.The pinot noir (90 points, $22) loaded with ripe fruit, reflects the seven different clones planted; the Yarra Valley shiraz is astonishing, even by the standards of the vintage, super-powerful and concentrated but not over-extracted (94 points, $28) and the Longford Shiraz, once again with very ripe fruit, has multifaceted small berry flavours (92 points, $20). A warning - these wines sell out quickly and were available at the time of writing but may have since sold out.
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