“Two types of people drink my wine, either Sommeliers in their twenties, or Women in their sixties” – Pat Sullivan, approx. 36 hours into tasting appointment.
With a well-worn coral pink quicksilver hoodie, a disheveled pile of curly hair, and a youthful 29 Year Old’s welcoming smile; Pat Sullivan is Victoria’s poster-boy for the Australian wine revolution.
A day and a half earlier, we arrived at Pat’s house via a long, shaded dirt road. His ranch cottage sat nestled between Wagyu cattle pastures and the Thousand Candles Vineyard. Pat’s lack of digital marketing propaganda left us blind as to what we were getting ourselves into – all we were told – we had to meet this guy if we were to get a true handle on the exciting new breed of wines made Down Under. Our only prior contact before pulling up to the house, an email invitation to lunch.
P A T ‘ S C O M M A N D M E N T S
Greetings exchanged on the porch, we sat down to the kitchen table, wines popped in front of us.
Much like Renee Rostaing and the Rules of Rostaing, Pat immediately launched into his credo; absolute and passionate. At first startled by his intensity, I glanced at Pat’s friend Zav, who casually sat listening, legs crossed. I decided to sit back, to reserve judgment, interested to further appraise this young fanatic. Perhaps my eyebrows raised a bit when he set out his two central commandments:
1. Wines, red and white (or pink, purple, and orange for that matter), shall be made the same way. All grapes ferment on the skins with little effort to extract color. This means the whites have an orange hue, and the reds remain lighter than conventionally macerated wines.
2. Because wines should only reflect the specific vineyard of origin, do not focus on the varietal. Pat opts not to indicate varietal composition on his labels. In fact, Pat prefers not to know the blend himself. Once he falls in love with a vineyard; obviously aware of the varietals planted there, he asks the vintner to pick a representative blend. Pat never looks at weigh tags – the tonnage per varietal – he ferments everything together. The consumer’s notion of varietal correctness removed, Pat is then free to express the vineyard the way he feels it, the vibe of the place, the terroir.
W H I T I S H W I N E S
He poured from the first of two white/orange wines, labelled Breakfast Wine. Harvested from above the house, Pat explained he named the wine because the sun-bathed hill carries an air of a fresh morning – a sunny, bright wine should come from there.
Even now knowing Pat’s second commandment, I had to confirm the varietal makeup – after all – this was a research trip. Pat somewhat begrudgingly divulged this particular bottle was composed of 100% Sauvignon Blanc. I’m no stranger to skin contact whites, but this wine floored me. Addictive feathery texture bound with plentiful ripe, lively fruit. The world of Pat Sullivan clicked.
The second white wine, Britannia once again wowed, the “yum factor” off the charts. The Brittania further embodied Pat’s second commandment – unknown percentages of Semillon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Not wanting this white/orange wine experience to end, we were relieved when Pat unveiled the 2014 whites. Still naked, yet to be labelled, the wines paired perfectly with the whole chicken Pat pulled out of the oven. The new editions perhaps outperformed the released bottles. Jessica and I were giddy. Making eye contact with her, I knew she was enjoying the same revelatory experience.
R E – W R I T I N G T H E R E D B L E N D
Just in case I wasn’t sold on Pat’s dedication to his second commandment, to removing varietal identity and focusing on the vineyard; Pat poured us a red. Following his first commandment, Pat made little effort to extract color and weight.
The wine was bright, smooth, and seductive; but I grew alarmed. The profile seemed familiar, yet I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to the blend. I pressed Pat, “about 50-50 Pinot Noir and Syrah.” He seemed to shrug off the significance of this statement. Barring sparkling wine, the only time I even hear a rumor of this blend is when talking about cheap Pinot Noirs beefed up with Syrah. Worldwide, the delicate heartbreak grape fetches the highest prices in any region where it will yield a crop. No winemakers desire, or have the financial death-wish, to openly blend Pinot Noir with another varietal – let alone with Australia’s national commodity grape. Until young Patrick Sullivan decided to rewrite the rules.
In my world, where Syrah is vervy and nuanced, not jammy and vanilla; the blend of Pinot Noir makes perfect sense, after all, the two are cousins.
T I M E T O S H A R E
After lunch we walked the Sauvignon Blanc vineyard and met the friendly Wagyu cows. I tried to communicate just how impressed I was with Pat’s wines. Pat ignored my compliments, and instead announced we simply must try all of his friends’ wines – the few other young winemakers pushing the stylistic envelope in Australia. Pat demanded we return to his house after our afternoon appointment and join him for a dinner gathering. Being out in the middle of rural Yarra, Pat explained we would need to stay the night, and in the morning, we would check out the ranch he just purchased two hours east.
Without hesitation we accepted the invitation. Our tasting appointment extended 24 hours.
T H E M O V E M E N T
Over homemade pizzas, Pat and Zav popped dozens of bottles. Far too many great wines to list here. In addition, we brought more home yet to be tasted. Pat Sullivan’s generosity and hospitality echoed throughout our trip, so much so that a separate blog is needed to highlight all of Pat’s compatriots.
T H E F U T U R E
Starting with his first vintage in 2011, Pat Sullivan set out to make unique wines that don’t over-power the palate. Rather, as pat says, they float. Uniquely delicious, the wines drink well alone and even better with food. Overnight, Pat became Victoria’s pioneer in the alternative movement. While Pat’s style wasn’t a direct reaction to the worldwide abandonment of overpowering, oaked Shiraz; he was aware that the market was hungry for change. Melbourne sommeliers jumped on board and Pat tripled production every year. His growth and his fierce focus on the vineyard, now naturally dictate he grow his own estate fruit.
The following morning, fortified with meat pies picked up on the way, we wound through the forested mountains and inspected his steep new hillside parcel, soon to be planted – no doubt with an intermixed selection of varietals. Once Pat’s program becomes Estate, I can only hope the wines will hit new heights, if that’s possible.
For now, Pat can directly sell his entire production in just a couple Melbourne neighborhoods. He sends a few cartons to Japan, and he promises to send wine to the US next year via Vine Street Imports.
C H A N G I N G T H E W O R L D
Pat’s statement – both twenty year old sommeliers and sixty year old women drink his wine – wasn’t just a joke. These wines can be appreciated by anyone. While the colors, the textures, and methodology are counter to everything the Australian wine industry built itself on, the wines will be welcomed by the world. Hopefully there will be enough to go around!