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FeatureFood & Drink

At the edge of what’s possible.

Renowned winemaker, Patrick Sullivan believes parts of Gippsland, 'has the makings of a region akin to the best in the world'.

Nov 1, 2022

Words: Mel Gilcrist
Images: Supplied

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When I first fell in love with wine, I knew my interest would take me around the world. Where I didn't expect it to take me was right back home.

Six years ago I was living in Toronto as a wine ambassador, having recently travelled Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France and California training in wine. A new trendy wine bar had opened up and I took a seat at the bar, excited to see what cool wines and regions I'd find on the list; I almost toppled off my chair when I saw Gippsland there.

I called the sommelier to ask about the wine and he said, "Oh yeah, Patrick Sullivan? He’s making wine near somewhere called Ellinbank, it’s awesome."

Saywhatnow? Was I really in Toronto’s top wine bar drinking wine made around the corner from my old netball courts?

Was I really in Toronto’s top wine bar drinking wine made around the corner from my old netball courts?

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Nowadays, it’s pretty apparent how much of a reputation Gippsland has built for itself. You see the region in some of the top restaurants and retailers in Melbourne and, among industry circles, there’s a lot of respect for what’s being done here in the Southeast.

I called Patrick Sullivan to figure out just what it was about Gippsland that seemed to have the wine world paying attention.

“This is the best place in Australia to be growing chardonnay and pinot noir,” he said without hesitation, citing growing conditions, volcanic soil and resilience to climate change.

“You find volcanic soil in the Napa Valley, throughout Europe and in our part of Gippsland. When I was looking for the ideal place to grow and make wine, I realised there’s this unique little valley – humidity in the air, rarely gets too hot and has the makings of a region akin to the best in the world.

“There’s history here, but on the world stage it was relatively undiscovered and I thought I could make an impact.”

And that he has. Patrick’s wines – particularly chardonnay – have become famed in the fine wine scene. In fact, it’s hard to get your hands on a bottle; instead of add-to-cart on his website, it's join the waitlist (hot tip: last I checked, there was supply at Warragul’s Press Cellars!).

Max Allen – one of Australia’s most recognised wine writers, the author of over a dozen books and the drinks columnist for the AFR – says Patrick’s approach has changed over the years, from buying fruit and making funky wines to a more classical, single vineyard approach.

“He was the right kind of character and did well with that funky style, but there’s been a changing and a maturing in his approach to wine. He’s moving beyond the funk juice to a real appreciation of the land.

“I love Pat’s chardonnays… he’s been able to realise the potential of vineyards in West Gippsland. That’s why that area has become a magnet for so many others; it’s all about the vineyard there.”

Patrick says that having such a background and being willing to experiment in the early years has made his wines what they are today. This history has influenced decisions about types of yeast, oxygen exposure and picking dates, as well as his approach to keeping a wine stable with minimal additions.

“I’ve experimented and know what the edge is, whether it’s winemaking or the vineyard. If you want to be world-class, you can’t be a safe winemaker. If you’re really trying to be great you have to be right on the edge of what’s possible.”

Patrick has three chardonnays, each a reflection of the land it was grown on – from the Wild Dog vineyard to the vineyards in Neerim South.

They’re complex, full of character and well worth a taste. Patrick Sullivan wines are available at The Press Cellars in Warragul, Rathdowne Cellars in Carlton North or online at Different Drop.


2021 Patrick Sullivan
Baw Baw Chardonnay $65

From the Bullswap vineyard at Wild Dog, at the edge of Warragul. A complex chardonnay with a ripper acid line and mineral backbone. An up-front lemon zest character underpinned by a buttery toastiness. Elegance and finesse with an impressive finish.

2019 Patrick Sullivan
Millstream Chardonnay $65

From the Millstream vineyard at the foot of Mt Baw Baw, an impressive 350m above sea level. The leanest of the three, with structure and drive. Flavours of grapefruit, blood orange zest and an intriguing saline-like character. If you like a crisp and crunchy wine, this one is for you!

2021 Patrick Sullivan
Ada River Chardonnay $80

From the dry-grown Ada River vineyard in Neerim South (no irrigation can support an intensity of flavour). A ripper texture and intense fruit concentration – one for the big Chardonnay fans. Characters of citrus, melon, peach and brioche, but still carrying a firm acid line. Seamless and precise.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 24

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