We had the pleasure to chat to the enigmatic and generous winemaker, Ben Dahlenburg....
The Aussie wine industry is in a fascinating place right now. Up and down the length and breadth of this massive and varied country, we’re seeing more and more wineries establishing themselves with impressive ambitions of rewriting the winemaking rulebook. How? By pushing back against the status quo and using interesting methods and a stripped-back approach, while on the quest for the very utmost in flavour and distinction. Firmly in this category of innovative and nature-driven wineries sits the wonderful El Dorado Road, the winery behind some of our favourite wines, including ‘Nomad’s Garden’ an operation set up a few years back in the Alpine mountains of Northeast Victoria, and one which is bringing out a seriously awe-inspiring set of wines on a regular basis. We chat to the enigmatic and generous winemaker, Ben Dahlenburg....
What is your all-time favourite grape variety?
It’s a bit old hat but I really love Chardonnay. I think it’s an incredible variety as it can be made in such a broad spectrum of styles yet if done well all can be equally delicious.
You’re a technology ‘luddite’ you tell me... isn’t winemaking highly technological?
Yeah, I have heard people say that. Certainly not at our place though, everything is pen and paper and very “hands on”. Mainly because we are a very small winery that is only relatively new so all the gear is pretty old and pretty Lo Fi. Basket press, little pumps and hand plunging etc.
The thing is you don’t really need a heck of a lot to make good wine. Just the less gadgets and automation the longer nights and the more beer required for the winery fridge. And of course good grapes to start with, that’s the most important bit!
I really can’t think up a good answer to this one sorry!
Have you always known you'd make wine? How did it come about for you?
Certainly not, growing up as the son of a winemaker and spending countless weekends in the vineyards helping I couldn’t wait to get down to Melbourne and away from it.
After 10ish years in Melbourne studying, travelling, working and having an all round good time I started to get the itch though. I convinced my housemate at the time and good friend we should do a vintage in Napa, we both worked at Brown Brothers in our gap year but other than that our winemaking experience was limited. We may have embellished our resumes a little which led to a funny situation with the very French winemaker we were working for. He was giving us a tour of the winery and showing us a few of the wines in tank. We were looking at Viognier and he noted the hint of ‘apricot’ on the nose at which point my friend asked if they put apricots in the tank to get that smell. The look on the winemakers face was priceless. Luckily he thought it was joke and well I was definitely laughing. The vintage was great fun so I floated around in Mexico for a little after and then went to South Africa to do another, a very different experience but just as valuable.
From there I came home to Tony Abbott running the show and very few jobs going in environmental science as climate change had become a poison chalice amongst the politicians. I instead thought the wine industry was pretty cool and got a job at Rob Dolan Wine in the Yarra and enrolled it a masters in winemaking and viticulture at CSU and proceeded to be probably the slowest student in history to complete it, I got there in the end and the rest is history. I will always be grateful for the crew at Rob Dolan, it was a really great place to work and learn.
You’re a brand new father - huge congratulations! And you’re also an environmental scientist... how do you see the future for your little one? What 'environmental' advice might you have for our readers?
Thanks, it’s certainly a life changing experience having a child. I must give a shout out to my incredible wife Ellie who has to solo parent young Otto over vintage. Vintage widows are definitely a real thing. It may sound romantic been married to a winemaking the reality is less so.
If you spend too long pondering the future in terms of climate change and the countless other number of ways we are fucking the planet we would all be very depressed unfortunately.
My advice would be to simply do what you can. Reuse things, I really can’t stand the throw away culture we live in, avoid crappy cheap stuff that will get thrown out, buy good stuff that will last.
No one person can change the situation we are but if everyone makes a little bit of an effort to change a few small things then we will be on the right track. As a winery we are only planting vines we think will be sustainable in the changing climate, mainly Mediterranean varieties like Fiano and Nero d’Avola that naturally do well in warm dry climates and need less water.
We are a smart bunch, we will work it out and get our shit together! We have to for Otto and every other kid in the worlds sake.
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