The corks have been drawn on Mallaluka Wines’ 2021 vintage and, according to the makers, they’re “sensational” despite droughts and smoke damage resulting in a reduced crop.
Like many vineyards in the Canberra region, Mallaluka was hit hard by bushfire smoke early in 2020, with all the fruit so badly smoke-affected it had to be dropped to the ground.
However, winemaker John Leyshon says following fire and drought, two wet winters have produced some of their best wines yet, and he expects next year’s vintage to be even better.
“The crop levels are still down a bit because of the smoke damage, but we’ve crushed more than 50 tonnes and the 2021 vintage looks sensational,” he says.
During March and April it was all hands on deck at the boutique winery on the Yass Plains, with family and friends getting among the vines to pick and crush the swollen fruit.
The COVID-19 lockdown has significantly slowed down wholesale sales, but John says good online sales have left them with almost no stock left from the small 2020 vintage.
“The last year has been pretty tough,” he says. “We normally have a gang from Laos to pick and prune, but this year we’ve had the whole family in pruning and picking.”
What started out as a Sunday hobby for the former Radford College deputy principal and his mates 23 years ago, has turned into a thriving family business.
John had always wanted to own a vineyard so he and three friends planted their first vines in 1998 and now, more than two decades later, he and his wife, Val, and two sons, Sam and Josh, run their own boutique winery.
After he and his mates made a few batches of Little Bridge Wines in a garage in Mawson, John says he really got the taste for it.
So, in 2001, he and Val purchased a 40-acre sheep farm on Dog Trap Road and decided to go it alone.
“There were no fences and there wasn’t a single tree,” he says.
“We built the house, fenced the property and planted five acres of vines, producing our first vintage in 2008 for the Little Bridge label.
“We started the new Mallaluka label in 2013 when my mates decided they’d had enough.”
John began producing Italian style red wines – typical of the Yass region – but when his youngest son, Sam, joined the team in 2015, their wines stepped up a notch.
“Sam was studying winemaking at Charles Sturt University and worked as an assistant winemaker for four vintages at Clonakilla Wines in Canberra,” he says.
“He has travelled to America and was the first Australian to work at JL Chave in France so when he started at Mallaluka, he really took us to the next level.”
Sam introduced different styles of wine and used experimental vinification techniques, including making whites fermented on skins, which took his dad by surprise.
“I thought it would be dreadful,” says John. “He bottled it, it went on market and sold like hot cakes. From then on, I just gave him his head.”
The winery found a niche market for their handmade, minimal intervention wines, and Sam quickly made a name for himself in the industry, being nominated as one of Australia’s top ‘Young Gun of Wine’ for the ACT/NSW district.
The winery has played host to luncheons for the Japanese Embassy and US Embassy, and their wines feature on restaurant wine lists in Canberra, including at a recent tasting at the National Arboretum.
The wines are on sale locally at Yass at Thyme to Taste, as well as in Canberra’s independent liquor stores.
Mallaluka Wines range from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Shiraz, to more unusual varieties such as Vermentino, Aligoté and Mataro.
John says the location of the vineyard, on a northeast facing slope, provides ideal sun exposure, air flow and good cold-air drainage, and the granitised soil and bore water of the Yass Plains is perfect for growing grapes.
John is the former president of the Canberra District Wine Industry Association and is a Yass Valley Business Chamber member, and he says the region is fast becoming known for its cool-climate wines.
Mallaluka continues to support the community, donating wines to Karinya House, which supports vulnerable women and babies in the ACT and surrounding region, and the Soldier On veteran support organisation.
John says, what started out as a weekend hobby has become a passion and lifestyle for the whole family.
The Mallaluka Wines motto is: “We drink what we make, the rest is for you.”