Simon was thrilled when the 2013 Eleven Chardonnay was voted the best on the Mornington Peninsula. But not entirely satisfied. “Once you set the bar high you always want to improve,” says our winemaker. “Trying to go that extra 1% takes so much work, effort and energy, but that’s what we are striving for.”
You could say Simon has gone the extra mile – and then some – when it comes to his knowledge of wines; from Montalto’s signature cool climate pinot noir to blends far beyond our home on the Mornington Peninsula.
Where do you get your passion for wine?
When I was a boy I thought I’d be a chef. My father was involved in restaurants, and from the age of five I was surrounded by food and wine. Fortunately, I drifted towards the latter and got the best education you could ask for. A number of things are really important to me; my family and friends, travel, music and nature. And, of course, wine. It’s an integral part of my life.
How did you end up as Montalto’s winemaker?
Before I arrived here – just in time for to crush the grapes for the 2010 vintage – I was the inaugural winemaker at both Willow Creek and Heathcote Estate. I played a major role in setting up their production facilities, which stood me in good stead for setting up Montalto’s newly fitted-out winery.
Montalto is an amazing family-owned business that strives for excellence. There is a holistic approach to the business which combines the best of wine, food, art and nature.
Why do you think the reputation of Mornington Peninsula wines is increasing?
Australian chardonnay and pinot noir have really improved in recent years, and Mornington wines are a big part of that story. Those are the peninsula’s signature wines, and the climate we have here helps to make them a unique proposition.
What’s so different about the Mornington climate?
The peninsula is surrounded by water. We don’t have issues with frost. In summer most of the winds come from the north, and as they cross Port Phillip Bay the moisture creates a cooling effect. So you just don’t see the blisteringly hot summer days that you see in Melbourne and elsewhere.
How much influence does that have on your job?
It’s very important from a winemaking perspective. The absence of big spikes and dips in temperature means the fruit tends to mature really well. There’s also a real diversity of topography, from red soils up at Red Hill to something quite different at Tuerong or Merricks. Slopes that face to the north, east, south and west influence wines that can be drastically different, despite the short distance between them.
The advantage of Montalto is we have six different and quite distinct vineyards, and our wines are a real reflection of that diversity.
What’s your goal with Montalto wines?
People are now talking about Montalto, and that’s partly because we’re pushing the boundaries. We’re searching for additional textures, flavours and complexities, and using techniques like carbonic maceration and putting back aged lees.
Ultimately, I want people to be able to taste a wine blind and say: “That’s a Montalto.” It’s a hard thing to do, because there are a lot of wines out there, but that’s what we’re aiming for.
What style of wine do you most enjoy creating?
I really enjoy working with chardonnay. It’s one of those wines where you get to have a huge influence on the outcome, particularly stylistically. As a winemaker, there’s a lot you can do, lots of tools to get different outcomes. And it’s a real thrill to see how it ends up.
The 2013 Eleven is a good example. It has all the hallmarks of Montalto wine, but also an additional complexity and structure that hasn’t been there in the past.
And what’s your favourite wine to drink?
Life changing wines that have shaped my career pop up every so often and make you reassess your way of thinking, and recalibrate your view of wine and winemaking. With so many regions, varieties, vintages and styles, it’s the undiscovered wine that drives me most to my next bottle.