From the top-end pinot noirs to the everyday drinking range, Willy Lunn produces outstanding wines due to his knowledge of the vineyards and allowing the quality of the fruit to shine.
Willy Lunn’s grounded approach to detailed winemaking and sticking to his convictions instead of following trends, has led to the steady development and improvement of the Yering Station wines over his 10-year tenure.
Bringing the flavour from the vineyard to the glass is what winemaking is all about for Lunn. It’s also the element of surprise, plus the fact that you’re always learning. “That’s why I love this job,” he says. It is also the link to the land with Lunn calling himself an “applied farmer”.
Lunn’s childhood was spent on a property in rural South Australia. When travelling to Adelaide, the family would stop by the Clare and Barossa Valleys. “The vineyards looked like an oasis in the desert,” recalls Lunn. While his parents sampled wine, Lunn, with his five siblings, looked around. Lunn liked what he saw, as “they actually made something”, unlike the family farm where the raw produce was shipped out the door.
After school, he wanted to move closer to the city and he secured a job at Petaluma in the Adelaide Hills. Under the firm guidance of Brian Croser, he learned about the importance of the vineyard when making fine wine and the need for attention to detail in the winery. Tasting alongside Croser and the likes of Len Evans exposed him to some of the world’s great wines, which educated his palate.
A mixture of travel and work followed, and in 1988 Lunn ended up in the United States at Argyle winery in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. He soon realised, however, that to advance in the industry he would need to study so returned to South Australia and completed a degree in oenology.
After graduating, Lunn moved to Shaw + Smith, who were building a new winery. As a frustrated builder and mechanic, he was in his element. Though he was soon lured back to Argyle and spent the next six years making pinot noir, chardonnay and high-end sparkling wine.
In 2008 he returned to Australia aschief winemaker at Yering Station, relish-ing the opportunity to work for a family-owned company that produced premium, regionally focused, cool-climate wines.
Pinot noir is a highlight of the range. The fragrant Village pinot represents excellent value and the Reserve is an outstanding, finely-crafted wine which will evolve with time. The Reserve cabernet sauvignon also has impressive cellaring potential. The chardonnays have a perfect mix of richness and finesse, with quality high across the board, and the shiraz viognier blends are plush and delicious.
At Yering, Lunn works closely with chief viticulturist Andy Clarke. “You need to know a vineyard intimately,” says Lunn. “We are always fine-tuning and pushing for balance.”
Lunn talks about the inherent nature of high-quality grapes, and their impact on mid-palate intensity and length. “You can’t generate this by any technique in the winery,” says Lunn. “You can only grow flavour. This is the foundation upon which everything else depends. What you do with the fruit needs to be complementary to this core.”
Lunn tailors his pinot noir winemaking to achieve silkiness, subtle juiciness and tannin complexity. And he uses 500-litre puncheons for pinot noir and chardonnay to get the benefit of maturation with less oak influence.
Winemaker Brenden Hawker works alongside Lunn. When blending, if they interpret the wine differently, Lunn knows there’s more work to do. When they see the wine in the same positive light, the blend is complete.
For Lunn, he feels he has done his job well when people taste his wines and immediately know that they’re from the Yarra. To see these wines with their strong sense of place, distributed across the globe, gives him great satisfaction.
Lunn talks about the wines from the 2017 vintage and thinks they’re some of the strongest, most complete he has made. But if you pin him down to name his best wine, he states emphatically, “I have not made it yet”.
After 35 years, the desire to make great wine is stronger than ever. “I’ll make wine till the day I die,” says Lunn. “I love it and really could not imagine doing anything else.”