Justice of the Supreme Court-turned viticulturist and winemaker, Kevin Bell has a strong sense of community.
To understand Kevin Bell one need look no further than the respect he and his wife Tricia Byrnes showed for the land and its history in choosing the name ‘Hurley’ for their vineyard. William Hurley came to Victoria in 1865 and established a 162-hectare farm and Balnarring’s first general store. His wife gave birth to 11 children in the cottage that is now Bell’s office. Hurley Vineyard is now part of the community.
Bell’s CV is formidable. In essence, his work as a lawyer, Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, and now professor of law at Monash University, has been devoted to “human rights, equality and access to justice”.
When one asks how he manages to run a successful vineyard as well as his hectic professional life, he replies: “I feel a strong sense of commitment to use my professional aptitudes for the benefit of the community. And so, as much as I enjoy wine, culture, the land, and the cosmic joy one gets from winemaking, growing grapes and sharing it with the community, I would not feel fully satisfied if I left behind the world of intellect and engagement with the community that being a lawyer, a Queen’s Counsel, a judge, a local councillor, and now a professor gives me.”
The lure of the grape has long been a powerful force in his life, dating back to a trip he and Byrnes made – a grand wine tour of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia in 1978. Visiting wineries then was a vastly different experience, nevertheless it sparked a yearning for a connection with the land and the culture of the vine.
In the 1990s, Bell became fascinated by the standout pinots made by Bass Phillip, Main Ridge, Tuck’s Ridge and Mount Mary, and he wondered where the best pinots in Australia could be produced. He read John Gladstones’ Viticulture and Environment in a single sitting and lined up the Australian regions before deciding that Mornington seemed most likely.
Bell and Byrnes searched for several years for a likely block that fitted their criteria when “the land just jumped into the road in front of us”, he recalls.
“Kevin Bell is an extraordinary man who brings his intelligence and his empathy to the craft of winegrowing. The subtle distinctions between the three Hurley sites are worthy testament to Bell’s innate talent.” Peter Bourne
It was a derelict farm with broken-down fencing, heavily wooded with weeds and pine trees, and an 1876 cottage. While clearing the Balnarring property was expensive and time-consuming, it had great soil, excellent drainage and the aspect was ideal.
In planning for the vineyard, Bell was clear that he wanted a small vineyard not a hobby farm and decided to focus on one variety and one colour.
“I wanted to reinterpret making pinot noir in a way that was authentic to our place yet which paid homage to Burgundy,” he recalls.
Bell learnt about winemaking by enrolling at Charles Sturt University, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Wine Science) in 2011. Nat White (of Main Ridge) and Phillip Jones (from Bass Phillip) gave invaluable advice, friendship and support as Bell developed his understanding of making pinot noir. Later in the process, consultant Gary Baldwin taught him the art of assessing wine barrel by barrel.
Bell came to understand Burgundian techniques by inviting Jean-Marie Fourrier (now a part-owner of Bass Phillip) to workshop winemaking as a consultant at Balnarring. He followed this up by spending time with him at his base in Gevrey Chambertin in the Côte-d’Or. This enabled him to work with equipment that was not available in Australia. As a result, he came to understand destemming, cold soaking, making pinot with wild yeast with no additions (if possible) and oxidative pressing using a basket press – all now part of the operation at Hurley.
Bell and Byrnes planted almost all of the vineyard in 1998 and 1999, while the first harvest was in 2002. There is usually an Estate wine, and depending on the year, one from the Lodestone, Hommage and Garamond vineyards. The single vineyards are in the top rank of Australian pinot noir especially vintages such as 2018. My favourite from this year is the Hurley Garamond Pinot – attractively brooding with spicy aromatics, medium-bodied yet with power, depth and pleasing fleshy texture and firm fine tannins that linger. Ripe yet restrained.
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 22
ANNUAL CRUSH | 15 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | 2018 Hurley Garamond Pinot Noir