He may be standing on the shoulders of giants – parents Gary and Robyn – but Farr the younger is his own man, forging a new way forward.
Nick Farr was born with wine metaphorically running in his veins. The son of founders Gary and Robyn, he has been running the By Farr business for more than a decade with his wife Cassie. There is advantage in standing on the shoulders of a talented and visionary parent, but it’s equally true Nick has talent and vision of his own.
In the seven years since he was previously nominated for this award, Farr says his changes at By Farr are more fine-tuning than radical.
“This year we harvested our first vintage of nebbiolo, we have some garganega, and we’ve planted more gamay, which is a fantastic performer here,” he says.
In the vineyard, the big change is the transition to native grasses and a continuing move towards organic viticulture.
“We are one step away from being organic,” says Farr. “We just have to figure out the mulch. We are using imported straw and we need to eliminate the grain seed (which grows out of it).”
Mulch is a big thing at the winery. “We have 700 bales of straw for mulching in spring. Mulch gives us cooler soil which leads to greater retention of soil moisture, and this leads to better retention of natural acidity. We’re not sure why that happens, but it does.”
Finding a stable ecosystem in the vineyards is central to Farr’s concerns.
Native grassing between rows means less fertiliser, and the plant’s deeper root system draws more moisture into the soil.
“We don’t till the soil at all. We burn the grasses to create charcoal which is also good for the soil.”
“For Nick Farr, the focus is on viticulture at his family’s small property in the Moorabool Valley: the results are spectacular. The pinot noir and chardonnay are world class wines while the viognier would make the earth shake in parts of France. These wines are fine, delicate and precise.” Peter Forrestal
The Farr vineyards consist of five sites, all on the one property, totalling about 16 hectares. The only outside vineyard they make wine from is Irrewarra, which is near Colac in the Otway hinterland, an hour’s drive from the winery.
Perhaps the most obvious difference at By Farr since 2013 is that the top wines are the Côte Vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir, which did not exist then. This is a single site with several exposures: north, north-east and east, with three different soil profiles.
It was planted progressively from 2008 to 2012, with a major setback in 2011 when torrential rain washed some of the vines down the hill. The first wines released were 2015 pinot noir and 2016 chardonnay – which Nick admits were very young-vine wines, but “I think it’s our best site”.
Over many years of experience, the Farrs have worked out the trellising, planting density, clones and rootstocks that best suit the Moorabool Valley. Gary and Robyn, although retired, are still involved, and with the social distancing problems and difficulty finding labour during the 2020 harvest, Gary and Robyn were press-ganged into picking grapes.
There are challenges in the Geelong region. “It’s a windswept place; there are no trees. It stresses the vines: our canopies are half of what you’d expect to see in the Yarra Valley.”
The region’s vineyard area has shrunk. “More vineyards have been pushed out than have been planted,” he said.
Seven years ago, we quoted Farr as saying the challenge was “finding the elegance in Geelong”, and “harnessing the strength of the tannin profile we have.”
He doesn’t resile from those comments today. “Concentration is not what we are after. We are chasing texture, savouriness and natural acidity.” They still occasionally add acid in some years. “It’s a challenge to get maturity of fruit without adding acid.”
In such a dry, windy climate, it’s all the more miraculous that Farr makes chardonnay – and viognier – that possess such finesse. Hard work, attention to detail, and intimate knowledge of the world’s great wines are the key.
Like many great artists, the Farrs don’t take too much notice of what others are doing. Nick doesn’t get distracted by industry politics or social media. Like his father, he moves to the beat of his own drum.
“We, the Farr family love what we do together and what we drink together from our piece of dirt. That means I sleep well at night. If great wine was easy to make, I would drink more Australian!”
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Geelong, Victoria
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 21
ANNUAL CRUSH | 120 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | Côte Vineyard GC Chardonnay and Côte Vineyard RP Pinot Noir