Mutual respect is key to the success of TarraWarra’s dream team of winemakers – as is an intimate knowledge of the vineyards they tend.
Ethereal pinot noir and complex chardonnay have made TarraWarra one of Australia’s most respected independent wineries. But excellence takes time, 37 years if you tally the combined experience at TarraWarra of winemakers Clare Halloran and Adam McCallum.
They are a small, strong team: two talented winemakers dedicated to their craft, producing finely tuned, age-worthy wines with a lightness of touch and pure fruit expression. The wines are composed and melodic, with elegant details enhancing enchantment without detracting from the essence of the vineyard. The pair work with long-term viticulturist Stuart Sissins to create high-quality wines reflective of their site and region.
After 25 years, Halloran’s soul is entwined with the wines of TarraWarra; they are as much an expression of Halloran as they are of the site, though she would modestly say that as winemakers, McCallum and herself are merely caretakers. “It is about us nurturing and guiding the wines. We only intervene when we need to. We want to preserve the purity we see in the fruit.”
Halloran joined TarraWarra as assistant winemaker in 1996, quickly progressing to winemaker. She successfully navigated the formidable task of combining motherhood with winemaking after having three children in the early years. In 2013, she was ready for a new challenge, taking on the combined role of head winemaker and general manager, overseeing the winery, restaurant, and cellar door operations. Eloquent, hardworking, and respected, Halloran was instrumental in creating the Victorian Pinot Noir Workshop, beginning in 2002, an ongoing event credited with improving the quality of Victorian pinot.
‘It is about us nurturing and guiding the wines. We only intervene when we need to. We want to preserve the purity we see in the fruit.’
McCallum joined TarraWarra in 2009, relocating his family, including two young children, from Frankland Estate in Western Australia to his homeland of the Yarra Valley. Previous experiences in Burgundy, plus work locally with De Bortoli, Yarra Yering and Oakridge, have all informed McCallum’s understanding of fine wine and, importantly, the value of finesse. He speaks of the importance of making wines “true to the site”, reflecting the property across all quality levels.
McCallum is involved in the day-to-day physical winemaking, but in terms of decisions, blending, and the vintage workload, it is a collaboration. Working with Halloran for 12 years has allowed intuition to develop between the two, with trust and the absence of ego being central pillars of their working relationship.
Mutual respect exists, but that doesn’t mean they always agree. Halloran speaks about the importance of their different palates and ideas. “We have quite vigorous conversations and debates about what’s best,” she says.
The wines made entirely from estate-grown fruit, so the team have complete control over what goes into the bottle. The 400ha property, situated between Healesville and Yarra Glen, was purchased by Marc and Eva Besen in 1979, and planting began in 1983 with 6ha of chardonnay and pinot noir. It’s an inspiring spot with sweeping vistas. Today there are 28ha under vine, across 30 different sites, along with the winery and restaurant. The range has diversified over the years, with four tiers of chardonnay and pinot noir, a rosé and a Rhône white blend, plus a single vineyard merlot, shiraz, nebbiolo and barbera – with the labels of the Italian varieties adorned by evocative artworks by Thornton Walker.
“We know the vineyard intimately,” says Halloran. “It’s the accumulated knowledge of what each site will do in a cool year, a warm year or a wet year and how every single site performs, which informs our decisions and our winemaking”.
As general manager, Halloran has a holistic vision for TarraWarra, preserving the land for future generations. Part of this is a major replanting project to guard the vineyard against phylloxera, part is a focus on sustainability. Winery wastewater is organically treated and recycled; grape marc is fed to the cattle; energy efficiency and waste minimisation are paramount.
Careful, attentive winemaking involving a less-is-more approach is what Halloran and McCallum are about, treading a light path and minimising their imprint on the wines, and the land, along the way.
REGION | Yarra Valley, Vic
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | Halloran, 27+; McCallam, 23
ANNUAL CRUSH | 200 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | TarraWarra Reserve Chardonnay; TarraWarra Reserve Pinot Noir
Photography courtesy of Tarrawarra.