It seems like he’s been making wine forever, but it’s only been recently that finalist Matt Harrop has found the perfect opportunity and location to express his craft.
Matt Harrop stomped grapes for 29 years before landing his dream job as the winemaker at Curly Flat, just a 20-minute bike ride from home – though more often it’s five minutes by car, he says. Like so many winemakers, he loves pinot noir and the challenges it offers in the winery and, perhaps more significantly, the vineyard.
He has spent plenty of time over the past four years carefully grooming the Curly Flat vines that date back to 1992. Yields have been cut, soils invigorated and small additional plots planted. In fact, it’s the individuality of each block that fascinates Harrop, who had 20 different pinot ferments underway when I spoke with him after the last grapes were picked for the 2021 harvest.
Vintage began three weeks later than last year, with Harrop reporting good yields and excellent fruit quality in the finer spectrum. He acknowledges the charm of chardonnay and the juicy pinot gris grapes (made as a varietal wine and a rosé labelled as White Pinot), but he’s at Curly Flat for the challenges and rewards of pinot noir.
The Macedon Ranges wine region is not new to Harrop; he and his wine auctioneer wife, Tamara Grischy, have been just down the road from Curly Flat since buying their Lancefield property in 2006, where they have planted a pocket-sized vineyard in 2010 for their Silent Way label.
Harrop was attracted to the cool Macedon Ranges region while at Shadowfax, the 19-year winemaking gig he had before moving to Curly Flat in 2017. Shadowfax had a broad range of wines sourced from numerous regions, so to focus on a single vineyard and just three varieties is his idea of paradise.
His first ‘real’ job was with Jeffrey Grosset, who embedded in him a broad sense of wine by sharing great bottles from around Australia and the world.
It’s a dream that dates back to 1988, when New Zealand-born Harrop spent his first vintage at the Nobilo winery in West Auckland. He enrolled in the Bachelor of Science course at Roseworthy Agricultural College and graduated in 1991. His first ‘real’ job was with Jeffrey Grosset, who embedded in him a broad sense of wine by sharing great bottles from around Australia and the world. This sense of sharing was enhanced during Harrop’s time at Brokenwood, where Iain Riggs exposed him to the Len Evans-inspired love of great wine. A two-year stint at Marlborough’s Nautilus Estate opened Harrop’s eyes to the importance of the vineyard, with Yalumba’s viticultural maestro Alan Hoey helping him understand the nuances and foibles of the grape vine.
The Shadowfax opportunity came up in 1998, affording Harrop the chance to oversee a brand-new winery and a label that set new standards in terms of wine style and marketing.
When Curly Flat’s owner Jenifer Kolkka proposed that Harrop join her to revitalise the vineyard she had established with her founding partner, Phillip Moraghan, he jumped at the opportunity. Arriving post-vintage in 2017, Harrop was able to track the 2018 vintage from pruning to harvest.
There have been no dramatic winemaking changes, with Harrop looking to “add finesse and polish” to the long-established Curly Flat style. Two new wines have joined the Estate Pinot Noir: one is labelled Central, from the original 1992 MV6 plantings; the other is called Western from the (yes) western block planted in 1997/8 with Dijon clones 114 and 115. The three wines are all priced at a modest A$53; the aim, says Harrop, “is not to say the two new wines are better, just that they represent distinct differences of site with minor adjustments to their winemaking”.
Harrop talks a lot about the future, with some new plantings aimed to bring the vineyard up to 20ha, and 80% of the production pinot noir. Harrop observes that after four years, “he has more questions than answers”. Asked to nominate a wine that inspires him, he replies: “Wendouree – the wines made by Lita and Tony Brady speak clearly of their place.”
There’s no doubt that under Harrop’s custodianship the wines of Curly Flat will speak with an equally resonant voice.
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Macedon Ranges, Victoria
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 33
ANNUAL CRUSH | 90 tonnes
STAND-OUT WINES | Curly Flat Pinot Noir
Photography courtesy of Curly Flat.