The first sip of Fontaine rosé triggered my surprise: this Australian wine took me back to Cannes in France. I was with my girlfriend on the famous ‘Promenade des Anglais’ lazily seated on a couch drinking this rosé with a relative of hers, an Aussie sailor working on a billionaire’s boat. This is the first rosé here that gives me that feeling of being close to the rosé you get in Provence, on the South Coast of France. Dominique Portet doesn’t have to talk much about his art, but he agrees to do so.
It is time for grape harvesting. The season starts at the end of February with the picking of grapes for sparkling wine specialities and finishes in April. It is a risky period: a single sunny day during these few weeks might mean the grapes suddenly contain too much sugar. After the daily sugar measurement, winemakers complete their analysis with the tasting of grapes to fix the right day.
Talking with Dominique Portet, it is obvious that the French guy from Victoria knows his business both as a producer and as a businessman. He has just come back from the Emirates and Hong Kong where he met clients, though half of his production is still sold on the property. But, compared to his famous next-door neighbour Chandon, he remains an artisan, with a modest 4 hectares of vineyard in the Yarra Valley.
Dominique Portet spent the first 23 years of his life in different French wine-growing area. He is very proud to represent the ninth generation of winemakers established in the region of Bordeaux. As the son of André, régisseur (vineyard & winery manager) of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Pauillac, he came to Australia 30 years ago to chase the Australian dream as a pioneer. At first, he worked for an American billionaire investing in vineyards before he settled on his own winery, in the Victorian wine region. It was after a serious illness that he slowed his pace and bought his own property, ten years ago.
‘I spent a lot of time looking for the right place with perfect exposure to the East. On the Maroondah Highway close to Chandon in order to attract some of their visitors’. He built a cellar and a quaint mansion with reference to the classic Orangery style. This was enough to create the myth and the beginning of a family story Down Under.
He developed wines with the European taste, adding an Australian touch, he says. As such, his wines don’t contain as much alcohol as common heavier Australian wines, but are also fresher and chirpier, crisper. He loves his Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. No compromise. Picking is made by hand not by machine. Far more important, to keep the quality of each grape, the vine stock are not allowed to bear too much fruits in order to keep the quality of each grape. I checked this first, knowing it would define him as a professional who is exacting in his work. The following process of fermentation is also essential, but it is almost impossible to catch up with quality when the fruit is not perfect.
What Dominique insists on are the oak barrels, imported from one single French forest. A specific timber is used, because it doesn’t give too heavy a wood taste to the nectar.
The rosé, a summer treat, can be bought at a well-known Australia-wide alcohol outlet or online.