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Garagiste

2023 Stagiaires and Pinot Gris from “A Seriously Good Wine Producer” (Mattinson)
Garagiste
“The quality of the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs on offer here are exceptional,” wrote Campbell Mattinson in Halliday’s Top 100 Wineries published last month. “Garagiste is a seriously good wine producer and, even better, deems value to be of high importance too.” Hear, hear. Barney doesn’t seek critical acclaim, nor is he comfortable in the limelight, yet a producer of this calibre can’t hide! “What a lovely compliment,” was his typically modest response. “It’s a very proud moment for us. It’s nice to have the hard work recognised.”

We often say that exceptional growers never stop progressing, and in 2022, Barney Flanders added a ‘new’ mature vineyard to his portfolio of Mornington sites. The 30-acre Merricks North vineyard, planted in 1996 to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, lies just up the road from Garagiste’s flagship Merricks Grove site and sits on similar brown loamy soils. Barney shares this 30-acre site with two other Mornington alumni, and they have more than 70 years of peninsula viticulture experience between them. Now in its second year farmed by this Mornington dream team, the fruit’s potential is already evident to the growers. This year, it takes a starring role in the 2023 Stagiaire wines.

Sitting a touch higher than the Merricks Grove vineyard at 140 metres, Merricks North was the last vineyard picked in 2023. The site brings freshness and vitality to complement the juicy, bright, savoury, structured fruit from the Merricks Grove, Balnarring, Tuerong and Red Hill sites. From a long, slow, low-yielding year, this year’s Stagiaire wines are delightfully compact and complete, encapsulating the cool freshness of the season with pitch-perfect ripeness and moreish charm. Like some others on the peninsula, Barney has a winner on his hands with his 2023 Pinot Gris, too. Barney does good things with Pinot Gris, and the beautifully flighted new release is as good as we’ve seen from this grower.

The Wines

Garagiste Le Stagiaire Chardonnay 2023

Garagiste Le Stagiaire Chardonnay 2023

Merricks North forms the backbone of the 2023 release, weighing in at 45% of the blend, followed by Balnarring (35%) and Tuerong (20%). The fruit was sorted in the vineyard and winery before being pressed as whole bunches directly to 500-litre puncheons. The fruit fermented with indigenous yeast with no temperature control, followed by a seven-month maturation on gross lees to build richness slowly. A couple of barrels went through malolactic conversion, and the nicely integrated new oak component stands at 15%. 

In the words of Barney, the 2023 is “just as delicious as the 2022. There’s a touch more freshness due to the cooler season, but overall, there’s a great balance between fruit weight and structure.” The hallmarks of the season—freshness, finesse and potent flavour—are clear and crystal in the glass. Teeming with citrus, flowers and stone fruits, and balanced by round texture and snappy acidity, there’s linear drive and a savoury, salty close. It’s a smashing release, on equal footing with the brilliant 2022. At a time when we are calling out for great value, this wine delivers in spades.

Garagiste Le Stagiaire Chardonnay 2023
Garagiste Le Stagiaire Pinot Noir 2023

Garagiste Le Stagiaire Pinot Noir 2023

Merricks North again takes a lead role here, accounting for 33% of the blend, with the balance Balnarring (40%), Red Hill (17%) and Merricks Grove (10%). In previous years, the Stagiaire Pinot Noir has been all MV6 clone. The inclusion of the Merricks North site brings Dijon clones (114 and 115) into play, which lend a distinct, pretty plushness and perfumed nuance to MV6’s natural structure and power. 

The Merricks Grove site, Barney’s flagship, contributes bright fruit characters and a signature savoury quality. The Balnarring site, which Barney has farmed for 12 years, adds shade and spice, while the higher, cooler, more southerly site in Red Hill contributes linear drive. After sorting in the vineyard and winery, spontaneous fermentations took place in concrete and stainless steel with whole berries complemented by a 15% whole-bunch component. The fruit spent 23 days on skins, with gentle pumpovers and a small amount of plunging towards the end. The wine matured for seven months on gross lees divided equally between 300-litre hogsheads and foudre, with just 5% new oak. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered.

This is the very model of Mornington Pinot Noir: pretty fruit, bright perfume, brown spices and subtle stem influence allied to vibrant freshness, juicy weight and soft round tannins. Magic. There’s satisfaction in every sip. 

Garagiste Le Stagiaire Pinot Noir 2023
Garagiste Merricks Pinot Gris 2023

Garagiste Merricks Pinot Gris 2023

Barney Flanders has the touch with Pinot Gris, delivering mouthwatering pure wines with texture, structure and balance time after time. He’s the first to admit that this grape can tend towards the one-dimensional, but “it’s a variety that’s open to manipulation”, he tells us. “If you play around with skins and lees, it can be pretty exciting.” From a north/northeast-facing site in Merricks with 25-year-old vines, Barney sorts first in the vineyard and then in the winery. Three-quarters of the fruit was pressed as whole bunches to old barrels with full solids and kept on lees while the remaining 25% fermented on skins for three weeks. Maturation was in old oak for seven months. 

The 75% whole bunch method plays to the variety's strengths, capturing stone fruit and floral perfume, whereas the time on skins contributes spice, red fruits, colour and a detailed tannin structure. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but Barney does so with aplomb. In terms of style, it would do the wine a disservice to categorise within the generic Gris/Grigio frame; suffice it to say, it’s made in a pure-fruited, medium-bodied style that takes its inspiration from Burgundy rather than northern Italy or Alsace. Again, terrific value here.

Garagiste Merricks Pinot Gris 2023

“All the [Garagiste] wines are exceptional.” James Halliday, The Australian



“Garagiste is a gem of a producer.” Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front

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