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Lethbridge Wines

Innovation, Intellect and Imagination from the Moorabool Valley

Not long after completing their respective PhDs in medicine and chemistry, Maree Collis and Ray Nadeson’s dream of establishing a vineyard had become impossible to ignore. Inspired by the great grower wines from Europe’s great vineyards, their search began in 1993 with one question: How best to realise comparable distinction and character of the wines they were drinking from Australian soils?

“We thought about it as a problem that needed to be explored,” says Ray. “We did what we would have done on any scientific project: to deconstruct the whole thing down to the atoms and then put it back together again.” So, with a science-led mindset, they began their search for the perfect site. It took three years of painstaking research, poring over maps and analysing soils, rocks and weather patterns.

In 1996, Maree and Ray found their perfect site in the heart of Geelong’s Moorabool Valley. Although they did not realise it at the time, the same patch of dirt could trace its viticultural roots back to 1874, when it was initially planted by Swiss immigrants before phylloxera devastated the region’s vineyards. While juggling their busy professional schedules and young family, Ray and Maree began the project of replanting the vineyard in that first year. By 2003, they had left their day jobs and were working full-time amongst the vines. Today, the site is home to seven hectares planted to a patchwork of varieties—Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay, Shiraz, Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Franc—all segmented by blocks and clones.

Ray and Maree wanted to farm organically from day one for fruit that fit the precise profile they had in their mind’s eye: pure, potent, layered wines with driving freshness and the stamp of provenance. The lofty, breezy, cool, dry, rocky Lethbridge site had it all. The Lethbridge vineyard—sitting at 270 metres elevation and located 30 kilometres northwest of Geelong—is the Valley’s coolest site. The thin black-clay topsoils lie over two tongues of ancient lava flows—bluestone and honeycomb basalt—formed by volcanic activity 30-50,000 years ago. These volcanic layers lie over a limestone base, resulting in low yields that ripen slowly and thoroughly, and retain freshness despite the Moorabool’s dry climate.

In the vineyard, the health of the soil and vines comes first. Pruning practices are gentle, and canopies are managed to limit disease pressure rather than taking a more conventional approach—the only sprays used are accredited organic or biodynamic. Straw mulch can be found between rows, increasing carbon and preserving moisture in the soil. Cover crops are used year-round, including clover, radishes, cornflowers, sunflowers, oats, vetch, and more. Yields are staggeringly low, with some blocks mustering just seven hl/ha in a good year.

Ray and Maree also source fruit from a selection of sites across the broader Geelong region and beyond, including the Hat Rock vineyard on the Bellarine Peninsula and the Rebenberg vineyard on Mount Duneed, plus the famed Malakoff vineyard in the Pyrenees. Like the Lethbridge home site, these were selected for their ability to slowly ripen low yields while maintaining high levels of natural acidity. Relationships with their growers are long-standing, and the farming philosophies mirror those of the Lethbridge team.

Although the quality and character of the site are central to the Lethbridge ethos. Ray doesn’t underplay his team’s role in the equation, emphasising how best to cut distortion and placing each vineyard’s unique attributes into sharp focus. “My viticultural approach is not dissimilar to my winemaking approach,” he says. “It’s to create the frame to highlight the components of that soil that I want you to think about when you taste the wines. Not just soil but place. Soil is a component of place, as are climate and intention; the intention of the person, of the team.”

In the cellar, Nadeson follows instinct as much as intellect. Together with his right-hand man, Crimea-born winemaker Vasily Pestretsov, they “frame nature” by removing little and adding less. There’s no recipe per se, and they constantly make micro-decisions throughout the process, ferment by ferment in search of balance, texture and layers of complexity. Spontaneous ferments occur in wood custom-built for Lethbridge by one cooper, according to Ray’s tight-grain, low-toast specifications. All wines go through malolactic conversion; the whites see some skin contact, and whole bunches and new oak are used depending on vintage and variety. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered with scripted labels from Ray’s diary. “I’m more interested in the hows than the whys,” says Ray. “So you get a little bit of the ‘why’ with every bottle.”

In the glass, each Lethbridge wine is a candid expression of its site, season and soil. They are not primary, fruit-forward wines; they follow their own muse, leading with structure, texture, savouriness and definitive freshness. These are proud Australian wines for the head, heart and table.

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Lethbridge Pinot Gris 2023

Lethbridge Pinot Gris 2023

This wine is the sum of three vineyard vineyards, two of which are in Henty and the other in Geelong. Ray Nadeson is a big fan of the Henty region, valuing the cool nature of the fruit from his high-elevation, windy sites. “As a region, it’s very underappreciated,” he tells us. Jack and Lois Doeven’s well-established cool site in Drumborg (Henty) is home to schist soils and very low-yielding vines, whereas the Vaughn vineyard sits on clay and limestone soils. The Hillside Haven vineyard is a small, three-hectare site planted in 1990 in Geelong. Sitting at 230 metres on the slopes of Mount Anakie, the soils are granitic and loamy, and plantings are a hectare each of Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In the quest for maximum flavour and texture, Ray picks his Pinot Gris fruit over a number of passes. Ferments take place in small batches in new wood, with some portions seeing up to 48 hours of skin contact. The wine then matures in foudre on fine lees for a few months before bottling. This is Pinot Gris as it should be: complex and detailed with a fleshy core, zippy and well-integrated acidity and plenty of savoury nuance at play. There’s a lot of wine in the glass!

“Planted on limestone in the mid-1990s. Fermented in stainless and wood with some components receiving up to eight hours' skin contact. Matured in foudre. Enticing with aromas of fully ripened yellow apples together with ginger and spice. Textured and slippery with just enough grip at the finish to give the wine tension and length.”
93 points, Philip Rich, The Wine Companion
Lethbridge Pinot Gris 2023
Lethbridge Pinot Noir 2022

Lethbridge Pinot Noir 2022

The Lethbridge Pinot Noir marries fruit from the home vineyard in the Moorabool Valley and Hat Rock vineyard on the Bellarine Peninsula, midway between Drysdale and Portarlington. Named after a hat-shaped rocky outcrop on the shore of Corio Bay a short distance from the vineyard, Hat Rock vineyard was planted in 1996 and sits on a gently undulating slope that faces north. The soils are volcanic clay/loam over limestone, and the cooling effects of the bayside location moderate temperatures in the warmer months. The Lethbridge home vineyard was planted in 1996 and is the Moorabool Valley’s coolest site. It sits at 270 metres with black clay topsoil on bluestone and honeycomb basalt above limestone bedrock. Though the Lethbridge site is planted to two clones of Pinot Noir (MV6 and Abel), only MV6 is included for the wine, while Hat Rock contributes 114, 115 and a touch more MV6. The fruit was picked by hand and fermented spontaneously in open-top vessels with a high proportion of whole bunches (approximately 50%). The ferment was handled gently over 20 days, with once-a-day punch-downs evolving to just a wetting of the cap as the days progressed. The wine matured for 11 months in 40% new wood. Expressive and transparent, the 2022 is layered with bright fruits, mineral lines and captivating purity. It strikes a lovely balance between savoury character and engaging fruit presence.

“From four separate vineyards in Geelong that all, interestingly, make single-vineyard wines as well! About 50% whole bunches and 50% new French barriques. Bright crimson. Immediately appealing with its aromas of freshly picked cherries and floral notes. Red-fruited and spicy on the palate, gentle tannins and Lethbridge's trademark bright acidity make this a wine to enjoy in the short- to medium-term.”
93 points, Philip Rich, The Wine Companion
Lethbridge Pinot Noir 2022
Lethbridge Chardonnay 2022

Lethbridge Chardonnay 2022

Lethbridge Chardonnay brings together fruit from the Lethbridge home vineyard and three other cool, rocky sites in the Geelong and Henty GIs. The Hat Rock vineyard is located on the Bellarine Peninsula, midway between Drysdale and Portarlington. Named after a hat-shaped rocky outcrop on the shore of Corio Bay, a short distance from the vineyard, it was planted in 1996 and sits on a gently undulating slope that faces north. The soils are volcanic clay/loam overlying limestone, and the cooling effects of the bayside location moderate temperatures in the warmer months. The Suma vineyard, on the other side of the Bellarine Peninsula overlooking Swan Bay, sits on shallow red clay soils over limestone. The salty sea air and chalky soils bring a distinctive savoury/mineral quality to the blend. The Henty portion comes from Jack and Lois Doeven’s well-established, cool site in Drumborg, home to schist soils and low-yielding vines. Closing the circle is the Lethbridge home vineyard, which was planted in 1996 and is the Moorabool Valley’s coolest site. It’s a low-yielding site that sits at 270 metres with thin black clay topsoil on bluestone and honeycomb basalt above limestone bedrock. Yields across the sites average out at a meagre 25 hl/ha. The parcels are kept separate but are vinified the same way: whole bunch pressed, wild fermented in 100% new oak, full malolactic conversion and maturation in 30% new wood for 11 months. All barrels are custom-built by John-Louis Bousset to Lethbridge specifications, and the Chardonnay vessels, in particular, are very lightly toasted. This is top shelf Chardonnay by any measure: vivid, succulent and vibrant in flavour, with super impressive depth, texture and length. The balance is masterful.

“From a vineyard that's been leased since 2004 and that overlooks Queenscliff. Whole-bunched pressed to 100% new oak for fermentation then matured in a mix of new and older oak. 100% mlf. A very bright green gold. Ripe stone fruits, a little nougat and hazelnut. This is all about texture and flavour but equally it’s structured, too. And long. Good stuff.”
92 points, Philip Rich, The Wine Companion
Lethbridge Chardonnay 2022
Lethbridge Riesling 2023

Lethbridge Riesling 2023

The 2023 Riesling was almost entirely sourced from a mature vineyard in Mount Gambier. Located just outside the township, it’s a low-yielding (three tonnes per acre), limestone-rich site planted in the early 1990s. Small-batch fermentations are spontaneous. A small portion (10%) went through malolactic conversion, and the wine was bottled with 10.8 g/L residual sugar. Residual sugar in Riesling can be a difficult thing to get right. Ray Nadeson is an avid proponent of the practice, leaving a lick of sugar in all his Riesling wines: “It’s essential for the texture of the wine”. He’s a dab hand at it too. The 2023 leaps from the glass with lime leaf and white florals, paving the way for fleshy, fruity citrus weight shot through with long, racy lines and lip-smacking, moreish texture. Lovely balance and lengthy drive. Bravo!

Lethbridge Riesling 2023
Lethbridge Que Syrah Syrah 2021

Lethbridge Que Syrah Syrah 2021

Lethbridge has been working with fruit from the Malakoff Vineyard in the Pyrenees near Landsborough for more than 10 years. This celebrated site—owned and operated by Cameron and Robert John—has long been the source of top-quality Shiraz from some of Victoria’s most celebrated producers. The moderately sloped site was first planted in 1997 and lies at 300 metres with a well-sheltered northeast aspect. The soils are rich in red ferrous clay with large amounts of ironstone and quartz littered throughout. The lion's share of the 23-hectare site is planted to three Shiraz clones (PT23, BVRC30 and Best’s Old Block), with the balance comprising Nebbiolo and a small portion of Viognier. The farming doctrine at Malakoff mirrors that of Lethbridge, with sustainability and soil health as top priorities. Ray and Maree work closely with the Johns each year and are intimately involved in the decisions for their chosen blocks (they work with the same blocks and take 100% of the fruit) to ensure yields are kept low and the fruit is picked at optimal ripeness. Ray tells us that though each Syrah block displays its own character and clonal identity, there is a common inky/spicy note throughout that is the site’s unique marker. The fruit was picked by hand, destemmed and fermented spontaneously in a 3000-litre cuve for 20 days before being pressed off and matured for 10 months in 1200-litre foudres. From a superb season in the Pyrenees (and much of the rest of the state), in Nadeson’s eyes, 2021 has yielded a Syrah of “impressive concentration and beautiful acidity”. “It may sound silly, but it’s always the yummiest wine I make.” Attractive and generous from the first sniff, this has all the broody fruit weight, savoury/mineral lines and fragrant spice you could hope for from a Victorian Shiraz, all wrapped up in a deliciously plump yet amply structured frame. In a word, delicious. 

Lethbridge Que Syrah Syrah 2021
Lethbridge Méthode Ancestrale 2022

Lethbridge Méthode Ancestrale 2022

Lethbridge’s sparkling is a delightful blend of Pinot Noir (49%), Chardonnay (45%), Meunier (4%) and Pinot Gris (2%).  The Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are sourced from the cool-climate Barwite vineyard in Mansfield, while the Pinot Meunier comes from Jack and Lois Doeven’s well-established cool site in Drumborg (Henty). The wine is bottled during primary fermentation. Pouring brightly in the glass and this is pét-nat done right: whistle clean and bursting with fresh peach and juicy red berries, with a lovely zesty finish.

Lethbridge Méthode Ancestrale 2022
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"People talk about playing a long-game in the wine industry, but few adhere to it like Maree Collis and Ray Nadeson of Lethbridge Wines." Mike Bennie

"Very interesting, sylistically, are the wines from Lethbridge." Gary Walsh, The Wine Front

"Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis have always been adventurous winemakers, keen to experiment with new techniques." Max Allen

"As well as understanding the importance of terroir, the partners have built a unique strawbale winery, designed to recreate the controlled environment of cellars and caves in Europe. Winemaking is no less ecological: hand-picking, indigenous-yeast fermentation, small open fermenters, pigeage (foot-stomping) and minimal handling of the wines throughout the maturation process are all part and parcel of the highly successful Lethbridge approach." James Halliday

“Now and then someone comes into the wine world who learns so fast and produces excellent wine so quickly it takes your breath away." Huon Hooke

Country

Australia

Primary Region

Geelong, Victoria

People

Winemakers: Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis

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