Tod Dexter experienced his first vintage in 1979 in the Napa Valley, but his winemaking story begins in 1970, when he was just 14 years old. Tod was friends with the sons of Doug Crittenden. Crittenden, along with Dan Murphy, was one of the leaders in fine wine retail in Melbourne during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and, during summer holidays at Mt Martha on the Mornington Peninsula, Tod would often find himself at the Crittenden’s house in the evenings after a day on the beach. Invariably, says Tod, a good bottle of wine would be opened, and Doug would offer the boys a taste and tell them something about it. “Clare riesling, Hunter semillon and hermitage, Coonawarra cabernet all come to mind as wines of the time,” says Tod, “It also helped that he was the importer of Laurent Perrier Champagne and Hugel from Alsace!”
It also helped that in 1978 Doug organised for Tod to spend a weekend with Reg Egan at Wantirna Estate. Either way, Tod went to Colorado for a snow season, and once the snow had melted headed west to California in search of a job in a winery. Nothing was available initially, but he did find work in a cooperage assembling wine barrels. When winemakers came to pick up barrels for vintage, Tod asked them for vintage work, and he eventually found it with Bruce Cakebread – he would stay there for seven years.
At the end of 1986, Tod returned home with his wife Debbie and six-week-old daughter, Jenna. A year earlier, the Dexters had purchased land at Tuerong on the Mornington Peninsula (“We wanted a warm site in a cool region with low vigour soil,” says Tod. “And it had to be near the beach!”), which they planted four acres of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes on in the spring on 1987. Their son, Tim, was just two months old at the time.
Tod’s first vintage as a winemaker was at Elgee Park in 1987 where he made wine for Elgee Park, Kings Creek, Red Hill Estate, Hickson & Temple and Brian Stonier. At the end of that year, Brian Stonier decided to start a wine business and invited Tod to join him – in 1991, they opened the doors to the winery at Merricks. During Tod’s time at Stoniers, he and Brian expanded the business, and Debbie and Tod expanded their vineyard by selling their fruit to Stoniers. In 2002, Tod left Stoniers when Lion Nathan took over, joining Yabby Lake instead in January 2003. He worked at Yabby Lake for five years, and it was during this time that he decided it was time to finish the dream of having the Dexter label. In 2006, Tod and Debbie released the first Dexter chardonnay and pinot noir.
These days, Tod delegates almost all aspects of growing grapes and making the wine but still makes the decisions from pruning through to bottling. “After 40 years, I think I’ve earned the right to avoid the physical work,” he says!
Son Tim has recently graduated from Adelaide University with a graduate diploma in wine science, and has done vintages in California, Spain, Margaret River, Oregon, Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula and is off to Burgundy in a few weeks. All signs point to him taking over from Tod one day. Daughter Jenna, an interior designer, has just given Tod and Debbie their first grandchild. Three horses and a dog, Stella, also live on the property.
210 Foxeys Rd, Tuerong VIC
If your pinot was a music artist, who would it be?
Bob Dylan on a good day in a good mood!
Best music to listen to during vintage?
Blues/Rock and Roll, Soul, R & B, any young contemporary Australian artist. (I like new discoveries often on RRR or JJJ).
Where’s your favourite place to drink pinot?
At home with family or at a local restaurant – Cook and Norman Flinders, Del Posto Rye, The Rocks Mornington.
Where can people buy your wine?
Fine wine retailers, good restaurants and on our website.