ONE LONG JOURNEY
In many ways you could say that Damien ‘Damo’ North and Pinot Palooza have a bit of a shared ‘Journey’ when it comes to wine (see what we did there?). North joined us at the first ever Pinot Palooza with his first ever vintage and he’s been back every year since, coming in at number eight on the National People’s Choice competition in 2017.
North began his wine journey as a Sommelier, working at landmark Sydney restaurants like the original Tetsuya’s in Rozelle and Pier in Rose Bay. He became fascinated by wine, so left to study a winemaking degree at Charles Sturt University. “One of the things I love the most is that no matter how much you know about wine, there is always more to learn,” he says.
He moved to the Yarra Valley to work as Assistant Winemaker at TarraWarra Estate. He’d always been obsessed with Pinot Noir, but became more obsessed (if possible) while at TarraWarra, so after a few years he left for Oregon, USA, his wife and two very small kids in tow.
After a while, an opportunity to work as Winemaker at Leeuwin Estate in Margaret River came up, which “was too good to resist. Five years at Leeuwin took my winemaking to a whole new level.”
But, like many winemakers, North dreamed of starting his own label. So in 2010 he moved back to the Yarra Valley with his wife and (now three) energetic boys and began Journey Wines.
North doesn’t farm his own grapes (“I have no experience as a farmer so I didn’t want to plant a vineyard,” he says, but instead he’s forged wonderful relationships with some of the best grape growers in both the Yarra Valley and Heathcote. This includes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the cool reaches of the Upper Yarra Valley, as well as Shiraz and the exciting new southern-Italian white grape Fiano from the warmer Heathcote region in Central Victoria.
As well as making the wines, North spends most of his time selling Journey Wines to the best restaurants in Australia. He loves getting back into restaurants – “the journey really has come full circle” – and seeing how exciting the hospitality business in Australia has become over the last decades.
There’s no cellar door on-site at Journey Wines, but there is a warehouse space down the road in Healesville, with a turntable and ping pong. Visits are by appointment only.
Journey Wines also exports to the UK, Singapore, Thailand and China. For the full list of where to find his wines, head to the website.
How does it feel to have made the Top 10 National People’s Choice?
We have been at Pinot Palooza since the start – and have never won a place in the People’s Choice so we are absolutely stoked. I feel like the kid who has wins raffle and says ‘I have never won anything before…’
Tell us something interesting about your wines. What makes you different?
The linocuts on our Journey Wines labels tell the story of my Journey in wine. From being a sommelier in Sydney to making wine in the Yarra Valley, Oregon, Margaret River – then returning to the Yarra to start Journey Wines.
What style do you think characterises the wines of your region?
Yarra Valley Pinot Noir – particularly those from cool sites in what we call the Upper Yarra – really are in a class of their own in Australia.
Don’t be fooled by the light colour – these Pinots have an incredible depth of flavour.
To me they highlight the amazing characters that Pinot has that other red varieties do not – delicacy, brightness and freshness, with an emphasis on red fruit aromas and flavours.
Combine that with delicious softness and juiciness and they make for amazing wines, with an ability to match to a really wide range of food.
Tell us three things we need to know about your region?
There are really two parts to the Yarra Valley. The ‘Valley Floor’ is where it all started around the edges of the wide valley which the Yarra River meanders across, framed by the stunning Yarra Ranges to the East. The Upper Yarra is a much hillier and varied area to the South of the Valley Floor, with cool sites interspersed amongst rolling farmland. This part of the valley is about 150-250 metres higher than the Valley Floor, and vineyards here ripen around 2-3 weeks later than the Valley Floor.
To top it off, the Yarra Valley is only an hour outside of the centre of Melbourne, so you can have breakfast in a cool laneway bar in the city and lunch enjoying the stunning rural vistas in the Valley.
What’s the one thing we must do in your region?
Have a drink in the beer garden at the Healesville Hotel.
This is the natural habitat of local Yarra Valley winemakers, and you will see them frolicking with their families here on a sunny Friday afternoon.
Order a meal from the bar, and try one of the local wines by the glass from the blackboard menu in the bar.
This is possibly the best ‘by the glass’ wine selection in any pub in Australia – only featuring Yarra wines and often showing new wines from exciting young winemakers you haven’t heard of yet.
If your Pinot was a music artist, who would it be?
Martha Davis from The Motels (look it up kids!). Beautiful yet powerful…
Best music to listen to during vintage?
Definitely a mixture – one of the first things you learn in this business is that vintage is a marathon not a sprint. From Bowie to the Chemical Brothers and everything in between
Where do you Pinot?
With friends, with food. Always. It is the coolest thing in the world to share something you have created with your closest friends and to see them derive such pleasure from it.
If not you, who else should people try?
G&T’s at Four Pillars, lunch at Oakridge, cheese at Yarra Valley Dairy, walking at the Maroondah Dam park just outside Healesville, hike to the Mt St Leonards lookout for views back to the city.
What song should we listen to when driving to the winery?
What song should we listen to when driving away and onto the next one?