“It was 1974, I was 22, and I didn’t drink wine at all in those days,” says McCall. “I was a country kid, a farmer’s son, brought up in Fish Creek… beer was all I knew. But I was fascinated.”
McCall found out from his supervising teacher where the wine was from, and the following weekend he packed his girlfriend into their car and drove out to Nagambie to buy some. The wine was sold in bulk, made by a Hungarian family who’d planted along the river flats in the ‘50s, and who couldn’t afford to bottle it. McCall came home with litres of Shiraz, Colombard and a whole string of other varieties, which he bottled up himself. “I had a ball doing it, and I discovered wine. It started me on my wine journey.”
It’s an interesting start for someone who would go on to be considered a pioneer of Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir. The Peninsula wasn’t a region well-known for wine back then, and there were only a handful of producers, growing almost exclusively Cabernet, when McCall bought his block of land in the mid ‘80s. He’d fallen in love with the area through his teaching rounds, and fallen more and more in love with wine since his awakening at 22. “I put two and two together,” he says. “Maybe this could be a new wine region. I love wine. I want to be a farmer, not a schoolteacher. Maybe I could buy a block of land and plant some vines and see how I go. That’s how I began.”
Like the few other producers on the Peninsula at that time, McCall started with Cabernet and Shiraz. Next, he planted Chardonnay, and the fourth variety he planted was Pinot Noir. “We just didn’t know what was going to grow well down here back then,” he says.
Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the varieties which also do the best in Burgundy, France – one of the world’s most famous wine regions) did so well that they’ve become the varieties most grown on the Peninsula. Figuring out what works best, plus the age of the vines and the experience of the winemakers, mean that, today, the Mornington Peninsula is producing some incredible, world-class examples of these wines.
Thirty years on (the winery just celebrated its 30th vintage), Paringa Estate in is producing some incredible, highly-awarded Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as Shiraz and Pinot Gris. McCall’s son, Jamie, is training to take over as head winemaker, and the onsite fine dining restaurant has been awarded a Chef’s Hat in The Age Good Food Guide for five years running.
By Anna Webster