Despite growing up in Heathcote during the “boom years,” Patrick Sullivan didn’t always imagine a career as a winemaker.
He spent time in wineries and vineyards as a kid, even doing a summer “desuckering and shoot thinning” at St Anne’s in Moama. But whether it was the lure of overseas adventures or the fact that his dad told him working in wine was “a stupid idea,” Sullivan found himself, at 19, living in London with plans to become a paediatrician.
But wine found him again, and quickly. “I had this job where I was literally scraping chewing gum off the ground at a hostel called the Generator,” he says. Feeling that almost any form of employment was better, Sullivan applied – and landed – a job at Selfridges, selling wine.
From there, it didn’t take much to convince Sullivan that his future lay in wine, not medicine. He moved back to Australia and enrolled in wine school, but after a year of being fairly unimpressed with the stuff his lecturers were making and showing, he switched from oenology to viticulture. Two years of tasting some pretty amazing juice at Selfridges had taught Pat that good wines come from good vineyards, and he realised that that was what he wanted to do.
“I wanted to make wine, and to do it the way I wanted it was most important to grow my own grapes and plant a vineyard. If you want to make wine the way you want to make it, you have to plant the vineyard from scratch.”
Fast forward to the end of 2014: Sullivan, with his wife, Megan (they now have an 11-month old son, Idris), buys a property in Ellinbank, West Gippsland. Sullivan had met fellow Gippsland winemaker Bill Downie a number of years earlier while researching the region for a uni assignment, and had spent time working for him (in his vineyard, sleeping under the peppercorn trees and living out of his two-door Holden Barina, and on the Thousand Candles project), so for Sullivan, there was nowhere quite like that “little parcel of Victoria.”
When Sullivan first started making his own wine, in around 2011, he made it from fruit he’d bought from elsewhere. In 2017, he was growing 90% of the grapes he made wine from himself. Next year, that’ll become 100%.
“Winemaking takes a week of the year and grape growing takes the other 51 weeks,” he says. “Every discussion we have is about what we’re doing in the vineyard, what’s happening, it’s 95% of it. It’s how we’ve arrived at this point, and it’s how we’ll decide where we’re going next.”
It’s hard to sum up Sullivan’s winemaking style. In 2012, the wines he was making (such as his Britannia Creek White and his Breakfast Wine) were wild and fun. Now, there’s a refined elegance to them.
He describes it up here:
“A lot of white wines are about the sky, brightness and acidity and morning sun, and a lot of red wine is tannic and earthy. Between those two worlds, where the wines are both etheric and grounded, that’s where I want to go.
“I want to make wines that are voluptuous and beautiful but grounded, there’s a core to them, that’s what I aspire to. I think I’ve made one once or twice before, hopefully my consistency in making them gets better and better, but that’s where I’m going. That deep base, that ground swell, but also what happens in the sky.”
Sullivan doesn’t have a cellar door, as such. His wines are available online at patricksullivan.com.au, or at indie retailers like Blackhearts & Sparrows, but if you want to taste them as close to the source as possible, head to Hogget Kitchen. Just up the road in Warragul, Hogget Kitchen is a collaboration between Sullivan, Downie, and local chef Trevor Perkins. Delicious seasonal, local food, and a wine list starring Sullivan, Downie and others, Hogget Kitchen is a destination in its own right.