When your parents are pioneers in one of Australia’s great wine regions there’s a fair chance you will fall into a life in wine. As a child Andrew helped his parents Ian and June plant their vineyard at Gembrook Hill in the upper Yarra Valley in 1983. They selected the site after searching across Victoria for years to find an ideal place for cool climate viticulture and winemaking.
While the Marks family were the first to plant in the upper Yarra Valley they haven’t been the last. The quality of the wines produced in the area have drawn many others to the upper Yarra Valley. Today Andrew Marks is custodian to this legacy, making the wines alongside Yarra Valley funk evangelist Timo Mayer.
For many, making wines for your family’s iconic winery would be more than enough to fill the plate. From a young age Andrew has had a strong spirit for adventure. Combine this with a curious palate and you get Andrew’s wine label, The Wanderer, and gin venture, The Melbourne Gin Company. Andrew Marks does not do things by halves. Andrew does all of this with an enthusiasm and a passion that is infectious.
‘As a winemaker, every year we are striving to make the perfect wine. And even though we all know that the perfect wine doesn’t exist it doesn’t stop us from trying!’
In the beginning, there was an old potato farm on a hill
Fine wine and potato farming. Rarely do the two meet. In the early 1980s Ian and June Marks were searching across Victoria for somewhere to build a home and plant some vines. Not the easiest search when you consider that Victoria is home to Australia’s most diverse range of wine regions. Bus as soon as they laid their eyes on an old potato farm in the upper Yarra Valley, Ian and June knew they had found the site they were looking for.
‘Eventually we saw this place and bought it in a quarter of an hour. We didn’t really know anything about the soil, or rainfall, so it was quite a bit of luck. When we bought it, it had three cows and a tree. So, June and I planted everything.’
Ian Marks interviewed by WakawakaWineReviews.com
The Marks’ have luck more than research or design to thank for their success in finding a great vineyard site. But there can be no arguing about the quality of the wines produced from that old potato farm in the upper Yarra Valley. As a result vineyards in the upper reaches of the Yarra Valley have become highly prized, with many others joining the pioneers in the intervening years.
Andrew Marks – Hitting the books and working for Penfolds
Growing up in such a special place has meant that grape growing and winemaking is simply part of who Andrew is. From helping his parents plant vines to helping out with a myriad of other tasks there was always a solid chance that Andrew would want to transfer his charmed childhood into a career in wine.
As soon as he finished high school Andrew headed to Adelaide to add to his learnt ‘on the job’ skills with formal winemaking study at the prestigious University of Adelaide. He obviously did alright in the classroom as he got a job working for Australia’s most famous winery, Penfold’s, upon completing his studies.
For six years Andrew loved working at Penfold’s, working his way up the ranks and learning a huge amount along the way. He was also lucky during this time to travel the world working vintages in Burgundy, the Languedoc and Sonoma. A student exchange to France at the age of 15 had instilled in him a love of travel and adventure, combining this love with work he was passionate about was inspiring and invigorating. But Andrew believed that his destiny in wine lay elsewhere. He wondered why he was making wine for someone else when he could be making wine for himself… It was time for Andrew to head home.
Bringing it all back home to the Yarra Valley
After gaining his oenology credentials gaining experience working for some of the world’s great wineries Andrew returned to Gembrook Hill in 2003. Since then he has been working with Timo Mayer to express vintage and vineyard through minimal intervention in the winery. Everyone at Gembrook Hill shares the philosophy that has been in place from the very beginning. They believe that great wine is made in the vineyard and do as little as possible in the winery so as not to interfere with site and season.
‘We are trying to express the terroir as faithfully as we can… The site gives a particular flavour to the wines. Obviously it’s a flavour we love but it is very particular to that site. So whether you love them or hate them, a Gembrook Hill wine is a Gembrook Hill wine.’
And while he has less control over the vines that produce the grapes for several of the wines under his own label, the winemaking philosophy remains the same. The Wanderer label allows Andrew to explore other sites and varieties that make the Yarra Valley a special place. Whether it be 100% whole bunch fermented Syrah from Dixons Creek or fully destemmed Pinot Noir from Tarrawarra Andrew’s wines are all about preserving the flavours and characters of these unique terroirs.
A bright future for Andrew Marks
While he is far from an old hand in the wine game, Andrew Marks has achieved a heck of a lot. He’s worked for Penfold’s, created his own vibrant and successful wine label and is ensuring his parent’s legacy at Gembrook Hill is assured long into the future. And we haven’t even touched upon how The Melbourne Gin Company has helped to create an inspire the bourgeoning craft gin movement in Australia. It’s as clear as his handcrafted gin that Andrew Marks is a young Australian vigneron with a bright future.