The Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s great wine growing regions. Renowned for exceptional Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet and a myriad of emerging and established varieties. The region is home to some of Australia’s great grape growers and winemakers, a wonderful mix of classicists and boundary pushing innovators. But it all could have been a very different story if it wasn’t for pioneers like Dr. John Middleton of Mount Mary.
For almost fifty years in the 20th Century the Yarra Valley lay dormant as a wine region. Few remembered the past glories and successes that had helped to build Victoria’s first great wine region in the late 1800s. A small band of passionate wine lovers knew the history of the region and took it upon themselves to revive the region. Dr John Middleton, Dr. Bailey Carrodus from Yarra Yering, Reg Egan from Wantirna Estate, and Guill de Pury from Yeringberg. Legendary names who helped build a modern Australian wine region through the relentless pursuit of excellence in the vineyard and a gentle touch in the winery.
The legend of Mount Mary has grown and grown since Dr. John Middleton planted 25 acres of vines in 1971, Sadly John passed away in 2006 at the age of 82, so today his priceless legacy is in the hands of his son and CEO David, and grandchildren, Winemaker Sam and Business Manager Claire. Any concerns of the family struggling to maintain John’s exceptional high standards have quickly evaporated. If proof is needed then look no further than the doyen of Australian wine writers and critics, James Halliday. He has awarded the most sought-after prize in the Australian wine community, naming them his Winery of the Year for 2018. A fitting reward for an iconic Australian family winery whose commitment to quality is a beacon to all Australian wine producers.
From the Air Force to Medicine to a full-time life in wine
John Middleton was bitten by the wine bug at an early age. He was only 19 when he was introduced to a collection of exceptional wines in a pub cellar in Western Victoria. The publican shared the wines and the stories behind them with John and his colleagues from the Air Force. John was entranced, sparking a lifelong passion for the vine. From there things slowly but surely fell into place with John picking up invaluable experience and advice along the way.
The history, evolution & revolution of the Yarra Valley
Somewhat fortuitously John’s time in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was spent working in the meteorological division. This gave him an understanding of climate that would assist greatly when it came time to decide where he wanted to plant vines. Around the same time, John met and struck up a friendship with one of Australia’s greatest winemakers, Colin Preece.
Preece built his reputation at Seppelt’s Great Western winery in Central Victoria as a master blender of wines from ‘different vintages, different regions and different varieties.’ He was also a student of history, understanding in great detail the first golden age of the Yarra Valley as a wine growing region in the late 1800s. This knowledge would have a huge impact on John’s eventual choice for what to plant and where to plant his first vineyard.
Getting on at the ground floor in the rebirth of the Yarra Valley
Upon leaving the RAAF John studied medicine at Melbourne University. He was an outstanding student, awarded multiple prestigious prizes. He met his future wife Marli during this time. She was a passionate wine lover and shared John’s social conscience. After a short stay in the Dandenongs they moved to Lilydale in the Yarra Valley. Through John’s medical practice they quickly became important and well-respected members of the community. The Middleton’s had found a place to call home.
Thoughts soon turned to planting their own vineyard in the Yarra Valley. Colin Preece shared stories with John of the amazing Cabernet wines made by pioneering Swiss vignerons like the De Castella’s and De Pury’s. Colin motivated John with the fact that no one had yet made Australia’s first refined modern Cabernet wine. The Middleton’s travelled to the great Cabernet growing regions of the world. John and Marli absorbed knowledge in the Napa Valley and were inspired by the vignerons in Bordeaux.
In 1971 they found the perfect spot to plant out their dream vineyard, a gentle north facing aspect of ancient limestone soils. From the very moment they selected the site John took a scientifically meticulous approach to growing grapes and making wine. With this dedication he defined the uncompromising Mount Mary philosophy, an absolute focus and dedication to quality no matter what the cost. It’s a philosophy that is proudly retained and celebrated by the next two generations of the Middleton family at Mount Mary.
“My father’s winemaking philosophy was that winemaking was his passion and the only way to do it was to make the best possible wine. Not to compromise in any way that would impact negatively on the quality of the wine. He was never influenced by the economics… But he really never lost sight of his desire to make wine that would be recognised as premium quality wherever it was presented.”
David Middleton, CEO, Mount Mary
A celebrated past and a brighter than ever future
It didn’t take long for John, Mount Mary and the other modern pioneers of the Yarra Valley to gain reputations for their refined cool climate wines. They were a collegiate bunch with a competitive edge. Each was fiercely proud of their own wines, while taking inspiration from what others were doing. It was a culture that laid a wonderful foundation for a region that has taken its place amongst the world’s greats.
Today David, Claire and Sam live John’s philosophy and the regional culture every day. They are fiercely proud of their place in the history of the Yarra Valley and their global reputation for fine Australian wine. But by no means are they stuck in the past. In 2008 - inspired by Marli’s passion for exploring new ideas and new frontiers, the Middletons expanded their vineyards. They planted seven varieties traditionally grown in the Rhone to explore the full potential of Mount Mary vineyard terroir. The first wines from these vines were released in 2014 and have already garnered a loyal following amongst traditional Mount Mary devotees and an audience encountering these meticulously crafted wines for the very first time.
Mount Mary - James Halliday’s Winery of the Year for 2018
Each year the Australian wine community waits with baited breath to hear who will be named as James Halliday’s Winery of the Year. Past winners include Penfolds, Tahbilk, Mount Pleasant and Tyrrell’s; this is rarefied air and the pinnacle of fine Australia wine. Dr. John Middleton may never have imagined that his small vineyard and winery would ever scale such lofty heights. John’s unwavering commitment to quality is part of the very fabric of Mount Mary. His philosophy has inspired vignerons in the Yarra Valley, across Australia and around the world. The award is a fitting tribute to a man who helped define Australian cool climate winemaking. The award is a fitting tribute to a family who’ve ensured his legacy is shared with the world for generations to come. Congratulations to David, Claire, Sam and everyone at Mount Mary who have helped make John and Marli’s dream a reality.
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